In recent contributions to Internationale Politik, Egon Bahr offered views on German and European foreign policy. Bahr calls for European self-determination as well as “emancipation” from the United States, in order that Europe can become a “fifth pole” in a multipolar world. Naturally, Germany’s interests and its foreign policy are for Germans to decide, but we Americans cannot help but take an interest in the implications for our shared transatlantic efforts. It is our firm belief that, in the year of the 60th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, and of the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s call to Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, the transatlantic relationship is more complex—and more vital—than at any point in its history. The stakes around the world are no lower than they were during the Cold War; vision and foresight are required of us. We form a community of values, interests, and responsibilities. Our roles in the world are not identical, but they are inextricably close and interdependent.
Bahr describes a world map colored by an American grand strategy, striving for global hegemony, seeking to dominate the territory stretching from the Baltic Sea through the Middle East and Afghanistan up to the Chinese border. From an American point of view, we see a map with one region after another where the transatlantic community has made common cause in pursuit of long-term strategic goals. In the Middle East, we are working together with our Quartet partners to promote a just and lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. It is a credit to German leadership, by the way, that Berlin has placed so much emphasis on revitalizing the quartet as a key goal of its EU presidency. Concerning Iran, the US and Europe (led by the EU-3) are focused like a laser beam on halting Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and we have the support of the entire international community. In Afghanistan, NATO is leading its most demanding military operation ever, and all 26 Allies plus 11 like-minded partners are contributing personnel and resources to support a stable and democratic Afghan government. Closer to home, the transatlantic community is assisting countries in the Western Balkans, as well as Georgia, Ukraine, and others to realize the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace. As Secretary Rice put it recently in Potsdam, “…Americans and Europeans achieve great success together…neither by seeking power for its own sake, nor by pursuing our principles apart from reality, but by uniting power and principle together to achieve great purpose and enduring purposes.”
Some might interpret this to mean that the United States seeks absolute subordination of European to American foreign policy, but nothing could be less true. We should not confuse the tactics chosen by individual countries on a given issue with our shared strategic interests. Tactics can vary; what is critically important is a common strategic understanding, which we have built up over decades. For example, the US has been criticized for its strategic goal of democracy promotion. One should not forget, however, that the EU actively promotes this very same goal—albeit at times in different ways. One of the most effective democracy promotion efforts anywhere has been EU enlargement and EU relations with neighbors to its east.
Bahr argues that America has learned to ignore Europe. But if the US were pursuing a policy of ignoring Europe, would we see Secretary Rice stopping in Berlin on her way back from the Middle East to brief Chancellor Merkel personally even before reporting to her own President? Still others go as far as to argue that America seeks a weak, divided EU. Nothing could be further from the truth, and Europe is not as weak as some describe it.
In our relations with Russia the United States and Europe share the same outlook. Good relations with Russia are of strategic importance for both the US and the EU. Both President Bush and Secretary Rice have publicly stated that we are committed to working constructively with Russia whenever possible, while pushing back when necessary. This applies naturally to the topic of missile defense as well. It is worth noting Bahr’s support for a missile defense system that includes the US, Europe, and Russia. This is an idea the United States takes seriously—Presidents Bush and Putin agreed in Heiligendamm that the US and Russia would enter into a strategic dialog to address concerns and explore opportunities to work together on missile defense.
The US and Europe face the same challenges around the globe—and we are facing them together: terrorism, proliferation, failed states, energy security, and climate change, to name only few. Our shared institutions are changing to reflect this. One example—to which Bahr turns his attention is NATO. The United States is doing its part to answer the challenge issued by then-Chancellor Schroeder in 2005 to return NATO to its place as the primary forum for transatlantic security dialogue.
As NATO leaders agreed in Prague in 2002, NATO must be prepared to meet threats to its security where they originate. Meeting these challenges, NATO increasingly is working side-by-side with like-minded countries outside Europe that share our goals and values. Let us be clear: the goal of the United States is not to create a Global Alliance or Global NATO. NATO is and should remain rooted in the transatlantic community. But in ISAF, New Zealand leads one Provincial Reconstruction Team, and South Korea makes significant contributions to another. Australia has troops under NATO command in the south of the country. Japan, which is in the lead on disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration tasks, works closely with ISAF. It was this cooperation with like-minded democracies that NATO leaders agreed unanimously (NATO remains, after all, a consensus organization, where a “no” vote by Luxembourg counts as much as one by Germany or the United States) at Riga last year.
The United States and some European countries have survived differences over the years, most recently in 2002 and 2003; indeed, there can be no doubt about the ability and readiness of European partners to express views that differ from Washington’s. But even these differences have not obscured our shared interest in putting our partnership to work around the world: It is easy to recall the emotions of the past, but one look at our common agenda—Iran, Darfur, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Middle East—makes clear that this is indeed what we are doing, with foresight and vision, together.
John Koenig is Deputy Chief of Mission for the United States Embassy in Berlin.
This article is presented as an excerpt from a longer essay published in the Global Edition of Internationale Politik, Germany’s foremost foreign policy journal and a collaboration partner of the Atlantic Community.
Related Material from the Atlantic Community
- Egon Bahr says that Europe Must Say No to Globalizing NATO
- David G. Haglund Describes How Afghanistan Is Testing German-Canadian Ties
- Thomas Speckmann on Why America Wants to Iraqize Afghanistan
- Nikolas K. Gvosdev Asks Will Kosovo End the Transatlantic Honeymoon?