Sustaining U.S.-European Global Security Cooperation

By Flanagan, Stephen J. | Strategic Forum, September 2005 | Go to article overview
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Sustaining U.S.-European Global Security Cooperation


Flanagan, Stephen J., Strategic Forum


The atmosphere and tone of transatlantic discourse have improved markedly in recent months. Sustaining transatlantic security cooperation will require narrowing lingering European-American differences over threat perceptions, strategy, and military priorities.

There is sufficient commonality of assessments and interests to fashion complementary European and American policies toward key challenges including countering terrorism and further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD); promotion of Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation and reform in the wider Middle East; and relations with China, Russia, and Ukraine.

Progress in these areas requires an enhanced transatlantic dialogue, particularly more systematic U.S.-European Union (EU) policy consultations, coupled with a mutual willingness to make policy adjustments. Priority should be given to developing convergent approaches to deal with warnings of imminent WMD terrorism, failure of diplomatic efforts to constrain Iran's nuclear program, security and governance problems in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian Authority, and China's global rise and military acquisitions.

In fashioning an equitable transatlantic division of labor for the management of global security affairs, America's European partners have many important nonmilitary assets that should be factored into the equation. Washington will remain reluctant, however, to treat Europe as a full partner until it demonstrates significant progress on key NATO and EU defense improvement goals.

Is the Past Prologue?

Many on both sides of the Atlantic hope that European-American relations will resume a more civil and cooperative course in the aftermath of differences over Iraq. President George W. Bush's visit to Europe in February 2005 and subsequent initiatives suggest that restoring transatlantic security cooperation will be a priority of the administration. Given the acrimony in official exchanges and the vilification in popular media over the past 2 years, not to mention lingering differences over strategy and policy, the wounds will not heal quickly. If both sides take steps to enhance consultations and are willing to make policy adjustments, however, there is hope for fashioning complementary and even some common European and American approaches to critical transatlantic and global security issues.

The atmosphere and tone of discourse have improved in recent months. In his first major foreign policy address after his reelection, President Bush expressed a renewed commitment to close cooperation with allies. His visits to the European Commission and the Council of Ministers signaled a willingness to work with the European Union (EU) as a fuller partner. While President Bush secured only modest European contributions for stabilization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, his discussions with European leaders had a much more positive tone.

Most European leaders, whose publics clearly preferred a different outcome in the November 2004 U.S. Presidential elections, have generally taken a "wait and see" attitude toward the Bush administration. While according the President a cordial reception in February, many Europeans saw the visit as an admission of failure and a search for a second chance. This was hardly the White House view, which saw the Iraqi elections and the democratic stirrings in the Middle East as vindication. Indeed, even those European governments critical of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq have now avowed that its stabilization, as well as continued progress in Afghanistan and the promotion of reform in the Muslim world, are shared European-American interests. Transatlantic relations have also benefited from U.S. endorsement of EU diplomatic efforts to cap the Iranian nuclear program and Franco-American cooperation on Syria.

Operating under the tenet that "the mission should determine the coalition," the Bush administration, during its first term, opted to assemble ad hoc groups of governments that supported its approach to Afghanistan and Iraq, rather than working first through North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mechanisms.

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