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Informal General Affairs and External Relations Council 2-3/5/03: Contribution on the issue of EU-USA Relations by Professor D. Konstas

Professor D. Konstas
“The Trajectory of Transatlantic Relations”
29/04/2003

The premise

Any discussion over the future of transatlantic relations has to address a fundamental question: Is U.S. foreign policy unilateralism – with the latest case the war in Iraq-random and reversible or a trend which will continue in the future? To answer this question one should acknowledge some important facts. First, at the level of economic interaction the transatlantic community manifests a highly interdependent relationship characteristic of the age of globalization. Interactions are affected only partially by state policies and, by and large, respond automatically to changing market conditions. However, at the political-security level the picture changes. The relationship between a federal state and a collectivity of 15, now 25 states, becomes asymmetrical. The effects of this asymmetry are less evident  in disagreements over trade where E.U. is unified enough to respond effectively, but are particularly striking, whenever a conflict arises over issues directly or indirectly linked to security.

For some political elites in the U.S. the end of bipolarity presented the remaining superpower with a unique opportunity to prevent challenges to its hegemony by a single or combination of opponents. With the advent to power of a Republican administration, in November 2000, U.S. unilateralism was more clearly demonstrated in several instances: International Criminal Court, ABM Treaty, Kyoto Protocol, Bio-Weapons Convention, Landmines, etc. The September 11 terrorist attacks further aggravated the situation since U.S. governing elites regarded the institutional framework of international relations, as it stood since the end of World War II, as a hindrance to the effective exercise of American power. Since international terrorism respects no frontiers American military might should ignore concepts of sovereignty/territorial integrity or other rules that restrict the use of force. Regimes that could offer haven to terrorists and supply them with WMD could become targets even if international law does not permit it.

Demonstration of solidarity with the U.S. in the aftermath of September 11 either by NATO (Art. 5 invoked for the first time in the history of the alliance); or E.U. (adoption of European arrest warrant, coordination of police action, joint airsafety measures, substantial financial assistance to Afghanistan); or by individual European countries eg. the permission by the German Bundestag to use armed forces outside German territory for the first time since World War II; seemed not to impress governing American elites. The war in Afghanistan was fought and won by a “coalition of the willing” as the first application of the new dogma: “the mission defines the coalition, not the reverse”. The second application of this dogma came in Iraq at the expense of UN Security Council rules.

Therefore, it seems that the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this essay, is that U.S. foreign policy unilateralism is likely to persist. The structural changes that the end of bipolarity introduced in the international system;  the threat of international terrorism; even American military success in crises where  multilateralism was disregarded, not to mention internal European divisions, make the perpetuation of unilateralism a strong possibility, but not a necessity. Domestic developments in the U.S. and/or an early demonstration of E.U. ability to act effectively, at least as a regional actor, could eventually modify current American grand strategy.

Steps and Initiatives

As regards the E.U. a first significant step would be to prevent further undermining of UN authority. The principles of the rule of law and multilateralism that the E.U. collectively endorses have little to gain from an ex post facto legitimization of the military operations in Iraq or by UN performing a “cleaning up” role. It is better to leave the victors of the war in Iraq take full responsibility for their acts and keep the UN system involvement to urgent humanitarian operations.

The unprecedented mobilization of European public opinion could benefit CFSP and strengthen other collective E.U. initiatives. Europe needs to regain Washington’s respect as a collective international actor.  Priority issues in the internal debate are: the final formulation of CFSP clauses in the Draft European Constitution and the use of qualified majority; the better coordination of financial aid, external trade, environment, justice and home affairs policies with E.U.’s foreign policy objectives; the creation of a European diplomatic service and possibly the merger of the posts and functions of the High Representative and the Commissioner for external relations ; finally, a substantial increase of national defense spending along with common policies strengthening European defense industry as well as procurement and R&D.

In addition, E.U. should show America and the world that it is able to take care of its own backyard. It is in the Western Balkans, more than any other part of the world, that Europeans, but also Americans critical of the hegemonic tendencies of their own government, expect the E.U. to lead that region into a better future and turn a joint U.S.-E.U. venture into a European undertaking. In the aftermath of the painful Iraq experience enlarged Europe should address the most urgent aspects of a potentially dangerous situation: the final status of Kossovo; the internal security in Serbia after Zoran Dindjic’s assassination;  peace and stability in FYROM. At least current plans calling for a steady decline in assistance to Western Balkans through 2006, to half the level provided in 2000, should be reversed. At the same time, structural assistance should be directly linked to the establishment of political preconditions conducive to domestic and regional stability.

The Israel-Palestine conflict represents an even more vigorous test for European policy-makers and transatlantic cooperation. There have been assurances before, during and after the war in Iraq, that coalition partners would consider as top priority a roadmap, setting the stages for Palestinian statehood. After the war many have claimed that even democratic reform in the broader Middle East is linked to the outcome of such efforts. Certainly, students of this, most protracted of conflicts, understand all too well the difficulties that lie ahead. But for the European side a consensus-building exercise on the conditions of a settlement along with the commitment of resources to facilitate the process, could at the very least have an intra-European healing effect. In turn, the formulation of concrete common policies towards that conflict could have some positive long-term spill-over effects on other CFSP issues and benefit transatlantic cooperation.

European attention should also focus on America and its foreign-policy elites with the aim to deepen and expand the New Transatlantic Agenda (NTA, 1995) as supplemented in 1998. The time seems ripe for an assessment and evaluation of these arrangements and their adjustment to rapidly changing needs, like the exchange of ideas on the current, post-Iraqi-war state of world affairs and the future of international norms and institutions. Mainstream American foreign policy analysts remain critical of U.S. unilateralism and apprehensive of deepening divisions within the transatlantic community.  At the same time confusion prevails as to what exactly the E.U. represents in foreign and security policy as contrasted to the individual policies of its members. An intensified intra-European debate on CFSP should lead think-tanks and NGOs to engage into an extensive dialogue with their American counterparts on the current state of transatlantic relations and their future. This could happen either under the auspices of international academic societies or NGO networks or professional associations or, finally, within E.U. designed and financed networks.


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