February 8, 2005 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Europe's Gripes

Easy, it won't be. This Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice breezes into Brussels, advancing President Bush's upcoming trip to the European Union.

Sure, her European hosts will schmooze her with Old World continental charm. But she's also going to get an earful on those wicked, wicked "unilateralist" American ways when she visits the very heart of European chauvinism.

The Europeans desperately want Rice to listen to their protestations, fully expecting any counsel they give her to go directly to Bush's ears.

(Bear in mind that "listening" is often diplospeak for submission to another's ideas.)

Of course, being a good listener is always a good idea. But our European friends must also understand that dialogue - not monologue - is the best way to ease the transatlantic rift and advance our common interests.

So, what sort of grief is Rice likely to get, and how should she respond?

Middle East: Europeans see promise in the Palestinian elections and upcoming Israeli-Palestinian leadership talks in Egypt. But they still want Washington to come down hard on Israel to ease up on the Palestinians and move affirmatively toward a two-state solution.

Rice should point out that this issue could be a real transatlantic unifier. But Europe has responsibilities on this front, too. It must use its credibility and influence as well, getting Palestinian authorities to crack down on militant/terrorist violence, end corruption and advance democratic institutions.

Iran: The Iranian nuclear (weapons) program is the newest flashpoint in the transatlantic relationship. The Europeans have no stomach for a military confrontation with Tehran.

At heart, they fear that any showdown with Iran will lead to a rise of Islamic radicalism, including terrorism, in Europe. This is why they balk at any plan for dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue beyond their current diplomatic "happy talk."

At this point, the United States might as well let the European Union run its diplomatic course with Iran. But Rice should keep reminding our allies of the festering troubles of North Korea's nuclear program.

She should also make it clear that, in supporting Europe's approach now, we expect Europe to support punitive economic sanctions - at a minimum - should diplomacy fail to eliminate Iran's nuclear program.

Afghanistan: The Europeans wholeheartedly applaud the Taliban's and al Qaeda's vanquishing, but they're concerned we've replaced one problem with another. They see Afghanistan as just one big poppy field run by warlords, hawking their deadly wares on European streets.

Rice should suggest that we redouble our collective efforts against the opium trade (which funds terror, too.) Adding that Europe can do its share by providing more troops to advance security beyond Kabul and the north into the south and east.

Iraq: It's still a four-letter word in most of Europe. But the success of the Jan. 30 elections certainly took the edge off the issue.

Regardless, most Europeans are still unwilling to dive into the Iraqi fray. Troops remain out of the question, and some assistance at the margins, such as security training, is their current intention.

Rice should remind the Europeans that the U.S. (and the Coalition) did the heavy lifting in Iraq, deposing Saddam Hussein and setting the country on the course to democracy.

She should also suggest that it's time for Europe to get onboard, helping the new Iraqi government consolidate democracy, reconstruct and establish security. It's in all our interests to do so.

Arms Embargo: The E.U. will lift the 1989 Tiananmen Square arms embargo against China later this year to gain greater commercial access to bustling Chinese markets.

The Europeans argue that the embargo is outdated, despite China's dismal human rights record and prodigious military buildup. Rice should push back hard on this issue.

The E.U.'s unilateral (yes, unilateral) lifting of the arms embargo means that European arms will enhance China's military might, posing a greater threat to peace and stability in the Pacific, especially across the Taiwan Strait.

Other important issues include explaining President Bush's vision of democracy/freedom, fighting terrorism, democracy in Russia and NATO's questionable future.

Secretary Rice's first trip abroad is rife with diplomatic symbolism, providing an opportunity to begin salvaging a valuable transatlantic relationship. But the Europeans must understand that listening is a two-way proposition, and if they want to have a central role on the world stage, they must do their fair share as well.

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