European Affairs

It Will Help the U.S. to Have a Strong European Partner     Print Email

We are witnessing new and more dangerous forms of international terrorism, and not just since September 11, 2001. Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of violent dictators pose a threat to international security. At the same time, the collapse of state structures, together with the emergence of new, violent non-state players, are jeopardizing world peace.

The disintegration of national structures has been increasingly observed since the 1990s, for example in Somalia, Bosnia and Congo. The new threats to world peace, as well as the terrible reality of war crimes in national and international conflicts, mean that we must reform our security strategies and instruments to enable us to tackle new problems and conflicts.

Our concept of security has changed: in an era of non-state actors and asymmetric threats, security for our peoples cannot be assured by military means alone. We need a comprehensive culture of prevention - one that addresses the roots of these new threats. The European culture of prevention emphasizes multilateralism and international law.

The current international system is dominated by a host of players, with the United States having a predominant role. The United States will remain indispensable when it comes to tackling major challenges. The combination of its military, economic and cultural strengths puts the United States in a particularly strong position. This is a positive factor.

The United States, however, should use its power constructively to help further develop international law. It would be regrettable if in certain situations Washington were to define its unique role and power outside the norms and procedures of international law. Regardless of its strength, the United States cannot master major challenges on its own.

Joseph Nye, an American political scientist and a former leading official in the Pentagon, accurately describes this as "the paradox of American power," that is to say the combination of an exceptionally powerful position and the need to cooperate with others, primarily Europeans. Internationally, acceptance of America's predominant role can only be guaranteed on a long-term basis if the United States respects international law and institutions. The more the United States is receptive to the arguments and influence of its Transatlantic allies, the easier it will be for America's strategic partners in Europe to accept the predominant role of the United States as a self-confident democracy.

Despite all the differences of opinion on individual issues, Transatlantic relations will maintain their overriding importance. First of all, Europeans and Americans, granted from different positions, are dependent on one another. Secondly, we share the values of democratic and open societies based on the rule of law. And we do so in a much greater measure than is the case between other regions. This is still true even though we have made different decisions on some key issues: for example the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, to name but two.

The strategic dialogue at Transatlantic level must reflect changes in the international situation following the collapse of the old bloc structure of the Cold War and September 11: Europe is no longer the scene of the greatest global conflict. It is less dependent on the United States in resolving crises in its own region. And Europe could become more important in future as the natural ally of the United States in resolving regional problems outside Europe or in tackling global problems.

The most important lesson to be learned from the Iraqi crisis for Europeans and for the Transatlantic partnership is that we shall only be internationally effective and more influential if we join forces. Our common task is to strike a balance between actual power and the ideals of international law. Europeans have to press hard for a reform of the United Nations and of NATO, as well as closer cooperation between NATO and the European Union, to help create greater stability and democracy throughout the world.

The attacks of September 11, the most dramatic symbol of the new challenges, highlighted the importance and necessity of deepening and enlarging the European Union. By furthering European integration, the European Union will contribute to the stability and security of the whole continent and hopefully of the world.

It is true that military decisions in the aftermath of September 11 were taken in European national capitals and not in the EU institutions. At the same time, however, decisions taken by the European Council on combating terrorism gave strong impetus to the deepening of the European Union, particularly in justice and home affairs, but also with regard to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Europeans are well aware that this momentum for reform has to continue.

The CFSP was launched less than a decade ago to enhance Europe's capacities for common action. The policy is a necessary tool for a Europe that is still an economic superpower lacking influence in security issues. The CFSP will be necessary for the continuation of the European integration process. It will, however, remain a work in progress as long as member states are not willing to give up full national sovereignty over international affairs. This reluctance is exemplified by the fact that two EU member states (France and Britain) are permanent members of the UN Security Council, but the European Union itself is not.

Part of the CSFP is the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), which has been created to improve EU police and military capabilities. The questions today are how to organize these forces better, how to make them more effective, how to give them more teeth and how to assure the acceptance of these measures among the general population. Europe cannot become a relevant partner for the solution of global challenges unless it succeeds in making decisive progress across the whole spectrum of European foreign and security policy.

The irreconcilable conflicts of opinion inside the European Union over Iraq have underscored many of the arguments of Euroskeptics who claim that the European Union will never be able to evolve into a serious player in the international system. And there is no doubt that in the final analysis only political will can guarantee more effective policymaking and common external EU action. The efforts to agree on a new constitution for Europe have injected a lot of energy into the debate, not only about reform of the EU institutions, but also about Europe's future role in the world.

Like it or not, the European Union has a role to play. European interests demand that we play a global role - even if this applies to some countries more than others. Even Germany, despite its long tradition of not being engaged outside its borders, has shown in recent years that it is ready and willing to act more robustly on the international scene.

Increasing Europe's scope for action, however, is not intended to build up Europe as a counterweight to Washington, but rather to make it a more effective partner for the United States. Strong Transatlantic relations, and U.S. engagement in the "Old World" as a European power, provide a backbone of stability that allows European integration to proceed. In turn, European integration, by widening and deepening the zone of democratic, prosperous European states, provides America with an economic, political, and, increasingly, military partner.

Time and again the ESDP project has been an irritant in Transatlantic affairs. The development of crisis management capabilities, or the idea of a European headquarters to coordinate "the capacity of autonomous action," provokes a gut reaction on the other side of the Atlantic that is sometimes difficult for Europeans to understand. In Washington, some would prefer a maximum degree of burden sharing with a minimum degree of influence sharing, whereas on the European side there are various opinions as to the desirable degree of autonomy. The United States appears to be asserting its right to autonomous military action while at the same time adamantly opposing the development of even very limited capabilities for independent action by the European Union.

Without ESDP, however, the potential for friction would presumably be greater still, since now that the Cold War is over the United States expects the Europeans to shoulder a greater share of our common responsibility for security.

Moreover, North America and Europe continue to be each other's principal partners on the international political scene, and a stronger Europe is thus just as much in their common interest as is a strong America. European integration and strong Transatlantic relations are not contradictory - they are mutually reinforcing. With additional capabilities, Europe would not only become more reliable and useful but also more relevant in the eyes of Washington. That would serve the interests of both parties.

The alternative is to fall back on a system of coalitions of the willing with compliant partners to resolve future conflicts. This alternative holds risks. Firstly, in contrast to strategic partnerships, coalitions of the willing do not allow states to plan and pursue a long-term preventive policy. Rather, they merely allow them to react to problems once partners have been found. Although coalitions of the willing are not in direct contravention of the NATO Treaty when they do not concern the mutual assistance obligations of Article 5, they do not conform to the concept of strategic partnership between NATO partners. If NATO is only used as a "toolbox" for coalitions of the willing, this would inevitably lead to the erosion of its very substance.

Furthermore, we must ensure that the idea of "coalitions of the willing" does not also take root outside the Transatlantic context. Just imagine - and I say this quite unpolemically - what would happen if the principle were to become widely accepted. How would we react if India were to decide one day to take action against Pakistan in a coalition with, for example, Afghanistan and other states? We should also remember that a coalition of the willing very often provokes a counter-reaction from the "unwilling."

It is our role to explain to our Transatlantic partners that ESDP is an integral part of a strong and cohesive Europe that participates in shaping globalization in line with the values and interests of the EU member states. ESDP does not aim to create a substitute for NATO. A Europe with an effective security policy strengthens NATO by improving Transatlantic interoperability and developing a European pillar within the alliance.

ESDP is part of the project of political integration, which includes the perspective of a common defense policy that could ultimately lead to a common defense. It helps to promote increased integration in the framework of the European Union and will ideally not lead to a "Union within the Union" - a core group of states operating according to their own rules. The objective is to improve overall European capability, even if not all EU member states participate initially. Nobody, in fact, expects all European countries to participate from the beginning.

to participate from the beginning. ESDP is intended to develop more options for integration for all EU members without the initial participation of all. This is especially the case at a time when ten new member states are about to join the European Union. It will be important, in this context, to expand the concept of "enhanced cooperation," under which groups of EU countries are authorized to proceed farther than others in certain policy areas, into the field of defense.

ESDP should, through increased cooperation and integration, encourage EU member states to develop greater military capabilities from their limited defense budgets through pooling of resources, division of labor, and the establishment of a European armaments agency. This is not a project that can be achieved overnight. Key elements like the proposed "European headquarters" have to take shape step by step and will find consensus in the end.

Despite the current disagreements, Europeans and Americans alike have to keep the big picture in mind. North America and Europe are linked by shared values, interests and ultimately visions of the world we want to see in the 21st Century: a world founded on freedom, human rights and the rule of law. Not a single problem in the world can be solved if Europe and the United States are at odds. The Transatlantic partnership is a key factor for stability and security throughout the world. Nonetheless, this process will not advance of its own accord; the two sides must cooperate to give it form.

Karsten D. Voigt is Coordinator for German-American Cooperation in the German Foreign Office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While a member of the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag) from 1976 to 1998, Mr. Voigt was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and of the Defense Committee. An expert in security issues, he was also a long-standing member of the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO, where he served as President and Vice-President and as Chairman of the Defense and Security Committee.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number V, Issue number I in the Winter of 2004.

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