The Future of Transatlantic Relations

Report Europe

The Future of Transatlantic Relations

August 6, 2002 15 min read
Honorable Kyl

The transatlantic partnership is under serious strain with the United States and our European friends having more and more disagreements.

Our differences run the gamut from economic disputes on steel and farm subsidies to limits on legal cooperation because of the death penalty here in the U.S. There are charges of U.S. "unilateralism" over our actions in Afghanistan and our decisions on the ABM Treaty, Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, the Biological Weapons Protocol, and so on. There is no agreement over what to do about Iraq or other state sponsors of terror or the crisis in the Middle East. After September 11, European critics have switched from complaining of U.S. "isolationism," to worries about "preemption." Add to this the decade-old doubts about the utility of NATO in the post-Cold War world, and one could conclude that there is today a real question as to whether Europe and the United States are parting ways.

Indeed, there are some serious people making serious charges about this state of affairs. Charles Krauthammer says NATO is dead as a military alliance due to the huge disparity in power between the U.S. and Europe. Jeffrey Gedmin, known as a committed Atlanticist, recently penned an op-ed entitled, "The Alliance is Doomed"--doomed mainly because of what he calls the European "obsession" with chaining down the Americans.

Former Secretary of Defense and long-time NATO stalwart James Schlesinger complained vociferously about European attitudes in a recent Financial Times piece, questioning whether we have a common agenda anymore. And, in a very thought-provoking article called "Power and Weakness" in the journal Policy Review, Robert Kagan concluded that, because of our different military capabilities and philosophies toward power, the United States and Europe no longer share a common view of the world; and that this is not a temporary phenomenon.

These are serious people making serious charges. They reflect some deep divisions in European and American perspectives--divisions that I believe must be addressed in a forthright manner.


On a recent trip to Germany, it was clear that Europeans have noticed that some things about U.S. foreign policy have changed. I told them that this was primarily due to the election of George W. Bush and the seminal events of September 11. But I still do not think our European friends fully appreciate the extent to which September 11 changed everything for Americans.

September 11 awakened us to a threat we had not taken very seriously. But we now understand the threat and we are totally committed to confronting it. We believe it is very, very serious and it is not transitory. Nor is the threat only against Americans. As Prime Minister Tony Blair has said, this is now a "war for civilization against the forces of violence, barbarism and chaos." And the transatlantic alliance is, if nothing else, a group of nations with a shared understanding of civilization.

Yet many in Europe seem to believe that perhaps America is making too much of this threat, or at least that it is not much of a threat to Europeans, or, that even if it is, we have to be very careful about terrorists or their state sponsors who either have significant military capabilities or who represent economic opportunities. Obviously, no national leader could possibly ignore the seriousness of this threat.

Even now there is a comprehensive effort in the Congress to try to determine whether we could have prevented 3,000 deaths last September. A preventable future catastrophe will not be tolerated by the American people, and, I submit, would not be tolerated by Europeans now that we all have been warned.

To put it another way, we Americans do not want to spend the rest of our history like Israelis in Jerusalem, wondering when and where the next attack will occur. I don't think the people of Europe do, either.

The al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked America were part of a very large cell operating in Hamburg. In fact, because of the relative ease of travel, lack of surveillance, and ability to live easily in Europe, there are large numbers of terrorists in Europe, as in the U.S. We must continue to work with European law enforcement to find them and bring them to justice. Among other things, that means finding ways of resolving our differences on the death penalty. But I say to Europeans, that as strongly as they may feel about capital punishment, it would be unforgivable if our disagreement on that issue prevented us from properly dealing with international terrorists. It simply can't be that it's safer to be a terrorist in Europe than in Afghanistan.

With regard to Afghanistan, at least 13 NATO countries have contributed forces to the campaign. That the U.S. had to move quickly in the initial military campaign--without full NATO participation--is not, therefore, an example of unilateralism. And NATO allies are all acutely aware of the growing capabilities gap within the alliance, so no one can be surprised that U.S. actions will, of necessity, reflect that unfortunate reality. The United States would welcome a change in those circumstances, and the remedy is obvious.


President Bush recently made a commonsense observation which, nevertheless, has stirred another controversy. Terrorism against open societies like those we have in the U.S. and Europe is almost impossible to prevent all of the time, so offensive action against the terrorists is critical to stopping them. Therefore, the President announced that, when possible, it would be our policy to hit them before they can hit us. Preemption.

Indeed, we have been taking the war to the enemy, disrupting their cells and plans quite successfully since September 11; no one seems much bothered by the notion that we shouldn't wait to be hit by another terrorist attack before going after the terrorists. Applied to a tyrant like Saddam Hussein, however, preemption is seen by many in Europe as dangerous and contrary to accepted principles of behavior among civilized states.

Yet, it is clear at this point that the multilateral, U.N.-mandated approach to dealing with Saddam has failed. The U.N. cease-fire agreement at the end of the Gulf War required him to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction. But, of course, after stringing out the inspection process for seven years--thwarting and evading disarmament at every step along the way--Saddam Hussein finally kicked out the inspectors altogether. For the past four years, he has been free to pursue his development of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons without fear of interference from the U.N. Security Council, which has continued to rely on a failed sanctions regime to change his behavior.

And this, as an insightful piece in the June 29 issue of the Economist concluded, illustrates clearly the limits of a purely multilateral approach. The article states, and I agree: "Beyond economic sanctions, which have already failed or been scuppered by U.N. members, there is no enforcement mechanism except for American leadership."

Saddam Hussein's failure to abide by the U.N. cease-fire resolution, as well as the U.N. resolution requiring him to end the repression of his people, is not surprising coming from a man who once said, "Don't tell me about the law. The law is anything I write on a scrap of paper." It is an utter waste of time, and dangerous at that, for us to negotiate with Saddam Hussein over renewed inspections for weapons of mass destruction. I am not surprised in the least at the recent headlines that the U.N. has been unable to reach any sort of deal on the return of the inspectors. And, even if the U.N. were to acquiesce to Saddam's demands that the sanctions be lifted before their return (which it will not), it is naive in the extreme to think he would ever comply.

Saddam is in a race to acquire a nuclear weapon--not to mention to build up chemical and biological weapons--and that is why it will likely be necessary to enforce the U.N. resolution that Saddam once agreed to--before he limits our options by completing his work on a nuclear weapon. Again, to quote the Economist, "Without an enforcement mechanism as a last resort, treaties and conventions designed to control the spread of the ghastliest weapons will ultimately collapse. There has to be a military sanction . . . that sanction cannot wait until a nuclear or biological attack has taken place. It has to be applied preemptively."

Moreover, an argument can be made that acting forcefully against Saddam will have a salutary effect on the other Arab states that have not yet totally committed to be with the United States in the war on terrorism. Success begets success in this conflict and in the Arab world, where respect is more important than love.

Nor should we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the argument that preemptive moves by democracies will encourage similar moves by the likes of China against, say, Taiwan. In addition to the fact that Taiwan poses no threat to anyone, we know that tyrants in the world are not guided by the examples that democracies set; rather, they calculate whether the democracies will let them get away with aggression. Strong Western action influences these calculations.

In fact, it turns out that circumstances, not some grand principle, have influenced preventive use of power. Didn't Europe, with American support, act preemptively to prevent further genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo? In fact, weren't there complaints that our action should have been taken sooner?

At the end of the day, the sheer scale of the threat that Saddam Hussein will acquire a nuclear weapon should move us to action--the Europeans need to understand this.


But if there are still reasons for doubts about how to handle Saddam, there can be none about another issue: termination of the ABM treaty. Here we need not speculate--the verdict is in. Critics of President Bush's announced intent to withdraw from the treaty last December were full of dire predictions of a rift with Russia and a new arms race. It didn't happen. Eleven months of careful consultations with the Russians and our transatlantic partners resulted in a new approach to strategic security. This cooperation produced not a new arms race, but a new nuclear reduction treaty, as well as the creation of the NATO-Russia Council. So, on this matter it is possible to judge who was correct in the debate--and it was not the naysayers.

This is important to keep in mind when U.S. missile defense plans are criticized. Since the only effect of U.S. missile defense on Europeans is additional security for those states who choose to join, Americans have a right to be bewildered by European opposition to missile defense. This is especially so since some of the criticism assumes that such a defense is "isolationist" when, in point of fact, the ability to defend America enhances our ability to act on the world stage.

The International Criminal Court is another bone of contention. On this issue, as others, the Bush Administration does not desire to be different--it merely desires to be right about what's best for the security of Americans, even if it means suffering the opprobrium of those who disagree. President Bush subscribes to the straightforward view that American security is for Americans to decide. That is not unilateralism--it is a legitimate exercise of our sovereignty, harmful to no one but potential aggressors.

To explain the American view with regard to the International Criminal Court, one need look no further than the recent trumped-up hysteria over prisoners at Guantanamo Bay or the charges by Amnesty International of U.S. "human rights abuses" in Afghanistan. This mentality is what makes us wary of the ICC and is why our representatives to the U.N. are searching for ways to ensure adequate protection for U.S. peacekeepers. Europe must not misunderstand our position. The United States has always supported the rule of law, and, of course, wants to see the worst human rights abusers brought to justice; but the thought of a court in Europe seeking to nab Henry Kissinger for policies he crafted toward Chile thirty years ago ought to at least raise a doubt in reasonable minds about the specific operations of constructs like the ICC.

As to Kyoto, we are far more skeptical than the Europeans that the science behind global warming justifies precipitous action. Moreover, there is near consensus in the Congress and the Administration that, in any event, the problem does not justify the enormous economic costs for developed countries of mandated controls on emissions called for by the treaty. As the Economist described on June 29, the inadequacy of the Protocol is illustrated, in large part, by its failure to include developing countries--which are likely to contribute significantly to future emissions--even as part of a future program of emissions reduction. Many, including myself, believe that wealth creation will, in the end, provide a much more cost-effective solution to pollution problems, and that a dollar spent on emissions reduction in places like India and China will produce much more environmental benefit than another dollar spent in the U.S. and Europe.

At this point, allow me to step back from specific areas of disagreement with the Europeans to a more general one--the utility of power vs. diplomacy. We all agree that both have their place; but it is probably true that the U.S. will resort to power more often than continental Europeans are disposed to do. A corollary is that Americans probably have less confidence in treaties than do Europeans.

On the specific matter of arms control, I agree with Margaret Thatcher, who in 1982 declared before the United Nations that, "Wars are caused not by armaments but by the ambitions of aggressors." Contrary to conventional wisdom, treaties to limit arms don't have a very good track record at preserving peace or, for that matter, even controlling arms. From the Catholic Church's attempt to ban the crossbow in the 12th century to the SALT treaties in the 1970s, the traditional concept of arms control has, with few exceptions, consistently failed to produce meaningful results.

Likewise, "peace processes" with untrustworthy partners have similarly failed, often in spectacular fashion. The Oslo Accord between Israel and the PLO is the best, if unfortunate, recent example. In addition, consider recent events in Colombia, where the Marxist FARC guerrillas repaid President Pastrana's generous grant of a Switzerland-sized safe haven by importing weapons, hosting European terrorists, and staging increasingly violent attacks against Colombian society.

President Bush's strategy for dealing with security issues is based on his firm conviction that today's security environment is drastically different from that which existed during the Cold War. Today, our enemies are terrorists and rogue regimes--often working together. Dealing with them requires democracies to employ strategies entirely different from nuclear deterrence and arms-control diplomacy. To depend solely on nuclear deterrence against, for example, a dictator like Saddam Hussein--a man who has used chemical weapons against his own people--would be to place our lives in the hands of a madman. And, as to terrorists, I agree with President Bush that, "Deterrence...means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend."

Moreover, arms-control diplomacy presupposes that the same objectives govern all sides of a negotiation. To borrow a phrase from my good friend, Richard Perle, traditional arms control often equates guns in the hands of cops with guns in the hands of robbers. As history has proven time and time again, arms control works best when it's needed least. The converse is also true, and is applicable today: Arms control works worst where it is needed most--against rogue regimes.

In order to deal with today's threats, the Bush strategy emphasizes three things: moral clarity, strategic clarity, and capability.

Moral Clarity means basing our actions on the fundamental understanding that terrorism is never justified, and that nations cannot be neutral in this fight.

Strategic Clarity means making an unambiguous commitment to destroy terrorism by attacking it at its core. As former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said, "You have to go to the regime, the state, that supports terrorism and makes terrorism possible. You don't go out looking for the needle, you go and remove the haystack."

Capability means transforming our military from one designed to fight tank battles on the plains of Europe to one that is smaller, lighter, more agile and on the cutting edge of technology, so as to be able to take the fight to the enemy--relentlessly, forcefully, successfully.

I have not forgotten the recent cross-Atlantic sparring over economic matters. Let me say I find Europe's history of steel and farm subsidies appalling--almost as bad as our own! Easy for me to say since I voted against both. But, we should be able to agree with the Europeans that it's getting out of hand on both sides and has to stop. This means political leadership willing to take risks.

I have chosen to emphasize our disagreements with Europe today because there are not enough opportunities to discuss these matters candidly, and because Americans do have to do a better job of consulting and explaining our positions.


But I hesitate to conclude without mentioning some of the many matters upon which we are in agreement with our European partners. We can be optimistic about the future of the transatlantic alliance, noting many successes, commonalities, and mutual contributions. I've already mentioned the great degree of cooperation on Operation Enduring Freedom, which, by any measure, must rate as a huge success.

We've worked together in the Balkans to save innocent people from butchery.

American and German law enforcement, especially the authorities in Hamburg, have done exemplary work together trying to crack the terrorist cells in Europe.

And this November, we will significantly expand the Alliance in Prague. This is something on which, I believe, there is an emerging consensus. So, despite some differences, there is much agreement and plenty of cooperation which we should acknowledge and continue.

Regarding NATO's future, I believe the Alliance should develop new approaches. One of these, I believe, should be cooperation on missile defense. I am glad that, last July, NATO funded two feasibility studies for this vital need. But those studies need to be followed up with concrete actions by Europe if it wishes to benefit from U.S. technology.

Proliferation is another area on which NATO should work harder. With Iran developing the Shahab-4, which will be able to reach the heart of Europe, NATO clearly has a vested interest in stopping proliferation to that country. I'd like to see the NATO-Russia Council develop a common export-control regime--one with teeth, like the former COCOM. Under no circumstances should we gloss over Russian support for Iran's missile and nuclear program.

I also favor the proposal put forth by the U.S., Britain, and Spain for NATO rapid reaction units geared for what used to be called out-of-area operations. Of course, with global terrorism the main threat today, there is no such thing as "out of area," so rapid reaction units will have to be prepared to go anywhere. This is clearly an endeavor that will require European nations to address the capabilities gap in some way. It probably does us no good to lecture Europeans about their defense spending levels anymore. It would be most welcome if everyone in the alliance went up to 3 percent of GNP, but perhaps it's more useful if we encourage European nations to take a hard look at filling gaps in the current alliance posture through specialization.

As to reaching consensus on terrorism and especially the issue of preemption, President Bush should, and I believe will, consult with countries in Europe and elsewhere before acting. It is clear, however, that combating terrorism will remain at the center of U.S. foreign policy for the foreseeable future and that preemptive action will have to be one aspect of that struggle. Obviously, the U.S. would always prefer to be part of a consensus; but we must not allow the survival of Americans to be determined by a show of hands by other countries.

Whether or not we reach consensus with Europe on these matters, and regardless of its current deficiencies, NATO still must retain its core mission of collective defense. NATO's infrastructure cannot be duplicated or resurrected overnight. We must keep it intact should a new threat develop that requires a ramp up in our force posture. History shows that unexpected threats can develop rapidly--we dare not be caught unprepared.

Lastly, NATO plays a growing and indispensable political role. The transatlantic link is the primary repository of Western civilization--a civilization based upon decent and profound ideals. As Czech President Vaclav Havel remarked last year: " . . . the Alliance is becoming not only an important pillar of international security, but also a solid, understandable and trustworthy component of the architecture of a future world order; and, a model of solidarity in the defense of human liberties."

The democratic purpose is more compelling, not less, after a century in which the countries of Europe survived the onslaught of fascism and communism. NATO embodies this purpose, and that is why 10 nations are lined up at the door to get in. The Slovak Republic's ambassador to the U.S., Martin Butora, recently commented on his country's desire to join the Alliance, stating: "Slovakia wants to join NATO because of her past, and perhaps even more, because of her future."

We can take great pride in that expression of confidence in our alliance, even as it challenges us to continue to improve.

-- The Honorable Jon Kyl, a Republican, represents Arizona in the U.S. Senate.


Honorable Kyl

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