In the face of economic and military difficulties, the next U.S. administration will likely return to a more multilateral foreign policy. It will look favorably on working with international organizations. It will focus on greater cooperation with allies. Above all, it will turn to Europe.
But how will Europe respond when the next American President seeks to renew the Euro-American partnership? What will the policy implications be if Europe cannot respond to an American overture for real partnership?
Europe has been our most important strategic partner since World War II and remains a central player in the world. The 2003 Iraq War shook the foundations of U.S.-European relations. Although dialogue has improved since 2003, we have not yet recovered the close friendship that existed previously. The George W. Bush administration is following a different policy toward Europe than it did in its first term, but only a new American President and a new political orientation can improve the political climate, making possible a constructive transatlantic dialogue and ultimately a new global project. A better relationship with Europe is not only an end in itself, but also an important means of managing the increasingly disorderly world in which we live.
Renewing relations with Europe will require the United States to take into account European sensitivities and priorities. This will include a clear American willingness to put diplomacy first and the use of force only as a last resort--as, for example, in the case of Iran. The Europeans would like us to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a more balanced point of view. They want the United States to address climate change as a priority, as they have done. There should be no reason why the United States cannot satisfy these European wishes, since these policies would be in our interest as well.
It is not clear, however, that Europe will be able to respond even to an American initiative of which it approves. There are great limits to what Europe can do, and to what it wishes to do, globally.
What Kind of Europe?
Jean Monnet's vision for an integrated Europe had two main dimensions: to end Franco-German conflict and, with it, European wars; and to create a United States of Europe. The first goal has been achieved beyond all hopes. Western Europe has become a peace zone, and since the fall of the Soviet Union, the European Union (EU) has successfully incorporated the Warsaw Pact and Baltic countries. Old feuds, like those between Germany and Poland, and Hungary and its neighbors, have been defused. The EU is attempting to do the same thing in the Balkans. Although the problems there are notoriously difficult to resolve, some states, such as Croatia, are casting aside their traditional enmities and moving toward a Western orientation.
But the EU is not now, and is unlikely to become, the United States of Europe. Was this ever a realistic possibility? Could the nations of Europe, with their diverse cultures and languages, have become a federal state? Would they have surrendered many of their key powers to a freely elected European government? At least in the 20 years following World War II, leaders seemed to take this possibility seriously. If Europe has not become federated, however, the blame should not be projected on the "periphery": the United Kingdom, Scandinavian nations, and states of the former Soviet bloc. It lies rather with the ambivalence of the founders of federation--above all, with France.
The debate over the nature of Europe has been largely a Franco-French debate. Jean Monnet based European integration on a federal model. In the 1960s, Charles de Gaulle arrested movement toward federalism. Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Francois Mitterrand did not share de Gaulle's discomfort with European integration and began to conceive of Europe as a vehicle for French influence in the world--a kind of France writ large--but they wanted a Europe that was primarily intergovernmental, not federal. …