Europe's View: A Self-Centered US ; Bush's Environmental Policy Tops a List of European Concerns about Changing US Values

By Peter Ford writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2001 | Go to article overview

Europe's View: A Self-Centered US ; Bush's Environmental Policy Tops a List of European Concerns about Changing US Values


Peter Ford writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Of all the policy pronouncements from Washington recently that surprised or unnerved Europeans, one phrase struck fear into their hearts.

It came from President Bush's lips, as he explained last week that he was rejecting an international treaty to curb global warming because he fears it would harm the US economy. "First things first are the people who live in America," he said.

With that blunt statement, Mr. Bush swept away assumptions that have underpinned America's relations with its European allies for the past six decades.

"It looks like total unilateralism, saying 'we don't care at all what is happening in the rest of the world'," says Michaela Honicke, a specialist on transatlantic relations at the German Foreign Policy Society in Berlin.

On Wednesday, European Union leaders called Bush's abandonment of the Kyoto treaty "completely wrong."

The Texan president heads an administration that seems especially foreign to European leaders who are accustomed to sharing values more closely with their most powerful friend.

"I see a potential decoupling between us, not over traditional foreign policy values, but on more fundamental sociocultural values," warns Dominique Moisi, an analyst at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris. "We resent not what America does, but what America has become, if it is truly represented by the Bush administration."

It is Bush's decision to abandon the Kyoto protocol on climate change that has provoked the deepest shock and condemnation. To Europeans, it appears that Washington is selfishly shirking America's responsibility as the world's biggest carbon-dioxide polluter.

Other incidents over the past 10 weeks have also threatened to widen the gap between the US and Europe.

Washington's expulsion of 50 Russian diplomats on spy charges raised the specter of the cold war and caused unease in European capitals, where politicians prefer to be more understanding of the wounded giant on their border.

The president's lack of enthusiasm for South Korea's "sunshine policy" of reconciliation with North Korea has disappointed European diplomats, who hope that policy will defuse tensions in East Asia.

The new administration has signaled its determination to press ahead with a missile-defense shield in the face of European misgivings about the project's viability and political implications.

Some senior US officials, such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have voiced hostility to European plans for an autonomous defense force that would give some military muscle to back up the continent's economic might.

Europeans have also been struck by signs that Washington does not plan to take the sort of "hands on" approach to world trouble spots that became Bill Clinton's hallmark. Politicians in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, for example, cannot expect such active US mediation efforts, and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil has indicated Washington would be less ready to help with financial bailouts such as those that rescued Mexico and parts of Asia.

Analysts here caution, however, that with many second-tier administration jobs (and lower) still unfilled, US policy is not set in stone. "But we certainly have a first impression that is pretty sobering," says Guillaume Parmentier, director of the Paris-based French Institute on the United States. …

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