For the better part of the past 50 years, each successive U.S. Administration has eventually come to the same conclusion about America's relations with Europe. Every effort at closer European integration is to be welcomed tepidly, as it is assumed that a prosperous Europe would prove more pro-free market, more pro-Atlanticist, and more pro-American. However, in the wake of the transatlantic divide over the Iraq war and the public diplomacy calamity that has followed, such a simplistic analysis does not explain the schism at the heart of the post-Cold War transatlantic relationship.
Rather than continuing the pattern of merely reacting to fundamental changes in Europe, at both the state and European Union (EU) levels, the United States should proactively approach the transatlantic relationship with fixed conservative principles in mind that guide its reaction to specific policy proposals. Specifically, four strategic, diplomatic, and analytical principles, which have political, economic, and military dimensions, should guide Administration thinking on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the EU, and, critically, how to revive the overall transatlantic relationship:
Europe will remain the foundation of all future U.S. coalitions well into the 21st century.
A Europe in which national sovereignty remains paramount, where states can react flexibly, suits the American national interest.
The U.S.-British alliance must remain pivotal to long-term American strategic thinking.
The European Union must be seen as it is, not as many Europeans might wish to see themselves, if American policies are to prove successful. The EU is collectively far weaker than its federalist adherents proclaim. Simply put, it is considerably less than the sum of its parts.
A Proactive Transatlantic Agenda
Given these broad principles, the U.S. should advance the following policies toward Europe.
Politically, with regard to the EU, the U.S. should favor a multi-speed Europe, based on the principle of each individual state having greater choice about its level of integration with Brussels.
Politically, the U.S. must make a massive public diplomacy effort in Europe if it is to retain the ability to engage European countries consistently as allies.
Economically, the United States should help to establish a Global Free Trade Alliance (GFTA), opening the door to genuine free trade with qualified European nations.
Militarily, the U.S. should continue to press for NATO reform centered around the concept of increasing the alliance's political flexibility.
Militarily, the U.S. must continue to encourage European members of NATO to develop a rapid reaction force-quickly deployable, highly lethal, and expeditionary-so as not to erode the political sharing of risks that is so vital to the continued functioning of the organization.
Militarily, the U.S. should realign its European base structure, updating it to meet the coming challenges of the 21st century.
This vision for the future of Europe highlights conservatism at its best-looking reality square in the face and then making it better.
John C. Hulsman, Ph.D., is Research Fellow in European Affairs and Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.