OPINION

Strained alliance

Over the past few decades, transatlantic relations have been tinged by an underlying antagonism which has seldom emerged into the open. This has once again indirectly been expressed, albeit without fundamentally upsetting the alliance of the two pillars that support the Western system. There was, of course, former French President Charles de Gaulle but his policy was strictly French rather than European. Until the collapse of the eastern bloc in 1990, the main security threat to the continent was the Soviet nuclear arsenal, a fact which left no room for antagonism between Europe and the US. As a result, Europe never really eyed anything more than some degree of political autonomy. But even in the last 12 years, the picture has remained more or less the same. The Franco-German axis, the economic powerhouse and unofficial political nucleus of the European Union, has avoided questioning American hegemony in any direct way. Even when it had its reservations, the EU finally fell behind the USA. Hence, European rejection – with the exception of Britain – of American impatience toward Iraq acquires special weight. Recent remarks by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac signaled a new phase in transatlantic relations, which is why they sparked nervousness and sharp comments in Washington. This tug of war is about more than mere economic competition. European leaders are aware that the deeper political wager is whether US global leadership will abide by any rules. Europeans want to have a say in world affairs and have their rights, as allies, be respected. Due to its status as sole superpower, on the other hand, the USA deems that the international institutional framework which was set up in the bipolar period no longer reflects the balance of power. The US is seeking to build a new world order. US efforts to install a Pax Americana are causing Europeans growing unease. Greece has tied its fate to the historical venture of European unification since this is mandated by its geopolitical and economic interests. However, with its outstanding foreign policy issues, it cannot afford to overlook the decisive influence of the USA. In this volatile geopolitical environment, Greece must tread with caution and flexibility.