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Conflict Across the Atlantic: Will the Alliance Survive?

On March 11, 2003, Craig Kennedy, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), spoke to an audience at the Hudson Institute in Indianapolis about the nature of the current foreign policy rift between the United States and Europe. Following are notes from the event taken by John Clark, director of Hudson’s Center for Central European and Eurasian Studies.

The current problems between the United States and Europe have nothing to do with Iraq. The key is the control of the use of American military power. All European leaders want a say in how the United States deploys its military; no American political leader, Left or Right, wants to cede control at all. In this sense, Tony Blair is doing the same thing as Jacques Chirac, only using a different strategy.

Kennedys understanding of this issue draws from Robert Kagans essay Power and Weakness;1 the recent Worldviews 2002 study of European and American attitudes by the GMF and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations;2 the Pew Charitable Trusts Global Attitudes Project;3 and his own experience. What he wants to explore is how we got where we are today, and where we might be going.

The differences in military capabilities between the United States and Europe are stark. The United States spends about $350 billion per year. Next closest is Russia, which says it spends $50 billion, and that is surely overstated; the European countries spend much less. Moreover, the United States spends its money smarter, investing much more in technology. The United States has made reforms that the Europeans are still only contemplating, such as not relying on conscription. The gap between the United States and Europe in military power wont change soon.

A big difference is that Americans see the world as risky in ways that Europeans dont. Americans think India and Pakistan are risky, China is a risk. Europeans dont see the risks, and tend to think the solution to problems should employ soft power, not hard military force. Europeans especially resist the idea of spending money on the military. The GMF study asked Europeans if they want the EU to be a superpower like the United States: 92 percent of the French said yes, tailed off to the Germans at 50 percent. But when they were asked if they would be willing to spend money on the military in order to match the United States as a superpower, in all countries support dropped by half (even though they were willing to spend money in other ways in order to match the United States as a superpower, such as spending on humanitarian or economic aid).

Why isnt Europe following us the way they used to? And why do they want a say in how our military power is used?

It isnt that they are pacifists. In fact, Europeans are more willing than Americans to use force, as long as they dont have to pay for it and as long as it has the UNs approval. (Europeans view the United States as providing moral legitimacy; note below, where Kennedy says the United States views the UN as providing burden sharing rather than moral legitimacy.)

It isnt exactly anti-Americanism, not in the sense that Europeans oppose the United States as a system. Toughest anti-U.S. attitudes come from France, where maybe 20 percent are knee-jerk anti-American; but almost as many are knee-jerk pro-American. They like U.S. culture, movies, and values. But they dont like U.S. foreign policy or Republican presidents.

It isnt fear of the United States as sole superpower. Pew Charitable Trusts asked if they thought the world was a safer place with the United States as sole superpower, most said yes.

So what is it? First, over the last thirty years, there has been erosion in the acceptance of U.S. leadership. Now, without the immediate threat from the USSR, European leaders and people can express what they have long felt. You saw this in the German election: politicians no longer think they have anything to lose by bashing the United States. Pew asked Do you think the United States takes your countrys interests into account in its foreign policy? Interestingly, France had the greatest percentage saying yes; apparently the French think that their aggressively confrontational approach forces the United States to pay attention. Sadly, our closest allies in Europe were least likely to say the United States takes their countries interests into account: this could be a problem of public relations, and the United States has simply stopped the hard work of listening.

Second, Europeans now have an alternate model: the EU. As Kagan argues, they think they have developed a Kantian paradise which should be a standard everyone uses for resolving conflicts. The new generation of European politicians has grown up with their first allegiance to the EU. American policymakers made a mistake when they refused to take the EU seriously, when they assumed it wouldnt be a challenge, and when they concentrated on bilateral relations.

Third, Europeans have a different sense of risks. They dont feel vulnerable to terrorism in the same way Americans feel; and if they do feel vulnerable, they blame the United States because its power draws attacks. Kennedy has been asking European leaders: If your country experienced an al Qaeda style terrorist attack, would it draw you closer to the United States or further apart? All say further apart: they would think that they were attacked because of their connection to the United States.

This gets to why Europeans want a say in the use of U.S. military power.

1. They fear the echo effect resulting from their glowing Muslim populations: the Mid East conflicts could hit them in their own suburbs.

2. They fear floods of refugees since they are geographically closer than the United States.

3. Europeans think the United States expects them to handle the clean up, the reconstruction and peacekeeping after the fighting is over. If they are expected to wash the dishes after the United States cooks the meal, they want a say in the meals menu and venue.

Where are we heading? Keep in mind that neither the United States nor Europe are unitary or monolithic. There are wide variations in opinion about what to do. In Europe, some really do want to follow the United States no matter what; some, such as Tony Blair, think they can influence the United States by remaining close; others, such as Chirac, think they can influence the United States by punching it in the nose. In the United States, some really do think the United States can go it alone. An example of this can be seen in March 11s Wall Street Journal, in Paul Johnsons review of Kagans book:

This means Washington must take a critical look at NATO and the United Nations, neither of which reflects America’s true singularity as the world’s only superpower. America should look, rather, to bilateral deals with powers that really matter, like Russia, China, India, and Japandeals based, like the special relationship with Britain, on a practical community of interests. What America should avoid, in any case, is legal obligations that prevent it from doing what it knows to be right and necessary.4

Other American policymakers think the United States faces tough jobs in the world, and needs the help Europeans can bring: financial, expertise, clout around the world.

Kennedy develops four scenarios of how the future might shape up.

I. Multilateral quagmire, meaning more of the same. He thinks this is most likely. The United States wont leave the UN, at least for several years. Even after Iraq it will keep trying to work through the UN and NATO; France will block the U.S. initiatives; the United States will try to divide Europe. The result will be that multilateral institutions are in shambles. This combat will extend into the economic sphere. For instance, the WTO will increasingly be the site of trade disputes over genetically modified foods, privacy, and other issues. This fighting will spread to the IMF and World Bank. Kennedy thinks the business community on both sides of the Atlantic will keep it from spiraling completely out of control, but it will be very damaging.

II. The United States walks away, saying that as long as the Europeans dont fight each other and as long as they stay out of the Americans way around the globe, fine. Bu that wont happen. Europeans feel at risk because of Americas policies, so they wont let the United States walk away. Most Americans dont want to walk away, either. They are more likely to support military action if its with allies. They are more likely to support action that has the UN seal of approval: Americans see this as spreading the cost, sharing burdens (not moral legitimacy).

III. Revitalized U.S. leadership. Back to 1960, when Europeans might complain but in the end, they go along. Many in DC think this will happen after the United States wins in Iraq, everyone will back the winner. Kennedy thinks this is sheer nostalgia for days that will not return, Europe wont do it.

IV. New Trans-Atlantic Bargain. The United States will allow Europe a voice in how American military power is used in exchange for European help in grand projects. GMF Fellow Ron Asmus and Ken Pollack have written a reply to Robert Kagan called The New Transatlantic Project, that calls for the United States and Europe to transform the Middle East.5 Fred Bergsten of the Institute for International Economics envisions cooperation between a new G2 of the United States and EU extending beyond economics. Kennedy thinks this is unlikely. For instance, on the Middle East Asmus and Pollack dont appreciate the gap between the United States in identifying the problems: Americans focus on tyrants, support for terrorism, clashes of civilizations; Europeans see poverty and Israel as causes. Europeans dont think democracy is possible in the Middle East, the United States thinks its necessary, at the very least a plausible goal. They disagree about means: The United States emphasizes force; Europeans constructive dialogue, trade, aid. This makes Kennedy skeptical that a new trans-Atlantic project will ever take off.

Kennedy wants to end on an optimistic note, by quoting an earlier Kennedy. In his speech at Independence Hall on July 4, 1962, John Kennedy called for a new Declaration of Interdependence.

We do not regard a strong and united Europe as a rival but as a partner. To aid its progress has been the basic object of our foreign policy for 17 years. We believe that a united Europe will be capable of playing a greater role in the common defense, of responding more generously to the needs of poorer nations, of joining with the United States and others in lowering trade barriers, resolving problems of commerce, commodities, and currency, and developing coordinated policies in all economic, political, and diplomatic areas. We see in such a Europe a partner with whom we can deal on a basis of full equality in all the great and burdensome tasks of building and defending a community of free nations.6

Craig Kennedy hopes Europeans and Americans today recognize their interdependence.

Questions and Answers

Q: How valid was Rumsfelds division between New Europe (the Central European new democracies) and Old Europe?

A: New Europe may be more pro-American in sentiment, but when you look at attitudes toward policies, they are a lot like Old Europe. The Central European countries see globalization as a threat, and what might be seen as American-style pro-market policies as something to be avoided. They like America, but see their future as members of the EU. Maybe the best way of characterizing the attitudes of the Central European young leaders Kennedy works with: We support the United States, but we hope it knows what its doing. If Iraq goes badly, there will be ripple effects.

Q: Should the United States move its military out of West European bases to East Europe, where they like us better?

A: It might make sense in terms of cost, strategy, and deployment to move from Germany to Bulgaria and Romania; but it isnt a lever over the Germans since a lot of Germans wish the United States would do just that.

Q: Could the problem be that American and European cultures are becoming more dissimilar, Europe is more post-capitalist and post-Christian?

A: As a guy who misspent three years as a graduate student of anthropology, Kennedy is nervous about using culture as an explanation. Surveys show a lot of similarities. On a few particular questions of values, however, differences are important. For instance, he has never seen a survey that asks, Is democracy a universal ideal? He suspects Americans would say yes, Europeans would say no. There is a big difference over the value of using military force to settle disputes. A big difference over Israel. This isnt exactly cultural, and both Americans and Europeans enjoy the same music, movies, and so on.

Q: Even though Kennedy started by saying the problem isnt Iraq, explain some of the specifics of that issue.

A: The official line from the French or German Foreign Ministries would probably be that Saddam is a very bad guy, he probably has Weapons of mass destruction, military force shouldnt be used yet, because if the United States keeps half a million troops on Iraqs borders with the tank engines revving its likely that Saddam will eventually cooperate over the next couple of years. But as Richard Perle says, the U.S. military is not some kind of stage prop. Europeans are convinced that if the United States goes in militarily, the entire region will go up in flames. In fact, in developing and assessing possible futures, European policymakers best case scenario is more pessimistic than American policymakers worst case scenario! Chirac probably believes in the substance of what he is fighting for; but more powerful is how the Iraq issue is a metaphor for gaining control over the U.S. military.

Q: How will what eventually happens in Iraq influence which of the four scenarios eventually comes to pass?

A: If the war in Iraq goes badlydrawn out, many civilian casualties, use of weapons of mass destructionEuropeans will say I told you so and relations will be bad. Kennedy doesnt think the war will go badly like this, and the critical phase will be the day after. Will the United States ask the UN to set up a governing structure for Iraq, or will it go with a U.S. military government? Theres also a question of who helps clean up afterwards. The Europeans feel constrained, lacking the resources: German peacekeepers are tied up in Afghanistan and the Balkans; France is having problems in Africa; Spain and Italy have few troops they could contribute, and the United States would have to transport and care for them so even if Europe is willing to help afterwards, they might not be able to do much. A couple of critical events are ahead. In early June France is hosting a G8 summit; if it takes the opportunity to embarrass the United States, thats a bad sign; and in late June there will be an EU-U.S. summit on the Middle East that could go badly.

Q: Elaborate on the point that Chirac and Blair are trying to do the same thing, influence the U.S. use of military force.

A: You can see the similarities in how badly Blair wants the UNs blessing. He is trying to be a good European even as he trying to influence the United States. You dont put up 40,000 of you troops as the UK has and not expect to have a say in how they are used.

Q: You said that U.S. military dominance would continue indefinitely. Isnt it possible that if Europeans changed their priorities. Might they, or perhaps China, eventually challenge the United States militarily?

A: Probably not. The key is threat perception, especially for the public. Voters need to feel a purpose, urgency to spending for military: the public in the United States does, in Europe it doesnt.

Q: Elaborate on the differences in Christianity in Europe and the United States. The United States is becoming increasingly evangelical, Europe less Christian.

A: Right now, Europe is befuddled by the fact that Bush is a real evangelical. Most Americans have contact (or are) that kind of person; Europeans dont know how to interpret people who deal with the world in that mode. Americans may well have a more moralistic vision of the world. Europeans would never think of trying to save the world. Maybe this accounts for Europeans not sharing Americans sense of a mission to democratize the world.

Q: Whose perception of threat is more accurate, Europeans or Americans?

A: We really are less safe than Europe; we really are the primary target. This wont necessarily always be the case. Europeans say they have more experience with terrorism, but this has been local, home-grown, lacking the reach and finances of groups such as al Qaeda. But its conceivable that, for instance, radical Kurdish groups might some day decide to employ WMDs in Germany.

Q: So is it true that our power has made us less safe?

A: Europeans still think that U.S. power makes the world a safer place, even if the power is used clumsily. Kennedy thinks the danger comes not from U.S. power but from external cultures that breed hostility toward the United States.