Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Commentary

The U.S., Europe: Two Old Friends Must Renew Mutual Respect

April 15, 2002|DEREK CHOLLET | Derek Chollet, who served in the U.S. State Department during the Clinton administration, is a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.

Listening to the voices from both sides of the Atlantic, it is easy to think that the United States and Europe are headed for an irreparable break. Whether it's about Ariel Sharon, Saddam Hussein or steel, the U.S. and Europe just can't agree.

Many in Europe believe that President Bush and his administration are unbending unilateralists who don't care about the views of their long-standing allies.

Meanwhile in Washington, many believe that Europe is so self-absorbed and so weak militarily that it neither understands the nature of the threats emanating from places such as the Middle East nor could it do anything about them.

Both sides are right. But at the same time, both are wrong. The Bush administration has shown that it is capable of deft multilateral diplomacy when it wants to be, and in the recent military campaign in eastern Afghanistan, Europe has proved it is ready to join in the fight. Rather than finger-pointing, Washington and Europe must change how they approach each other.

For the Bush administration, this requires a more serious attempt to get its European partners on board. So far, Bush has offered only rhetoric and meetings with British Prime Minister Tony Blair--neither of which goes very far on the Continent.

The lack of real effort to consult Europe has been astonishing. Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Madrid last week is his first to Europe this year. On Vice President Dick Cheney's 10-day tour to build support for confronting Iraq, his only European stop was London. Bush will finally visit Europe in May.

European officials say that there are virtually no working-level consultations. They complain that Washington calls only when it has made a decision. It will be impossible for Washington to get Europe's support if it does not even try. Yet to simply try harder will not be enough--Europe needs to show that it is a willing partner. This starts, of course, by Europe doing more to improve its military capabilities so it can be a powerful ally.

Europeans have been slow to appreciate the new threats that shape world politics. In some ways this is understandable. From World War II through the 1990s, the U.S.-European alliance's highest priority was to promote European stability and make the Continent whole and free.

That dream is almost reality. So Europe must see that the new threats come from terrorist networks and those anti-democratic, anti-Western states that prey on innocents and are determined to undermine stability and our way of life.

Europe must acknowledge loudly that suicide bombers and regimes like Hussein's represent everything the alliance has stood against--and that bold action is required, not more rhetoric.

This does not mean that European leaders should simply step aside and salute while the U.S. acts on its own. But they must be more mature partners. All too often it seems that the best Europe can do is second-guess U.S. policy. If its leaders think that a different strategy could be more effective, then they need to offer Washington real alternatives.

Otherwise, expect a self-fulfilling prophesy: The less Europe offers, the more the Bush administration's unilateral instincts will be reinforced and the more Europe will be isolated and ignored.

If Europe fails to change its outlook and approach--if it refuses to acknowledge that new threats exist, and if it can't move beyond its well-worn criticisms of U.S. policy and instead suggest better ideas--then U.S.-Europe relations may be headed for the breach so many fear.

If this happens, it will be a historic failure of leadership, and both sides will be to blame.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|