Talking About the Relationship

My old think tank had a discussion about transatlantic issues yesterday, which produced some interesting points:

A member of the German Parliament said that compulsive military service will probably come to an end sooner than outside observers think. A Fistful of Euros, we think it will end pretty soon, and it’s nice to have that view confirmed. (Though not too specifically; he didn’t want to end up in the local paper.)

The American ambassador said that after the ruckus of the last two years, intergovernmental relations are much better than they were. Public dissonance, however, has grown, and that’s a less tractable problem.

The local consul general added something I thought insightful, which was that the missing piece is a positive vison from the EU of what transatlantic relations — especially in the military and strategic areas — should be all about.

According to people working in the corridors, the EU is on its way to supplanting NATO as the locus of transatlantic relations. NATO has survived many premature obituaries in its 50 years, and it’s far too soon to write off an organization with its resources and institutional memory. On the other hand, if this shift gains ground, it’s a big one and will be very uncomfortable for both sides. To touch on only the most obvious point, the US is in NATO but is an external partner for the EU. That’s a huge change.

These tectonic changes make a positive European vision of what transatlantic relations should be about all the more important.

It’s not just a US-Europe question. A staff person from the think tank had been part of a delegation of foreign ministry planning staffs who traveled to Asia recently. They fended off questions about multipolarity, all of which implied disassociating Europe and the United States. saying that Europe and the US will continue to work together in global security. That was good to hear, but the questions won’t go away.

I think we’re still a long way from having definitive answers to the questions that Timothy Garton Ash posed last May, “Are you with us? Are we against you?”

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Europe and the world by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

13 thoughts on “Talking About the Relationship

  1. “…the missing piece is a positive vision from the EU of what transatlantic relations — especially in the military and strategic areas — should be all about.”

    Yes, well, there’s the rub. Basically, the gist of what Europe wants from that relationship is this: we think we ought to have a right to say how you should use your military might, but we don’t want to take the risks involved, nor pay for the costs.

    All in all, I’m heartened by the fact that opposition to NATO is growing. It’s time to cut the ties, not try to save them. The bigger the rift, the better.

  2. “Compulsive military service”? I guess that might continue long after compulsory military service has ended …

  3. With a broken Soviet Army to it’s east, and an almost-broken U.S. Army to the West, there’s not a whole lot that the E.U. needs militarily. Not in the medium term, anyway.

  4. “and an almost-broken U.S. Army to the West…”

    ????

    Sometimes I think we’re living on different planets, Patrick. Feel free to explain. From my vantage point, I don’t see any Power on Earth that has the current force-projection abilities of the U.S., even _after_ you factor out the forces in Iraq. A situation which I don’t see changing any time in the near future. (Some EU states purchasing as much heavy-lift capacity as I see parked every morning when I pass Stewart ANGB would be a tiny, tiny start.)

    Now, if you _meant_ to say that the U.S. has neither the force levels nor the slightest inclination to actually come into active conflict with the EU, you’re right. EU/US rivalry will, AFAICS, remain thankfully in realm of nasty-grams, UN Security Council bickering and dueling WTO disputes. Amen.

    “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.” – Samuel Adams

  5. Hi Bernard!

    I think that what Patrick G might be rferring to is the unusability of the United States’ military force in most plausible situations. It was certainly quite capable of destroying the Taliban and Baathist Iraq. Inasmuch as building viable alternatives to past authoritarianisms go, though, it’s not doing the best of jobs. Central America in the 1980s comes to mind.

  6. Doug,

    hearing Peter Struck on this issue last week, the traditionalists must be quite concerned about the end of conscription…

    As for the Garton Ash question – the European rift was, in my opinion, far more about intra-Europe power balancing than it was about any transatlantic question. Isn’t it interesting that the US was in need to try to divide Europe in order to produce at least a couple of allies at least some Americans could have heard of before?
    Europe is not just economically more important than ever.

    I don’t think that NATO will go out of business anytime soon. But there will be something like a European/EU Caucus eventually. And it’s about time, it’s been tried since the early fifties.

    And I think Garton Ash is having a ball these days about his influence on European foreign policy – certainly on the German part of it. Joschka Fischer’s “Atlantic Charter” of early March reminded strongly of a Garton Ash piece in which he also mentions that the Middle East Conflict could well prove to become *the* one policy area whose importance dictates cooperation and thus prevents a slippery slope to protectionism that might well appeal to politicians on either side given the current uncertainty about the future of pretty much all parts of the economy.

    As for unmatched US military power – I simply can’t understand why so few people look at the US forces from an efficiency point of few – is all of it necessary, well spent money? Hardly. But reducing forces means closing bases and that’s always difficult to sell to voters. So as long as so many Americans remain as paranoid as Richard Perle inadvertendly suggests in an interview with Die Zeit this week – it seems even the usually hawkish Josef Joffe is surprised -, and as long as the world is not cashing in its ever growing Dollar assets – there is no need for conversion.

    To me, it seems that many, if not most, Americans simply want to pay for oversized, inefficient military, just as many, if not most, Europeans want to keep spending on oversized, inefficient welfare states. But that’s neither Hobbesian nor Kantian, it’s simply a matter of institutional inertia and socialisation, in my opinion.

  7. “I think that what Patrick G might be rferring to is the unusability of the United States’ military force in most plausible situations.”

    It depends on how much destruction we are willing to put up with. Every time I hear Europeans talking about how out of control Americans currently are I think of how we would look if we really were out of control.

    I live in California, one of the most liberal states in all of the U.S. I am conservative, but almost all of my friends are liberal. Their response to the Madrid bombing was along the ‘we should nuke Mecca’ lines. And it wasn’t a joke. My liberal friends in CALIFORNIA are talking quite seriously about using nuclear weapons to end the Middle East conflicts. These are the Kerry voters, not the Bush voters. I honestly don’t understand how so many in Europe think it is wise to just let the Middle Eastern situation continue as it is. We in the U.S. still have not been provoked to anger. Afghanistan and Iraq were not angry reactions, despite much European rhetoric. But we don’t want to see the angry U.S. reaction.

  8. The problem is not a lack of vision on the EU?s part. It is pretty obvious that the EU wants to combine the classical strategy formulated by George F. Kennan more than half a century ago – containment of and defense against mutual enemies – with an internal rebalancing of NATO that reflects the fact of the emergence of the EU as a body that is relatively more cohesive than the collection of West European nation-states used to be in the past.

    It?s not just that “we don’t want to see the angry U.S. reaction”: we don?t want to live under the threat of it. The common European perception is that the U.S. is currently deeply divided about their future foreign policy course. Should this assumption be proved to be wrong and the previous commenter?s unlikely claim of an American consensus in favour of unilateralism and retention of the Bush doctrine turn out to be true, then the deterioration in European-American relations would continue – rather than be reversed.
    The vast majority of Europeans probably realizes that continued insistence on imminently achieving a definite solution to the disparate range of problems in the Mideast would imply letting a small group of religious fanatics in the Islamic world – whose membership is generally estimated at less than 100 000 – dictate the future course of events. It is hard to believe that the U.S. might want to go that route, but if they did, Europeans would likely not be willing to share the risk of getting stuck in a dead end.

  9. “The common European perception is that the U.S. is currently deeply divided about their future foreign policy course. Should this assumption be proved to be wrong and the previous commenter?s unlikely claim of an American consensus in favour of unilateralism and retention of the Bush doctrine turn out to be true, then the deterioration in European-American relations would continue – rather than be reversed.”

    You confuse at least two separate issues. The U.S. is deeply divided about the proper response so long as we continue not to have a follow up attack in the U.S. So long as 9/11 is a one-of there is disagreement about how we should respond to the Middle East. My point about Madrid was that the liberal response to it in California (which is by itself as large and powerful as France and is one of the more liberal states in the U.S.)suggests that another attack in the U.S. is highly likely to end that debate in favor of very dramatic action (unilateral or no) in the Middle East. Call my claim unlikely if you want, but you strongly risk charting a bad policy course if you have so little understanding of the U.S.

    “then the deterioration in European-American relations would continue – rather than be reversed.”

    Once again you fail to understand the American point of view. If that is so, most of the American population would not care to repair such relations because it would be obvious that good European-American relations in foreign policy would form the basis for cultural suicide. See for instance what it would take for Israel to have good relations with Europe. Israel would love to have good relations with Europe. But even what remains of the popular left isn’t willing to commit suicide to have good relations with Europe.

    “It is pretty obvious that the EU wants to combine the classical strategy formulated by George F. Kennan more than half a century ago – containment of and defense against mutual enemies…”

    It is absolutely clear that those who propose such a course haven’t thought it through on a very deep level. First, they forget how much they opposed the lichpin of containment–the nuclear destruction threat. Second, and probably a result of the first, they fail to notice that such a threat is not possible in the war (at least without doing something which would totalize the war into an anti-Muslim instead of anti-Islamist war like threatening to nuke Mecca if we see a major attack.) Third, it fails to deal with the distributed market in nuclear technologies which as a result of Libya’s recent conversion has come to light as a far more serious threat than we thought. This is a threat which Europe is doing very little to combat, and in fact may be making things worse. See for instance Iran and more paper agreements negotiated by the EU with no real action.

  10. The vast majority of Europeans probably realizes that continued insistence on imminently achieving a definite solution to the disparate range of problems in Middle Europa would imply letting a small group of poltical fanatics in the German world – whose National Socialist Partei membership is generally estimated at less than xyz 000 – dictate the future course of events. It is hard to believe that the U.S. might want to go that route, but if they did, Europeans would likely not be willing to share the risk of getting stuck in a dead end.

  11. Not to be too facetious, but the reason that Americans spend more on defense than on social welfare is that it’s a lot more fun to see someone else’s country being blown to bits on TV, than see some old codger wheeling his belongings down the street to the local social shelter.

  12. To apply Kennan’s strategy to the matter of Islamofascists is seriously flawed. “Containment” only works when that which must be contained is physically cohesive. Islamofascism isn’t, it is distributed and diffuse. The other problem with containment is that it doesn’t SOLVE a problem, it merely pushes the day of reckoning into the future. One ends up gambling that the problem will “solve itself” before a flare up catches one unawares or unprepared. That was the gamble that Neville Chamberlain made in 1938, and it was a bet he lost. Sometimes the problem being contained needs a nudge to achieve “self-resolution”, and that’s what Reagan recognized.

    “Containment” is a good way to describe the pre-9/11 American policy against Islamofascism, and the results have not been satisfactory to the US. There are lots of folks in America arguing (foolishly) for a drift back to that policy. As Sebastain pointed out, containment will have NO traction in America in the event of another large scale attack.

    America’s military is neither oversized, nor inefficient. The stunning rapidity of the fall of Hussein’s regime clearly puts the inefficiency factor to rest. America’s military, for better or worse, maintains what can best be described as a “side effect Pax Americana.” Global trade flourishes under the watchful eye of the US Navy. Lotsa little wars may go on, but tinpots the world over always try to “keep the noise down” so they don’t atract the attention of the US, and to a lesser extent the EU.

    For those who are concerned about what an “out of control America” will look like, here’s a suggestion: for at least the next decade, it would be a lot wiser to work at eliminating those factors most likely to send America out of control than it is to continue kvetching. If circumstances mean that the EU can’t help solve the problem, then it would be best to avoid becoming part of it. (And, as any parent navigating a traffic jam knows, kvetching from the back seat becomes part of the problem.) In short, if the EU isn’t going to help America address what is believes to be its legitimate security concerns, it would be best to stop kvetching.

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