Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Bridging the Gap across the Atlantic: Europe and the United States in the Persian Gulf

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Bridging the Gap across the Atlantic: Europe and the United States in the Persian Gulf

Article excerpt

Disagreement has emerged between the United States and the European Union over the policies needed to achieve certain goals in the Persian Gulf about which there is a general consensus on both sides of the Atlantic. Causes for disagreement include different historical perspectives on the region, and an uneven vulnerability to the consequences of policy failures, especially those involving the use of military force. Yet US and European interests in the Persian Gulf are too vital, and the relationship between the United States and Europe is too important, for one side to expect the other to follow its leadership unquestioningly.

Since the end of World War II, many of the most serious disagreements between the United States and its allies in Europe have been about crises outside Europe. At first, conflicts in the Third World that involved the states of Europe were criticized in the United States for giving the West a bad name. Decades later, when colonial empires had disappeared, it was the turn of the United States to be criticized for policies that sought to assert US influence relative to that of the Soviet Union in regions that were often indifferent or hostile to both superpowers.

To be sure, dissension among European states has always been as important as divisions between them and the United States, except when unity against US leadership could be achieved. Yet, to assume that intra-European and transatlantic differences have subsided now that the Cold War is over would be to assume that those discords merely grew out of the Cold War. The opposite may well be true. The collapse of the Soviet Union has made the United States and the states of Europe even less tolerant of their differences over issues that raise questions of interests as well as of values: interests the urgency of which is not felt evenly, and values the relevance of which is not perceived in the same way on the two sides of the Atlantic and in the different European states.

Nowhere are these divisions more enduring than in the Persian Gulf. How to contain Iraq and Iran is no easy question. Agreement, however, on the most important goals exists, i.e. on preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, deterring the spread of terrorism, avoiding the interruption of oil supplies and the manipulation of oil prices, sustaining the peace process between Israel and the Arab states, and often, but not always, on protecting and enhancing human rights. Disagreements emerge over the choice of policies most likely to help achieve these goals, especially when these policies entail the use of military force, or more precisely, US military force.1


Political and economic conditions within the nation-states of Europe are not good: Concerns abound about nationally elected representatives who can no longer represent their constituencies because of a "European" leadership that lacks democratic legitimacy; national communities worry that they are being asked to become something 'more' or, worse yet, something 'else' than 'who' or 'what' they have always been; citizens are apprehensive about their identity becoming blurred by distinguishable minorities that have come in significant but now largely unwanted numbers.

Since its individual members have problems, the European Union (EU), too, faces difficulties.2 It has an extraordinarily complex and demanding agenda that includes institutional reforms for the effective governance of a community with two-and-a-half times the membership it had 25 years ago, painful decisions over the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and a common foreign and security policy, a costly enlargement to accommodate as many as ten new members from the Baltics to the Balkans (plus Cyprus), and uncertain arrangements with other countries including Russia, Turkey and even the states of North Africa. Admittedly, none of these issues is new. In the past, each has stood in the way of European unity until it was settled with last-minute compromises and trade-offs. …

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