William C. Wohlforth
Europe’s emergence as a strategic actor in its own periphery is a development with major significance for the transatlantic relationship and indeed for international politics as a whole. In concert, the European Union (EU) and the United States can do much to advance their interests and foster stability and prosperity in Europe’s neighbourhood. Increased policy competition in the regions, however, could poison the transatlantic relationship and exacerbate the challenges confronted by regional actors.
To judge by elite commentary on the overall state of the Euro-American relationship, one would expect the transatlantic dimension of the EU’s new regional role to be fractious. Little more than a year after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on New York and Washington, the US and European governments were at loggerheads on a raft of international issues, and policy elites on both sides increasingly seemed to be occupying different intellectual worlds. ‘The emotional gap may well become deeper than it has ever been since the end of World War II’, warned Jürgen Habermas. 1If ‘Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus’, as Robert Kagan argued in a noteworthy essay early in 2002, nowhere should the two sides’ divergent perspectives be clearer than in their approaches to regional issues. 2And in the spring of 2003, the direst predictions seemed to have been realized, with the transatlantic relationship placed under severe strain by the war in Iraq.
Still, as the other chapters in this volume attest, the realities on the ground of Europe’s periphery belied any simple portrait of steadily declining cooperation sliding into resentment and rivalry. Amid the diplomatic chafing and the inevitable expressions of pique, the two sides cooperated messily but ultimately successfully from the Gulf War to Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. Diplomats on both sides could put an essentially positive gloss on US-EU cooperation in promoting peace and prosperity in Europe’s periphery, citing the 1995 New Transatlantic Agenda and the regularized and expanded US-EU policy coordination that has followed, as well as a complex set of working arrangements between the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and NATO.
Elite anxiety over US-EU relations is thus driven more by expectations