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Europe's America problem: Stephen Hoadley reviews and assesses trans-Atlantic differences.

Europe-US relations have become especially turbulent during the past year. France's Foreign Minister, Herbert Vedrine, who last year stigmatised the United States as a `hyper-power', in February 2002 criticised George Bush's approach to the war on terrorism as `simplistic' and `not well thought out'. (1) Germany's Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, complained that the United States was reducing its NATO alliance partners to `satellites'.

Potshots from an elite French politician and an idealistic German Green could be expected. But from the supposedly staunch Britons? Yes. Britain's Chris Patten, last Governor of Hong Kong and now the European Union's External Affairs Commissioner, expressed alarm at America's `unilateralist overdrive'. And Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw took issue with US military detention in Guantanamo of suspected al-Qaeda members.

In May President Bush's European tour was met by public protests. In Berlin banners proclaimed `Bush Warmonger', `God [B]Less America' and `Bush du bist kein Berliner', the latter a negative play on Kennedy's `I am a Berliner' speech thirty years previously. A Der Spiegel poll found that a majority of respondents in France, but also in Spain, Germany, and even Britain, felt negatively about George Bush; only Italians felt positively. (2)

Broader perspective

Does Europe have a problem with America? Is it chronic? Serious? Worsening? Or does the problem originate in Europe itself?. Some historical perspective is needed.

In the nineteenth century Europe's problem was not enough America. The United States did not want to be part of Europe (War of Independence), have European colonies in the American hemisphere (Monroe Doctrine), or take sides in Europe's squabbles (No Entangling Alliances). America was preoccupied with its South and then its West and then, after acquiring Hawaii and defeating Spain in Cuba and the Philippines, its Far East.

In the twentieth century Europe had a hard time getting Washington's attention. It took the United States three years after the onset of the First World War, and two years after Hitler's attack that began the Second World War, to decide to send troops to assist Britain and France against Germany. Between the wars the League of Nations, led by Britain and France, was notable for America's absence. US isolationism prevailed and US neutrality opened the way for aggressors to arise in Europe.

The attack on Pearl Harbor jolted Washington from its self-imposed aloofness and energised US policy towards Europe. Together the United States and the Allies liberated Europe, democratised and rehabilitated Germany, established NATO, and contained the Soviet Union. The United States gave Marshall Plan aid and Fulbright scholarships, sent capital, and opened its markets to the Europeans. And it encouraged intra-Europe economic co-operation, thus acting as midwife to the European Union. The 1950s appear in retrospect as a golden era of Europe-US relations.

In the 1960s the trans-Atlantic mood cooled. The Cuban missile confrontation in 1962 sparked the growth of the European anti-nuclear movement. The Vietnam War accelerated anti-American youth protests and the peace movement. The Green movement burgeoned. France disputed US deterrence policies, developed its independent nuclear weapons capability, and expelled NATO from Paris. Subsequently European pundits expressed alarm at US corporate takeovers of European enterprises, protection of the US steel industry, and pressure on Germany to revalue the Deutschmark, bear more of the defence burden, and accept intermediate range missiles on its soil. Europeans were prodded to take the Soviet threat more seriously and to stop subsidising their farms and aircraft.

Paradoxically the collapse of the Soviet Union did not improve the trans-Atlantic mood. New crises erupted in Iraq/Kuwait, Bosnia, Africa, Kosovo and East Timor, but Europe's military responses proved ineffective until President Clinton turned his focus from the domestic economy to international affairs and decided to intervene. NATO and the European Union groped for a new role in intrastate conflicts. For a time the US economy slumped and the European economies boomed, and trade disputes multiplied. The end of the 1990s saw Clinton's internationalism, with which Europeans were comfortable, openly challenged by Republican candidate Bush's alleged unilateralism.

Current disputes

The present inventory of transatlantic disputes appears to be lengthening. Political-strategic disputes include:

* Uncertainty over the division of labour between NATO and the nascent European Rapid Reaction Force. (3)

* Anxiety over National Missile Defence and the abandonment of the ABM Treaty and consequent relations with Russia and China.

* Differences over how to deal with Saddam Hussein's Iraq in light of the `Bush Doctrine' of pre-emptive response.

* Differences over how to conduct the war on terrorism and associated civil liberties threats.

* Differences over how to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

* US objections to treaties on landmines, small arms, and bio weapons precursors.

* US objections to the International Criminal Court and linkage to its UN veto of peacekeeping.

Trans-Atlantic economic disputes are mainly new manifestations of old issues. From the European perspective these include:

* US tariffs on European steel.

* US insistence on selling hormone-fed beef and GM foods to Europe.

* US objections to European subsidies on exports, food production, and Airbus.

* US objections to the Kyoto protocol, confounding an initiative led by Europe.

* US alleged tolerance of corporate misbehaviour that threatens European firms.

Media headlines hinting at a breakdown of trans-Atlantic relations, and gloomy scenarios by think-tanks, have proliferated since 2000. Many have identified the cause as the allegedly unilateralist policies of George W. Bush. But as the above discussion indicates, and as I have argued in a prior article, the causes of friction long predate the election of the current US President. (4) More important than blaming Bush are consideration of how bad relations are, whether they will get worse, and what can be done to ease them.

Sound relations

Without going into detail, it is my conclusion, based on interviews with European and American officials and analysts during the past year, that relations are sound. According to one official, all the disputes put together trouble perhaps 10 per cent of the total relationship; the remaining 90 per cent is healthy. Many of the disputes are not fundamental or all-encompassing; they are not `deal-breakers' but irritants that are being managed within broader diplomatic and economic frameworks. Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have shown willingness to get past the rhetoric and to make adjustments, or to mediate their differences in multilateral for a such as the WTO, NATO and (sometimes) the United Nations.

Furthermore, Europe and America still agree on humane values, democratic institutions, and harmonious diplomacy and commerce, and this consensus will prevail over specific disputes. Europe may need America, but America needs Europe too, and not just for the war on terrorism but to help lead the way to long-term global stability, economic prosperity, and protection of human rights and values. Bush acknowledged that inter-dependence during his May trip to Europe, and the European leaders (including Russia's Putin) were mollified.

And it is worth recalling that there are `many Europes' and therefore many relationships to manage, some smooth, some not so smooth. British, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish relations with the United States are usually smooth. The United States gets along well with Javier Solana, Europe's Common Foreign and Security Policy chief, not least because he co-operates willingly with NATO. And relations with Russia have reached an historic high point.

But relations with France, Belgium, Greece, Denmark, Ireland, and especially Russia are occasionally turbulent. And the EU Commission rubs the United States up the wrong way because it administers subsidies and trade restraints.

If trans-Atlantic relations are not as bad as they appear in media headlines and worst-case scenarios, and are not likely to get any more turbulent than they have been for the last couple of decades, then can anything be done to improve them? To Europeans it is clear that the problems originate with American policies, so America should simply change the policies to solve the problems.

European problem

But a few thoughtful Europeans have begun to suggest that Europe may have to change, too. (5) They acknowledge that America's global pre-eminence is purchased in part by a robust military foundation to its diplomacy. Consequently if European states want to play global roles alongside the United States, and have the capacity to intervene to defeat aggressors, stop crimes against humanity, and protect human rights, they will have to raise their defence expenditures.

Regarding subsidies and trade barriers, leaders of wealthier countries are baulking at not only paying the farmers of poorer countries of the existing European Union but also facing additional levies to subsidise farmers in Eastern European and Mediterranean countries about to join the European Union. And they argue that their markets will have to be freer and their enterprises more competitive to withstand the challenge of China and in future India.

If followed up by progressive policy, these lines of thinking could dissolve transatlantic tensions and get Europe and North America working together as never before. Admittedly it is mainly among British and German analysts that one finds this new thinking. Despite American hectoring, neither raising defence expenditures nor reforming the EU subsidy and trade policy regimes is high on any other European country's agenda. Until these issues gain policy traction in countries less favourably disposed towards the United States, one cannot be sanguine about improving European-American relations.

Thus Europe's America problem is found to be rooted in history, still troubling at present, and unavoidable in the foreseeable future. European faultfinding with the United States is chronic, but it is not fatal. Europeans complained that the United States was doing too little under Clinton the domestic economist until 1995, then too much under Clinton the liberal internationalist after 1995, then too little under Bush the alleged unilater-Mist (too little peacekeeping or respect for treaties or the United Nations) and also too much (missile defence, war on terrorism, and intervention by aerial bombardment). From Washington's perspective, they appear hard to please, and not a little envious.

Nevertheless European leaders have come to terms with Bush and they welcomed him to their capitals in May. By mid-2002 public criticism dampened down. But Europe has not solved its America problem, just managed it more quietly. One can only hope that America will manage its Europe problem equally quietly.


(1) Quotations from Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Feb 2002.

(2) As reported in The Economist, 25 May 2002, p.47.

(3) Stephen Hoadley, `Europe's Rapid Reaction Force', NZIR, vol 26, no 4 (2001).

(4) Stephen Hoadley, `President Bush's foreign policy', NZIR, vol 27, no 2 (2002).

(5) See series of articles by Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger and Michael Inacker in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 4 Feb 2002; special issue on `Zu viel Amerika--zu weniq Europa?' in Internationale Politik, 4th issue, 2002, German Council of Foreign Relations, Berlin; Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, `EU Foreign Policy in Crisis' and David C. Compert, `The EU on the World Stage', both in Internationale Politik Transatlantic Edition, 2nd issue, 2002; Irwin Stelzer in The Times (London), 19 Feb 2002, and `Who needs whom?' in Economist, 9 Mar 2002.
European leaders and commentators have been especially
critical of President George W. Bush. But Europe-US
differences go back two centuries, and will not be resolved
easily under any president. The underlying trans-Atlantic
relationship remains healthy, disputes are being managed,
and President Bush's May tour of Europe was a success. Some
analysts are reflecting that disputes arising out of
protectionism, subsidies, and defence under-spending may
originate not only in Washington but also in Europe.

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Stephen Hoadley is Corresponding Editor of the NZIR. He wishes to thank the Research Committee of the University of Auckland for support of his on-going study of US foreign policy under President Bush.
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Author:Hoadley, Stephen
Publication:New Zealand International Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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