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U.S. Vs. EU — How Deep Is the Gap?

How are relations between the United States and the European Union changing in the new world order?

April 18, 2003

How are relations between the United States and the European Union changing in the new world order?

Following the dual events of September 11 and the invasion of Iraq, there is ever louder talk of an Atlantic "divorce." Is the growing divide between Europe and the United States due to irreversible forces? If so, was it the inevitable result of outside developments? Or is the row the logical consequence of divergent views of a changing world? Hugo Paemen, the EU's former ambassador to the United States, offers his perspective.

There are those — both in Washington and in Brussels — who believe that the growing inequality of military power inevitably widens the gap between the two partners of the Atlantic community.

This view holds that — in a world where strength is the unique decisive yardstick between nations — a stronger United States will inevitably want to fully exercise its power.
Similarly, the weaker Europeans try to hedge their weakness by invoking rules or by concluding international agreements.

Why has this anomaly not appeared more openly before? For starters, consider the Cold War and the protective shield of NATO essentially provided for by the United States.
That made it possible for Europeans to build a kind of paradise based on idealistic but somewhat illusive concepts — like international law, multilateral agreements and human rights.

There is a tendency in some American political circles to consider the European Union as the apex of fairyland, playing funny girls' games and having even invented their own funny currency.
As these proponents of U.S. hegemony see it, in the new world order, this asymmetrical development cannot go on much longer.

In order to secure its eminence in a world of macho states, the United States must be able to fulfill its irrepressible need to flex muscle.

The reality is probably somewhat different. But it does not mean that the concept of the rock-solid Atlantic alliance is not being seriously challenged by the geo-political shifts that have taken place during the last fifteen years.
Successive NATO summit meetings have wrestled with the seemingly irreconcilable requirements of the preservation, adaptation and enlargement of the alliance.

It is also far from clear what the role of an "adapted" NATO can be in the context of the new national security strategy of the United States.
Sometimes it resembles a preordained reservoir for possible ad hoc coalition-building wherever national interests are threatened.

As the present U.S. administration prepares the country for continuous leadership in the world based upon military superiority and balance of power between the major countries, some Europeans ask themselves what the role of the European Union would be in that scheme.

Specifically, they want to know if it will be beyond that of a loyal NATO "dishwasher", without the real menu — nor the guests at the meal — having been disclosed.
On the other hand, it is also far from clear how prepared the member states of the European Union are to re-establish a credible European military.

This military would be responsible for European home security — but would also serve as the European military arm for NATO — accomplishing the third phase of European integration.
Recent developments will no doubt increase pressure on the EU governments to achieve this goal — but they will have to deliver more than plans to convince the United States and the rest of the world of their strategic role as relevant interlocutors and reliable partners.

This also presupposes that Europe and the United States can work out a concept and a "modus vivendi" of coexistence between two different views of the future world order.

It is indeed unlikely that the European Union will ever join the military competition in the world.

The whole culture that led to the current drafting of an EU constitution has been dominated by the concept of a community of law.
It is unrealistic to think that in its external relations the EU would not try to gradually apply the same basic principles.

The only context in which such a rules-based approach is possible is within the system of the United Nations — which has excluded the use of force as a legal way to settle international conflicts short of situations of self-defense in compliance with existing rules.
It does not exclude competition between nations but would subject all international disputes to a legal system of multilateral rules. Still, there are the schools of the realists and the neo-realists who will look down with skeptical sympathy on these naïve "Kantian" visions.

The position of the United States on this issue will be decisive. Its superior military power allows it to satisfy the requirements of a global strategic reach. But solitary action has become difficult in a unifying world — and is politically risky.

Even if this unique position of U.S. strength can be maintained in the foreseeable future, it will encourage other nations to look for recognition based on the same standards and using the same elements of power.
With the transfer of technology becoming increasingly fluid, monopolistic positions — such as the ones enunciated in the U.S. National Security Strategy — will be more and more short-lived.
One does not need to be a doom-sayer to predict that without a genuine effort to curtail the production and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, every country in the world that wants to do so will soon have such weapons.

But only the United States is in a position to launch a credible process to gradually arrive at a system of rules that will be applicable to everybody — and monitored and enforced by a credible authority.
This authority, according to the Europeans, can only come, in one way or another, from the United Nations, where the United States is unmistakably the key player.

Such rules will only have some chance of success, though, if the effort is genuine and if their promoters themselves are ready to respect them.

It was Dr. Henry Kissinger, the historian and former U.S. Secretary of State, who wrote:
"The test of history for the United States will be whether we can turn our current predominant power into international consensus — and our own principles into widely accepted international norms. That was the greatness achieved by Rome and Britain in their times".

The globalization of the world has already led to a considerable increase in international agreements and arrangements at the governmental and non-governmental level.
As a consequence of the increasing economic and political integration of the two societies, this is particularly the case between the United States and Europe.

But there is no doubt that the recent experience will lead to some thinking on both sides about how things went so wrong — and how this can be avoided in the future.
If the lessons of the past are not heeded, however, the new world order could drape a large cloud over the future of multilateral cooperation. Europe's own experience could be invaluable during this period of transition.

This Globalist Document is adapted from a prepared statement that Mr. Paemen gave at a hearing before the Subcommittee on Europe of the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives on June 17, 2003. For the full text of the hearing, click here.