European Affairs

Promise and Pitfalls for the U.S.-European Alliance     Print Email
Antony Blinken

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, Americans received a useful reminder that Europe is the best of foul weather friends. From people to parliamentarians, in e-mails and official statements, the emotion was profound, the support genuine. Transatlantic solidarity will be a powerful political and practical weapon in the war against terrorism - if it is sustained.

This will require a significant effort by the Bush Administration and by allies who share the same goals, but not always the same means to achieve them. There is promise in a U.S.-European alliance against terrorism, but also potential problems.

Europe has had its own tragic experience with terrorism, but the particulars of that experience could lead some Europeans to adopt different approaches to the problem. Much of Europe's terrorism problem has been home grown. Communists and anarchists in Germany, Italy and Greece were defeated and in some cases co-opted by the establishment.

Other groups - the IRA in the UK, the ETA in Spain, the PKK in Turkey - have practiced a terrorism different from that of Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. It has tended to have a concrete political agenda, to target officials of the state (police, politicians, military, government employees) not civilians, and to be constrained (instead of seeking the maximum number of casualties).

As a result, Europeans have sometimes sought to negotiate political solutions with terrorists, and terrorists have sometimes responded by exchanging their bombs for ballots - for example, in Northern Ireland. Some Europeans may be tempted to repeat this approach in the war against al-Qaeda and Bin Laden.

The Bush Administration and like-minded European leaders must make it clear that there is no way to "negotiate" with terrorists who target our values and way-of-life. They pose an existential threat, not a political problem. The only answer is a campaign without quarter.

As my colleagues Daniel Benjamin and Steve Simon have written, "Europe sits squarely alongside the United States on the enemies list [of Bin Laden and al-Qaeda] as friend, abettor and fellow infidel."1

In recent years, al-Qaeda cells have been discovered and dismantled in nearly a dozen European countries. Plots targeting French and British interests have been stopped. Individuals responsible for and connected to the September 11 attack on America lived, worked and were educated in Germany. Al-Qaeda continues to operate in Europe.

The presence of al-Qaeda in Europe suggests that European interests will become targets for attack. This is all the more likely if the United States hardens its potential targets but Europe does not. Even if al-Qaeda seeks to strike American interests in Europe, the collateral damage to Europeans could be massive. Indeed, Europeans have already suffered collateral damage in the hundreds of European lives lost at the World Trade Center.

Thus far, European leaders have acknowledged their vulnerability and seem prepared to act. After meeting with President George W. Bush in Washington, French President Jacques Chirac said: "This time, it was New York; next time, it could be Paris, Berlin or London." Europeans are likely to take defensive measures; whether and to what extent they will participate in an offensive strategy depends on the substance of that strategy.

Because the war on terrorism will be fought on multiple fronts - military, diplomatic, intelligence, financial, law enforcement, humanitarian, development - the United States will seek European participation in a number of overlapping coalitions.

Just 24 hours after the attack on America, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked the collective defense clause of its founding treaty for the first time in the Alliance's 52-year history. "An armed attack" against one ally, reads Article 5, "shall be considered an attack against them all."

NATO's action was an important declaration of political solidarity. It underscored that while the United States was the immediate victim of aggression, the values we share with our Allies - democracy, openness and tolerance - were the target.

In the event the United States pursued military action and wanted NATO to participate, the allies would not automatically have to participate. The treaty is vague as to the actual obligations of NATO members.

Each member has leeway to decide for itself its appropriate response, including the use of armed force. It has always been understood that different members will contribute differently to NATO operations depending on their capabilities and the circumstances.

Washington may not want to act through NATO as NATO. This would require ceding some political and operational authority to the North Atlantic Council and to European generals. It would make it more difficult to act quickly and stealthily.

But the United States would probably want individual NATO countries to lend political support; take part in special operations; join coalitions-of-the-willing on the ground; permit access to critical military facilities; grant over-§ight privileges; share intelligence; and crack down on terrorist access to safe houses, financial services and technical training on allied soil.

Some of these requests proved problematic during the Gulf War. Now, allies may not agree on all the specific policy measures to be taken. But the swift invocation of Article 5 suggests that cooperation from NATO countries either through NATO or independently will be smoother than in the past.

Individual NATO countries can bring important capabilities to the table. The British, French and Germans, for example, have highly trained special forces that could take part in commando operations. Turkish air bases may be critical to specific military missions.

In the past, a sticking point in European support for and participation in military action has been the question of a legal basis for that action. Throughout the Balkan con§icts of the 1990s, and during the debate about revising NATO's Strategic Concept, various European governments insisted on a legal basis for military action, ideally to be provided by the United Nations.

In this case, that basis already exists in two UN Security Council Resolutions that followed the attack on the United States, and in the invocation by the European Union of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. To the extent that this remains an open question, the United States and Europe should work now to pre-empt a potential problem.

To the extent that the United States seeks further UN Security Council approval for any actions, France and the UK - as permanent members - will be critical countries. To the extent the United States needs support for initiatives in international organizations (UN, OECD, OSCE, ICAO etc.) Europeans can provide a core base of votes and lobbying power.

European countries can be key intermediaries with the Arab world. Already, Ministers representing the EU Presidency and the UK have made overtures to Iran. France boasts close ties to Lebanon and Syria, the UK to Egypt, Italy to Libya, and various European countries to the Palestinians. Turkey, as a bridge between Europe and Asia and between the Judeo-Christian and Muslim worlds also could play a critical diplomatic role.

To be effective in the war against terrorism, Europeans will have to enhance cooperation within Europe as well as with the United States on a host of other fronts: diplomatic coordination and political pressure; intelligence collection, analysis and sharing; financial networks; police and law enforcement. The so-called Third Pillar of Europe - justice and home affairs - must be reinforced.

Europeans are likely to be asked for the kind of help they should be able to give: intense and sustained cooperation on the non-military fronts (diplomatic; intelligence; financial; law enforcement); and limited participation in the military sphere (over-§ight, basing, logistics and intelligence).

However, political and tactical fault lines could emerge between the United States and Europe that threaten cooperation and participation. The burden will be on diplomats to prevent them from opening or to breach them if they do.

In Washington, praise for NATO's historic invocation of Article 5 quickly became concern that the allies were hedging their commitments. Leading figures in Europe publicly urged caution, warning that their expressions of support were not blank checks for American military action.

Some statements were unfortunate for being unnecessary. They suggested transatlantic fissures when there should be a premium on solidarity.

In fairness, the cautionary notes were the exception, not the rule. Political support for America has been wide and deep, ranging from the extraordinary Bundestag vote (465-40) supporting possible German participation in military action to strong statements of support - including support for military action - from the EU. Allies have obligations to state the "red lines" they cannot cross to Washington. Indeed, many American opinion leaders have made similar concerns public.

In short, a diversity of views is the essence of democracy - and of relations among them. But their expression will inevitably strain the transatlantic link. Washington should encourage the Allies to keep their criticism, to the extent possible, behind closed doors.

In turn, Washington owes its allies no surprises. Ongoing, real-time consultations are a reasonable quid pro quo for unity. Washington also should watch its rhetoric. Constant use of the "war" word rings alarm bells in

Europe. This is largely a semantic problem. "War" invokes images we are unlikely to see in the coming war against terrorism (e.g. large-scale mobilizations, invasions and occupations).

The Bush Administration should constantly and clearly communicate its goals and means to allies as well as to the American people. This can help avoid confusion and sustain solidarity within the Euro-Atlantic community.

The most significant threat to transatlantic cohesion is over what are sometimes called "states of concern." Some Europeans may seize the moment to bring countries like Iran and Syria more fully into the community of nations and enlist them in the war against terrorism.

This was the objective of a highly publicized visit by Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, to Iran. Meanwhile, the EU representatives visited Iran and other countries in the region on a similar mission. Absent coordination with and support from Washington, such overtures could become irritants to alliance solidarity.

Similarly, some in the Bush Administration urge the broadest possible campaign against terror - including taking the fight beyond Afghanistan to Iraq, Sudan and even Syria and Iran.

Europeans will support exerting political pressure on these countries to choose sides and get out of the terror business. They will not support military action in the event political pressure fails, with the possible exception of Iraq. If Washington pursues military action beyond Afghanistan, it will cause real tension with the allies and could undermine their participation in the anti-terrorism coalitions.

Similarly, strains could emerge if the Europeans see an opening to increase their economic engagement with these states, while the Bush Administration seeks to further sanction them economically.

Some Europeans may draw a connection between U.S. support for Israel and terrorism. Leave aside the principle that no political grievance, no matter how just, can ever justify terror. It is certain that if Israel and the Palestinians made peace tomorrow, the terror attacks would continue. Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden aim to undermine our common values. The Israeli-Palestinian con§ict is a peripheral issue.

Americans and Europeans should focus on pursuing peace in the Middle East for its own sake. And they can agree that doing so will make it easier for Muslim countries to join and remain engaged in the anti-terror coalitions.

If the United States expects the Europeans to be there for America, it must in turn be there for Europeans on the issues that they care about.

Washington must sustain support for a robust NATO protection force for the EU and OSCE monitors in Macedonia. The Bush Administration also may want to revisit its opposition to the Climate Change Treaty, Biological Weapons Protocol, the ABM Treaty, International Criminal Court etc.

This does not mean acceding to European positions in order to buy their participation in the war against terrorism. It does mean proposing alternatives and negotiating compromises, not walking away from the table.

In the months before the attack on America, much was written and said about the United States and Europe growing apart. Now, we are reminded that when the chips are down, Europe will stand up for America. The bottom line is that in the sharing of values and the search for partners in a dangerous world, Americans and Europeans still look to each other before they look to anyone else.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number II, Issue number IV in the Fall of 2001.