Problems and Prospects for the Transatlantic Relations

Karsten D. Voigt, Coordinator of German-American Cooperation, The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 


The events in Southeast Asia were the most devastating we have encountered  in a long time. The date of December 26, 2004 should be for our generation a  milestone like two other key dates: November 9, 1989, the fall of the Berlin  Wall, and the attacks of September 11, 2001. Let me explain why.   The events in Southeast Asia had a sobering effect on us all. Due to the modern  means of communication in our globalized world, we were made aware of the  extent of the disaster almost instantaneously. At the same time, due to global  tourism, the disaster has not only affected a great number of locals but also a  great number of tourists from all over the world.   

It is gratifying to witness how fast and to what extent the international  community has come together to provide emergency aid and disaster relief.  Faced with this apocalyptic disaster, the international community and  especially the transatlantic partners have been presented with a unique  opportunity to set aside subsisting differences. This is the moment to seek  answers to fundamental questions beyond day‐to‐day politics. I hope this  disaster will help strengthen the conscience that we live in and need to act in  one world. Fortunately, initial hick‐ups like the question of who forms a  coalition with whom to bring about relief have been quickly overcome.   

The disaster reminds us of the many remaining global challenges. We also  have to acknowledge a common responsibility underscored by the fact that the  Western alliance comprised by Europe and America produces two‐thirds of the  world’s GDP. This time, Europe and the US have been living up to the pressing  needs and have pledged by far the largest amount of public and private  desaster relief funding. The EU and its member states have pledged about 4  billion €. Germany alone has pledged more than 350 million € and 500 million €  from private and public sources respectively, not counting Germany's share in  EU pledges. This expression of humanitarian commitment clearly shows that  solidarity in the Western world can be best achieved if it is based on global  values and a common humanistic vision and not on narrowly defined national  interests. 

Globalization and the spreading of free market economies do not replace  international politics and will be even less so able to avoid its perils. Free nations can only peacefully coexist when globalization and the spreading of  free market economies are flanked by a framework of international rules,  norms and engagements that also help to detect, contain and ‐ if possible ‐  solve global problems. When I discuss transatlantic relations today, it is in this  global context rather than against the backdrop of the Cold War’s East‐West  context. 

A reorientation in transatlantic relations is not unusual. However, the stage  we have reached is particularly striking. November 9, 1989 and September 11,  2001 and possibly December 26, 2004 changed Europe, the US, transatlantic  relations and, ultimately, the world as a whole. The peaceful revolution of 1989  transformed Europe, which had been divided for many decades, and reunited  Germany. The second key date is September 11, 2001. The acts of terrorism  committed that day accelerated and changed international developments.  New threats were recognized. The experience of September 11 led to a new  view of the world, first in the US and then in Europe as well. The altered  awareness in the US following September 11 was at first underestimated by  many Europeans at first. On the other hand, it is not generally known in the US  why the majority of Europeans, and Germans in particular, felt disconcerted  and alienated by the Bush administration's rhetoric and policy after 9/11.  Finally, the recent desasters in Southeast Asia should provide the global actors  with a trigger to speed up the process of addressing the non‐military global  security challenges, be it natural and humanitarian disasters, climate change,  infectious and endemic diseases, the fight against poverty or the protection of  natural resources. In a rational pursuit of our national interests, it is key to focus  on our joint vision and policy of one world.  If there is one lesson we learned following September 11, 2001, it is that we  cannot simply take good and stable transatlantic relations for granted. This has  to do with the changes in the geopolitical situation, as well as differences in  political culture which, at first glance, are not so apparent but which do indeed  have an impact on relations at a sometimes subconscious level. 

On September 11, 2001 the entire Western world felt closer to the US than  ever before. The attacks in New York and Washington were regarded as  attacks against Western civilization as a whole. People on this side of the  Atlantic identified both emotionally and politically with the Americans. The  declarations of unstinting solidarity in the fight against terrorism made in the  hours and days that followed were earnest and remain so today. This is  particularly the case against the backdrop of the knowledge that bloody new  attacks like the one in Madrid could be carried out in our own countries at any  time. This fact inevitably leads to core questions, namely how to effectively  protect ourselves against this form of attack. 

In a recent article in the International Herald Tribune, William Pfaff states  the following as key questions at the beginning of the New Year: “Who is  defending whom against what in 2005?” and “What will constitute real and  relevant power in 2005?” He, in my view, definitely hits the bulls eye.   Since 9/11, well‐known categories seem to be free‐floating, the system of  reference is gone. Power, security and the way to achieve it must be redefined.  After the Cold War, Europe was forced to realize that neither US involvement  in Europe nor an automatic convergence of interests on both sides of the  Atlantic could be taken for granted. Europe finds itself in a constant balancing  act trying to complete European integration while at the same time  maintaining close transatlantic ties.   

We all are aware of the fact that with the end of the Cold War the  transatlantic relationship and Europe’s geostrategic setting after 1989 have  given rise to unavoidable changes. I would ask everyone not to regard changes  as negative from the outset. If we were to cling to the modes of conduct and  ideas which reflected Western Europe's geostrategic situation during the Cold  War despite these geostrategic changes, we would undermine rather than  strengthen the partnership across the Atlantic. I would therefore like to see a  new Atlanticism emerge through a reform of transatlantic policies and  institutions, especially within NATO, and through deepening the relationship  between NATO and the EU. President Bush's meetings with NATO and EU  leaders on the same day is a good signal in this regard.   

Both clarity about our own interests and detailed knowledge of the other  side are essential as a starting point for developing common ground in the  future. In order to reach a new transatlantic perspective, common ground and  differences between American and European cultures must be considered  rationally. In my view, it is important to note that although there is little  diffference in our fundamental values, there is a difference in their hierarchy.  As we share the same fundamental values, it is perfectly justified to talk of a  transatlantic community of values. This differing hierarchization of values is  not new, however. In the past, it contributed to the ambivalent image which  Europeans and Americans had of each other. These images are by no means  set in stone: they change according to circumstances. 

The idea that the world is by nature invariably a place in which states have  to be rivals has a long history. The theory says that, because of this rivalry, a  state's security dilemma can only be eased by increasing its power and cannot  be resolved by an alliance of different states linked by a common legal order or  values. This idea was bred in Europe but has found many advocates in the US  today. I consider this idea to be permanently and unalterably logical but  intrinsically wrong. This idea has been largely proved wrong by Europe's post war development even if the traditional logic of power still holds sway over  many parts of the world.   

I am aware of the fact that the Kantian world I am striving for is still in  contrast to the Hobbesian realities in large parts of the world. I am therefore  convinced, like American realists and in contrast to some Europeans, that the  deployment of military power is sometimes unavoidable. However, unlike  these American realists, I am also convinced that, with the prospect of a new  reality in line with post‐war developments in Europe, we should not abandon  hope of being able to change the world. Otherwise, politics would be reduced  to mere actionism without the aim of creating a better world. It will take  generations before fundamental changes can be brought about in some other  parts of the world. However, acceptance of the reality of power and the pursuit  of the rule of law, realism and teleological action do not exclude one another.  Misperceptions slowly but inevitably undermine the transatlantic  partnership. I regard this as one of the main tasks of the elite of our time –  politicians, scientists, intellectuals and other enlightened individuals. They  should do their utmost to avoid the widening of the transatlantic gap caused by  misperceptions, mismanagement and eventually mistrust. Let me cite a few  examples of those differences, their impact on current policies and how we can  ensure the stability of transatlantic relations in the future. 

Many in the US have ambivalent if not negative feelings concerning an ever  solidifying EU not only competing in global economic markets but also  organizing its military capabilities via ESDP and even recently, after long  negotiations, solving its headquarters question. The recurrent European  leitmotiv of ESDP being a strong European pillar of NATO and not a contender  in the wings does not find many believers in the US. Sometimes it seems that,  with certain US critics, the only acceptable reason for the existence of ESDP  would be that it might help Europeans spend more money on defence. In  addition, there is persisting uneasiness in the US over EU members of NATO  forming a European caucus and coming to the Atlantic table with a prefixed  non‐negotiable European position. Experience shows rather, that the contrary  is true. Differences and disagreements hamper the European decision‐making  process and lead to the frustrating experience that European influence in  Washington is less than normally adequate for a long‐term acceptance of the  transatlantic Alliance in the self‐confident European societies. It is time for a  real strategic debate within the Alliance. It is also time for a new transatlantic  bargain in which responsibilities and influence are rebalanced. 

During the Cold War, the US was in favour of a strong European pillar of  NATO. That European pillar was desirable to the US on the assumption that it  would help counterbalance the Soviet threat, relieve the US of the danger of being drawn into regional armed conflicts and would not represent a  competing entity. In view of the development which Europe has undergone in  the last few years and decades, it is understandable that there is growing  concern, particularly in the US, that this stronger Europe is transforming itself  into a second rival pole in the West. In the final analysis, I do not believe there is  any real danger that Europe will endeavor to define itself in opposition to the  US. Nor is there a majority for this following the enlargement of the European  Union. Defining Europe in opposition to the US would definitely not be in  Germany's interests. However, I would also like to contradict those in the US  who believe that Europe's increased strength in the sphere of foreign and  security policy is a negative development. The opposite is true! Europe's lack of  effectiveness is one of the central problems in transatlantic relations. A Europe  incapable of taking effective action would have little global influence and  would be of little interest to the US as a partner. The US would quickly lose  interest in a weaker Europe. A weak Europe would also weaken transatlantic  ties. A Europe which, as a result of its weakness, sees no hope of exerting  influence on the US would, out of a sense of frustration, turn either away from  or even against the US. 

Some Euro‐critics in the US are in line with President Bush stating that “the  path of safety is the path of action”. Those critics find the EU risk‐averse and  status quo oriented and castigate its lack of action concerning stability threats.  Unlike Robert Kagan in his article in the Washington Post of December 5, they  fail to recognize what a vital role Europe plays even when the set of cards it has  is different from US expectations. The EU’s “soft” approach of cooperation and  its political attractiveness has proved to be very effective in Europe.   

On both sides of the Atlantic, there are diverging narratives as to which  strategy has suceeded in the end to bring about the fall of the Communist  world. The children of Ronald Reagan tend to attribute the fall of Communism  to unremitting, unwavering pressure on the Soviet Union based on military  deterrence and the drying out of resources. The children of Willy Brandt and  Helmut Schmidt attribute the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the EastWest‐Conflict to the combination of a defensive strategy and an approach of  dialogue and cooperation based on the attractiveness of Western democracies.  In hindsight, both strategies, although conflicting in their time, have  objectively been complementary in contributing to the end of the Communist  era. Perhaps we should be circumspect enough to consider that today’s  conflicting strategies used, for example towards Iran, could one day prove  complementary as well. It is because we want to strengthen the basis for a joint transatlantic future  that Europeans are in favor of making Europe more effective. That also goes for the military sphere. In keeping with the sentiment expressed by Joe Nye of  Harvard University, I would like to add: the US is the only true global power in  the military sphere. Economiccally, it is but one power among many. In  economic terms, the European Union is almost equal in weight, while in terms  of population and its share in world trade it even surpasses the US. At the level  of societal and non‐state players, the US used to be more attractive than any  other country in the world. It was not the US's military power, but rather its  attractiveness that was its strongest advantage. After all, "soft power" is also a  form of power. In light of current developments in the US, Joe Nye has warned  America that it must not lose its social and political appeal by flexing its  military muscle too much, thus objectively also losing power, which is more  than just military might. I share his concern. 

I agree as well with those who exhort Europeans and of course also  Germans to modernize and enlarge their military capabilities. I detect a  growing German consensus in that direction. Our security culture is changing,  and as part of Europe we are increasingly thinking globally or in security terms.  But leaving aside the question of military capabilities ‐ most of us Europeans,  even more so us Germans, strongly believe that the soft approach pays off in  the long run. The fact that for a long time only within a NATO framework there  was sufficient European military clout is part but not all of the backdrop to this  characteristic. As Kagan puts it, the EU has become a “gigantic political and  economic magnet”, its most attractive tool being enlargement or what Robert  Cooper calls “the lure of membership”. That means the EU is gradually  enlarging the zone of peace, stability and prosperity along its expanding  border.     
The handling of the Ukrainian change of power is an excellent example of  how the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy acted in a smooth and  concerted way. The EU made sensible use of its new member Poland and the  good offices of High Representative Solana, backed by the presidency and  member states without locking the US out. I am convinced that such fine  examples of smart multilateralism will become more and more numerous.  Considering its short history, the EU’s defence policy has made  considerable progress. The EU started police operations in Bosnia and  Herzegovina and Macedonia. We lead a military operation in the Democratic  Republic of Congo and did so jointly together with NATO in Macedonia. With  the military operation ALTHEA, the EU has taken over from NATO’s SFOR in  Bosnia and Herzegovina.   

Who in the US or even in our own countries is aware of the massive amount  of money the EU invests into Russia, Central Europe and the Middle East? Every Euro invested in our near abroad is a stability anchor. Each Euro invested  there is a Euro that does not need to be spent on defence.  Let me identify some of the challenges ahead and some important items  still on the EU’s agenda from the past century.  The Israeli‐Palestinian conflict is the rift valley of the clash between the  Western and the Islamic world. In spite of European expertise and its  contribution to the Road Map and the Quartet – which again, many in the US  mostly overlook ‐, it is the US attitude and input that are crucial. For a lasting  solution, nothing less is required from the US than exerting leadership. With  the democratic election of a new legitimate Palestinian leader a new initiative  would be timely.   

Concerning Iran, the EU‐3 effort to reach a long‐term agreement in the  area of dual use nuclear technology has led to a satisfying set of contacts and  agreements. In the context of bringing peace and security to the Greater  Middle East, the EU specifically needs the US to engage in the Iran dossier to  ensure that a sustainable solution can be achieved.    The arc of crisis around the Black Sea with its frozen conflicts is an area  where European foreign policy is especially active. Nevertheless the complex  will have to be examined and addressed jointly with our transatlantic partner.  This can also not be done without engaging Russia. 

We alone cannot shape the ideal world that corresponds to our interests,  values and dreams. One thing is certain however, the EU needs the US, and  vice versa, be it in the war on terrorism, the fight against weapons of mass  destruction or any of the crisis areas mentioned or still lurking. What we most  ardently need is the common insight that the EU and the US, NATO and ESDP  have complementary approaches and powers. No problem in the world could  be solved faster and better when the transatlantic partners choose to approach  it without the other. Why not follow the recent proposal of a “double‐track  initiative” fighting against terrorism and engaging the Islamic world? It should  include credible law enforcement, military containment and more of the tools  of the politics of power, while at the same time leading an active dialogue with  Muslim cultures and societies.   

Back to the changing transatlantic relations: what has changed  strategically? The central locations for conflicts have shifted in US  consciousness to other problems and, in geographical terms, to the Middle  East and to certain parts of Asia. In a stable European order of peace, the  centuries‐old German question has been resolved by united Germany's  membership in the EU and NATO. Both sides of the Atlantic can and should  rejoice that Germany is no longer a source and cause of crisis. Germany no  longer has strategic importance for the US due to its geostrategic location at the heart of a conflict. Germany's main relevance is due to its willingness and  ability to help resolve problems in future crisis regions. German politicians must  now examine whether they want to reorient either in order to be relevant to  the US or because they, just like the US, believe that their security and  interests are at risk. Mind you, this is about the strategic orientation of the US  away from a global conflict with Europe at its epicenter. We perceived this  conflict as a European or local German crisis. The US is now oriented towards  other regions (for example, the Middle East) and towards other issues (for  example, the fight against international terrorism and the proliferation of  weapons of mass destruction). At the same time, we must seek a new  consensus in security policy on whether, where and under what conditions, we  are prepared to use military means to protect our security, interests and values. 

There is another factor. In contrast to the situation during the Cold War in  Europe, the US is no longer dependent on its European allies and on Germany  in order to prevail in purely military terms in regional conflicts such as the one  in Iraq. In the final analysis, military victory in Iraq was not dependent on the  support of other European partners. This decrease in military dependency in  wars has not only military but also political consequences. A country which  believes it is no longer dependent on military support but seeks support for  political reasons will begin to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of  partnerships. That will influence the extent to which a country is prepared to  show consideration for the interests and viewpoints of potential partners.   During the Cold War, certain political and military decisions in the US  would not have been made against the express wishes of key European  partners in NATO. Although we Germans were completely dependent on the  US for our security at that time, we nonetheless welded much influence. Prior  to the Iraq war, there was a debate in Washington on whether, on political  grounds, the US should still show consideration to those who doubted not only  the tactics but also the goals and strategy of US policy. Or whether for the sake  of protecting the autonomy of US military action and the clarity of its own  objective, it would not be better, if need be, for the US to pursue its course  alone and do without critical and excessively self‐confident partners. After all,  there were other partners who, although they did not support every tactical  detail of Washington's decisions, did support its strategic orientation.   

This change in thinking in some Washington circles was no longer based on  the premise that solidarity among all NATO partners was the key prerequisite  for military action. It was therefore no coincidence that the NATO offer to  invoke Article 5 of the NATO Treaty following 9/11 was not taken up in  Washington. If the US were to carry out an emergency unilateral action (which  a priori the US does not want but has not ruled out either) or if a Coalition of the Willing were to replace action by NATO as a whole, this would have serious  consequences for NATO. One result of the difficult situation in post‐war Iraq is  that those in Washington who are in favor of partners and alliances have again  gained ground. In view of this ongoing debate in Washington, we Europeans  should seize the occasion and, jointly with our American partners, develop  concepts and strategies to renew and intensify transatlantic relations. 

This year, we are commemorating the 60th anniversaries of the end of  World War II and the beginning of the Nuremberg trials. After World War II and  at the request of all its neighbors, Germany linked its actions and thinking to  multilateral institutions and norms: to the United Nations, NATO, EU and  international law. International law is expressly given precedence over national  law in our Basic Law. During the last fifty years we have internalized these  framework conditions for German policy. Despite Germany's "no" in the  concrete case of Iraq, the military dimension of German foreign policy will have  to be further developed. Ultimately, there is agreement on this in the  Bundestag and in the German Government. However, the question of the  framework within which we Germans want and have to act will keep arising.  And due to its geostrategic location, its integration in NATO and the EU, as  well as its history, multilateralism and international law play a greater role for  Germany than for the US when it comes to weighing interests and objectives  rationally. For us, multilateralism is a must, while for the US it is one of several  options. This difference in perspective is not new but it became evidently clear  in the Iraq war. 

I would like to respond to the growing number of people in recent times  who take a skeptical view of transatlantic relations ‐ and they are to be found  on both sides of the Atlantic ‐ with the following argument: I believe that  transatlantic relations are just as important to Germany now as they were in  the past, and this applies even more so to Europe. The US rightly regards itself  as an "indispensable nation" but Europe should, with the same right, see itself  as an "indispensable partner". Incidentally, that goes not only for military and  economic issues but, ultimately, also for issues related to our democratic  culture and even for environmental protection. If Europe and the US were to  oppose each other, this would jeopardize the chance of achieving security and  democracy in many parts of the world. I foresee neither an end to the West nor  an end to the transatlantic alliance. Those who, in agreement with Oswald  Spengler, predict the "decline and fall of the West", will be proved wrong.  However, we find ourselves in the midst of a phase of adjustment and  reorientation. Time and again, whenever facts and thinking changed in the  past, so too was the West forced to redefine itself. 

Beyond today, therefore, serious questions have arisen in the transatlantic  debate. We must try and answer them: many together with the Americans,  almost all together with our European neighbors and some of them on our  own. Ultimately, this is about what Germany should be in the European and  global context, what risks we are prepared to take, what influence and what  power we are striving to gain, what financial means and what instruments we  are prepared to employ for our priorities. The conclusions drawn from this  German debate will be influenced not only by the discussion among Germans  but to a large extent by the arguments put forward by our European and  transatlantic partners.   



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