European Affairs

In the post-Cold War era, common threats exist, but perceptual differences remain about the significance of the threats and how to deal with them. These differences are re§ected in many issues: American aspirations for a missile defense system; European plans for a rapid reaction force; disputes over export controls; and concerns about burden sharing for collective security.

Instead of trying to work through these issues in isolation - which could lead to bad decisions, lost opportunities, or unintended consequences - the United States and its European partners must first reestablish a firm foundation built on a collective understanding of our shared interests, mutual threats, and common goals.

The most significant difference between the United States and its European friends is our varying perceptions of Russia. While all agree that Russia is a powerful country in decline that must be treated with respect, views diverge on the best strategic approach toward Russia.

Many in Washington view legacy agreements like the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) as Cold War relics that continue to cast Western democracies into an adversarial role with Russia, and limit both parties' abilities to protect themselves from new threats.

The United States respects Russia's objections to National Missile Defense, and has worked to address them, but does not believe that Moscow has a veto over U.S. or European defense policies. On the other hand, Europe fears that Russia will react to the deployment of a missile defense system by abandoning arms control agreements, expanding its nuclear capabilities, and acting more aggressively on the international scene.

It would help to resolve these differences if the United States understood European concerns about Russia's proximity, while Europe accepted that Russia no longer poses the same kind of threat as the Soviet Union did during the Cold War. That doesn't mean that we should not remain wary of a resurgent, bellicose Russia; we need to remain clear, firm, and realistic in our policies.

What is needed, though, is a common view of Russia - a new paradigm that is based on cooperation, not accommodation or confrontation - from which each side can formulate coherent and complementary policies.

The United States and Europe agree that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missiles is a serious problem, and that Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Libya are developing the capability to launch WMD-tipped missiles; we disagree, however, on the intent of these regimes.

The United States fears that possession of WMD and the means to deliver them against the American homeland, its troops, or its allies (including Europe), provides rogue states with an unacceptable opportunity to threaten U.S. security, or at least constrict our freedom of action abroad.

Many Europeans do not feel rogue states would actually use these weapons against Europe, and consequently, do not feel threatened. As a result, European and U.S. approaches toward stopping proliferation and containing these activities are markedly different, and in turn provide an ongoing source of friction between the United States and many of its European partners.

In addition, there is disagreement on how to address the challenges posed by countries that seek to upset global stability through proliferation, terrorism, and other means. Many European governments prefer trade and engagement as a means of in§uencing a country's behavior, whereas Washington is more willing to employ sanctions and military force.

These differences, unfortunately, have led to increasing disagreement about export controls on military and dual-use items, such as high-performance computers. In the past, some European countries have provided rogue states, such as Libya and Iraq, with the technologies, materials, and expertise needed to design, build, and produce weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles, and advanced conventional weapons. Ironically, these capabilities are the impetus behind America's drive for missile defenses.

On the other hand, the United States has sold items abroad for commercial gain without first coordinating with its export control partners, undermining international efforts to prevent the transfer of these items. This must stop.

Among other things, it is imperative that both sides agree to designate target countries that should not receive dual-use items; adopt "no undercut" rules to prevent any party from selling items abroad that have been previously denied by its export control partners; and establish "catchall" provisions that stop the §ow of these items through informal means.

The United States and Europe also need to continue to share intelligence on what potential adversaries are buying, and what the cumulative effects of these purchases mean to our collective security. Once the "back doors" to this dangerous trade in sensitive dual-use technologies to high risk countries are closed, the United States will be more willing to open the Transatlantic "front door" to enhanced defense cooperation and technology transfers.

Many Europeans are understandably more worried about ethnic turmoil in Southeastern Europe than the threat of WMD-armed rogue states. The destabilizing nature of these ethnic con§icts, Europe's inability to respond, and the stark differences in military capability that were exposed during the Kosovo campaign have led the European Union to consider a more independent foreign and defense policy.

This initiative, formally known as the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), would create a peacekeeping force capable of being deployed to contain con§icts within Europe.

The United States, however, is concerned that ESDP will strain NATO and will not result in the enhancement of Europe's military capability, particularly as the defense budgets of many countries continue to decline. The United States is concerned that ESDP will become a military force separate from NATO, a competitor to NATO, or a means to check American in§uence within NATO without enhancing the war-fighting capabilities of its European partners.

If we are truly committed to preserving NATO as the core of the Transatlantic relationship, as we should be, then these issues and others must be resolved and defense budgets increased before the EU continues much further down this path.

While concern about regional affairs is understandable, neglecting global security threats is dangerous and could prove costly. The United States and its European partners need to look beyond NATO and the confines of the continent when confronting instability and threats abroad.

Just as the United States must maintain its leadership role in NATO by demonstrating a willingness to commit its forces when European stability is threatened, so too must its European friends be willing to contribute forces outside Europe in a non-NATO context when mutual interests are challenged.

Burden sharing, after all, is a two-way street. The United States should not have to continue to go it alone in global hot spots such as the Persian Gulf, a region of great importance to Europe as well. The United States' responsibilities around the world place a considerable toll on its military, its diplomacy, and its ability to sustain both, politically and fiscally.

The United States and the countries of Europe have a common interest in preserving the global peace, prosperity, and stability. But if this state of affairs is to continue, then the Western democracies should be prepared to act together wherever others seek to create con§ict and instability that affect our mutual interests.

The United States and its European partners must address all these issues if they are to deal effectively with the new challenges of the 21st century. As demands on government entitlement programs increase with the graying of their populations, especially in Europe, defense spending will continue to decline unless hard choices are made.

For these reasons, the United States and Europe must look for ways to improve their efficiency and cooperation on security matters, beginning with recognition that all the challenges facing the Transatlantic relationship are interrelated and cannot be dealt with individually.

A common appreciation of security threats, policy approaches, and burden sharing should be addressed before the more specific issues of missile defense, ESDP, export controls, and defense cooperation are tackled.

A reinvigorated exchange of ideas is needed at the most senior levels to establish a new foundation based on our shared histories, values, and interests. Only then can we pursue practical ways to enhance relations between the United States and Europe. The United States and its European partners can resolve their differences and achieve their common and individual goals by agreeing to these fundamental principles, working together, and demonstrating the political will needed to achieve results.


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