This statement from French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been lost in the brouhaha over his decision to cut short an interview with American correspondent Lesley Stahl over questions about his wife Cecilia. It was meant to introduce him to the American public, ahead of his formal visit to Washington.
How receptive are Americans to this message? Can the alliance across the Atlantic endure in the face of disagreements?
A former senior US government official, reacting to some of the sentiments I expressed in a previous essay for the Atlantic Community, said I was too pessimistic in my assessments. Europeans, I was told, always loudly disagree with US proposals but, in the end, whether it be expanding NATO or recognizing an independent Kosovo, will acquiesce to what America insists upon. At the same time, the US can continue to have fundamental disagreements with its European partners over matters such as climate change policy or international law without causing any major damage to the relationship.
Significantly, the greatest transatlantic dispute of recent memory—the run-up to the Iraq war of 2003—is dismissed as an aberration, blamed either on the ineptitude and impatience of a Bush Administration unprepared to give the Europeans enough time to object publicly, or on two particularly malevolent (and perhaps not even representative) European leaders—President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder—blocking joint action with the United States. Many of the leading US presidential candidates of both parties are now basing their foreign policy on the belief that new leaders in Europe, combined with more effective US diplomacy, make a repeat of the 2003 schism nearly impossible.
Is the United States really just looking for partners to shoulder part of the load of America’s global commitments? Ron Asmus, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs during the second term of the Clinton Administration, said as much in the Washington Post earlier this week when he wrote: “The United States needs a strong and coherent Europe as a partner to project its influence around the world.”
But at what point does Sarkozy’s own belief that he can be “free to disagree” translate into effective influence to shape US policy? Asmus’s advice is that “Paris has always had, at least in theory, the option to maximize its influence by becoming a key interlocutor and broker of the terms of US-European cooperation.” My sense is that Prime Minister Tony Blair, after embracing the same logic in his support for Washington during the Iraq war, had precious little to show for it—he was certainly unable to obtain any sort of reciprocal considerations on climate change or Middle East policy, for example.
Others are less confident that the United States can reestablish a relationship with Europe that includes European partners who share the same list of strategic priorities and would commit significant amounts of their own resources in pursuit of those aims. Charles Kupchan notes, “American and European interests have diverged, institutionalized cooperation can no longer be taken for granted, and a shared Western identity has attenuated. We are at the dawn of a new era in the Atlantic relationship. Rather than trying to recreate the past, the Atlantic democracies should move forward by acknowledging that the tight-knit alliance of the Cold War years is gone for good.”
Some argue that the way forward is to create new arrangements. In commenting on US-India strategic ties back in 2005, Robert Blackwill, who had served in the Bush Administration as deputy national security advisor for strategic planning, made this aside: “The million-man Indian army actually fights, unlike the post-modern militaries of many of our European allies.” Some support such a strategic alignment of states, willing to project power alongside Washington—perhaps comprising the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and India, for starters.
Kupchan argues that “the Atlantic democracies need to learn how to disagree more agreeably” and that “the Atlantic democracies may be finding their way to ‘normalcy’, an order that lacks the unique affinity and cohesion of the Cold War years, but nonetheless enjoys the benefits of pacific relations, economic integration and not infrequent instances of political and military collaboration.”
This is the kind of transatlantic dialogue that needs to take place.
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest and blogs at The Washington Realist.
Related Materials on the Atlantic Community:
- Nikolas Gvosdev asks Will Kosovo End the Transatlantic Honeymoon?
- US/EU Relations: It’s Not About the Values
- Jan Techau argues that German Foreign Policy Needs to Grow Up
- Robert M. Kimmitt says “The United States and Germany pursue the same goals”