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Bush-Rice Plan Identifies U.S. Interests

October 24, 2000|CHRISTOPHER LAYNE | Christopher Layne is a visiting scholar at both UCLA's Center for Social Theory and Contemporary History and the Cato Institute

Foreign policy finally has emerged as a campaign issue, sparked by the proposal advanced last Friday by Texas Gov. George W. Bush's top national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice. Rice stated that one of the first priorities of a Bush administration would be to have the Western Europeans assume full responsibility for NATO's peacekeeping in the Balkans. Predictably, the Bush-Rice plan was denounced by Vice President Al Gore, and other senior administration officials, as both reckless and proof that Bush is too inexperienced to be entrusted with the presidency.

Stepping back from exaggerated, partisan criticism, the proposal, which aims at a new "division of labor" within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has considerable merit. Explaining the plan's logic, Rice stated: "This comes down to function. Carrying out civil administration and police functions is simply going to degrade the American capability to do the things America has to do" in regions outside Europe where the U.S. has vital security interests.

At one level, the Bush-Rice plan can be seen as just another chapter in the 50-year saga of NATO debates about "burden sharing." Yet, these repeated calls for Western Europe to do more, so the U.S. can do less--for a more rational trans-Atlantic strategic division of labor--are the proverbial tip of the iceberg, beneath which lurk fundamental questions about the following: the often divergent geopolitical interests of the U.S. and its European allies; the proper scope and extent of NATO's role; and how the risks of defending the alliance's members from external threat should be shared.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 27, 2000 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 9 Op Ed Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Balkans--In an article Tuesday by Christopher Layne, two words were transposed in a policy name. It is the European Security and Defense Policy.

The plan reflects an important truth: Western Europe does have the ability to perform the Balkan peacekeeping mission without American assistance. Moreover, the European Defense and Security Policy (EDSP)--the European Union's foreign policy and security counterpart to its political and economic integration--has the even more ambitious goal of investing Western Europe with the military capability to deal on its own with post-Cold War security threats.

Though professing to welcome EDSP as an instrument to attain a fairer distribution of the alliance's burdens, the Clinton administration regards this West European initiative as a threat to NATO's existence, and has warned the EU strongly that EDSP should not be used to promote a truly independent Western Europe. The administration's stance reflects Washington's similar long-standing ambivalence about Europe.

This fear is not without foundation. In 1965, Henry A. Kissinger, then a Harvard professor, observed that if Western Europe ever achieved political and economic unity and strategic self-sufficiency, it would be for the purpose of advancing its own interests, not America's. While this is true, there is nonetheless a powerful argument that, in the long run, trans-Atlantic relations would be healthier and more stable if based on Western Europe's independence from, rather than dependence on, the U.S.

If implemented, the Bush-Rice plan, which implicitly is linked to EDSP's success, would transform the trans-Atlantic relationship--and NATO--in important ways. The weight of history supports the plan. The Atlantic alliance's original architects, for example, never intended that the U.S. would be responsible for Europe's security in perpetuity. For them, the alliance was intended as a temporary shield to allow Western Europe to recover from World War II, at which point Western Europe would resume the full responsibility for managing its own security affairs.

Ten years after the Cold War's end, a rethinking of the U.S. role in NATO is long overdue. Historically, America's only strategic concern in Europe was to prevent a single power from dominating the Continent's resources and using them to threaten the U.S. With the Soviet Union's collapse, this specter of a European hegemony has disappeared. The Continent's post-Cold War security concerns are quite different: nasty but small-scale conflicts such as those in Bosnia and Kosovo. Such conflicts do affect Western Europe's interests, but are peripheral to America's strategic concerns, which increasingly are centered on East Asia and the Persian Gulf.

The fact is that although Western Europe remains important to the U.S., it is much less so geopolitically and economically than it was during the Cold War. At the same time, other regions correspondingly have become more salient. Beneath official declarations of harmony, U.S.-West European relations have been fraying for some time. Western Europe and the U.S. are locked in a bitter economic rivalry, and their political interests often clash. The bonds of trans-Atlantic solidarity are vanishing as the Cold War generation dies out. Most of all, Western Europe resents America's cultural and political dominance.

Bush recognizes that the U.S. needs to exercise its power with restraint, lest America's current geopolitical preponderance trigger a geopolitical backlash against the U.S. Seen from this perspective, the Bush-Rice plan is the first step toward establishing a new U.S.-Western Europe relationship based on equality. As such, it should be seen as a potentially wise and far-sighted act of statesmanship.

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