February 17, 2005

February 17, 2005 | Commentary on

Improving U.S.-EU Relations

Next week, President Bush will cross the Atlantic in search of better relations with European nations. Improving trans-Atlantic atmospherics has become one of the priorities of his second term, and Mr. Bush's visit will be a sequel to the highly successful diplomatic trip concluded last week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Europeans, who have bitterly complained about neglect and hostility from the Bush administration, are at last having their egos fed. Mr. Bush even managed to thank the European Union for its support in Iraq in his Inaugural speech " surely the first such mention for the EU in American history. "Yes, we were quite taken by surprise," says a visiting Dutch official.

On its side, the Bush administration has taken several steps to address European concerns. We are engaging far more directly in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; U.S. foreign aid is seeing a significant increase in the 2006 budget; environmental concerns are back as a subject of discussion now that the Kyoto Protocol has taken effect; contractors from European countries that did not participate in the war were allowed as of last year to participate in the competitivebidding process.

Europeans, however, have so far grudgingly agreed to dispatch a small number of trainers to help with the Iraqi police under NATO auspices, though where they will be allowed to conduct their instruction is still uncertain. The French government persists in the absurd opinion that the place cannot be Iraq.

A far more meaningful gesture of good will would be for the EU to listen to American concerns over China's arms build-up, and to step back from a really bad decision. Since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, both the United States and the EU have had arms embargos in place against China (the American far more stringent than the European). It is the EU's plan to lift its embargo by June, according to EU Foreign Affairs High Commissioner Javier Solana.

One might well say that the EU is being positively unilateral on this issue. Europe and the United States are supposed to be military allies in NATO after all, are we not?

The list of reasons why Europe should listen is long: During the past decade, China has engaged in acts that clearly threaten American security and national interests in East Asia, bringing us to the brink of military confrontation in the Taiwan Strait during the Clinton administration. China, a major weapons proliferator, is known to have transferred advanced Western technology to countries like Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. And China is engaged in a furious arms build-up, to the tune of $17.8 billion since 1995, with no external enemies in sight.

The Chinese record on human rights has not improved. Today, the Chinese government still denies its citizens freedom of expression and religion, as well as the right to a fair and public trial. More than ever, the Chinese government tries to restrict access to the Internet and Western news sources.

And, yet, particularly the French and German governments " who are pushing to have the embargo lifted " argue that it is time to move on. Why? As a French foreign ministry spokesman was recently quoted as saying, "Of course we are in favor of lifting the embargo. It no longer corresponds to the reality of the Euro-Chinese strategic partnership." Some Europeans are hoping that this strategic partnership can serve as an international counterbalance to the United States.

European defense contractors, like the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., are eyeing billions of dollars worth of lucrative contracts, and Europeans are teaming up with China to work on everything from multipurpose helicopters to a global navigation satellite system. Europeans argue weakly that a new proposed "Code of Conduct" on arms sales will make European sales to China more transparent and easier to regulate. If that were the intention, a strengthening of the existing embargo would in fact be a far more logical step.

All of which may leave the Bush administration with some unpopular choices of its own. One step could be to revive Cocom (the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls) from the Soviet days, which might provide a forum for the exchange of information between Europeans and Americans as to who is selling what arms to China and when. Or the U.S. government might start to refuse export licenses to European allies on some of the most sensitive U.S. technologies and on the sales of "dual-use" technology to any European nation that sells arms to China. In that case, we would really see stormy weather over the Atlantic.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies of the Heritage Foundation. 

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times