Events

The Crisis in Transatlantic Relations

September 11, 2004 // 12:00am

From September 9-11, 2004, 57 former Wilson Center scholars now resident in Europe and their spouses met in Bonn, Germany at the Center for European Integration Studies to analyze and exchange views on the topic "The Crisis in Transatlantic Relations." The general attitude of this group of intellectuals and policymakers does not differ from the results shown in the recently released Transatlantic Trends 2004 from The German Marshall Fund of the United States. Most attendees are critical of U.S. policy in Iraq and of U.S. policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some felt that France, Germany, and the new Socialist government of Spain had gone too far in continuing to place obstacles in the way of reconstruction aid to Iraq. Almost all hoped that transatlantic relations would improve, and felt that this would be facilitated by a change of administration in Washington in this coming November's election.

The first session focused on the question "How Strong are Shared Values?." Alex Danchev of the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, opened with a skeptical and provocative analysis emphasizing the differences between Europe and America. He pointed out that there was a long tradition of high rhetoric about shared values and that this was in itself a key element of holding the community together, but he argued that the two sides of the Atlantic held very different values on issues such as torture, death penalty, religion, role of the state, and the use of force in international affairs. He provided a sharp analysis of five areas of difference between Americans and Europeans with the qualifier that many in Great Britain were an exception to these European views. His areas of difference included the open invocation of religion in political life ("Europeans do not do God"), the role of highly positive thinking about the possibility of endless perfectibility in both human and economic affairs ("Europeans do not do self-belief"), the assumption that there was a global role for the United States ("Europeans do not do China"), the difference of the highly affirmative and optimistic and open attitude of Americans ("Europeans do not do can do"), and finally the belief in the efficacy of the use of force ("Europeans do not do war"). Danchev closed by saying that many Europeans felt that the United States was no longer legitimate as a provider of world order although it might be welcomed as an investor. But the United States "is neither loved nor trusted." Nevertheless the transatlantic relationship continues in large part on the memories of the past and the fact that "'we have a lot in common' is the mantra that holds us together."

Andreas Andrianopoulos, author and Member of Parliament in Greece, took a more positive attitude toward shared transatlantic values. He pointed out that the U.S. refusal to use NATO in Afghanistan marked an end of the alliance as it had been known in the Cold War, and that the Bush administration had broken other ties on environment, the ABM treaty, civil liberties, and agricultural subsidies in the face of WTO rulings. He acknowledged that Europeans resent the great preponderance of U.S. military power and its successful economic growth and its huge economic reach. But he thought that the basis for future cooperation still existed and contended that the United States in order to activate cooperation must show that it wants to work with the Europeans and will listen to their views.

In a session on "Diverging Systems of Governance?," neither speaker felt that Europe's shared sovereignty and extensive engagement with international treaties and regulatory regimes was an element in current transatlantic disputes. Anna Balletbò, a twenty-year Member of the Spanish Parliament from Barcelona, felt that the Europeans had essentially continued in a fairly steady dual policy of integrating their economies and societies while enlarging the scope of the European Union, and it was the United States that had begun to shift its form of government and the nature of its policies since the 1970s through increasing influence of neo-conservatives and their ties with the media and think tanks. She insisted that the only way for transatlantic relations to improve would be to replace the Bush administration with a Democratic president. Geert Ahrens, a recently retired German diplomat with extensive service in the developing world and in Southeastern Europe, said that from his experience transatlantic relations began to deteriorate as early as 1991 when viewed from the perspective of the Balkan crises. He felt that the current transatlantic crisis which had become much more serious than in the early 1990s stems from a growing imbalance of military and economic power between the United States and Europe. He did point out significant differences in European and American approaches to international governance in areas such as acceptance of international judicial institutions like the International Criminal Court, belief in the need for UN endorsement before moving to the use of force, and acceptance of international environmental agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol. He called for better communication and increased cooperation between Europe and America which he believes is the foundation for improving international relations more broadly.

A session on "Prospects for Economic Cooperation" found agreement that there was a significant gap between the developing world of the European Union and the United States and the economic realities of the southern hemisphere. Robert Wade of the London School of Economics pointed to the lack of cooperation between the United States and Europe on developmental assistance and contended that, while there was cooperation on trade and investment rules, many of these rules had made it more difficult for the south to close the gap in development. Elke Thiel, former head of the research unit on European integration for the Stiftung Wissenchaft und Politik of Berlin, spoke about trade and monetary policy and contended that the top issue for officials on both sides of the Atlantic was the resolution of WTO trade disputes.

Emil Pain, Director of the Center for Ethnopolitical Studies in Moscow, focused on Russian political and economic choices in a session on "The European Union's Eastern Neighbors," contending that in recent years Russia had made a large shift in values in a conservative and authoritarian direction. He reported widespread approval of the centralization of power in the Kremlin and the fact that almost two-thirds of Russians recently surveyed see ethnic minorities as the country's main problem and believe in the slogan "Russia for Russians." He called for continued contacts and exchanges with both the European Union and the United States in order to keep different policy choices open to politically engaged elites. Haldun Gülalp of Bogazici University in Turkey discussed the evolution of democratic institutions under the Welfare and Reform Party, known in Turkey as the AK Party. He pointed out that the AK Party had won a clear majority in elections of November 2002 on a platform of making those reforms necessary to meet requirements for accession into the European Union. He discussed how the AK Party showed that it could govern effectively and make reforms in political and societal institutions, and in doing so demonstrated how the former secular ruling elite had used the fear of Islamic political parties to keep Muslims out of power and to prevent basic reforms. The AK Party has used the desire for EU membership to force through democratic reforms showing that a Muslim party can be both reformist and democratic. The European Union summit in December of 2004 will decide whether Turkey is to be a candidate for membership and set a date for the start of accession negotiations. Success at this summit is critical for the AK Party and there is no alternative plan for Turkey.

In a session on "Cultural Trends," Elemer Hankiss, Research Director at the Institute of Sociology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, used extensive survey data from Hungary, Poland, and Romania to show widespread appreciation for American culture but a growing preference for a European social welfare state with a more substantial safety net than was available in the United States. Michael Werz of the Institute of Sociology at Hannover University in Germany argued that there was no gap in values between Germany and the United States but there had developed under pressures of 9/11 and Iraq a different approach to policy. He showed how Germany had developed a very unusual society during the Cold War: it was the center of world politics but had no foreign policy, no national interests, and extremely close ties to the United States. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany had to develop a foreign policy, a national style and values, all while absorbing a large contingent of very different citizens from East Germany. Under the pressure of the war against terrorism and the war against Iraq, Germany had to make many decisions on its own and relied upon its strong aversion to war and a strong commitment to protect civil liberties to make different policy choices from those made in Washington.

In a concluding session on "Security Challenges," Pierre Hassner of the Center for International Studies and Research in Paris pointed out that many international challenges are underway in the field of international security, but that the Iraq war and aspects of the war against terrorism have created a major crisis between European governments and the United States. He pointed out that only in the United States did a majority of the population agree on a case for war against Iraq, but as the problems with establishing security after the major fighting developed, roughly fifty percent of Americans now question the wisdom of that war. He feels that the lessons of Iraq include the fact that spreading democracy in the Middle East is very difficult and cannot be done by force; that war has increased the terrorist threat and increased the prospects for a clash of civilizations; that the war has advanced nuclear programs and the danger of proliferation in both Iran and North Korea; and, that the U.S. demonstrable desire for global hegemony may be limited by the experience in Iraq. Shahram Chubin, Director of Research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy in Switzerland, talked about cooperation on issues of terrorism and nonproliferation. He pointed out that there had been recognition of the same threats in Europe and America with the spread of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism being at the top of the list. He argued that the war against terrorism as characterized in U.S. policy will be a very long struggle and it will be hard to measure success or even know if the war can be won. He pointed out that Europeans do not see the battle against terrorism as a "war" but see many separate terrorist cells with a web of cooperation existing among them. He asserted that Europeans completely reject the notion that Iraq is part of a struggle against terrorism. Chubin pointed out that cooperation on issues of nonproliferation is better than it was ten years ago, but that difficulties still occur on what action is to be taken on its degree of urgency and on sharing intelligence. He foresees future disputes over responsibility for Iraq, action to be taken if another terrorist attack occurs in the United States, what policies to pursue on the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Samuel F. Wells, Associate Director, 202/691-4208

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  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
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