In the first session of Carnegie Europe’s New Vision Conference: Post-Bush America and the World, Robert Cooper, Director General for External and Politico-Military Affairs, Council of the European Union, Emma Bonino, Vice President of the Italian Senate, Elmar Brok, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, and Pawel Zalewski, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Polish Sjem discussed what Europeans expect from the next U.S. president and what Europe can offer in return.
U.S. – EU Relations
Emma Bonino began by emphasizing that the next U.S. President needs to recover American credibility and increase its responsibility as a political, cultural, and economic superpower rather than as a purely military one. At the same time, European expectations for change are unrealistic. It may make a difference who wins between Senators McCain and Obama, but not as much as we like to think. No matter who is elected, he will be bound by American priorities of national interest, unilateralism, and national security.
Looking at how Europe can partner with the U.S. administration, Bonino explained that Europe is far from getting its act together as a ‘united Europe.’ The EU will not make much headway in terms of security or foreign policy because its centers of power are spread across strong national capitals like London, Berlin, Paris, and Rome. A presidency that rotates between EU member states only further weakens the institution. Presidents get their power from their own capitals, not from Brussels.
Bonino quoted Phillip Stephens on the attitude of Europeans: "when things go wrong… blame Bush unilaterally for everything." Bonino agreed with the sentiment and warned that a new U.S. president will rob Europe of its excuses. After the election, Europe will find itself in a world that has completely changed, one where Europe, and, more specifically, the EU, has not developed the tools to be a global actor in the world.
Bonino concluded that the EU and the U.S. could align their interests, provided that they recognize that those interests sometimes diverge, which requires compromise. It is crucial for the EU to maintain a united front for these kinds of negotiations with the U.S., but some states insist on aligning themselves in all cases with the U.S. as a part of what they call their ‘national interest’. This is one of the EU’s biggest weaknesses.
It is up to Europeans to recognize that it is a common and global actor on a par with Russia or China, and to act as such.
The EU, Eastern Europe, and Russia
Pawel Zalewski began by stating that despite all the differences between the U.S. and the EU, they still share the same strategic interests. During the last few years, the geopolitical situation has changed. The political and economic equilibrium is moving to the East, posing important challenges to the West.
Russian aggression against Georgia has demonstrated that the U.S. can no longer act as a unipolar power. There are important political challenges that can only be solved by the U.S. and EU working in a joint partnership. In particular, the U.S. needs to better coordinate with Eastern European countries in order to address the challenge of Russia.
Zalewski went on to explain his relatively pessimistic impression of the situation in Russia. Russia is different than it was in 1999. It no longer wants to be part of international institutions like NATO, and it no longer has much incentive to acquiesce to Western demands. It has decided to use all the instruments at its disposal, including the military, to strengthen domination over former Soviet territory and its external influence over the actions of NATO and the UN.
Zalewski then stated that one of the few viable solutions was to consolidate alliances between Eastern and Western European countries, especially through NATO. Europe should create a situation whereby NATO has security obligations to Eastern European countries like Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. A revision of the NATO policy would be perceived not as an offensive action but as a defensive one that will give the U.S. and Europe time to determine how to bolster the transatlantic alliance.
Reforming the EU and NATO
Elmar Brok responded by saying that the West is weaker than it was previously. It is overstretched by the War on Terror, and despite all the efforts in the Middle East, it is not winning.
India and China’s economic power is growing incredibly fast and imperial Russia is gaining ground. The present economic crisis combined with dwindling and insecure energy supplies make it fairly safe to say that the strength of the West is at a low point. In order to tackle these problems, the U.S. needs to recognize that the world is not unipolar.
The EU, on the other hand, has had a very successful few years. The enlargement process has created more possibilities for stability on the continent. What Europe needs now are the instruments to make the EU work as a forum and as a government. It is this lack of tools that made it impossible for the EU to stop the Russia-Georgia crisis. Had it not been for the French EU presidency, a circumstance of luck, the EU would have had very little diplomatic clout.
Brok observed that there is little internal debate within the EU focused on overcoming the split between old and new Europe, which has led to a lack of trust within the EU. Although there is a policy of solidarity, that policy cannot be fully realized unless Europe is capable of making unilateral decisions. In particular, European cohesion is weakened when one member state has a special security guarantee with the U.S. and not the others. This creates a problem of credibility.
Europe and the U.S. lack a common vision for the future of NATO despite the fact that they need to address the same challenges. However, there is no forum for debate in which to do so. Although NATO provides the right kind of forum for debate about security, new tools are needed to talk about common transatlantic policy in other areas.
Opportunities for Cooperation
Robert Cooper stated that Europe has always been divided, but that it has also increasingly become able to recognize that there is a growing need for cooperation. With regards to the EU and the U.S., there are common threats but very little strategic incentive to act together to tackle them.
Europe is in a better state than it was eight or ten years ago; it has enlarged, functions better, and enjoys greater freedom. Cooper viewed the Balkans as a NATO success (evidenced by the fact that no one is talking about the issue anymore) made possible by EU-U.S. cooperation.
In a similarly positive strain, he added that the rise of China is generally positive in light of the fact that it could have developed in a less attractive way. The Middle East, on the other hand, is looking worse. The situation in Afghanistan has also deteriorated over the last three to four years. Terrorism is a subject that is becoming increasingly important. The evidence on climate change has become absolutely irrefutable. Cooper stressed that these are all common problems and that there must be opportunities to find common solutions and to develop something like a strategic consensus both within Europe and across the Atlantic. European division and the transatlantic divide are based around the same underlying problems.
Is the US a Partner or a Leader?
Peter David, from The Economist, asked whether Europe could regard the U.S. as a partner or a leader, and specifically what the liklihood is that the EU will respond positively to Obama’s request to contribute more troops to Afghanistan.
Zalewski explained that the U.S. should be both a partner and a leader. It would be impossible to imagine security or energy policy without U.S. leadership. On climate change, however, the U.S. needs to be a partner.
Brok summed up his response with the phrase ‘partnership in leadership.’ He went further to say that the less able the EU is to define a European policy, the more able the U.S. is to take leadership. He emphasized that Europe is not a vassal state and it does not just want to follow the U.S.
Bonino argued that the time when the U.S. would decide and Europe would follow is over, particularly in Afghanistan where U.S. policy is ill-conceived. As for the commitment of more troops, Bonino stated that the U.S. and the EU need a common strategy and some sort of decision making process to tackle the issues surrounding poppy production and economic development. An increase of military troops ‘won’t make one iota of difference.’
Bonino stressed that Europe has very little to offer as a single body. Although it is very strong on domestic policy, it has not moved fast in the last ten years on security and foreign policy and thus cannot enter into a partnership with the U.S. as a single institution.
Cooper remarked that this is possibly the last moment for U.S. leadership as it is traditionally understood. In a world where there are more global players, a different style of leadership will be needed. Listening will be more important.
Brok added that both the U.S. and the EU must recognize that the EU must determine how to strengthen itself on its own; the U.S. cannot have any pretensions in that process. It must be clear to both Europeans and Americans that the U.S. has absolutely no veto when it comes to EU structures and further EU enlargement. Similarly, energy security for the EU is not a U.S. responsibility.
Zalewski added that energy policy and foreign policy is not just a discussion about the security of consumers but also about the future unity of Europe.
Lessons from President Sarkozy's Meeting with Russia
Mark Chaplain, from The Wall Street Journal, asked the panel what could be learned from President Sarkozy's meeting with Russia.
Brok stated that although Sarkozy was certainly in Russia on behalf of the EU, it was a lucky coincidence that the EU Presidency rested with the president of a big European country like France. Since these circumstances will not always be present, European governance needs to be strengthened. The EU needs unity between the member states and cohesive principles on security. Every detail of foreign policy, from Africa to terrorism, can be solved through better partnership – both in terms of a stronger EU and in terms of a stronger transatlantic partnership.
Zalewski quickly responded by saying that, firstly, what the EU is lacking is not a political framework but the political will. Secondly, Europe is divided on many issues and so it is difficult to create a common strategic agenda. And finally, it needs to start fulfilling its current obligations. That is, encouraging NATO to respond to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and ensure security in the Balkans.
Cooper concluded that what Europe wants is cooperation on climate change and the Middle East, coherent multilateral institutions, and an arms control agenda. In summary, Europe wants a U.S. which is engaged more politically than militarily. Europe can contribute a stable continent with coherent strategic needs and intentions.