Thu, Jul 08, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Learning to cooperate again

In the past, the US and Europe worked together to defeat some formidable foes, but the Cold War has long been over and working together is proving harder than ever

By Richard Haass


Disputes between the US and Europe are nothing new, as past tensions over Korea, Suez and Vietnam demonstrate. But these earlier disputes occurred within a very different geopolitical context -- the Cold War -- and the bygone intellectual and political framework of containment.

This context and framework disciplined transatlantic ties. Europeans and Americans alike recognized the need to limit and manage their differences in order to conserve their ability to deter and, if necessary, to defeat the Soviet Union.

The Cold War's end changed everything. Can the winning alliance survive its own success?

The fundamental features of the post-Cold War geopolitical context are relatively clear. They include US strategic primacy; massive and rapid cross-border flows of people, technology, goods, services, ideas, germs, money, arms, e-mails, carbon dioxide and just about anything else; and relatively peaceful relations among the major powers -- the US, China, Japan, Russia, India and an increasingly integrated and enlarged Europe.

But if the geopolitical context is clear, the intellectual and political framework -- the successor to containment -- is not. The challenge for Europeans and Americans today could hardly be greater: to cooperate in a very different context than the one for which the relationship and its institutions were designed -- and to do so without any agreement on a new strategic framework.

Cooperation is possible. In 1990, Europeans and Americans joined forces to reverse Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait. Later in the decade, Europeans and Americans combined to stop ethnic conflict in Bosnia and Kosovo. They also worked together to enlarge NATO and collaborated against terrorism in Afghanistan.

But recent rifts over a range of issues -- including the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the role of the UN -- are impossible to ignore. Europeans tend to believe that the US is uncritically supportive of Israel and insufficiently sympathetic to Palestinian rights. Even when Americans and Europeans agree in principle, such as on trade, this does not always translate into practice.

Most pronounced have been disagreements over how to deal with what the US terms "rogue actors" -- Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Iraq. Europeans lean toward dialogue and incentives; the US toward isolation and penalties. Bridging these differences will not be easy, even though the US, for all its power, needs partners to fight terrorism, nuclear weapons proliferation and global climate change.

But Europe, too, has a stake in maintaining the transatlantic bond, for there is no guarantee that it will remain an island of stability and prosperity. European integration cannot become all-consuming; a parochial Europe is vulnerable to unsettled regional conflicts and to the challenges of globalization. Translating mutual recognition of this into reality will require intellectual honesty and political investment on both sides of the Atlantic.

Europeans must shed their illusions about what they can accomplish in the world on their own. Loose talk about resurrecting a multi-polar world is just that -- loose talk. It is neither feasible nor desirable for Europe to establish itself as a geopolitical equal or competitor of the US.

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