America Abroad: President Bush Does Europe

Charles A. Kupchan and Ivo H. Daalder
Ivo H. Daalder, President, Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Ivo H. Daalder Former Brookings Expert, President - Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO

February 20, 2005

President Bush’s trip to Europe this week may represent a last chance for the Atlantic democracies to rebuild a partnership that has been strained to the breaking point. But to make it happen, Bush must not go back to the old way of doing business.

For 60 years, the United States held economic and political sway over Europe and served as its strategic guardian. No longer. Europe today does not rely on the U.S. for its security, and the European Union has become more than just a collection of individual member states. Bush needs to recognize this transformation and adjust U.S. policy to Europe’s growing aspirations. Only in this way can he win back goodwill among Europeans and gain from Europe what he most needs—help in the Middle East.

Since Bush’s first inauguration, the European Union has evolved internally. It has a new constitutional treaty that, when ratified, will give the union a single foreign minister and its own diplomatic corps. Bush’s first-term unilateralism and the Iraq war widened the gap between Europe and the U.S. Even in the more pro-American democracies of Central Europe, those favoring a strong transatlantic link are on the defensive.

The Iraq war has boosted Europeans who want the EU to be a counterweight to the U.S. A major poll conducted last summer found that nearly 60% of Europeans said they believed that the EU should chart its own course on security, while 71% said it should become a superpower like the U.S. Meanwhile, Bush’s “coalition of the willing” in Europe is fraying. Spain, Norway and Hungary have already withdrawn their troops from Iraq; the Czechs, Dutch and Ukrainians will leave within weeks, and the Poles will depart by year’s end.

As Europe has moved away from the U.S., it has become more assertive on many issues. Britain, France and Germany have led efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The EU brokered the deal that resolved Ukraine’s fraudulent presidential election. And in the Balkans, it is replacing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as the main guarantor of security.

Bush’s challenge is to take advantage of this changing European reality. To forge a new transatlantic bargain, he must deal with the EU as one entity rather than working through individual national governments. In return, the overextended U.S. can get the more capable partner it sorely needs. As for the Europeans, they would receive the greater influence in world affairs that they aspire to exert.

Bush is off to a good start by making Brussels, the EU’s headquarters, his first foreign destination after his second inauguration. While there, he should propose steps to upgrade and standardize U.S.-EU cooperation. One step would be to establish a permanent secretariat of high-level officials that could set up issue-specific contact groups to coordinate policy. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder recently noted that NATO is no longer suited to serve as “the primary venue where transatlantic partners discuss and coordinate strategies.” Bush could begin to repair his relationship with Schroeder by endorsing the chancellor’s call for deepening U.S.-EU links.

Rather than working to divide Britain, Italy and Poland from the Franco-German coalition, the administration should welcome a unified EU with a single voice on security and a desire to build a greater military capability. If the EU’s identity and policies are left to the French, the union might array its increasing economic and military power against the U.S. But if supporters of a strong transatlantic alliance help craft its mission, EU interests are more likely to parallel those of the U.S.

It is one thing to call for the repair of relations and declare a new Atlantic partnership. It is quite another to bring these goals to life. Although institutional changes are important, Bush needs to bring home a concrete agenda of EU-U.S. cooperation on the Middle East.

In Iraq, Europeans need to take on a much greater role in training security forces and in building viable political institutions. Nation-building is Europe’s strength, a talent Washington should tap now that it is beginning to focus on reducing the U.S. presence in Iraq.

In Iran, both sides of the Atlantic should maximize pressure on Tehran to agree to an indefinite and verifiable suspension of nuclear reprocessing and enrichment. Europe needs to do as the U.S. has done—demonstrate its willingness to impose harsh penalties if Iran fails to cooperate. The U.S. needs to back Europe’s negotiating efforts by offering economic and political rewards for Iranian cooperation.

In the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the European Union must do more to help the Palestinian Authority establish effective security forces and crack down on extremists, while Washington must re-engage in the peace process at the highest levels and exert its full leverage.

Europe has much work to do to fulfill its end of the bargain. Most important, European leaders must impress on their citizens the need for a more muscular union to deploy its strength with, rather than against, the United States.

The administration doesn’t relish Europe’s penchant for international institutions, and Europe has clearly had its fill of Bush’s hard-edged brand of leadership. But both parties must allow pragmatism to trump ideology and reclaim a partnership that neither side can afford to let lapse.