March 01, 2004

Transatlantic Relations

A flurry of activity on this front recently, mostly positive.

First, U.S.-German relations are warming up a bit.

John Vinocur has a round-up post the Bush-Schroder lunch.

The article makes clear that schadenfreude has its limits:

"Schršder was dealing with the reality of his party's dismal standing in German public opinion, and a poll last week of Germans showed that 90.4 percent thought good trans-Atlantic relations were important (if 71 percent also felt the United States selfishly and inconsiderately defends its own interests). He was also trying to readjust the widespread view at home that his break with America on Iraq significantly lamed Germany's successful postwar formula for international relations: equally strong and balanced ties with the United States and France.

And that the Schroder-Chirac love-in and perma-bear hug is somewhat in abeyance:

...And Schršder, in turn, threw more forthcoming details into the pot: a reaffirmation, in the light of Europe's efforts to strengthen its own military autonomy, that NATO was "the anchor of our collective defense." In talking to German reporters, the chancellor also furnished a line about not wanting to hear talk of "polarization," a reference to the French government's vision of a multipolar world in which, to the distaste of both Republicans and Democrats, a unified Europe would operate as a counterweight to the United States."

Schroder parted company with the French later too:

"In pushing its position forward in collaboration with the United States, and in emphasizing NATO and the unique aspect within Europe of its own confident relations with both the Israelis and Arabs, Germany seemed to have differentiated itself from the French viewpoint. Last week, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France, seemingly upset by the German approach, questioned whether a NATO involvement would be "a complication" that could be seen "by certain countries in the region as an aggression."

In what might have been a response to Villepin, Fischer in an interview with Al Jazeera television justified his use of the term "jihadist terrorism," insisted that such terrorism must be fought and defeated, and said that "I do not understand the fear of many Arab friends" of efforts in the West to create what he called a real partnership."

Schroder's words help showcase that Bush's "Greater Middle East initiative" is being viewed with increasing seriousness throughout Europe. Not only because it is viewed as a critical effort in its own right, but also because U.S.-European cooperation on the initiative is viewed as a major engine in helping foster a transatlantic detente.

More specifically, NATO is, more and more, being viewed as the key motor of renewed cooperation. This makes sense for several reasons, not least that, ever since the defeat of the Soviet Union, the alliance has been casting about for a renewed mission (aside from putting out nationalistic conflagrations in the Balkans).

Rather than concentrate solely on NATO's military role some, like Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, are talking about ratcheting up NATO's "soft power" components:

"Italy believes that the next phase of transformation should take place in NATO's political dimension. The alliance prevailed in the cold war by employing a dual-track strategy of military deterrence and orchestrated political engagement. In today's security situation, NATO's political role has become - at least potentially - more important than ever. It will take a broad range of policies and initiatives to deal with the new threats.

NATO needs not only the military capacity to respond rapidly to crises once they arise, but also an overarching political strategy for the use of "soft power" tools in preventing such crises altogether. Such a strategy should bring together all the issues on NATO's radar screen - the unfinished business on its post-cold war agenda as well as the new challenges of the 21st century."

The foreign minister's proposals are somewhat light on detail--but one speculates that some of the "soft power" worth bringing to bear is communicating effectively to the Arab world that the Atlantic community, while intent on democratization in the region, would prefer to see it come about organically (and through economic liberalization and such, see the "Barcelona Process") rather than through the barrel of a gun.

And there needs to be a strong public diplomacy component to allied efforts in the region. Key messages that need to be stressed: a) America is not planning a long-term occupation of Iraq, b) there is no religious 'crusade' underway (at least not one from the Crawford side of the fence), and c) the U.S. remains committed to acting as the 'honest broker' as between the Arabs and Israelis.

The British, as is their wont, are acting as the go-betweens re: a renewed purposefulness in the Middle East (with the Germans now showing more vigor, ie. Schroder's broad hints that NATO will play an integral role in the Greater Middle East Initiative).

Sadly, Chirac and de Villepin appear to remain focused on pursuing a neo-Gaullist agenda (with a good dose of Napoleonic romanticism thrown in) of constraining American power (see the reticence to see an expanded NATO role in the Middle East, the ongoing talk re: multipolarity that Schroder poo-pooed, preservation of a special French 'Araby policy).

One other point I've been hearing.

While many European elites are gearing up to cooperate with the U.S. on the Middle East initiative--one common gripe continues to make the rounds in widespread fashion.

No such initiative can succeed without resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict--many European leaders rightly believe. And the Bush administration is not applying enough pressure on both parties to sustain forward momentum on that front.

A representative view is that of the Italian foreign minister:

"To defeat terrorism and the threats associated with it, Europe and America have a powerful common interest in fostering democracy, stability and economic development in this entire region by means of a comprehensive approach. These goals can be reached only through positive dialogue and cooperation with all the countries in the region, not paternalistic imposed solutions. For such goals we need a shared vision. A successful Israeli-Palestinian peace process will continue to be the most important element of this vision."

Posted by Gregory at March 1, 2004 11:37 AM
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