Problems and Prospects for the Transatlantic Relations
Karsten D. Voigt, Coordinator of German-American Cooperation, The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The events in Southeast Asia were the most devastating we have encountered in a long time. The date of December 26, 2004 should be for our generation a milestone like two other key dates: November 9, 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the attacks of September 11, 2001. Let me explain why. The events in Southeast Asia had a sobering effect on us all. Due to the modern means of communication in our globalized world, we were made aware of the extent of the disaster almost instantaneously. At the same time, due to global tourism, the disaster has not only affected a great number of locals but also a great number of tourists from all over the world.
It is gratifying to witness how fast and to what extent the international community has come together to provide emergency aid and disaster relief. Faced with this apocalyptic disaster, the international community and especially the transatlantic partners have been presented with a unique opportunity to set aside subsisting differences. This is the moment to seek answers to fundamental questions beyond day‐to‐day politics. I hope this disaster will help strengthen the conscience that we live in and need to act in one world. Fortunately, initial hick‐ups like the question of who forms a coalition with whom to bring about relief have been quickly overcome.
The disaster reminds us of the many remaining global challenges. We also have to acknowledge a common responsibility underscored by the fact that the Western alliance comprised by Europe and America produces two‐thirds of the world’s GDP. This time, Europe and the US have been living up to the pressing needs and have pledged by far the largest amount of public and private desaster relief funding. The EU and its member states have pledged about 4 billion €. Germany alone has pledged more than 350 million € and 500 million € from private and public sources respectively, not counting Germany's share in EU pledges. This expression of humanitarian commitment clearly shows that solidarity in the Western world can be best achieved if it is based on global values and a common humanistic vision and not on narrowly defined national interests.
Globalization and the spreading of free market economies do not replace international politics and will be even less so able to avoid its perils. Free nations can only peacefully coexist when globalization and the spreading of free market economies are flanked by a framework of international rules, norms and engagements that also help to detect, contain and ‐ if possible ‐ solve global problems. When I discuss transatlantic relations today, it is in this global context rather than against the backdrop of the Cold War’s East‐West context.
A reorientation in transatlantic relations is not unusual. However, the stage we have reached is particularly striking. November 9, 1989 and September 11, 2001 and possibly December 26, 2004 changed Europe, the US, transatlantic relations and, ultimately, the world as a whole. The peaceful revolution of 1989 transformed Europe, which had been divided for many decades, and reunited Germany. The second key date is September 11, 2001. The acts of terrorism committed that day accelerated and changed international developments. New threats were recognized. The experience of September 11 led to a new view of the world, first in the US and then in Europe as well. The altered awareness in the US following September 11 was at first underestimated by many Europeans at first. On the other hand, it is not generally known in the US why the majority of Europeans, and Germans in particular, felt disconcerted and alienated by the Bush administration's rhetoric and policy after 9/11. Finally, the recent desasters in Southeast Asia should provide the global actors with a trigger to speed up the process of addressing the non‐military global security challenges, be it natural and humanitarian disasters, climate change, infectious and endemic diseases, the fight against poverty or the protection of natural resources. In a rational pursuit of our national interests, it is key to focus on our joint vision and policy of one world. If there is one lesson we learned following September 11, 2001, it is that we cannot simply take good and stable transatlantic relations for granted. This has to do with the changes in the geopolitical situation, as well as differences in political culture which, at first glance, are not so apparent but which do indeed have an impact on relations at a sometimes subconscious level.
On September 11, 2001 the entire Western world felt closer to the US than ever before. The attacks in New York and Washington were regarded as attacks against Western civilization as a whole. People on this side of the Atlantic identified both emotionally and politically with the Americans. The declarations of unstinting solidarity in the fight against terrorism made in the hours and days that followed were earnest and remain so today. This is particularly the case against the backdrop of the knowledge that bloody new attacks like the one in Madrid could be carried out in our own countries at any time. This fact inevitably leads to core questions, namely how to effectively protect ourselves against this form of attack.
In a recent article in the International Herald Tribune, William Pfaff states the following as key questions at the beginning of the New Year: “Who is defending whom against what in 2005?” and “What will constitute real and relevant power in 2005?” He, in my view, definitely hits the bulls eye. Since 9/11, well‐known categories seem to be free‐floating, the system of reference is gone. Power, security and the way to achieve it must be redefined. After the Cold War, Europe was forced to realize that neither US involvement in Europe nor an automatic convergence of interests on both sides of the Atlantic could be taken for granted. Europe finds itself in a constant balancing act trying to complete European integration while at the same time maintaining close transatlantic ties.
We all are aware of the fact that with the end of the Cold War the transatlantic relationship and Europe’s geostrategic setting after 1989 have given rise to unavoidable changes. I would ask everyone not to regard changes as negative from the outset. If we were to cling to the modes of conduct and ideas which reflected Western Europe's geostrategic situation during the Cold War despite these geostrategic changes, we would undermine rather than strengthen the partnership across the Atlantic. I would therefore like to see a new Atlanticism emerge through a reform of transatlantic policies and institutions, especially within NATO, and through deepening the relationship between NATO and the EU. President Bush's meetings with NATO and EU leaders on the same day is a good signal in this regard.
Both clarity about our own interests and detailed knowledge of the other side are essential as a starting point for developing common ground in the future. In order to reach a new transatlantic perspective, common ground and differences between American and European cultures must be considered rationally. In my view, it is important to note that although there is little diffference in our fundamental values, there is a difference in their hierarchy. As we share the same fundamental values, it is perfectly justified to talk of a transatlantic community of values. This differing hierarchization of values is not new, however. In the past, it contributed to the ambivalent image which Europeans and Americans had of each other. These images are by no means set in stone: they change according to circumstances.
The idea that the world is by nature invariably a place in which states have to be rivals has a long history. The theory says that, because of this rivalry, a state's security dilemma can only be eased by increasing its power and cannot be resolved by an alliance of different states linked by a common legal order or values. This idea was bred in Europe but has found many advocates in the US today. I consider this idea to be permanently and unalterably logical but intrinsically wrong. This idea has been largely proved wrong by Europe's post war development even if the traditional logic of power still holds sway over many parts of the world.
I am aware of the fact that the Kantian world I am striving for is still in contrast to the Hobbesian realities in large parts of the world. I am therefore convinced, like American realists and in contrast to some Europeans, that the deployment of military power is sometimes unavoidable. However, unlike these American realists, I am also convinced that, with the prospect of a new reality in line with post‐war developments in Europe, we should not abandon hope of being able to change the world. Otherwise, politics would be reduced to mere actionism without the aim of creating a better world. It will take generations before fundamental changes can be brought about in some other parts of the world. However, acceptance of the reality of power and the pursuit of the rule of law, realism and teleological action do not exclude one another. Misperceptions slowly but inevitably undermine the transatlantic partnership. I regard this as one of the main tasks of the elite of our time – politicians, scientists, intellectuals and other enlightened individuals. They should do their utmost to avoid the widening of the transatlantic gap caused by misperceptions, mismanagement and eventually mistrust. Let me cite a few examples of those differences, their impact on current policies and how we can ensure the stability of transatlantic relations in the future.
Many in the US have ambivalent if not negative feelings concerning an ever solidifying EU not only competing in global economic markets but also organizing its military capabilities via ESDP and even recently, after long negotiations, solving its headquarters question. The recurrent European leitmotiv of ESDP being a strong European pillar of NATO and not a contender in the wings does not find many believers in the US. Sometimes it seems that, with certain US critics, the only acceptable reason for the existence of ESDP would be that it might help Europeans spend more money on defence. In addition, there is persisting uneasiness in the US over EU members of NATO forming a European caucus and coming to the Atlantic table with a prefixed non‐negotiable European position. Experience shows rather, that the contrary is true. Differences and disagreements hamper the European decision‐making process and lead to the frustrating experience that European influence in Washington is less than normally adequate for a long‐term acceptance of the transatlantic Alliance in the self‐confident European societies. It is time for a real strategic debate within the Alliance. It is also time for a new transatlantic bargain in which responsibilities and influence are rebalanced.
During the Cold War, the US was in favour of a strong European pillar of NATO. That European pillar was desirable to the US on the assumption that it would help counterbalance the Soviet threat, relieve the US of the danger of being drawn into regional armed conflicts and would not represent a competing entity. In view of the development which Europe has undergone in the last few years and decades, it is understandable that there is growing concern, particularly in the US, that this stronger Europe is transforming itself into a second rival pole in the West. In the final analysis, I do not believe there is any real danger that Europe will endeavor to define itself in opposition to the US. Nor is there a majority for this following the enlargement of the European Union. Defining Europe in opposition to the US would definitely not be in Germany's interests. However, I would also like to contradict those in the US who believe that Europe's increased strength in the sphere of foreign and security policy is a negative development. The opposite is true! Europe's lack of effectiveness is one of the central problems in transatlantic relations. A Europe incapable of taking effective action would have little global influence and would be of little interest to the US as a partner. The US would quickly lose interest in a weaker Europe. A weak Europe would also weaken transatlantic ties. A Europe which, as a result of its weakness, sees no hope of exerting influence on the US would, out of a sense of frustration, turn either away from or even against the US.
Some Euro‐critics in the US are in line with President Bush stating that “the path of safety is the path of action”. Those critics find the EU risk‐averse and status quo oriented and castigate its lack of action concerning stability threats. Unlike Robert Kagan in his article in the Washington Post of December 5, they fail to recognize what a vital role Europe plays even when the set of cards it has is different from US expectations. The EU’s “soft” approach of cooperation and its political attractiveness has proved to be very effective in Europe.
On both sides of the Atlantic, there are diverging narratives as to which strategy has suceeded in the end to bring about the fall of the Communist world. The children of Ronald Reagan tend to attribute the fall of Communism to unremitting, unwavering pressure on the Soviet Union based on military deterrence and the drying out of resources. The children of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt attribute the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the EastWest‐Conflict to the combination of a defensive strategy and an approach of dialogue and cooperation based on the attractiveness of Western democracies. In hindsight, both strategies, although conflicting in their time, have objectively been complementary in contributing to the end of the Communist era. Perhaps we should be circumspect enough to consider that today’s conflicting strategies used, for example towards Iran, could one day prove complementary as well. It is because we want to strengthen the basis for a joint transatlantic future that Europeans are in favor of making Europe more effective. That also goes for the military sphere. In keeping with the sentiment expressed by Joe Nye of Harvard University, I would like to add: the US is the only true global power in the military sphere. Economiccally, it is but one power among many. In economic terms, the European Union is almost equal in weight, while in terms of population and its share in world trade it even surpasses the US. At the level of societal and non‐state players, the US used to be more attractive than any other country in the world. It was not the US's military power, but rather its attractiveness that was its strongest advantage. After all, "soft power" is also a form of power. In light of current developments in the US, Joe Nye has warned America that it must not lose its social and political appeal by flexing its military muscle too much, thus objectively also losing power, which is more than just military might. I share his concern.
I agree as well with those who exhort Europeans and of course also Germans to modernize and enlarge their military capabilities. I detect a growing German consensus in that direction. Our security culture is changing, and as part of Europe we are increasingly thinking globally or in security terms. But leaving aside the question of military capabilities ‐ most of us Europeans, even more so us Germans, strongly believe that the soft approach pays off in the long run. The fact that for a long time only within a NATO framework there was sufficient European military clout is part but not all of the backdrop to this characteristic. As Kagan puts it, the EU has become a “gigantic political and economic magnet”, its most attractive tool being enlargement or what Robert Cooper calls “the lure of membership”. That means the EU is gradually enlarging the zone of peace, stability and prosperity along its expanding border.
The handling of the Ukrainian change of power is an excellent example of how the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy acted in a smooth and concerted way. The EU made sensible use of its new member Poland and the good offices of High Representative Solana, backed by the presidency and member states without locking the US out. I am convinced that such fine examples of smart multilateralism will become more and more numerous. Considering its short history, the EU’s defence policy has made considerable progress. The EU started police operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. We lead a military operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and did so jointly together with NATO in Macedonia. With the military operation ALTHEA, the EU has taken over from NATO’s SFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Who in the US or even in our own countries is aware of the massive amount of money the EU invests into Russia, Central Europe and the Middle East? Every Euro invested in our near abroad is a stability anchor. Each Euro invested there is a Euro that does not need to be spent on defence. Let me identify some of the challenges ahead and some important items still on the EU’s agenda from the past century. The Israeli‐Palestinian conflict is the rift valley of the clash between the Western and the Islamic world. In spite of European expertise and its contribution to the Road Map and the Quartet – which again, many in the US mostly overlook ‐, it is the US attitude and input that are crucial. For a lasting solution, nothing less is required from the US than exerting leadership. With the democratic election of a new legitimate Palestinian leader a new initiative would be timely.
Concerning Iran, the EU‐3 effort to reach a long‐term agreement in the area of dual use nuclear technology has led to a satisfying set of contacts and agreements. In the context of bringing peace and security to the Greater Middle East, the EU specifically needs the US to engage in the Iran dossier to ensure that a sustainable solution can be achieved. The arc of crisis around the Black Sea with its frozen conflicts is an area where European foreign policy is especially active. Nevertheless the complex will have to be examined and addressed jointly with our transatlantic partner. This can also not be done without engaging Russia.
We alone cannot shape the ideal world that corresponds to our interests, values and dreams. One thing is certain however, the EU needs the US, and vice versa, be it in the war on terrorism, the fight against weapons of mass destruction or any of the crisis areas mentioned or still lurking. What we most ardently need is the common insight that the EU and the US, NATO and ESDP have complementary approaches and powers. No problem in the world could be solved faster and better when the transatlantic partners choose to approach it without the other. Why not follow the recent proposal of a “double‐track initiative” fighting against terrorism and engaging the Islamic world? It should include credible law enforcement, military containment and more of the tools of the politics of power, while at the same time leading an active dialogue with Muslim cultures and societies.
Back to the changing transatlantic relations: what has changed strategically? The central locations for conflicts have shifted in US consciousness to other problems and, in geographical terms, to the Middle East and to certain parts of Asia. In a stable European order of peace, the centuries‐old German question has been resolved by united Germany's membership in the EU and NATO. Both sides of the Atlantic can and should rejoice that Germany is no longer a source and cause of crisis. Germany no longer has strategic importance for the US due to its geostrategic location at the heart of a conflict. Germany's main relevance is due to its willingness and ability to help resolve problems in future crisis regions. German politicians must now examine whether they want to reorient either in order to be relevant to the US or because they, just like the US, believe that their security and interests are at risk. Mind you, this is about the strategic orientation of the US away from a global conflict with Europe at its epicenter. We perceived this conflict as a European or local German crisis. The US is now oriented towards other regions (for example, the Middle East) and towards other issues (for example, the fight against international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction). At the same time, we must seek a new consensus in security policy on whether, where and under what conditions, we are prepared to use military means to protect our security, interests and values.
There is another factor. In contrast to the situation during the Cold War in Europe, the US is no longer dependent on its European allies and on Germany in order to prevail in purely military terms in regional conflicts such as the one in Iraq. In the final analysis, military victory in Iraq was not dependent on the support of other European partners. This decrease in military dependency in wars has not only military but also political consequences. A country which believes it is no longer dependent on military support but seeks support for political reasons will begin to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of partnerships. That will influence the extent to which a country is prepared to show consideration for the interests and viewpoints of potential partners. During the Cold War, certain political and military decisions in the US would not have been made against the express wishes of key European partners in NATO. Although we Germans were completely dependent on the US for our security at that time, we nonetheless welded much influence. Prior to the Iraq war, there was a debate in Washington on whether, on political grounds, the US should still show consideration to those who doubted not only the tactics but also the goals and strategy of US policy. Or whether for the sake of protecting the autonomy of US military action and the clarity of its own objective, it would not be better, if need be, for the US to pursue its course alone and do without critical and excessively self‐confident partners. After all, there were other partners who, although they did not support every tactical detail of Washington's decisions, did support its strategic orientation.
This change in thinking in some Washington circles was no longer based on the premise that solidarity among all NATO partners was the key prerequisite for military action. It was therefore no coincidence that the NATO offer to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Treaty following 9/11 was not taken up in Washington. If the US were to carry out an emergency unilateral action (which a priori the US does not want but has not ruled out either) or if a Coalition of the Willing were to replace action by NATO as a whole, this would have serious consequences for NATO. One result of the difficult situation in post‐war Iraq is that those in Washington who are in favor of partners and alliances have again gained ground. In view of this ongoing debate in Washington, we Europeans should seize the occasion and, jointly with our American partners, develop concepts and strategies to renew and intensify transatlantic relations.
This year, we are commemorating the 60th anniversaries of the end of World War II and the beginning of the Nuremberg trials. After World War II and at the request of all its neighbors, Germany linked its actions and thinking to multilateral institutions and norms: to the United Nations, NATO, EU and international law. International law is expressly given precedence over national law in our Basic Law. During the last fifty years we have internalized these framework conditions for German policy. Despite Germany's "no" in the concrete case of Iraq, the military dimension of German foreign policy will have to be further developed. Ultimately, there is agreement on this in the Bundestag and in the German Government. However, the question of the framework within which we Germans want and have to act will keep arising. And due to its geostrategic location, its integration in NATO and the EU, as well as its history, multilateralism and international law play a greater role for Germany than for the US when it comes to weighing interests and objectives rationally. For us, multilateralism is a must, while for the US it is one of several options. This difference in perspective is not new but it became evidently clear in the Iraq war.
I would like to respond to the growing number of people in recent times who take a skeptical view of transatlantic relations ‐ and they are to be found on both sides of the Atlantic ‐ with the following argument: I believe that transatlantic relations are just as important to Germany now as they were in the past, and this applies even more so to Europe. The US rightly regards itself as an "indispensable nation" but Europe should, with the same right, see itself as an "indispensable partner". Incidentally, that goes not only for military and economic issues but, ultimately, also for issues related to our democratic culture and even for environmental protection. If Europe and the US were to oppose each other, this would jeopardize the chance of achieving security and democracy in many parts of the world. I foresee neither an end to the West nor an end to the transatlantic alliance. Those who, in agreement with Oswald Spengler, predict the "decline and fall of the West", will be proved wrong. However, we find ourselves in the midst of a phase of adjustment and reorientation. Time and again, whenever facts and thinking changed in the past, so too was the West forced to redefine itself.
Beyond today, therefore, serious questions have arisen in the transatlantic debate. We must try and answer them: many together with the Americans, almost all together with our European neighbors and some of them on our own. Ultimately, this is about what Germany should be in the European and global context, what risks we are prepared to take, what influence and what power we are striving to gain, what financial means and what instruments we are prepared to employ for our priorities. The conclusions drawn from this German debate will be influenced not only by the discussion among Germans but to a large extent by the arguments put forward by our European and transatlantic partners.
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