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Informal General Affairs and External Relations Council 2-3/5/03: Contribution on the issue of EU-USA Relations by William Pfaff

The Hon. George A. Papandreou
The Hellenic European Union Presidency

Dear Foreign Minister Papandreou,

I am responding to your invitation to contribute a note to the preparations for the EU foreign ministers meeting next week because I believe the policies of the European Union in coming months can have a crucial, and I would hope constructive, influence not only on international society but on developments in the United States, which are a matter of troubled concern to myself and to many American citizens.

There are fundamental differences of interest between this American administration and the EU, rooted in the fact that the Bush government is increasingly hostile to an alliance relationship other than one of implicit or explicit domination and subordination.  This has been apparent in the Iraq war controversy, and follows from the Bush administration’s radical new conception of American power and national mission.

An effort to deny or ignore the implications of this development will eventually produce malaise and division within the EU, while fueling the most negative forces currently at work in the U.S. and reducing the influence of those Americans who seek a return to constructive and cooperative transatlantic relations between equals.

I should add that I expect to repeat the substance of these remarks in a forthcoming column in The International Herald Tribune and other newspapers.

I will respond in sequence to the questions you have posed. 

 The EU on the U.S. radar screen

 Yes.  The U.S. is very much focused on Europe because Europe is its sole serious economic and political counterweight and potential rival.  This American administration is particularly concerned by the implications of European popular opposition as well as French, Belgian and German governmental resistance to American policy on Iraq, which it takes as a signal that a common European foreign policy might in the future become a serious constraint on U.S. freedom of action.  It will do all that it can to prevent this.

 Philosophies & strategies

 There are deep differences in fundamental policy assumptions and strategy between the Bush administration and, I would think, nearly all the EU’s members, not only on most of the cited issues, but also philosophical differences concerning the nature of history, historical expectation, and the scope of legitimate national action, notably in the use of violence and the practice of preemptive war.  This administration makes a formal claim to permanent U.S. global military predominance and to what might be described as an internationally conceded exemption from international law in selected areas, with restriction of the role of existing international institutions in matters that constrain U.S. freedom of action. 

I say this administration.  The Bush government has made a radical break with major assumptions and practices of American foreign policy as it has existed since the second world war.  This has provoked much controversy inside the United States itself.  The Bush government could disappear in 20 months, after the next presidential election.  On the other hand, if Mr. Bush is reelected, the policies and practices inaugurated by his government are in my opinion likely to have lasting and deleterious effect on the character of the American polity as well as on international relations. 

Global priorities

My rough judgement is that current U.S. government’s non-domestic preoccupations, in order, are power predominance, rogue states, (some countries’) WMD, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, regional conflict, human rights, economic development as measured by globalization, education, environment, poverty, inequality.

Focus on the “doable”?


Expand dialogue?

Yes, with much attention to communicating to Congress and the public in the United States, both widely ignorant of European Union realities and policy positions.

Future of relations

The U.S. outlook is uncertain.  The areas of transatlantic conflict are well known and their implications should not be minimized.  In my opinion, the most important things the EU can do to affect transatlantic relations constructively are to nourish and develop European economic power and autonomy, and European high technology research and development on autonomous terms. 

Technology and the economy are two areas of European actual or potential advantage, and together with diplomacy and political action they provide Europe with its most important levers for influencing U.S. policy and international affairs generally.  Certainly the current military disorder of Europe is scandalous, in view of the sums currently expended by the member-states acting individually, and it should be remedied,* but the gross global military advantage of the U.S. provides a very narrow form of power which is of limited utility in fundamentally influencing the evolution of relations among the major actors in modern industrial society.

Collaboration with U.S. governmental and corporate projects concerning crucial technologies and research should be treated with great caution since, because of U.S. security and proprietary restraints, the European partner is all but invariably placed in a subordinate role, seriously limiting its part in the benefits of the collaboration.  This is particularly important with respect to technologies essential to power-projection (both hard power and soft). 

Why I say this

My belief is that the current policy course of the U.S. will increasingly provoke serious transatlantic tensions.  This will reflect two aspects of what might be called the historical and political “nature of things” – la force des choses.  The first is that while the effort to acquire and exercise imperial or hegemonic power may be successful in the short term, it is ultimately vain because it automatically generates resistance, leading towards crisis -- sometimes sanguinary.  The other is the reality that Europe’s nations are too ancient and too powerful culturally as well as materially, indefinitely to accept domination by the U.S. 

I thus am convinced that steps to place Europe in a position to exercise independent and autonomous power in international society, in defense of the principles of balance in international relations and of multilateral global “governance,” would provide an essential service to international order, as well as to the enduring interests of both the United States and Europe.

Yours very sincerely,

William Pfaff

April 25, 2003

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