European Affairs

Letter to the Editor: U.S. and Europe Should Cooperate More on the Middle East     Print Email

The spring issue of European Affairs contained two timely and informative articles about the Middle East and the different European and U.S. perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian con§ict and on what to do about Saddam Hussein.

Rupert Cornwell points out the growing public gap between Americans and Europeans over the Middle East crisis. He attributes this to Washington's seeing everything through the optic of the war against terrorism, to Europe's guilt over its colonial past in the Middle East and to Israel's acquisition of nuclear weapons. I would argue, however, that the causes are broader and deeper.

Had the terror attacks of September 11 never happened, there would still be profound differences between European and American positions. As with other foreign policy issues, the Israeli-Palestinian con§ict affects domestic political constituencies in Europe and the United States. Domestic pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian interests affect the political leadership in America and Europe in different ways. This is bound to produce dissimilar positions.

Further, while a European desire to compensate for mistakes made in its colonial past may explain part of Europe's more pro-Palestinian approach (compared to that of the United States), Israeli acquisition of nuclear weapons does not. If alleged possession of nuclear weapons is enough to shift Europe's position against Israel, then Europeans ought to be taking a stronger stand against states in the so-called Axis of Evil that are acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

This leads me to Gary Schmitt's argument that part of the problem between the United States and Europe over Iraq is Europe's greater fear of Washington's unilateral exercise of power than of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. Regrettably, I believe that this lies at the core of U.S.-European tensions over the Middle East.

From the end of the Gulf War to the con§ict in Afghanistan, each U.S. military action has highlighted a growing gap between the United States and Europe in military reach and capability. Choosing not to commit the necessary resources to close the gap (or even to prevent it from widening) the Europeans have put themselves on a path that leaves them with few options other than to complain about the "hyperpower."

This is complicated further by the mismatch between political aspirations and the actual implementing of decisions once they are finally taken at the European level. Despite progress in moving toward a more common European security and foreign policy, the process

remains ponderous and in§exible in the face of today's rapidly changing international scene.

As a result, America has moved increasingly to unilateral action. Because Europe has fewer resources to offer (notwithstanding

its substantial economic assistance program) in increasingly complex politico-military con§icts, Wash-

ington has little choice other than to act alone (or with a very narrow coalition.) This has fed the belief that Washington under-consults its friends and allies (current and potential) and has created mistrust of Washington's policy judgments and motivations.

Thus, following the United States on a controversial path toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians, or in a risky con§ict with Saddam Hussein, has become more problematic for Europe. Criticism of the United States has become easier - and more popular. The Europeans are less likely to join the United States in a common cause, even when they profess sharing the same goal (as Cornwell claims is the case with the Israeli-Palestinian con§ict).

What is to be done? First, Europeans and Americans alike need to stop kidding themselves that agreement on ends somehow repairs the damage done by visible differences such as those described by Cornwell and Schmitt. This situation is too serious to be allowed to drift. The crises Europe and the United States face, from the Balkans to Afghanistan, demand closer cooperation than is visible today.

Second, Europe and America need to make the Israeli-Palestinian con§ict a test case in closer cooperation. Europe and the United States must be seen as working together to end the violence and begin a new political process aimed at bringing peace. Finally, we need serious efforts in NATO, and between the United States and the European Union, aimed at establishing new mechanisms for the consultation that Europe believes is lacking. In this changed environment since 9/11, new mechanisms for political cooperation must evolve.

Richard D. Kauzlarich
Director, Special Initiatives on the Muslim World
United States Institute of Peace
Washington, DC

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number III in the Summer of 2002.