America needs a strong Europe

Posted in Europe | 15-Nov-04 | Author: Joseph Nye| Source: International Herald Tribune

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts It is no secret that many European leaders preferred Senator John Kerry to President George W. Bush. Some observers, like Timothy Garton Ash of Oxford University, predicted that if Bush were re-elected, those leaders would turn to a "Euro-Gaullist" approach designed to make the European Union a rival superpower to the United States.

Many Americans blame Bush's European problem on President Jacques Chirac and his aspirations for a multipolar world, but the problem is deeper than any individual. America's attractiveness - or soft power - in Europe has diminished in the past few years, and polls show that this can be traced largely to American foreign policy.

In the run-up to the war in Iraq, polls showed that the United States lost an average of 30 points of support in most European countries, including countries like Britain that supported America in the war. Strong majorities in Europe see U.S. unilateralism as an important international threat to Europe in the next 10 years.

Given this situation, it would be tempting for Bush to turn away from America's historical policy of favoring European integration and to pursue an open policy of divide and rule.

There were already signs of this approach last year in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's jibe about Old and New Europe. But the temptation to punish Europeans for lack of support on Iraq would be short-sighted. The United States has more to fear from a weak Europe than from a coherent Europe.

A policy of divide and rule would not be difficult. Europeans are already divided, and the enlargement of the European Union to include Eastern Europe has set sharp limits on how much power will be centralized in Brussels. Even in Western Europe, the prospect that Europe will unite to balance American military power is slim.

To balance the United States would require a doubling or tripling of military budgets in most European countries and that is just not in the cards. European societies are focused on the costs of their welfare states. The Euro-Gaullist vision of a rival superpower that will make NATO obsolete and balance American military power is an empty specter.

But that does not mean Europe is powerless.

Power in the world today is distributed like a three dimensional chess game. On the top board are military relations among countries. Here, the United States is the world's only superpower, and its likely to stay that way. But on the middle board of economic relations, Europe (and others) already balance American power.

Bush cannot reach a deal in the Doha round of world trade talks without their agreement. And last month, the U.S. Congress passed a major restructuring of American business taxes because of the threat of European sanctions.

Finally, on the bottom board are transnational issues that cross borders outside the control of governments - like infectious diseases, international crime, or transnational terrorism. Here power is chaotically distributed and it makes no sense to speak of American empire.

America cannot manage these transnational threats without the help of other countries, especially Europe. That is why a strategy of weakening Europe would be mistaken. Indeed, America's efforts to do so would simply reinforce the loss of U.S. soft power among European populations and further reduce the leeway that leaders have to help the United States.

European soft power has an important role to play in the struggle against terrorism. Opening Europe's doors to Turkey helps to strengthen one of the most moderate Muslim countries, and European aid for democracy reinforces America's objectives. In some cases, there can be a beneficial division of labor in which Europe's soft power and America's hard power combine in a good cop-bad cop routine.

Elements of this can be seen in the current approach to Iran's nuclear program. But such a dynamic is effective only if both cops know they are playing the same game and coordinate their strategy.

Specifically, Bush should promptly restate American support for European integration, ideally at a meeting with European leaders. He should look for "easy victories" like cooperation on support for African peacekeeping or human rights violations in the Sudanese region of Darfur. Appointment of a high-level representative or a new initiative for the Middle East peace process would also help.

On Iraq, it is unlikely that Europeans will send more troops at this point, but they can be persuaded to increase their economic support, and increase the size of their training missions. Moreover, by reinforcing their forces in the Balkans and Afghanistan (where NATO troops now serve under a French general), European countries can reduce the burdens on America's armed forces.

Most important, despite European-American differences on some issues, more than any other ally, Europe shares America's deepest values, such as democracy, individual freedom and human rights. As the author Robert Kagan has noted, the United States requires legitimacy to sustain its foreign policies. Polls show that the American people turn to other democracies for approval, and many of those democracies are in Europe. That is why President Bush would be wise to act now.

(Joseph S. Nye is professor of international relations at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author of ‘‘The Power Game: A Washington Novel.’’)