Rekindling strained US-European ties

Transatlantic relations continue to be the most hotly debated issue in recent times. Conferences, seminars and articles in scientific journals and the daily press provide detailed focus on the relationship between the world’s sole superpower and what US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called «old Europe.» Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger remarked that the current crisis in transatlantic relations is worse than when the USA found itself opposing Britain and France in the Suez affair of 1956. The basic reason for today’s crisis, which reached its climax with the war in Iraq – simultaneously revealing that Europe does not share a united stance with the USA – is the fact that the USA and Europe have differing interpretations of security and threat, as well as holding diverging views about implementing international law. Washington sees the status quo in some parts of the world as potentially dangerous and destabilizing. Terrorist activities are perceived as a declaration of war by an invisible enemy that is in operation all over the world and which, therefore, must be tackled on a worldwide level. For many Europeans, however, the status quo is a safeguard of stability, and any change to it, or any decision to use military force, must be undertaken with respect for international law. The European Union has shown signs of good will toward the restoration of transatlantic relations. But its members differ on many issues. The matter of the EU’s military security is a case in point; here French President Jacques Chirac proposed the creation of a multipolar system within which Europe would represent an independent «pole» to the USA – a stance that was rejected after being considered anachronistic and anti-American. On the contrary, despite the «alliance within the alliance» which was officially presented on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Franco-German agreement, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, seeking to mend the recent serious rift in US-German relations, distanced himself from the French position and announced that he did not believe in an antagonistic relationship between the USA and Europe. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, dedicated to his country’s «special relationship» with Washington, openly allied himself with the USA. The proposal for a European security strategy, presented at the Thessaloniki summit by EU Foreign Policy and Defense Chief Javier Solana, comprises a blatant effort to converge with American views. The text, which forms the basis for the final report to be submitted for ratification in December, echoes America’s stance on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. A careful study of it leads the reader to the conclusion that what is also being adopted is the dogma of «pre-emptive war.» Some remarked that the proposal could have been written in Washington. The above is testimony to Europe’s desire to bring transatlantic relations back to where they were directly after the September 11 terrorist attacks two years ago when the French daily Le Monde published the headline «We are all Americans.» But on what basis will this relationship be rebuilt? In Article 69 of the conclusions of the EU’s June summit, the European Council «expressed its conviction that the development of transatlantic relations on every level, on the basis of equality, will continue to have significance, not just for the two sides, but also for the international community.» However, just a few days before the June summit, the Financial Times had published a lengthy piece which concluded that the future of transatlantic relations will be decided upon to a far greater extent in Washington than in Brussels. There is no doubt of America’s military supremacy over Europe. Indeed, this is why – despite demonstrations around the world on a level never seen before – America proceeded to wage a war on Iraq which officially ended on May 1. Over the last four months, however, the flurry of revelations about the legitimacy of the intelligence that led to the start of hostilities provoked a severe crisis in the credibility of the American government. Moreover, the development of the postwar situation in Iraq – where the number of American soldiers killed since the war ended exceeds the number killed in action – cannot fail to trouble Washington however much it believes that what it sought to achieve in Iraq justifies such a loss. The Bush administration insists on exclusivity in supervising security matters in Iraq and in restricting the role of the United Nations to a purely supportive one. A US military official told the New York Times a few days ago that an international operation in Iraq should not allow the UN any say in the country’s security matters. This presupposes, however, that America can undertake the responsibility of the UN’s own security in Iraq – a claim belied by the bombing of the organization’s headquarters in Baghdad that resulted in so many deaths and injuries. Faced with these unchecked developments in postwar Iraq, the USA may need to consider rapprochement with «old» Europe once again. Should this occur, Brussels should play a far more active role in shaping future transatlantic relations. (1) Ioannis Bourloyiannis-Tsagarides is a former ambassador.

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