November 8, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Mending Fences

Irretrievable and irrevocably lost. A hopeless mess. A disaster. This is how some analysts describe the U.S.-European relationship over the last couple of years.

Starting with the U.S. decision to opt out of the Kyoto Treaty and the International Criminal Court, then culminating in the failure of France and Germany to support the war in Iraq, there's been no shortage of teeth-gnashing and name-calling on either side of "the pond."

There is no denying that the transatlantic relationship has had its share of bumps and bruises recently. But $2.5 trillion in trade every year (employing 12 million workers), and embassies still very much open in each other's capitals, the allies remain much closer than the Cassandras of Transatlantic Doom would have us think.

Some Americans will ask: Is this relationship even worth saving? Considering the problems the world faces and Europe's still-significant political, military and economic clout: Absolutely. And President Bush's re-election last week provides both sides a chance to make a (somewhat) fresh start.

In fact, even some of America's harshest European critics have tried to put a happy face on President Bush's victory - despite their less-than-well-concealed hopes for a change in political power here. (Of note: The Anglo-American alliance remains strong.)

But what can be done - by either side - to repair relations? Big opportunities abound.

Middle East peace: Europe values settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as much as America does. But Europeans feel that Washington, distracted by Iraq, has dropped the ball. (This will be a key issue during British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit this week.)

A reinvigorated U.S. effort to move Israel forward, while the Europeans use their influence with the Palestinians would advance the prospects of regional peace, and help bridge the Atlantic divide as well.

Nonproliferation: The next crisis looming on the international stage is Iran's nuclear program. (The International Atomic Energy Agency will meet Nov. 25 to discuss.) France, Germany and Britain are leading the effort to get Iran to pull back from the nuclear-weapons brink.

The United States has rightly supported the Europeans' initiative. If the troika's effort fails, as seems likely, they should return the courtesy with support (or at least genuine cooperation) for the U.S. position when the matter is turned over to the U.N. Security Council for possible punitive action.

Iraq: OK, so the French and Germans have said no ground troops, and won't likely budge. (Of course, half of the European Union governments have troops in Iraq.) But Berlin and Paris can significantly increase the number of military trainers they've sent to help get Iraqi security forces up to speed in advance of January's elections.

The Europeans could also replace American troops in the Balkans and expand their presence in Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force, freeing up American GIs for duty in Iraq. A stable and free Iraq is as much in Europe's interest as ours. Cooperation, especially on the Iraqi elections, is a natural if both sides can get over bruised egos.

China: The European Union wants to lift the 1989 Tiananmen Square arms embargo against China. This is a real problem - the United States has an obligation (under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act) to ensure that Taiwan's political future is decided in a peaceful and mutually agreeable manner, and not through the use of force.

Europe's move here is one of the most important factors in the future health of the alliance. A lifting of the arms embargo - despite continuing human rights abuses by China - would place the weapons of our NATO allies in the hands of those who might some day use them against Americans. Europe's decision to keep the embargo in place, on the other hand, would be seen as very positive in Washington . . . not to mention Asia.

So, yes, both sides have important opportunities to work together to heal oozing sores. There is (almost) always room for compromise, consultation and cooperation in international affairs.

Of course, the United States must do what's in its best interest, regardless of European (or other) critics, especially when it comes to national security. Make no mistake: Doing what's right is more important than doing what's popular.

But there's hope. Facing similar unpopularity in Europe after his first term, President Ronald Reagan was able to bridge the transatlantic gap in his second through skilled diplomacy and effective communication. Taking steps to reduce U.S.-European differences should rank high on President Bush's second-term foreign policy agenda as well.

It's going to take time, effort, a change in tone and some luck to mend the transatlantic rift, but it's possible - and worthwhile considering what's at stake in the international arena. And there's no better time than the present to get started.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. E-mail: peterbrookes@heritage.org

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post