European Affairs

U.S. engagement can help shape an international environment that ensures the security of America and its democratic allies, reinforces international peace and stability, and encourages the consolidation and expansion of the sphere of democratic nations.

Achieving these objectives is much more likely if the United States and its allies can adopt mutually reinforcing policies on key issues. While the United States has important interests in various regions, none is more crucial than Europe.

Inevitably, as European nations pursue their own interests as well as the European integration process, issues will emerge as challenges to Transatlantic relations, both bilateral and in the context of the European Union and NATO. There will be a risk of serious misunderstanding and counterproductive action-reaction cycles if these issues are not managed carefully.

Both Americans and Europeans will have to make special efforts to address potentially contentious issues, including:

  • The roles of Transatlan-tic and European security organizations: Washington should generally be supportive of the European integration process. At the same time, the United States has an obligation to make its views clear on issues that could affect NATO or other major U.S. international concerns or objectives.

For the United States, NATO remains the essential mechanism for linking U.S. and European security. On the macro-level, it will be crucial to establish the right relationship between NATO and the defense entity to be established by the EU.

If the United States is to be an effective element of the European security equation, then NATO must continue to have a priority claim upon the resources and attention of European nations. Any newly established security structures or procedures should not undermine NATO's military effectiveness.

Thus, the United States and European nations should show creativity in integrating European interests in developing a common foreign and defense policy with the overall political and military requirements of an expanding NATO alliance that retains primacy on Transatlantic security matters.

This can involve measures such as strengthening the European role in NATO, more clearly defining where unique U.S. military capabilities can support NATO, and developing common export control approaches to enhance the possibilities for Transatlantic defense industry cooperation.

European and U.S. military forces should be complementary, and both should have force projection and sustainment capabilities. At the operational level, NATO allies should have military forces that can work together smoothly. Greater efforts are necessary to assure that European and American military systems are at comparable technological levels, and that key military systems are compatible.

At least for the foreseeable future, when a serious common security threat arises, U.S. leadership will be essential. In such situations, the United States is likely to be the first to deploy military forces, and also to demonstrate a willingness to sustain a major military commitment. At the same time, when military action proves necessary, coalition warfare is strongly in the U.S. interest.

The U.S. international role, however, does not require equally active military involvement everywhere. Indeed, using U.S. military forces unwisely risks the public support essential to sustained U.S. engagement. Prudence and wise prioritizing of interests, challenges, and threats is essential. America's capacity for sustaining its global responsibilities should not be dissipated through use of its military forces in areas of marginal security concern, where others can take on the major responsibilities.

  • Missile defenses: The possession of weapons of mass destruction, and the means to make them capable of reaching the United States, is spreading. The result is a quantum leap in America's vulnerability to a seriously damaging attack. Thus, a new geostrategic situation is emerging which dramatically reinforces the utility of national missile defenses for the United States. America must deploy missile defenses in order to be able to protect itself against planned or accidental missile attacks on its national territory.

The deployment of missile defenses to defend U.S. territory is not, as some Europeans have suggested, an isolationist approach which signals a retreat within America's borders. Rather, the reverse is true. The United States will be a more confident international leader, and more likely to assist and protect its friends and allies, if it is safe from missile attack.

Clearly, the United States should engage in extensive discussions with European nations about missile defense deployments and their implications. Furthermore, the United States should be prepared to assist in providing missile defense protection to European allies.

For example, U.S. missile defense systems deployed on naval ships positioned in the Mediter-ranean could provide significant protection to European nations. The U.S. can also provide theater defense systems to NATO or to individual European nations, or work cooperatively with Europeans on the development of such systems.

  • Encouraging democracy: Europeans and Americans generally share common values, but they may differ on whether, or if so how, to encourage the adoption of democratic institutions and practices elsewhere. From a U.S. perspective, the values of a free society, while manifesting themselves differently in different cultures, are universal. Furthermore, the United States should not and cannot remain indifferent to those seeking to establish, consolidate, or strengthen the institutions and practices of a free society elsewhere.

U.S. and European security interests are also best served by the expansion of democracy and the rule of law. As a general proposition, societies which follow the rule of law at home, and where leaders rule with the consent of the governed, are likely to be interested in the rule of law internationally. Democratically-elected leaders also tend to be constrained by the general reluctance of democratic peoples to go to war. For example, the overall consolidation of democracy throughout most of Europe has dramatically reinforced both American and European security.

  • Harmonizing policy on other important issues: At least for now, Americans and Europeans see policy toward Russia in much the same way. Missile defenses, however, are an area of potential divergence. Many Europeans view the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as an unchangeable bulwark of strategic stability, and are concerned about Russian reaction to a U.S. missile defense deployment or possible changes in the status or substance of the ABM Treaty.

It is, however, both reasonable and prudent to reassess a three decades-old treaty, in the interests of self-defense, now that the strategic environment has fundamentally changed. At the same time, Moscow can be offered the positive vision of a phased transition to a new U.S.-Russian strategic relationship dominated by defensive, rather than offensive, systems. Also, the United States can, under its current circumstances, support verifiable levels of nuclear weapons lower than those specified in the START agreement for both sides.

With respect to the Pacific region, European nations should appreciate that, because of America's important interests, China's potential as a security problem is of real concern. In the Middle East, Iran and Iraq have the potential to be special sources of irritation in the Transatlantic relationship.

On all three of these issues, it should be a matter of the highest priority to identify common approaches (for example through mechanisms such as multilateral export controls) that can constrain the acquisition or transfer of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery. Furthermore, Europeans should also be willing to focus on trade that actually assists the development of a genuine Chinese private sector and market economy, but not trade which enhances China's military.

It is encouraging that Europe as a whole appears to be moving away from state ownership and micromanagement of the private sector. Nonetheless, the EU and the United States will undoubtedly experience friction on trade issues. The overriding objective of all parties concerned should be the maintenance and strengthening of an open market-based international trading system with the private sector as the engine of economic development and growth.

The United States has no alternative to international leadership and engagement. Abstaining from such leadership may avoid short-term policy dilemmas and costs, in the longer-term, however, an abdication of U.S. leadership would inevitably create power vacuums leading to instabilities. The United States would then have no choice but to respond at much greater cost than if it had remained continuously engaged.

At the same time, U.S. leadership can and should manifest itself differently from the Cold War era. Both the United States and the European nations must make special efforts during this period of transformation in Europe to ensure that disagreements on specific issues do not impair the overall Transatlantic relationship.

Maintaining overall cohesion will inevitably require compromises. Working together, the United States and its friends and allies can adapt the Transatlantic relationship in a positive manner to new conditions, protect their common security interests, and help to encourage a world that is increasingly hospitable to freedom and democracy.


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