President Bush's Trip to Europe: Key Issues and Recommendations

Report Europe

President Bush's Trip to Europe: Key Issues and Recommendations

February 17, 2005 4 min read

Authors: Nile Gardiner and John Hulsman

President Bush will shortly embark upon the most important European trip of his presidency. Between February 20 and 24, the President will hold summit talks with leaders of NATO and the European Union and will meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bush's European tour comes amid continuing divisions within Europe over U.S. policy in Iraq and transatlantic tensions over a host of issues, including the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, the lifting of the EU arms embargo on China, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Of all the key issues on the table, the future of the transatlantic alliance will be foremost.


The second Bush Administration has rightly made the strengthening of the transatlantic alliance a foreign policy priority, recognizing that coalition-building in Europe is critical to advancing long-term American interests on the world stage. The United States must continue to engage all major players in Europe, including those with whom it disagrees.


President Bush must not, however, bow to pressure from the French and German governments to endorse the European Constitution and the idea of a Common Foreign and Security Policy for the EU. Supporters of the Constitution in Paris, Brussels, and Berlin, including many of President Bush's fiercest international critics, clearly relish the prospect of the world's only superpower singing their tune.


The Bush Administration should adopt a purely interest-based position regarding the future direction of Europe, emphasizing that U.S. goals in Europe include the preservation of the NATO alliance, maintenance of the Anglo-U.S. special relationship, and support for a multi-speed Europe, based on the principle of each individual state having greater choice about its level of integration with Brussels.


The President's trip to Europe will also serve as a valuable opportunity to lay down the gauntlet to those European nations that opposed the regime change in Baghdad, including France and Germany, to play a constructive role in the building of a democratic Iraq. President Bush should also call on Europe's big three, Paris, Berlin and London, to adopt a more aggressive stance in their negotiations with the regime in Tehran, while acknowledging that U.S. interests in the Middle East are best served by working closely with European capitals. The President must also reiterate Washington's willingness to play a major role in advancing the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians.


Key Recommendations

  • Iraq. President Bush will be buoyed by success of the elections in Iraq, where voter turnout far exceeded the doom-laden predictions of café critics in Paris and Brussels. He should use his trip both as an opportunity to thank the 12 EU member states that have sent troops and to remind those nations that have thus far failed to lift a finger to help the Iraqi people that a successful democratic Iraq is in the interests of both the United States and all of Europe. The President should call for a greater NATO role in training Iraqi security forces and defeating the insurgency and urge France and Germany to actively engage instead of sulking on the sidelines.
  • Iran. While maintaining the option to disarm a nuclear-armed Iran, the United States should also endeavor to coordinate diplomatic pressure on Tehran together with members of the European Union. At the same time, the EU must commit to supporting both U.N. Security Council and European sanctions if the Iranians refuse to comply and accept that military force may ultimately be necessary.
  • The Middle East Peace Process. In the face of the growing threat to international security posed by Syrian- and Iranian-supported terrorist groups, President Bush should call on European governments, such as France, to harden their stance toward movements such as Hezbollah and place them on the EU's list of terrorist organizations. At the same time, the United States should reiterate its commitment to playing a leading role in the Middle East Peace Process, through the Quartet.
  • The China Arms Embargo. The President should urge European governments to reconsider their support for lifting the EU embargo on the sale of arms to China. The White House should be clear that this issue is of fundamental importance to the U.S. Congress and has the potential to cause a major transatlantic rift at a time when the U.S. and Europe need to work constructively together to face major challenges in Asia and the Middle East.
  • NATO. The White House must strongly oppose any effort in Europe to undermine the position of NATO as the central plank of transatlantic military cooperation. At the same time, Washington must call for reform of NATO to make it better able to face the challenges of the 21st Century, including the threat of global terrorism and political instability in parts of Europe and the Middle East. The development of a NATO rapid reaction force must be a major priority for both the U.S. and Europe.
  • The EU Constitution. While pursuing a policy of strategic engagement with the European Union, President Bush must avoid making statements that will be perceived as a U.S. endorsement of the EU Constitution and Franco-German plans for a unified foreign policy. Such statements will only strengthen the hand of America's opponents in Europe and weaken the position of those who are fighting to maintain the sovereignty of the nation state, clearly threatened by the Constitution's blueprint for a federal Europe.
  • A Multi-Speed Europe. The Bush Administration should support the concept of a multi-speed Europe, based on the principle of each individual state having greater choice about its level of integration with Brussels. U.S. policymakers should make important long-term strategic decisions on Europe based on the likelihood of the EU Constitution being rejected in Britain and several other EU states.
  • The Anglo-U.S. Special Relationship. In his meeting with Prime Minister Blair, President Bush should emphasize that the U.S.-British alliance will remain pivotal to long-term U.S. strategic thinking. The UK is likely to remain America's paramount ally in the 21st Century, and it is in America's national interest to help the UK maintain both its sovereignty in Europe and its flexibility to continue playing this critically important role.

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy, and John C. Hulsman, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in European Affairs, in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy of the Shelby and Kathryn Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow

John Hulsman

Former Senior Research Fellow