THE ARGUMENT IS FREQUENTLY MADE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM that Europe is drawing inward. At a conference in April 1998, I heard Glennys Kinnock, a Labour member of the European parliament, bemoan the 'worrying tendency towards isolationism and disengagement' in both London and Brussels. On the face of it, this seems an oddly alarmist perspective.
To judge from the declaratory rhetoric floating around Brussels and other European capitals and the array of multilateral decisions in 1997 and 1998, perhaps we should be talking about 'Engagement, enlargement, and Europe's role in world affairs.' When the USSR collapsed, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) immediately embraced the Soviet successor states as members. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the European Union (EU) has provided substantial assistance to almost all post-communist states through the TACIS (Technical Assistance to the Former Soviet Union and Mongolia) and PHARE programmes, and continues to do so. The European Commission played a significant role through the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) in addressing humanitarian needs stemming from a wide array of civil and interstate conflicts throughout the 1990s.
The EU is now seriously embarked on discussions about the accession of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Estonia in the first instance and Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia in a later phase. It is also discussing the admission of Cyprus, although this issue is complicated by the unresolved civil war there and the issue of Turkish relations with the Union.
In the meantime, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has followed its initiative to establish the North Atlantic Co-operation Council, and then its Partnership for Peace with the decision to take in three new members (Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic). It has complemented the enlargement decision with the establishment of a Euro-Atlantic Council, and the conclusion of NATO-Russian and NATO-Ukrainian charters that set out an agenda for the deepening of relations with these two newly independent states. In the meantime, it mounted with considerable success the largest coalition military operation in its history with its Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995. It remains engaged at a lower level in a substantial peacebuilding operation there. More recently, NATO has deployed a substantial force to areas neighbouring Kosovo to support the large group of observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) deployed to monitor the ceasefire in Kosovo. As one commentator put it in response to the question of how to halt the purported erosion of NATO: 'The first question - how to save NATO - is the simplest one. NATO is not in trouble.'(f.1)
Not content with the eastward vector of engagement, the EU has also established a substantial and deepening Mediterranean dialogue. Recent initiatives on Algeria suggest that the EU has come to see the affairs of the southern littoral of the Mediterranean Sea as crucial to the interests of the European community of states. A similar conclusion might be drawn from the re-activation of Commission diplomacy in the Middle East in 1998 under the United Kingdom presidency. In May 1998, President Jacques Chirac of France joined Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Council, in a call for an international conference on the Middle East conflict.
In the transatlantic context, Europe is complementing its traditional ties in security (namely, NATO) with the institutionalization of permanent dialogues on issues of bilateral interest with the United States and Canada. This initiative is paralleled by similar high-level dialogues with Asia. In short, on the face of it, the period is arguably one of increasing European assertion in world affairs rather than one of withdrawal, despite the evident difficulties in generating the long awaited European security and defence identity (ESDI) and common foreign and security policies. …