Disjunction in Perspectives on World Order: Why Do Europe and the United States Find It So Difficult to Cooperate on Non-European Issues?

March 28, 2006 // 3:00pm4:30pm

Disjunction in Perspectives on World Order: Why Do Europe and the United States Find It So Difficult to Cooperate on Non-European Issues?
March 28, 2006

Helga Haftendorn, Professor Emerita of International Relations and former Director of Center on Transatlantic Foreign and Security Policy Studies, Free University of Berlin

Professor Helga Haftendorn reviewed her tentative analysis of areas of conflict outside the traditional NATO area in which Europe and the United States have difficulties in coordinating policies. She pointed out that during the Cold War, crises developed and mentioned the cases of Suez, Vietnam and the Falklands War, but said that these were fairly easily resolved. "They rocked the boat but did not sink it." She reviewed differences post-Cold War in Bosnia and Kosovo and in certain African contingencies and found that these had not dealt with fundamental interests of either Europe or the United States and were not terribly disruptive to relationships. The war in Afghanistan posed problems, because the United States initially did not want allied participation but later asked for support from the Europeans to do things the United States was not able to do as it diverted resources to the war in Iraq. She did not discuss Iraq except to say that the American experience in Afghanistan and Iraq did seem to have persuaded the administration that war-fighting and stabilization efforts had to go hand in hand.

She identified three continuing issues where the objectives were largely similar between Europe and the United States but approaches and timetables were different. These were the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iran nuclear program, and strategic relations with China.

In the cases that she has examined so far she found four patterns of interaction. These were U.S. dominance and unilateral policymaking, transatlantic burdensharing in which the United States took the lead and Europe provided support, reliable and sustained cooperation which had few examples and assumed that Europe had a capacity to act as a partner which it presently lacks, and benign neglect where neither party cares enough to take meaningful action. Haftendorn pointed out a range of reasons for differences in approaches including geographic proximity, a greater U.S. interest in the use of force as an instrument of international action, the European commitment to using multilateral institutions and international law, and different levels of interest as in the U.S. strategic concern with China whereas Europeans look at China through exclusively economic lenses. She expressed the hope that NATO would be used more extensively as a mechanism for coordination and said that she was encouraged by the talk about multilateral approaches in the new United States national security strategy.

Experts & Staff

  • 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
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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