Are the United States and Europe Heading for Divorce?

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

June 1, 2001

It has been said of US presidential transitions that while America is on honeymoon, Europe has a nightmare. There can be little doubt that the first months of the George W. Bush presidency have been a rough time for US-European relations.

Newspaper headlines in Europe and even in the United States are testimony to Europe’s fears. “Bully Bush,” intoned the Suddeutsche Zeitung; “Storm clouds over the Atlantic,” forecasted the Daily Telegraph; “Aggravated allies waiting for the U.S. to change its tune,” warned the Washington Post; “To European eyes, it is America the ugly,” explained the New York Times.

There is, indeed, much for Europe to complain about—Bush’s decision to declare the Kyoto convention on globalk climate change “dead;” the Cold-War-like rhetoric that marked many official pronouncements on U.S. policy towards China, and the apparent denunciation of the international nuclear arms control regime in an effort to convince the world of the need for missile defenses.

These most recent policy disputes reflect growing differences in how the United States and Europe now view the emerging international order and resulting security environment. They are increasingly preoccupied with different parts of the world: Europe looking to its consolidation and enlargement, and the United States focusing on Asia and its own hemisphere. They are also increasingly focused on different issues, with the United States concentrating on new security threats resulting from the diffusion of weapons technologies to states and groups inimical to its interests, and Europe concerned with environmental degradation, continued poverty, the digital divide, and a host of other so-called “new agenda” issues that have emerged in the age of globalization.

As a result, Europe and the United States are increasingly employing different approaches to foreign and security policy, with Washington relying on its sheer power to get its way and Europe putting its faith in international institutions, regimes, and norms to tackle problems of common concern.