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Informal General Affairs and External Relations Council 2-3/5/03: Contribution on the issue of EU-USA Relations by Dr. Christoph Bertram

The EU and the Future of Transatlantic Relations

By Dr.Christoph Bertram

1. The  falling-out between and among the members of what was  the transatlantic community over the recent Iraq conflict has not been an accident from which there can be a  return to the old consensus. There is, of course, on both sides of the Atlantic, a need to limit the damage done,  by demonstrating mutual respect, exercising rhetorical restraint and pragmatic cooperation, and the common task of consolidating Iraq after the war offers a chance for putting this into practice. But this does not remove the deeper reason for the transatlantic rift: on the fundamental issue of how to promote international order in the 21st century most, if not all  European countries no longer see eye-to-eye with their major security partner, the United States.

2. America has for long been the most powerful state in the modern world. But she basically accepted the international status-quo as it had emerged after the Cold War. Under the impact  of September 11, 2001 , however, America has ceased to be a status-quo-power. Irrespective of the ideological inclination of the respective government in Washington , the US will now make use of its extraordinary military capability to address the new strategic challenges which 9/11 symbolizes: proliferating states, non-state actors with access to destructive weapons, and states which harbour them. This will not always mean a US resort to war but it will mean that the military element will generally accompany any demand by the world’s only superpower to get its way.

3. The European Union is a non-status-quo power on the European continent where enlargement and integration are truly revolutionary concepts of how to provide stability and prosperity to a growing number of states. But beyond the boundaries of their Union, European governments  either have no strategic ambition at all or are content with things as they are, seeking to encourage stability through international agreement and inclusion instead of military intervention and the out-lawing of problem states. This is so  by conviction, but also partly by indifference, lack of means or the inability of taking time-urgent strategic decisions at the Union level; even if the Convention should, as is to be hoped, produce more efficient decision-making procedures for the Union’s international role, these will fall well short of those of a unitary state.

4. That is why the transatlantic rift over strategy  is here to stay and why it will continue to endanger both transatlantic trust and transatlantic institutions. Perhaps one day the United States will rediscover the advantages of a firm transatlantic partnership with the Union, based on institutions which make its leadership  both suatainable and acceptable.  That day  is not near. In the long interim, the answer of how to cope with the rift cannot, therefore, lie in attempting to paper over the disagreements. Instead  it will be necessary to limit them by identifying and debating the differences, and to try and make sure that other areas of cooperation and consensus  - of which there are many – are not poisened by them.

5. Pursuing transatlantic cooperation while not hiding the disagreements will require two qualities from European political leaders: a high degree of mature pragmatism in dealing with the United States; and a major effort to instill in the respective publics support  for the continued value of working with America on most issues  - and respect for those areas where the differences will persist.

Dr. Christoph Bertram is the Director of SWP – The German Institute for International Relations and Security - in Berlin. From 1974 to 1982 he headed the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.


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