George W. Bush’s Transatlantic Crisis

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

August 21, 2003

Today, U.S.-European relations are in deep crisis, a crisis that is worse than any other in the past 50 years. Not all of this is President Bush?s fault, but much of it is.

Contributing factors

The transatlantic crisis is the product of four factors.

First, the United States and Europe do not need each other as much as they did during the Cold War. Europe is preoccupied with building a new Europe—a mammoth undertaking, requiring the full attention of its leaders and vast amounts of its resources.

Meanwhile, for the first time in a century, Europe no longer is cause nor focus of U.S. foreign policy. The major challenges and opportunities confronting Washington today lie outside Europe rather than in it. As a result, the U.S.-European partnership is now more a matter of choice than of necessity.

Coalitions over alliances

Second, because the partnership is a matter of choice, the Bush Administration has chosen to rely on coalitions of the willing, created for specific circumstances, rather than on established alliances.

Ad-hoc coalitions have the advantage of not constraining Washington?s freedom of action, but—as Iraq has underscored—they also have drawbacks: There is no guarantee that America?s potential partners will join every new coalition.

Digging the knife in deeper

Third, President Bush is the first president since the end of World War II not to embrace European integration. Support for closer European cooperation has been a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy since at least the Marshall Plan (which predicated financial assistance on Europeans coming together).

Instead, Mr. Bush has exploited Europe?s internal divisions. He has played ?new? Europe against ?old? Europe, embraced those who supported U.S. policy—and shunned those who didn?t.

Twisting the knife in Europe?s wounds may give short-term satisfaction, but it comes at a long-term cost. A divided Europe undermines its capacity to act—not only against the United States, but with it as well.

With us, or against us

Fourth, the Bush Administration has gone out of its way to offend America?s major allies and done little to secure their support.

Far from being the humble nation that would seek the favor of allies during normal times so they would stand with us at a time of crisis, President Bush has personalized every dispute on every issue.

?Make or break? politics

He refused to congratulate German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to on his reelection, mocked the idea of inviting French President Jacques Chirac to his Crawford ranch—and generally ignored those with a different point of view.

Mr. Bush has also remained silent as his Pentagon chief engaged in damaging—if infantile—acts of retribution, placing Germany in the company of Libya and Cuba and cutting off military contacts with France.

And he has elevated a relatively minor issue—the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court—to a make-or-break issue in U.S.-European relations.

Dangerous assumptions

In short, never before has a U.S. administration assumed allies would follow the United States on all major policy issues, but undertook no diplomatic offensive to secure their support.

The gravest flaw in the president?s policies has been the assumption that allies like those in Europe are a luxury—that the United States can often do without them. In fact, in most instances, it is European support and cooperation that makes the achievement of American objectives possible.

Redistributing the burden

Think of what a united NATO contribution to Iraq might have done for the United States—50-70,000 European troops rather than the 15-20,000 that will be deployed.

And consider that a major financial contribution to Iraq?s reconstruction will now have to come primarily from the American taxpayer.

Two is better than one

A partnership with Europe can open up markets around the world, help combat the spread of killer diseases, start to make a dent in global poverty, get failed states and societies back on their feet, stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—and fight terrorism around the globe.

The United States cannot do any of these tasks alone. Europe is still the most important and strongest partner in meeting any of these challenges.

True, Europe is not as strong in many of these areas as it should be. Its agricultural subsidies grossly distort world trade. Its financial commitment to fighting AIDS is less than is needed. Its development assistance, while plentiful, is tied too much to benefit European economic interests.

Its non-proliferation record is good on treaty-building, but less so on enforcing compliance. Above all, Europe lacks the military capacity to add muscle to substantiate its diplomatic voice.

Europe: America?s best partner

But compared to the alternatives, Europe is the strongest, most like-minded and generally best partner America has today—and tomorrow. And it is folly to divide them and bully them like weak children in a schoolyard fight, as Mr. Bush has chosen to do.

That is why the United States needs to build explicit partnerships with Europe to meet common challenges. Americans need NATO in Iraq, just as NATO was finally allowed into Afghanistan. All of that action, coincidentally, would prepare NATO to police a Middle East settlement.

Coordinated policy

Europeans and Americans also need a joint policy to deal with failed states in Africa. In too many cases, no one has been able—or willing—to contend with these tragedies alone.

And we need to coordinate our non-proliferation policy, with the United States more committed to strengthening treaty regimes—and Europe to enforcing compliance.

We also need to beef up anti-terror cooperation, moving from the bilateral to the U.S.-EU level where possible. We need to expand and bolster the reach and capability of the NATO Response Force—so that America need not act alone in each and every instance.

Bridging the gap

We need to finish the Doha trade round, not least by abandoning subsidization of agricultural production and exports. We need to forge a common front in confronting environmental challenges, most immediately on climate change.

But, above all, we need to work together wherever we can rather than allow the relationship to drift further until it has broken apart altogether.