Green Institute Publications
by Dean Myerson
If Americans want Europe to pull its own
weight, they must resign themselves to substantive consultation with
the European Union.
By Dean Myerson
Director, Green Institute
By now, we are all familiar with the central
challenges to the transatlantic relationship. Following the Cold War,
the role of NATO was no longer clear. Would it wither and be remembered
as the most successful alliance in all history, the one that prevented
WWIII without firing a shot? More recently, the disagreement over the
war in Iraq caused public tensions not seen in many years between the
United States and key allies in Europe.
While these challenges are highlighted because of
specific flash points, they really point to a key issue facing the
transatlantic relationship: how NATO and the European Union (EU) relate
on security issues and how the various national players use these two
On the western side of the Atlantic, it has long
been in vogue to criticize Europeans for seeking a larger role in
security decision-making when they refuse to spend the funds that would
enable them to participate in U.S.-led actions. Critics say Europeans
are happy to ride on U.S. expenditures for their security and just
complain. Commentators on this side of the pond only occasionally
mention that the United States really wants Europe to spend more in
support of U.S. leadership but does not want to share the
decision-making power. Given the options, the United States would
rather pay the bill and keep the leadership than share the power.
And this is where NATO and the EU come in. NATO is
the vehicle for U.S. control of European security policy. The many
European members of NATO can never be as united as a single country
like the United States, so the United States is more likely to get its
way-a diplomatic version of divide and conquer.
Meanwhile, detractors of the European Union
complain that it can't make up its mind on security policy matters. But
those who complain the most about this indecisiveness also refuse to
support an EU structure that could help the organization make
decisions. These same actors also insist that any significant European
investment in military budgets go to NATO, where it will be used to
support American security policy. This insistence that the EU not
develop an independent security apparatus, but that it either use NATO
or borrow from NATO when the time comes, ensures that the Continental
players most capable of making that investment will never do so.
This diplomatic tussle has been going in circles
for years and shows no sign of breaking the cycle. The underlying
choice really is simple: If Americans want Europe to pull its own
weight, they must resign themselves to substantive consultation with
the EU. Further, America's closest Atlanticist allies must support
structures in the EU constitution that will make it possible for the EU
to make decisions and genuinely implement the Common Foreign and
Security Policy. Or, the United States must accept that Europe will not
This is not to say that France and Germany would be
eager to increase their defense spending if only the United States
would step out of the way. The domestic politics in those countries,
particularly Germany with its unification debt, are not trivial. But
because of European differences, it is the United States that must make
room for Europe to make these decisions. The recent redeployment
announcement in Germany could serve the purpose of pushing Germany to
confront what it really wants to pay for defense, even if that wasn't
the intent of the redeployment order.
Of course, Europe can still cause headaches for
American policy when it wants United Nations' support. And this really
gets to the crux of the matter. The coalition of the willing in Iraq
has only one non-American partner who offers significant resources. Not
only do the rest offer little other than moral support, but that
support does not originate with the citizens of those countries, so it
is not reliable. Given the difficulties involved in the American
occupation in Iraq, such support will be even weaker next time. If the
United States wants significant support for future security challenges
outside of its borders, it must find a way to share the decision making.
And this was the bipartisan commitment of the
American foreign policy establishment after WWII. America was briefly
predominant then as well (and didn't think its monopoly on weapons of
mass destruction would be so brief). But it had learned that such
predominance leads directly into the kind of diplomatic power playing
that fed the world wars. So American leaders committed themselves to
multilateralism even when it was tough, even if they didn't always get
their way. And they certainly didn't always get their way. But they
plodded on anyway, because they knew that the light at the end of the
multilateral tunnel shone brightly on a world under the rule of law,
not the rule of power.
Such a global rule of law seems farther away than
we wish now, but the neoconservative illusion is that we will do better
with the rule of power. That the United States, supposedly the greatest
military power since Rome, cannot subdue an insurgency in a poor and
modestly sized country hardly supports the power perspective. So far,
Mars can't even control the moon, let alone Venus.
Americans often complain that Europeans think that
the rule of law as used in the EU is not applicable outside of Europe,
and that they misapply their internal experience to the rest of the
world. Whether Europeans exaggerate the applicability of their
integration process to the world is arguable, but Iraq seems to have
demonstrated that many Americans certainly exaggerate the utility of
the military option. Nor are Europeans as totally opposed to the use of
force as some claim, as demonstrated in Afghanistan. In fact, prior to
Iraq, we have to go back to Vietnam to find the last significant
American war that Europeans did not support.
These difficult issues cannot easily be resolved by
the United States and its closest Atlanticist partners. The EU
constitution requires passage by many referendums, a challenging
process no matter how much leadership support is available. And NATO
has some important roles that even a constitutionalized and streamlined
EU would not be prepared to take on for many years. These roles will be
discussed in a follow-up paper.
But this point is clear: The United States and
Europe must openly debate the security role of the various
transatlantic institutions with an understanding that America will not
get the support it wants without sacrificing control, and Europe will
not play the part it wants unless it institutionalizes its role through
the European Union. Europe still would not support military activities
outside its boundaries to the degree that the United States wants, but
only in the context of mature partners can a realistic discussion of
these roles take place.
Thus the goal of all parties must be to place the
primary responsibility for European security matters in the European
Union. We can then properly discuss what role, if any, NATO still has.
We can also discuss what role the United States has in European
security matters and what role the EU has outside of Europe. And Europe
will finally have to confront paying for whatever it decides it is
willing to do.
We will then have a mature relationship based on reality.
Dean Myerson is Executive Director of the Green Institute