The Atlantic alliance between the United States and Europe, the most successful international bonding of all time, is breaking down amid starkly differing visions of a changing world and both sides' proper place in it.
The alliance, a mesh of military, economic, cultural and historic ties, was born in the ashes of World War II, the coupling of a young superpower and old nation-states devastated by conflict. The alliance produced the Marshall Plan and NATO, fought and won the Cold War and created the most prosperous and peaceful assembly of democracies in history. Its dramatic erosion, which is not a priority in a Washington fixated on terrorism, has become an obsession in Europe.
No total rupture is likely, nor are former friends about to become foes. Economic ties, both trade and investment, will stay strong. NATO, the institutional cornerstone of the alliance, probably will survive, but in a reduced and less military role.
The alliance's trend is not toward hostility but toward irrelevance, with the United States, by far its dominant member, dealing with threats beyond Europe and less interested in what the Europeans think and do. The Europeans, for their part, are preoccupied with their own continent and offended by what they see as American unilateralism.
For both sides, the Atlantic alliance has been the anchor of foreign policy since World War II. So for both, its fraying means a basic shift in the way they deal with the world.
"I know Germans and Americans share values and experiences," Robert Zoellick, the chief U.S. trade negotiator and one of the more multilateral members of the administration, told a German Marshall Fund meeting in Berlin. "Yet the question we must address now is whether we have shared interests as well.
"Many recent Euro-Atlantic squabbles . . . reflect America's reassessment of its national interests in a changed world and Europe's conservatism in adjusting," Zoellick told the Germans. "Will there be a basis for a trans-Atlantic unity absent the intense cohesion of shared dangers?"
The 50-year history of the alliance is filled with spats and hard words--over trade, missiles, Cold War strategy, American saber rattling, European appeasement, Disney movies and Big Macs. But these were fights within the family, between allies who always seemed to kiss and make up.
In a Tribune examination of the state of the alliance, leading European foreign policy and defense officials, and political analysts from Berlin to Paris to London and Brussels agree that what's happening now is different.
"It's normal to criticize each other, and normal for Americans to be very tough in defending their interests," said Gilles Andreani, a French foreign policy scholar. "But this is a new attitude, a contempt toward Europeans that we never saw before.
"Americans can have their way on this planet without Europe," Andreani said. "For the first time, you hear Americans saying that we don't want to be in a position where we need Europeans."
The next big flash point, and the most crucial one, is expected to involve any U.S. decision to invade Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. European leaders, all of whom backed the U.S. policy in Afghanistan, say they will support an attack on Iraq only if Bush makes a solid case that it is aiding terrorism and if the United States first wins UN Security Council support. Otherwise, Europeans may well oppose any attack, which could help hasten the collapse of the alliance.
European officials see the new relationship as the result of three separate but interlocking trends:
The end of the Cold War. In the Soviet-American struggle, Europe was the front line and the focal point of U.S. policy. That ended 11 years ago, with the collapse of communism. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 only dramatized this shift of American attention from Europe to more global threats.
The unprecedented power of the United States, coupled with the unilateralism of the Bush administration. American officials are making it clear that European consultation and cooperation is more hindrance than help. A Europe devoted to international law and institutions faces a Washington that rejects any international restraint on its power. A half-century habit of trans-Atlantic conversation has been replaced by an unconcealed scorn in Washington for the Europeans.
The success of the European Union in creating a zone of peace in which war is virtually unthinkable. This success has led to sharp cuts in European military spending over the last decade and a relative military weakness. As a result, the United States has stopped counting on European help in battle.
U.S. contempt alleged
Some of this, like the fallout from the end of the Cold War, is inevitable. Some, like the replacement of a war-torn Europe by a continent at peace, is positive and has active U.S. support.
But some seems almost deliberate. Many European officials admit that Europe, in its single-minded construction of the EU, has turned inward, away from global issues, and has not kept up its end of the military balance. But the same Europeans say that the Bush administration's open contempt for Europeans' positions is widening the gap and is squandering the political sympathy that the United States enjoyed across Europe after Sept. 11.
NATO, the military alliance that won the Cold War, is not strong enough to bridge this gap.
"Europe is not willing to be bullied, but the United States is not willing to be restrained," said Mark Leonard, director of the Foreign Policy Centre, a London think tank with ties to the government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"The continents are without doubt drifting apart," agreed Hugo Young, a leading British political columnist, in the Guardian. "They have interests in common, but also interests around which America, as now led, has the power and the hardness to insist on non-negotiable policies that we can take or leave."
American officials fanned out across Europe this summer to spread the word that U.S. priorities and interests have changed, post Sept. 11. The Europeans are being told that, if they want to change their worldviews, too, then they are welcome to stay in the alliance. If not, America will go on without them.
The European reaction to this varies from country to country. European officials seem baffled and confused by the U.S. policy and are wary of alienating Washington, loath to criticize the Bush administration for fear of making matters worse.
Germany, grateful for U.S. support through the Cold War and anxious to keep the alliance, has been reluctant to criticize Washington. Blair prides himself on working quietly with Bush to influence U.S. policies: Political sources in London say part of this is "damage control," to limit the extremes of U.S. unilateralism.
The French, as usual, are more ready to say what the rest of the continent is thinking.
"Very few European countries are used to saying no to the United States," a French diplomat said. "France has a long history of debate with America, but other countries aren't so used to this."
Split more apparent
European officials agree that the U.S.-European split has become more visible and bitter under Bush. The Clinton administration riled Europeans with its post-Cold War triumphalism, rubbed in its military superiority in Kosovo, and refused to ask Congress to sign the Kyoto treaty on global warming.
But the real shocks to the system have come thick and fast under Bush, including the total rejection of Kyoto, the breaching of the anti-missile treaty and the pursuit of a missile defense system, the "axis of evil" speech that named Iraq, Iran and North Korea as global villains, among others. But several recent events have hardened Europeans' concerns into a real fear of where the United States is going.
The first was the American reaction when its NATO allies, immediately after Sept. 11, invoked NATO's Article 5 for the first time in its history. That article says, in effect, that an attack on one NATO nation is an attack on all of them, and the allies' action was intended as an act of solidarity with Americans and offer of all-out help in the fight against terrorism. The United States never accepted the offer and has made relatively little use of European military help since then.
The second shock was the war on terrorism itself, or rather the overwhelming U.S. focus on the war on terrorism and its tendency to see other world problems in the anti-terrorism context.
Then came differences of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, with the Europeans condemning one-sided U.S. support for Israel and the Americans seeing anti-Semitism in Europe's more balanced approach.
More recently has come the administration's attempt to undermine the new International Criminal Court, which all European nations see as a first step toward a global rule of law.
Part of the trans-Atlantic problem is a failure on each side to understand the deep emotions that drive the other.
Chris Patten, the EU commissioner, has been a leading critic of American unilateralism. But he admits that Europeans just don't grasp "the consequences of 9/11 for American policymaking and the American psyche. I think that we in Europe have to make a greater effort to comprehend the impact of that atrocity.
"We in Europe have had to live with instability for most of the last century," from two world wars to the postwar wave of domestic terrorism in most European nations, Patten said. For that reason, he said, it is too easy for Europeans to see terrorism as part of the landscape, a problem like many others, rather than as an unprecedented assault on a nation that always considered itself invulnerable.
But the Europeans feel that Americans don't understand their devotion to non-military solutions or their pride over the consensual if bureaucratic way they have built their continent. Nor, they feel, do Americans understand that Europe's support for the ICC, Kyoto and other international treaties is not a spasm of political correctness but a reflection of deep values.
"There's one fundamental difference, and it's not just Kyoto or the ICC," said Christoph Bertram, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. "It's whether truly international issues should be met with a truly international approach. This is a deeply held view in Europe. On this point, we need to quarrel."
The European press is full of criticism of Bush as a gun-happy cowboy--cartoons in The Guardian of London regularly portray him as a monkey wrapped in an American flag--and Europeans laugh at him. But European officials shun these caricatures, aware that some of America's most effective leaders also lacked the kind of polish and sophistication that impresses continentals.
"This atmosphere doesn't depend on Bush as a person," said Hubert Vedrine, until recently the French foreign minister. "[Ronald] Reagan and [Harry] Truman weren't sophisticated either, but they were very effective."
But Europeans also see the triumph of a provincial, conservative, overtly Christian part of America that is alien from the United States they once knew.
Europe today is basically a secular society, Andreani said, and has a hard time dealing "with a government that may be pragmatic but has its values--religion, a certain order of society--so upfront. For our secular society, the idea that a presidential candidate would explain how he feels about Jesus is bizarre."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times