A Strong Europe - Expectations and Reality
From a German-European perspective, I firmly believe that robust and liable transatlantic relations are very important for facing the challenges ahead of us: International terrorism in combination with organized crime, proliferation of WMD, human trafficking, drugs, shrinking energy reserves and mounting demands, migration and environmental problems.
Emerging world powers in Asia might add stress to worldwide politics. The United States is reacting to a newly emerging bi – or multipolar world in the decades to come. It comes as no surprise that Asia now has priority over Europe in US political perception, planning and activities.
On the other hand, US political and military involvement in the Balkans, in the hot spots of the “Broader Middle East” and Asia have pushed its capabilities to the limits. The danger of “imperial overstretch” has been increasingly perceived in the States.
Even the lone superpower is not able and capable of going it alone. The US needs strong partners and allies in Asia and Europe. Is Europe willing and able to meet these expectations and thus become a strong partner? Unfortunately, Europe is not in good shape. The rejection of the constitution in France and the Netherlands, the repercussions of a divided Europe concerning Iraq, terrorist attacks in Spain and the UK, the riots in France, difficult integration of immigrants in many European countries, a new populist and nationalist government in Poland, economic and financial problems as well as shrinking military quantities and qualities paint a dark picture of Europe.
The UK, France, Germany and Poland – the bigger ones - are not able to take a lead role. However, there is a growing perception in Europe that Europe needs to reconstitute relations with the US after the failure of ambitious European initiatives to build almost autonomous military capabilities and become more independent from the US.
With the negative experiences on both sides of the Atlantic, there is now a better chance to return to a better mutual understanding of still existing common values, aims and objectives. There is now a greater overlap of interests than was evident over the last years. There is the chance and the need to “reinvent” the previously successful NATO with the associated members of the “Partnership for Peace” program.
After Ron Asmus addressed transatlantic relations in our newsletter “Rethinking the EU: Why Washington Needs to Support European Integration”(Sept 28, 2005), Leo Michel from the National Defense University in Washington addresses this topic now from a different angle. His newsletter “Transatlantic Ricochet: How U.S. Reassessments Will (or will not) Transform Europe” starts with: “Four major and interrelated reassessments taking place this year – involving strategy, capabilities, global posture and domestic basing –are shaping that agenda and its implications for transatlantic cooperation.” Based upon his conclusion that “The U.S. needs stronger and broader international partnerships,” Leo Michel ends with some proposals on how to improve transatlantic relations.
If Europe were able to meet expectations as a strong partner of the US, then the US would be able to shift its emphasis even more to Asia which would - in the long run - be in Europe’s interests, too.
NATO is the best possible instrument to improve transatlantic relations. NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq – with room for improvement - and the build-up of NATO's promising high-tech Response Force are good starting points to overcome previous irritations. More military integration and better interoperability with prudent burden sharing, division of labor and role specialization could lead to more efficiency and quality – even with limited resources. The same is true at the political level. There is a need to orchestrate political initiatives and activities utilizing the synergetic effects of “soft and hard power.”