How Bush Could Help Europe to Change Its Mind

Philip H. Gordon
Philip H. Gordon Former Brookings Expert, Mary and David Boies Senior Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy - Council on Foreign Relations

June 12, 2001

This week George W. Bush has an opportunity to reverse the serious skepticism in Europe that greeted his election and has grown since.

His main task on his visit—which includes NATO and U.S.-EU summit meetings and stops in Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Poland and Slovenia—will be to disabuse Europeans of the notion, so far well-grounded, that the new administration makes its policies without taking their views into account.

At home, the president’s hard-line, uncompromising domestic line ended up alienating potential friends who were uncomfortable with such a course and did not feel they had enough influence over it. Europe is not about to go independent, as Senator Jim Jeffords did, but it is certainly capable of moving in that direction—as Europeans have recently shown with their efforts to develop their own defense and security policies, their decision to send their own envoys to North Korea, and their unwillingness to back the U.S. effort to retain a seat on the UN Human Rights Commission.

President Bush can reassure the Europeans on the continuing U.S. commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance and serve the U.S. national interest. He could propose a missile defense system based on strategy rather than ideology or politics. Some in the administration and Congress want to deploy right away just to be certain to bury the ABM Treaty. Mr. Bush should make clear to the allies that he will support deployment only once rigorous testing has proved the viability of the system.

He should make clear that any deployed system would not be targeted at Russia or China, which would only encourage them to build or maintain more nuclear weapons. And he should pledge readiness to negotiate a new strategic relationship with Russia based on reduced offensive forces and limited missile defenses.

A second key area is European defense. Some in the administration still oppose the European security and defense policy on the grounds that it could undermine American domination of NATO, but Mr. Bush should acknowledge that most of the U.S. concerns about avoiding duplicating NATO or isolating non-EU NATO members have been met.

This will be all the more true if the administration uses its political capital to persuade Turkey, which has been blocking an agreement between NATO and the EU, to stick to an agreement painstakingly negotiated in recent weeks on Turkey’s relationship with the new European force. The deal with Turkey would make possible the NATO-EU agreement on the sharing of military assets that the United States has long seen as a key to a successful European defense policy.

After more than two years of sometimes acrimonious negotiations, Mr. Bush would thus be in a position to announce such an outcome as a success of American diplomacy and welcome the European defense project as good for all concerned: an EU willing to act with the United States under NATO where possible, and willing and able to act without the United States and NATO if necessary. A third area in which Mr. Bush could pursue American interests and improve his relationship with Europe at the same time, in this case with little more than a few words, concerns the Balkans. Since he and some of his advisers first raised the specter of a unilateral U.S. military withdrawal from the region during the presidential election campaign, the American position has vacillated between the secretary of state’s repeated reassurances that Americans and Europeans went in together and will come out together and the secretary of defense’s statements that the U.S. military’s job was finished and it was time for the troops to come home.

This ambiguity not only antagonizes the Europeans, it sends a negative signal to the parties on the ground about American staying power.

Finally, Mr. Bush had better bring with him to Europe some sort of proposal to replace the Kyoto climate change treaty that he so abruptly rejected in March. He was largely right about all of Kyoto’s flaws—unrealistic emissions reduction requirements, the exclusion of developing countries, the ambiguities about emissions trading—but none of this exempts him from the necessity of proposing alternatives to deal with a real problem. So far, the only proposal the administration seems to be considering would be a system of voluntary reductions in emissions, which is not exactly going to leave the Europeans feeling that their concerns have been met. One can only imagine the American response, in the Pentagon for example, if the Europeans proposed “voluntary restraints” on weapons proliferation.