Euro-US Rift Over Iraq Belies Much Deeper Strains

The growing gap between the United States and its European allies over the Iraq war – most recently highlighted by last weekend’s Spanish elections – belies deeper strains that date to the end of the Cold War, according to a report released Friday by the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

But tensions produced by Iraq have brought these strains “to the point of crisis,” and both sides of the Atlantic need urgently to reassess their positions and move decisively to renew trust and understanding, adds the report, produced by a task force co-chaired by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers.

“The task force believes that Europeans and Americans must now work together to ensure that the Iraq crisis becomes an anomaly in their relationship, not a precedent for things to come,” says the document.

Stated more bluntly, according to Charles Kupchan who directed the project: “We can’t let this relationship fall apart.”

The report, which offers five major recommendations for restoring cooperation, was approved by a 26-person task force, about one-third of whose members were from Europe with the rest from the United States.

The group represented a range of political views on the U.S. side, ranging from senior officials in the administration of former President Bill Clinton (1993–2001), such as Summers, to neo-conservative thinker Robert Kagan on the right.

But its center of gravity was clearly the traditional internationalist establishment, represented by Republicans from the party of current US President George W. Bush, such as Kissinger and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and then-Defense Secretary to former President Jimmy Carter (1977–81), Harold Brown.

Europeans included former Italian Prime Minister Guiliano Amato, historian Timothy Garten Ash, and editor of the German newspaper, Die Zeit, Josef Joffe.

The report was drafted before last week’s bombings in Madrid and the upset election victory three days later of the Socialist Party, whose leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has vowed to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq at the end of June unless the United Nations takes control of peacekeeping operations there.

After his election, Zapatero also reaffirmed his intention to abandon the staunchly pro-U.S. policies of outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and realign Spanish policy with France and Germany, which opposed the Iraq war.

His statements prompted a number of attacks by right-wing and neo-conservative allies of the Bush administration, who accused him of “appeasement” in the war on terrorism.

The exchanges highlighted what Kagan, who warned earlier this week that the Spanish elections had moved U.S.-European relations “to the edge of the abyss,” once famously observed as the fundamental difference between the two continents’ foreign policies: “Americans are from Mars, and Europeans are from Venus.”

The task force report, “Renewing the Atlantic Partnership,” agrees the situation is indeed fraught, but traces the divide to the end of the Cold War, most specifically to what it calls “11/9,” Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union neared its final collapse.

“Threats to survival tend to concentrate minds,” says the 32-page report. “Without such threats, other needs loom larger in shaping the decisions of governments … the urgency of maintaining a common front diminishes.”

“Thus the end of the Cold War set Europe and the United States on separate paths when it came to defense spending, social priorities, the efficacy of military force and even optimal configuration of the post-Cold War world.”

“If 11/9 increased the scope for disagreements between the United States and Europe,” it went on, “9/11 created the grounds for disagreements that are truly dangerous for the transatlantic relationship,” in major part because they resulted in “the most sweeping reorientation of US grand strategy in over half a century.”

European strategies, by contrast, went largely unchanged.

Differences have now been transformed into “active confrontation,” adds the document.

“Clashes over substance and style have isolated and weakened political constituencies that have traditionally kept Atlantic relations on course,” raising serious questions about the future viability of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and whether a cooperative transatlantic relationship can be re-forged.

The report asserted three fundamental mutual interests that have remained unchanged despite 11/9 and 9/11 – maintaining common western values; removing or naturalizing risks that threaten shared security and prosperity; and helping others, including the Arab and Islamic world, “share in the benefits of democratic institutions and market economies.”

Based on those fundamentals, the report argues for the adoption of five priorities, beginning with the establishment of new guidelines for the use of military force, including preventive action.

“Europeans could agree not to reject preventive action in principle, while Americans would agree that prevention would be reserved for special cases and not be the centerpiece of US strategy,” the task force concluded.

Similarly, Europe and Washington should develop a common policy to deal with “irresponsible states” that seek weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or support terrorism. In that respect, Europeans should acknowledge “the need for credible threats,” while US leaders should accept that “threats do not in all cases produce acquiescence.”

The two sides should also agree on the role of multilateral institutions by, for example, Europe accepting that the bodies will not work without Washington’s support and Washington acknowledging that unilateral action bears heavy political and other costs.

Similar efforts should be made to bridge differences on the greater Middle East, particularly the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, according to the report, which also named as a top priority NATO’s revitalization, in part by increasing operations beyond Europe’s borders.

All of this must be underpinned by agreement on five basic guidelines to managing relations, argues the task force.

First, the purposes and benefits of European integration should be clarified in a way so that Europe’s leaders resist the temptation to define its identity in opposition to the United States, while Washington must resolve its own ambivalence about an emerging Europe.

“As long as the European Union frames its policies in complementary terms, Washington should continue to regard Europe’s deepening and widening as in America’s interest,” the report states.

Conversely, “any effort by Europeans to use the US as the ‘other’ against which a European identity can take shape would of necessity set the EU and the US on diverging paths, if not on a collision course,” Kupchan told IPS.

Second, both sides need to learn from their failures over Iraq, particularly the difficulties of achieving success in the absence of a common strategy.

At the same time, a common strategy should not be understood as requiring equivalent capabilities. “If the United States is the indispensable nation in terms of its military power, then surely the Europeans are indispensable allies in most of the other categories of power upon which statecraft depends.”

Fourth, maintaining the Atlantic alliance will require strong domestic leadership on both sides that is committed to reminding its own constituencies of the value of the relationship.

Finally, both sides should seek greater integration in their trade and investment, since economic cooperation reinforces political ties, according to the report.

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.