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Shifting Alliances: The State of U.S.-European Relations

April 29, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Now, for more on the state of U.S.-European relations, we turn to Charles Kupchan, the director of Europe studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a professor of international relations at Georgetown University. He was director for European Affairs on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

Robin Niblett is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He’s written widely on transatlantic relations.

Justin Vaisse is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the U.S. and France. He’s a former instructor at the Institut D’Etudes Politique de Paris. And Thomas Donnelly is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. During the 1990s, he was a member of the Republican staff on the House Armed Services Committee.

Charles Kupchan, we just heard Secretary Powell say this isn’t personal, this is business. So analyze for us what the state is right now of relations between the United States and so many European nations.

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think we’re in a very fluid period where both United States and various European countries are tying to take stock, figure out how much damage has been done, figure out where the Atlantic alliance can be repaired. And I think it’s particularly fluid in Europe because the French, the Germans, the Belgians and others are saying we probably can’t go back. We he done damage to the alliance here that may mean America’s days as Europe’s protector are coming to an end. We need to take steps to do more for our own defense.

That leaves what is called the donut alliance, the smaller countries in the rim land of Europe to make some critical choices. Will they continue to back the U.S. to ensure that the U.S. stays put? Will they be fearful that the U.S. is ending its days as Europe’s guarantor and then throw their lot behind the Franco-German coalition? It’s too soon to tell but my own opinion is that we are entering a brave new world here that the Atlantic alliance as we’ve known it is coming to an end and that there will be bumpy days ahead across the Atlantic.

GWEN IFILL: Tom Donnelly, brave new world?

THOMAS DONNELLY: Very much so but not something that we should fear particularly. Another thing we learned from the experience of the last couple months is that when it comes to actual deployable military power, the European great powers aren’t so great. The ability, the difference between the British forces to cooperate with our forces and to deploy and sustain themselves and what the rest of our former or our current NATO partners can do, the German army in particular, which used to be the rock of NATO is really quite substantial. If we have to get new partners and new places who can do new things, that’s okay. That doesn’t mean that NATO is dead. It’s just different. That’s all.

GWEN IFILL: Justin Vaisse, does France remain one of those new partners or one of the old partners or a partner at all?

JUSTIN VAISSE: I think it pretty much remains so. I’m a bit struck by Secretary Powell’s statement because when you study on the ground, and I’ve done that in recent weeks, when you study on the ground all the issues that are important for France and for the U.S. and for the Atlantic alliance in general, be it Afghanistan, the Balkans, but also the important fight against terrorism, the cooperation between France and the U.S. remains very strong. And people on the ground are cooperating on a day-to-day basis, exchanging information, tracking al-Qaida network, et cetera. So I see that some would like to see it spill over from one issue which was Iraq to others but on the ground for the moment it has still not been a sort of bad spillover.

GWEN IFILL: But when you hear Colin Powell, Secretary Powell, say as he did today talk about consequences, specifically in reference to France, do you fear or worry or are you in any way concerned that there’s going to be a fundamental change in the relationship?

JUSTIN VAISSE: Not, not really first because as I said the two nations need each other. France needs the U.S. – U.S. cooperation, et cetera, but the U.S. also needs French cooperation especially for the fight against terrorism and other issues. That’s one thing. Then, on the second thing there was a meeting of the principals at the White House last week. What came out of it was that they wanted to impose sanctions or retributions and personally I really don’t care much about that. Except I don’t think it’s a very good way to start again a relationship on a pragmatic basis.

And the problem is that they didn’t find many ways to punish France because we are so intertwined and our interests are so close that this could easily backfire against the U.S. And not even talking about the example and I think the bad example that it’s setting for other countries– I think of Turkey, North Korea — South Korea or I don’t know, Mexico– when they see that if ever they oppose in one way or the other the U.S., it would be like the Warsaw Pact that they will be punished. I don’t think it sets a very good example and a very positive one. I’m not sure they would go very far.

GWEN IFILL: Robin Niblett, what is your sense of the state of relations right now?

ROBIN NIBLETT: You’ve got to notice that the UK is part of the donut that Charlie was talking about before. And therefore, the ability for Europe right now to be able to set up an alternative defense poll without the UK firmly integrated, which is the main purveyor of military forces, is going to be extremely difficult. So I don’t hold out huge hope that the mini-summit is the beginning of some new, brave new world certainly in terms of U.S. and European defense capability. It’s really an effort for them to move the bull gently forward another step.

The important thing to notice, I think, is that it’s very difficult to build European integration in defense matters around the Franco-German cooperation. Franco-German cooperation has been the engine of internal European integration but to use that same engine for external integration would be very difficult indeed. And the UK has to play a key role in that.

GWEN IFILL: So does that mean that NATO remains, no matter what happens, a vital part of this?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think NATO remains a vital part at least in name, but if you open the door and say what’s going on inside, I’m not sure that it will remain the centerpiece of American security policy or European security policy.

I’m somewhat less optimistic than Justin in the sense that I think what we’ve seen is a break with the… between the U.S. and Europe on first-order principles, questions of war and peace. Should we attack Iraq? We parted company. And now I think what you’re seeing is France, Germany and Russia begin to say, are we going to follow through the next step? Are we ready to really contemplate life after Pax Americana? I’m not sure they want to answer that question yet, Germany in particular.

GWEN IFILL: What do you mean by a next step. What might that be?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: To really say we are going to have to have our own independent military. We’re going to have a command structure outside of NATO. We will take decisions without consulting Washington first. For Germany, that is historically revolutionary. They have been under the American security umbrella for forty/fifty years now. They are now debating this. Some of the Germans didn’t want this mini-summit to take place because they want the ill will to disappear. But one of the things that’s quite remarkable now across the political spectrum in Germany, Schroeder’s stance of let’s stand up to America, let’s take matters into our own hand is very powerful. It’s uniting Germany politically. That I think speaks volumes because it has a very clear anti-American tone to it.

GWEN IFILL: Tom Donnelly, is there any room for NATO if this anti-American tone were to take hold?

THOMAS DONNELLY: I think if NATO didn’t exist we’d have to invent something like it. There’s not just the NATO go to war alliance. There’s also the institutional training and equipping alliance. And the cooperation that we achieved with the British and others, in fact, during the Iraq War was a product not simply of bilateral military cooperation but of years and years of training and common practices within NATO and again whether Germany is going to sort of head in a different direction or come back into NATO, as we used to know it, is a separate issue as whether some sort of NATO which includes new partners who are brought up to NATO standards and are really more useful in the kinds of military operations that we’ve seen for a decade is a quite different question.

GWEN IFILL: Is NATO an expanded NATO or a NATO as it is currently configured as important as it once was?

JUSTIN VAISSE: Probably not, especially when it was this bulwark against the USSR; however, I’m not that pessimistic. For example, NATO has agreed to take over in Afghanistan the peacekeeping duties, and I think that’s a very significant step forward. And there are talks now about Iraq, the possibility of involving NATO in peacekeeping in Iraq. So as for the U.S. to share the cost of it, but also the dangers and we have seen just today that there were of course dangers in trying to restore order and stability in Iraq. So I wouldn’t go too far. I think that… and I pretty much agree with you that any way for building a real European defense capacity, the U.K. is absolutely key to that. And nothing could be done without it.

The real military power now in Europe are basically the UK and France, and Germany to a much lesser extent. So all the progress that has been made in European defense has been through the Franco-British axis rather than an axis with Paris and Berlin, so this is really key to the future. I’m not so sure that it will endanger NATO in the long term.

GWEN IFILL: Robin Niblett, Justin Vaisse makes the point that in fact that there are so many other things which the alliance, whatever it’s called NATO or otherwise, has to cooperate on, that this split cannot remain, cannot sustain itself. What do you think of that?

ROBIN NIBLETT: It becomes a question of terminology. I would agree that ultimately the threat around which any alliance, an integrated alliance which is what was remarkable about NATO is it was an integrated alliance with an integrated military command.

GWEN IFILL: You’re speaking about NATO in the past tense.

ROBIN NIBLETT: That NATO I would argue I don’t think will exist in five to ten years time in the sense of it being organized, a group of countries organized around the same mission. What you’re ending up with I think are allies who are sharing a common infrastructure, an infrastructure of command, an infrastructure of training, a decision-making forum within which the United States, one of the few fora that it has, where it can really discuss security issues directly with Europe, an important tool in order to be able to confront all sorts of challenges around the world. That’s the main thing from the U.S. point of view.

The threats are not in Europe anymore. They’re in all corners of the world. And I think NATO has taken some remarkable steps already. We mentioned already in Afghanistan, may be going to Iraq. It’s enlarged. It’s undertaken a lot. The problem is Iraq has accelerated the pace. And it’s finding it very hard to keep up.

GWEN IFILL: If the challenges are in other parts of the world, does that mean what we will see in the future instead of conventional international alliances like NATO or the United Nations, we’ll see more of this ad hoc whoever is willing to sign on for the deal, like the willing coalition that Secretary Powell referenced? Are we going to see more of that?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think that’s probably the picture that we’ll see recurring. One of the things that the United States is now contemplating is reducing its troop presence in Germany, getting rid of the heavy armored divisions, favoring small deployments perhaps in Bulgaria or Romania, Poland. They would be basically leapfrogging over to the Middle East.

And one of the questions here is… that we have to grapple with is, is Europe going to participate in that? Are we going to have a partnership where we share the burdens? The problem is Europe for now doesn’t that capability. In some ways Europe is stuck in a no man’s land. It is too strong to remain under America’s thumb. That’s why many Europeans are basically telling us to basically buzz off.

But they’re too weak to be a serious partner. And in my own view Europe has to get stronger, get more military, get more interest in projecting power before the relationship gets better because then Washington will take Europe seriously. Then you can have a partnership that’s based more on equality than on inferiority.

GWEN IFILL: Too strong to ignore, too weak to….

THOMAS DONNELLY: Too hot, too cold. Look, there is wisdom in what Charlie says but I’m more optimistic about the long term. Surely the British military participation in Iraq War was significant and substantial. They had a mission, and they were sort of left to themselves to do it. And that was great. We didn’t have to watch over them, make sure them didn’t get in trouble, et cetera.

And any additional capability to an overstressed American military force which, after all, has global responsibilities is value added. So the ability, especially of the Eastern Europe states who in many ways have jettisoned their Warsaw Pact military past will actually be quite militarily useful contribution to American operations both in the Middle East and elsewhere.

GWEN IFILL: We have very little bit of time left. Briefly, are you optimistic about the future of the Atlantic alliance first Justin Vaisse?

JUSTIN VAISSE: Yes and just to get back to your point on the coalition of the willing when you take one year ago there was this huge operation in Afghanistan and what you saw was actually a sort of coalition of the willing where European countries including France and Germany were taking part because they were sharing a common view of the problem and a common goal in the sense not only forces but also jet fighters, et cetera. And the public opinion was even in Germany was pretty much behind it. And so what I see here in Iraq is a major rift that has developed that is not bound to last for very long. So I would remain optimistic.

GWEN IFILL: Okay. We’re going to have to leave it there. Sorry. We’re all out of time. We’ll talk about it off camera. Thank you.