European Affairs

The United States should stop merely reacting to fundamental changes in Europe, voicing platitudes from the sidelines, and adopt a more proactive approach. Washington should develop a series of strategic, diplomatic, and analytical principles, with political, economic, and military dimensions, to guide its policies toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union and its plans for reviving the Transatlantic relationship. In formulating these principles, the United States should follow the conservative precepts of the great 18th century British statesman Edmund Burke and see the world as it is, not as some might hope it to be. The first principle should be recognition of the continuing strategic centrality of Europe. Whatever the global issue - be it tracking down al Qaeda, the Doha trade round, Iran’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, the Arab-Israeli conflict or Iraq - the United States simply cannot act effectively without the support of at least some European powers. The United States remains first among equals. But the world is neither genuinely unipolar nor multipolar, which makes it vital for America to continue to court allies.

Both now and well into the future there is and will be only one place to find those allies. Europe is the sole area of the world where political, diplomatic, military, and economic power can be generated in sufficient strength to support American policies effectively. The cluster of international powers in Europe - led by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland - has no parallel.

The leading European nations, however, rarely agree on most of today’s key issues of foreign and security policy. As a result, the United States must engage European states on an issue-by-issue, caseby- case basis to maximize its diplomatic effectiveness, gaining the greatest number of allies for the largest number of missions.

The second principle that should drive American policy centers on the importance of national choice and sovereignty. American interests are best served when European states act flexibly according to their separate interests, rather than collectively according to some utopian ideal. Although the day may be far off, a European Union implementing a genuinely supranational common foreign and security policy could clearly hamstring American efforts to form political, military or economic coalitions with individual member countries.

To illustrate the point, one need only look at the EU common commercial policy, under which the European Commission conducts international negotiations on behalf of the European Union, even though the member states have not reached a consensus on the very principle of free trade. The consequence is that the European Union formulates trade policy on the basis of the lowest common denominator. It can proceed only as fast as its most protectionist member allows. This adherence to supranationalism keeps largely free-trading nations with more open economies - such as the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Estonia - from following their sovereign interests and developing closer and mutually beneficial trading ties with the United States.

This one-size-fits-all approach does not suit the modern political realities of the continent. European countries have politically diverse opinions on all aspects of international life: free trade, NATO, relations with the United States and how to organize their own economies. Ireland, for example, is a strongly free trading country, has extensive ties to the United States and favors a large degree of economic liberalization. France, by contrast, is more protectionist, more statist in organizing its economy, and more competitive in its attitude toward America.

Germany falls between the two on free trade and relations with the United States, but favors some liberalization of its economy to retain its corporatist model. Strategically, Ireland is neutral; France is inherently hostile to NATO, while Germany is more pro-NATO than France is but values UN involvement in crises above that of the alliance. This real European diversity ought to be reflected in each state’s control over its foreign and security policy. A more centralized Europe simply does not reflect the political reality on the ground.

The third principle in reforming Transatlantic relations is acceptance that the U.S.-UK special relationship must remain a cornerstone of U.S. strategic thinking. The UK is likely to remain America’s paramount ally for the foreseeable future. That is why it is in America’s fundamental national interest to help the UK maintain its sovereignty and the flexibility to continue playing this pivotal role.

Since joining the then European Community in 1973, Britain has had an uneasy and sometimes tumultuous relationship with its European partners. During this period, the European Union has evolved from a largely economic grouping of nation states into an inward- looking political entity, with evergreater political centralization. The British have found their national sovereignty gradually eroded by EU laws and regulations.

Despite efforts by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to play a leading role in Europe, the British public has grown increasingly disillusioned with EU membership in the past few years. In a recent ICM poll, commissioned by the New Frontiers Foundation, 59 percent of Britons agreed with the suggestion that the UK “should take back powers from the EU and develop a new global trade and defense alliance with America, some in Europe, and other countries across the world.” Just 30 percent of respondents said that Britain “should join the euro and Constitution and aim for a political union in Europe.” (The results of this poll, however, may be somewhat skewed, as respondents were not offered the choice of maintaining Britain’s current relationship with the European Union, which many would undoubtedly favor.)

The UK’s future direction in Europe will directly impact the United States. Economically, it is hard to imagine how two countries could be closer. Between 1995 and 2003, 64 percent of total U.S. direct investment in the European Union went to the UK, while 62 percent of EU investment in the United States originated in Britain. The United States and the UK easily remain the largest foreign direct investors in each other’s economies. These extraordinarily close financial ties between the world’s largest and fourth largest economies would alone make the UK a primary U.S. national security interest.

Militarily, along with France and the United States, the UK is one of only three NATO powers capable of sustaining a global military presence in terms of both transport capacity and logistics. It is unfortunate that Britain is embarking on major cuts in its armed forces as part of a modernization program.While supposedly improving Britain’s niche military capabilities, the cuts are likely to leave the British military severely overstretched.

Nevertheless, these three powers are the only Atlantic allies that can participate in the entire military spectrum, from high-end, technologically intricate major war fighting through low-end peacekeeping. It is also helpful that both France and the UK are the only European countries with a genuine geopolitical grasp of military realities (partly due to their colonial histories) and a political tolerance for casualties. This state of affairs is not expected to change - it is highly unlikely that any other NATO power will obtain a significant global reach in the medium term.

Perhaps the single greatest asset to the United States from its relationship with Britain, however, is the UK’s proven political slant toward America. The two countries have a unique, long-standing tradition of working intimately with one another, as demonstrated in World Wars I and II, the Cold War, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the fight against al Qaeda. This ingrained affinity - the product of a common cultural heritage, a common commitment to free markets and free elections, and common geopolitical views - is without parallel in the world. It explains why the UK is currently so vital to U.S. coalition building and is likely to continue to be.

Fourthly, the United States must follow Burke’s advice and see Europe as it is, not as some Europeans might wish it. Europe collectively is far weaker than its federalist adherents proclaim. Simply put, it is considerably less than the sum of its parts. In the wake of the Iraq war, the European Union looks economically sclerotic, militarily weak and politically disunited.

Economically, the Franco-German- Italian core of the euro zone has structurally high unemployment. Staggeringly, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, between 1970 and 2000 the 12 countries now in the euro area did not create any net private sector jobs. The demographic problems created by Europe’s falling birthrate and aging population - linked to its over-generous social safety net - make the preservation of its way of life highly dubious in the medium-term without radical reform. Unless Europe as a whole deals with this massive problem, it will be consigned to the status of an elderly theme park.

Militarily, the collective picture is grim. Despite a market that is slightly larger than that of the United States, European defense spending is two-thirds that of the United States and produces only 20 percent of America’s deployable fighting strength. Even the current level of spending and capability is in peril. In the words of leading American defense expert Richard Perle, Europe’s armed forces have already “atrophied to the point of virtual irrelevance.”

Politically, Europeans remain deeply divided on seminal issues of war and peace, as demonstrated by the fundamental differences between Britain and France and Germany over Iraq. The basic reason is that national interests still dominate foreign policy-making at the most critical moments, even for states ostensibly committed to common foreign and security policies. For the European powers, Iraq has never been primarily about Iraq. It is about the attitudes of Europeans toward post-Cold War American power and their jockeying for place within common European institutions.

One camp, championed by France, is distrustful of American power and strives to create a centralized European Union as a rival pole of power to America. The other camp, led by Britain and including the Scandinavian, Baltic and Central and Eastern European states, seeks to engage American power and favors a more decentralized Union.

This very disparate political, economic, and military picture of Europe is one reason why the EU constitution - the latest attempt to impose greater central control over the European process - is unlikely to be ratified. There is no doubt that the framers of the European project started with over-lofty goals, to the extent of making false comparisons with the drafting of the U.S. constitution in Philadelphia in 1787.

According to the Laeken Declaration of December 2001, which launched the process of replacing the Union’s existing treaties, the new European document would clarify the division of competencies among the EU institutions, the member states and the people, making the Union more efficient and open. The institutions were to be brought closer to Europe’s citizens in an effort to lessen the Union’s “democratic deficit.” This was to be a two-way process, with some powers returned to the member states and the people and some new competencies bestowed on Brussels. It is now clear that these high hopes bear little resemblance to the finished product.

In fact, the document is riven with contradictions, many of which will have to be worked out over time by the European Court of Justice, with the goal of “ever-closer union” as its mandate. This can readily be seen as an effort at further centralization by the back door, a process wholly out of line with the notion of a diverse Europe. Tellingly, the constitution does little to provide citizens with a sense of control over the process of European government or the evolution of the Union.

These egregious flaws explain why the constitution will probably not be ratified. In that case, American policy makers will have to recognize that the EU drive toward ever-closer union has at last decisively sputtered, and that engaging Europeans at the state level will generally be far more effective than engaging the European Union.

Given these broad principles, the United States should advance the following policies toward Europe. First,Washington should favor a multi-speed Europe, with each state having greater choice about its level of integration. If, as is likely, the constitution fails to be ratified, France has called for the creation of a more integrated, confederal European core dominated by France and Germany, with Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg as probable members.

The United States should support this French initiative if it leads to a genuinely multi-speed Europe. The French cannot be the only ones to redefine their role. There must be at least three speeds to a reconstituted European Union: the inner core, a group of states that wish to remain roughly as integrated as they are now, and an outer core that wants looser ties with Brussels. This latter group ought to regain the right to join trading blocs with non-EU countries. This will require a trade opt-out, just as a new confederal opt-in will be necessary for the inner core.

Such a reconstituted process must be negotiated all at once, so that a newly defined inner core, led by France, cannot stop other states from also altering their relationship with the European Union. If such a policy is adopted, individual European states will be free to decide their own destinies.

Second, the United States must launch a massive public diplomacy campaign in Europe if it is to retain the ability to engage European countries as allies. There is little doubt that the conflicts over the war in Iraq and its aftermath have been a diplomatic disaster of the first magnitude for Washington. While many European governments still support U.S. policy in Iraq, the general public remains extremely hostile to American foreign policy. The recently published Gallup Transatlantic Trends 2004 poll of opinion in nine major EU countries found that 58 percent of European respondents believed that strong U.S. leadership in the world was “undesirable.”

If Europe is the most likely place for America to find allies well into the new century, it must become the main focus of U.S. global efforts at public diplomacy. Fostering goodwill toward America will make a greater practical difference in Europe than anywhere else in the world. It may take a generation to rejuvenate the Transatlantic alliance, and America must not underestimate the scale of the problem if this new strategy is to work. Unless public diplomacy is used effectively in Europe, America may have no allies in future.

Third, the United States should help establish a Global Free Trade Alliance (GFTA), opening the door to genuine free trade with qualified European nations in the outer core. A GFTA would be an economic coalition of the willing, determined to liberalize trade among its members, augmenting already existing bilateral, regional, and multilateral free trade negotiations. It would not be a treaty, but a legislative initiative offering free trade between the United States and other nations with a demonstrable commitment to free trade and investment, minimal regulation, and property rights. Congress would offer GFTA members access to the U.S. market, with no tariffs, quotas, or other trade barriers, on the single condition that they offer the same access to the United States and other members of the group.

The GFTA would associate the United States and genuine free-trading European nations with other dynamic economies around the world, such as Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore. The GFTA would have no standing secretariat, and institutional cooperation would be limited to formal meetings of the member countries’ trade ministers, staffs and technical experts. Further decisions on trading initiatives - such as codifying uniform standards on subsidies and capital flows - would be made on a consensual basis to further minimize barriers within the alliance.

The GFTA can change the way people and countries think about free trade. Further global trade liberalization will no longer require wrangling over “concessions.” Instead, free trade will be seen for what it is, a policy that gives countries a massive economic advantage. As the benefits of the alliance become apparent, the GFTA would serve as a practical advertisement for global free trade. Such an organization would be extremely attractive to the outer European core, tired of the overly statist strictures of protectionist Brussels.

Fourth, the United States should continue to press for NATO reform, particularly through increased use of the Combined Joint Task Force Mechanism (CJTF), endorsed by NATO governments in April 1999. Until recently, the alliance could only take on a mission if all its members agreed to do so. Under CJTF procedures, NATO member states do not have to participate actively in a mission if they do not feel their vital interests are at stake, but their absence does not stop other members going ahead. As Iraq illustrates, there are almost always some allies who will go along with any specific American policy initiative.

The new modus operandi would work both ways. Sometimes the United States would act together with those allies that wanted to join it; sometimes European countries would act without the United States. In fact, the first de facto use of the new procedure involved European efforts to head off civil conflict in Macedonia. The United States wisely noted that Macedonia was, to put it mildly, not a primary national interest. For Italy, however, with the Adriatic as its Rio Grande, upheaval in Macedonia would have had serious consequences, destabilizing a near-by region and causing an unwanted flow of refugees. By allowing a group of European states to use common NATO facilities - such as logistics, lift and intelligence capabilities, most of which were American in origin - while refraining from putting U.S. boots on the ground, Washington followed a sensible middle course that averted a crisis in the alliance.

Beyond the sacrosanct Article V commitment, which holds that an attack on one alliance member is an assault on all, the future of NATO consists of just these sorts of “coalitions of the willing” acting out of area. Such operations are likely to become the norm in an era of a politically fragmented Europe. The United States should call for full NATO consultation on almost every major politico-military issue of the day. If full NATO support is not forthcoming, Washington should doggedly pursue the diplomatic dance, rather than treating such a rebuff as the end of the process, as many strict multilateralists would counsel.

If action by a subset of the alliance proved impossible, owing to the general blocking of such an initiative, the United States should form a coalition of willing countries around the globe outside NATO. Only after exhausting these options should America act alone, if fundamental national interests were at stake.

Fifth, the United States must continue to encourage European members of NATO to modernize the alliance by developing a rapid reaction force - quickly deployable, highly lethal, and expeditionary - so as not to erode the sharing of risks that is so vital to the continued functioning of the organization.

The present unequal division of labor between the United States and its European allies - with the United States fighting the wars and the Europeans keeping the peace - sets an awful precedent for the future of the alliance. France and Britain apart, Europe’s paltry military spending means that the continent’s only hope of making a viable contribution to allied security is to modernize and pool resources, in an effort to play niche roles in an overall American-led defense strategy.

There is also a vast and growing technological discrepancy, with the United States spending nearly four times more than its European allies on defense research and development. Barely ten percent of Western Europe’s 5,000 attack aircraft, for example, are capable of precision bombing, and Europe has almost no independent “lift” capacity to transport an army at will. If the United States continues to be the “mercenary” of the alliance while the Europeans are the “social workers,” this functional disparity will lead to constant differences in political views and imperil the viability of the alliance

Sixth, the United States should realign and update its European base structure to meet the challenges of the 21st century. President George W. Bush has called for the removal of up to 70,000 U.S. troops from Europe and Asia over ten years, in a sweeping reorganization that would better prepare the armed forces to handle post-September 11 crises. Two armored divisions would return to the United States from Germany and be replaced by one light-armored brigade. The plan calls for more troops to be deployed farther south and east in Europe, nearer the arc of instability (the Caucasus, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, and North Africa), where future crises are most likely to originate.

This re-deployment is more consistent with the realities of today’s threats and will help to remedy NATO’s current inability to deploy troops quickly. By making more American troops ready for rapid deployment, the United States will help to revitalize the alliance and increase its relevance to today’s problems.

The restructuring will also increase America’s geostrategic flexibility. The United States is currently too dependent on a few vital NATO countries. Developing a presence in other European nations will spread the strategic risk and decrease America’s dependence on any one NATO ally. Turkey, for example, will no longer be one of the few critical pressure points in mounting a military campaign in the Middle East, as it was during preparations for the war in Iraq. American bases in Bulgaria and Romania would shift some of the burden away from this hard-pressed ally, allowing Ankara to emphasize military action as regional in nature, not solely as a makeor- break U.S.-Turkish matter.

It is also important to emphasize that any removal of American forces from Germany is not a reaction to Berlin’s opposition to the war in Iraq. It is imperative to reaffirm that Washington values its traditional European alliances, especially with Germany, and that the restructuring efforts will benefit all of Europe by adjusting NATO’s force structure to reflect the fact that the world has entered a different era.

Only by grounding American policy prescriptions in a new view of Europe will it prove possible to escape from the reactive nature of current American efforts to deal with the bewildering continent. By following Burke’s adage, it becomes clear that “Europe” is less than its admirers claim and more than its detractors admit. European countries remain the foundation of all coalitions that America can assemble well into the future, with the UK playing a critical role.

It is also true that the United States simply cannot act effectively in the world without at least some European allies, whatever the issue. Furthermore, Europe is not the monolith bloc to which EU integrationists aspire. On the contrary, it shows amazing diversity, whether the issues are economic, military, or political. Europe is ultimately a hodgepodge, and this perfectly suits American interests.

Simply put, America will be able to engage European governments most successfully in a Europe in which national sovereignty remains paramount in foreign and security policy and states act flexibly rather than collectively. This flexibility, whether in international institutions or in ad hoc coalitions of the willing, is the future of the Transatlantic relationship, for it fits the objective realities of the state of the continent. Such a Europe is worth conserving.

John Hulsman (Above left) is Senior Research Fellow in European Affairs and Nile Gardiner (Above right) is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy at the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 6, Issue number 1-2 in the Winter/Spring of 2005.