President Bush: why you need the Europeans

President Bush: Why you need the Europeans

Bulletin article
Charles Grant, Steven Everts
01 December 2004

Dear Mr President, You have defeated an opponent who made a point of saying that he would pay more attention to European allies than you have done. You and your supporters must feel that your 'Americafirst' philosophy has been vindicated.

Your authority is now largely unchallenged at home. But that is not the case abroad. Immediate threats such as failing states, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and international terrorism are hard to deal with. Longer-term problems such as climate change, the spread of AIDS and poverty in developing countries are no easier to solve.

New poles of power are growing in strength, some of them espousing values which are not particularly western. Your armed forces are overstretched, your budget deficit is unsustainable and your 'soft power' - America's attractiveness and moral authority - has declined seriously in many parts of the world. You will need friends - and sometimes those slow-moving international organisations - to tackle the many security problems you face. And you will find the Europeans the best friends available. But to get their support, you must make a serious effort to reach out to them. The Europeans are your biggest trade and investment partners and they share many, though not all, of your fundamental interests and values. Of course, they are, at times, painfully inadequate allies. Some of their economies under-perform. They translate their considerable military spending into little useful capability and they remain ineffective in their dealings with the outside world. So your message to the Europeans should be two-fold. First, welcome and encourage further European integration, especially in the field of foreign policy, but second, chide them when they shirk their international responsibilities.

Many Republicans believe that a strong and united Europe is no longer in America's interest. But if you come out against the EU, or try to play up the split between 'new' (pro-American) and 'old' (anti-American) Europe, you will only boost support for Jacques Chirac's idea that the EU should be built in opposition to the US. Instead you should encourage the EU to improve its ability to manage international crises. Why not push Europe's leaders to commit to targets covering, for example, the early implementation of their plan for an EU external action service? This would ensure that officials from the Commission, the Council secretariat and the member-states worked together under one roof and for one boss, the EU Foreign Minister. You could also encourage the EU governments to meet targets for reforming their armed forces and for providing nation-building capabilities, such as mobile units of policemen, customs officers and judges.

You should urge the Europeans to pledge to take prime responsibility for the security of their own continent and for Africa. This would free up US resources for tackling problems in parts of the world which are more important to you. During the unfolding of this year's Darfur crisis, Europe's under-powered diplomacy has been pitiful. As for Kosovo, announce a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces. If the EU cannot look after its Balkan backyard, it does not deserve to be taken seriously.

You should encourage the Europeans to rise to these challenges by offering a mixture of sticks and carrots. If the Europeans do little to enhance their diplomatic performance or military prowess, you could downgrade American involvement in EU-US summits and NATO. And you could send more junior officials to meetings.

More important are the incentives: you could reward the Europeans by offering to liberalise your protectionist rules on the transfer of military technology. And why not give away some of the 'network centric' technologies that would help European soldiers to work more easily alongside your own? But the greatest incentive, without question, would be a promise to pay more attention to European views and concerns. In recent years, US-EU relations have lost the sense of compromise and deal-making which helped sustain the transatlantic relationship.

Whatever the gut instincts of your Republicans friends, the US stands a much better chance of dealing with international problems if it works in partnership with the Europeans. By far the most pressing task is to forge a joint strategy for the wider Middle East, which is the source of the greatest threats to US and European security. Many of the trends in that region are alarming: the transition in Iraq is in serious trouble; prospects for a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine are slipping away; and Iran seems determined to acquire a nuclear capability. Your praiseworthy efforts to encourage a debate about democratisation in Arab countries have achieved very little: in the eyes of many Arabs, you lack credibility as long as you appear unwilling to act as an honest broker between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Europeans can help, for some of them have real expertise in the Middle East, and they have more credibility with the Arabs. During your planned trip to Europe next February, you and European leaders should agree on a broad package of initiatives that covers Israel, Iraq and Iran. On Israel-Palestine, you need to demonstrate, in deeds and not just words, that the US is serious about seeking a two-state solution. The death of Yasser Arafat and the promise of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza provide an opportunity to resuscitate the peace process.

You have been right to chide the Palestinians for failing to get a grip on terrorism, and they must understand that your support depends on them doing so. But when the Sharon government has broken its promises, for example on curbing West Bank settlements or using excessive violence, you have said little and done nothing. So you should tell the Israelis that when their policies undermine the objective of a viable Palestinian state, they will face consequences, including financial penalties. You should be prepared to be tough with the Israelis, just as your father was when he was president. Pledge to achieve the two-state solution by the end of your second term. Urge the EU to play its part by doing more to assist and train Palestinian security and police forces. And provided that a ceasefire is in place, say that NATO could play a role in delivering security in Palestinian areas after the Israelis withdraw.

You should not take this new line on Israel and Palestine to please Tony Blair - though you certainly owe him a lot - but, rather, to unlock the peace process and transform America's image. You will then find the Europeans much more willing to help you on Iraq and Iran.

The Europeans who opposed the war in Iraq are not going to send troops there. But they would be prepared to do more to ensure that Iraq remains a unitary and stable state. France and Germany could step up their training of Iraqi security forces and be more generous on economic aid. Many Americans are convinced that schadenfreude guides French, German and Spanish policy on Iraq. There has been a hint of that but Europeans know full well that if Iraq collapses into chaos, they will pay a heavy price.

On Iran, the Europeans have just negotiated a useful agreement with Tehran: Iran will suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for talks on economic and political incentives. But this is only a temporary deal. It will not last unless the Europeans remain steadfast and the US throws its weight behind it. You should tell the Europeans that if Iran fails to implement its commitments, they must be ready to join you in imposing sanctions. But if Iran complies you should be willing to recognize Iran diplomatically, offer a bilateral non-aggression pact and support the creation of a regional security forum. The thought of talking to 'bad guys' may make you scowl. But think how a deal with Iran could help to stabilise Iraq and Afghanistan - and reduce support for Palestinian terrorism.

If you can involve the Europeans in tackling these and other problems, and show that you take their views seriously, you will revive their flagging Atlanticism. Now that the Cold War is over, you are no longer obliged to manage an alliance with the Europeans. But you should choose to do so because, to misquote Churchill, the Europeans are the worst partners - except for all the others.

Yours faithfully,

Charles Grant and Steven Everts

Steven Everts was senior research fellow & director of foreign policy (2000-2004).

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