The US and Europe: Partnership or Competition?

On November 16, 2004, the Institute for Human Sciences at Boston University, in cooperation with the Duitsland Instituut at the University of Amsterdam, convened an international conference on the topic “The US and Europe: Partnership or Competition.”  The conference was organized in two sessions, each consisting of a key note speech followed by a panel discussion. This podcast is taken from a January 9, 2005 WBUR recording of the two key note speeches; we are grateful to WBUR for making the recording available to EU for You. Introductory remarks were given by John Silber, President Emeritus of Boston University, University Professor, and Professor of International Relations, who expressed his hope that the conference might mark the beginning of a “renewed and reinvigorated transatlantic partnership.”

The first session, entitled “American vs. European Perspectives on the Middle East,” focused on the diverse conflicts in the region stretching from the Maghreb countries to Iran, and on American and European responses.  The key note speech was given by former French Prime Minister Alain Juppé.   The panel was chaired by James Hoge, Editor-in-chief of Foreign Affairs and a member of the Institute’s Board of Directors. Rachel Bronson, Director of Middle East and Gulf Studies, and David Phillips, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations; Thérèse Delpech, Director of Strategic Affairs at  the Atomic Energy Commission in Paris; and Michael Mertes, former policy advisor to Helmut Kohl, joined Prime Minister Juppé for the discussion.

The second session, entitled “Instruments of International Cooperation,” focused on the changing forms, institutions, and structures which, as IHS board member Aleksander Smolar put it, are the foundation of trust.  The key note speech was given by Wolfgang Ischinger, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United States.  The panel discussion was chaired by Aleksander Smolar, Senior Research Fellow at the CNRS in Paris and President of the Stefan Batory Foundation in Warsaw.  Members of the panel included Maarten Brands, Professor of History at the University of Amsterdam; Charles Kupchan, Professor of International Relations at Georgetown University and Director of Europe Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Steven Walt, Belfer Professor of International Relations at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

In his key note address, Prime Minister Alain Juppé reiterated the importance of peace and stability in the Middle East to both Europe and the US, despite their differences over the means to achieve it.  He emphasized the multitude of geographic and historical ties between Europe and the Middle East, in particular, the huge numbers of people from that region now living in Europe, and called for a “courageous policy of dialogue and cooperation” with the US moving forward.  Neither side, he concluded, wants to view the conflict with Islamic regions of the world as a clash of civilizations.

Juppé outlined his main concerns: the unresolved situation in Iraq, where radical elements are endangering the security of the entire region; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the components of a solution are already on the table but missing, on both sides, are the political determination and courage to implement it; Iran and the spread of nuclear technology throughout the region; and finally, the growing phenomenon of Islamic terrorism.  He expressed hope that the dialogue with Iran undertaken by France, Germany, and the UK would succeed, but said he felt the goal of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was a utopian one.  As for terrorism, Juppé agreed it must be fought relentlessly, but stressed the need to understand the underlying economic, political, and social crises (to say nothing of the intellectual and moral crises) which fuel it.  There is, according to Juppé, “a genuine aspiration of people in those countries for democracy, human development, freedom, and social justice.  We must, however, refrain from attempting to impose our model from outside, risking offending the pride and dignity of the people concerned.”  It would be better, he argued, to support reforms already underway throughout the region.  He added that the recent death of Yasser Arafat has opened an opportunity to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

At the end of his remarks, Juppé addressed the question of Turkish membership in the EU.  He listed the strong arguments in favor of accession, but cautioned that there are many other countries with ties as strong as Turkey’s to Europe.  Such enlargement, he said, “would fundamentally change the European project of a political entity sharing the will of carrying out our own foreign policy and building our own security force in the framework of friendship and frank partnership with the United States.”

Before introducing the panelists, James Hoge underscored the urgency of the “partnership or competition” debate in the Middle East, stating that how we come out will have deep and lasting effects on the transatlantic relationship.  Rachel Bronson agreed, saying “the transatlantic relationship will largely either founder or flourish in the Middle East.”  Bronson attributed the tensions in the transatlantic relationship to the changed international environment in the wake of 9/11 and to an administration which has taken the fall out in stride.  She blamed the failure of US policy in the Middle East on the Bush administration’s mistaken belief that given sufficient US resolve other countries would come along in the end.  She argued that while the US and Europe perceived the threat of terrorism differently, their agendas were complementary and not at odds.

Thérèse Delpech addressed Europe’s shortcomings, in particular the “narrowest vision of its strategic environment in its history.”  Particularly alarming to Delpech is that Asia, a region she believes will the center of strategic affairs in the 21st century, is “absent from the European radar.”   She argued that as Europe enlarges its territory, it should enlarge its strategic vision, accepting a more political role.

Whereas Rachel Bronson offered an explanation for a Bush policy gone awry, her colleague David Phillips was openly critical.  He worried that in light of Bush’s re-election antipathy toward the administration and its policies would now migrate toward the American people and American culture and said he hoped the trend could be reversed.  Echoing Alain Juppé, he stressed the need for a policy that addresses the injustices and inequities that give rise to terrorism.   He called for a strategy based on the “twin pillars of promoting democracy and human development as key antidotes to extremism.”  He disagreed with the former prime minister on the question of Turkish membership in the EU, however, arguing that a rejection of Turkey would compromise European security, “shifting the frontline of terrorism from Turkey’s eastern border closer to the heart of Europe.”

Michael Mertes agreed with David Phillips that Europe cannot afford to define itself against Islam, given its growing Islamic population.  The answer to the Turkish question, he said, depends on what sort of Europe one has in mind.  A “United States of Europe” would pose limits to expansion and might exclude Turkey.  A looser confederation or free trade zone could eventually include not only Turkey, but also Israel and the countries of North Africa.  Mertes stressed the need for the US and Europe to develop and coordinate a common strategy for democracy promotion in the Middle East.  Concluding his remarks, he cited a recent article by Anne Applebaum, recalling the lessons of East Germany’s transition to democracy.  Even where violence is averted, the psychological transition can take at least a generation.

There was general agreement by all the panelists that both the US and Europe should seize the opportunity created by Arafat’s death to push for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

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Opening the second part of the conference, Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger traced the turning points in the transatlantic relationship to the key dates of 11/9/89 and 9/11/01. While tensions have heightened, he said, the flow of ideas across the Atlantic continues unabated.  He expressed hope that going forward, the US and Europe might act in tandem, following the former German Defense Minister Volker Rühe’s advice “in together, out together.” He stated that Germany shared the US objective of a stable and peaceful Iraq and argued that his country’s decision not to participate in a NATO mission in Iraq should not be understood as a failing commitment to that goal or to the institution of NATO.  Germany is heavily involved in NATO peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and in the Balkans, and has established its own program to train Iraqi police officers.  The real problem in the transatlantic relationship today, according to Ambassador Ischinger, is one of trust.  He expressed hope that Europe’s diplomatic negotiations with Iran would succeed, leading the US to review its position.  He called for more strategic dialogue, using the institutions we have in place, and for the establishment of a contact group outside NATO, in short, for rebuilding international alliances.

Do international alliances still matter was the question taken up in the discussion which followed.  Aleksander Smolar questioned whether the breakdown in trust was a result of the weakening of the institutions established to safeguard it.  There is, he said, at least in Europe, a feeling of “rupture.”  He asked whether this was in fact, as Rachel Bronson suggested, a normal redistribution of roles and powers in the new situation created by 9/11.

Maarten Brands agreed with Ambassador Ischinger that the events of 11/9 and 9/11 have changed the world completely, but added that it is foolish to think the post-WWII alliances could be rebuilt as they were, noting Europe’s growing insignificance to US foreign policy.  Many Europeans, he said, have not absorbed the impact of 9/11.  He expressed alarm at the level of illusion regarding Europe as a coming world power, in particular, the idea that Europe, despite its formidable economy, might be better off without the US.  For his part, he cannot imagine European integration succeeding without the US.  There are situations, he said, citing Robert Cooper, where constructive engagement does not work.  Cooperation is possible, indeed essential, Brands suggested, but a so-called equal partnership between the US and Europe is an illusory goal.

Charles Kupchan argued that the re-election of George Bush marked the triumph of an “assertive nationalism” over liberal internationalism and end of the transatlantic alliance.  The result, he feared, was a return to balance of power relations between the US and Europe, a trend already underway, evidenced by the growing anti-Americanism and the weakening of “Euro-Atlanticism” in Europe.  He expressed hope for a renewed partnership between the United States and a united Europe.  Taking issue with Maarten Brands, he said he thought the EU could indeed emerge as a world power, citing the weakness of the United States in the years following the civil war.  He said the EU will have to become a more unitary entity with single voice on foreign policy and acquire defense capability to back it up.  He added, however, that it is vital for European politicians to resist anti-Americanism rather than capitalizing on it to win elections if Europe is to emerge as a geopolitical power “Euro-Atlanticist” in its identity and not anti-American.

Steve Walt noted that the whole idea of a transatlantic community was a historical accident whose demise should not shock us.  He attributes the breakdown in the relationship to structural changes and shifting power relations.  Europe’s resentment is understandable.  It is affected by US decisions in the Middle East, given Europe’s geographical proximity to that region and its own Islamic population.  In the US, ancestral ties to Europe are weakening, and a whole new generation is growing up with transatlantic friction, not harmony, as the norm.  According to Walt, the gap across the Atlantic is widening.  He cited the long list of issues over which the two sides disagree, and said that, in the future, Europe would be even less likely to defer to the US.   Walt did not agree that institutions could salvage the transatlantic relationship.  As he put it, institutions allow states to reach shared interests and common goals more effectively; they are less useful in resolving differences.  He suggested that rather than trying to recreate a partnership, we might lower our expectations, focusing on areas where we agree and where we can cooperate successfully, intelligence-sharing being only one example.

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