Having worked on the transatlantic relationship for many years of my diplomatic career, I am tempted to agree with Richard Hass’ provocative op-ed in the June 18 edition of the Washington Post “Why Europe No Longer Matters.” And yet, I will resist that temptation. Focussing mainly on Europe’s relevance to transatlantic security policy, Haass made a powerful case, recalling Defense Secretary Gates’ recent policy speech on the status of NATO. Richard’s facts and analysis were, as one would expect, on the mark — as far as they went. Europe clearly falls into a different corner of America’s security policy field of vision today than it did during most of the 20th century. But NATO remains the most successful alliance in history and a bulwark of U.S. security, even if we sometimes look to coalitions of the willing, both inside and outside Alliance structures. What Richard’s article did not fully address was the direct relevance of Europe’s security and its political and economic cohension to the United States, regardless of the security policy positions of some of our European friends. America wants and needs a strong Europe, even if we invest much more in our common security than some.
I agree that browbeating and cajoling are not the answer to different attitudes from ours among some Europeans. Neither is ignoring these differences. President Obama, in announcing our impending troop reductions in Afghanistan, has called for nation building at home in America. Polls suggest that a majority of Americans agree with renewed focus and investment in our domestic well being. The fact that our jobs and our prosperity are linked to our trading partners — not only in Asia, but also to our largest trading partner, Europe, — can hardly be ignored. Good jobs and fair trade are always welcome and always wanted by us, wherever they come from, and 40% of all world trade is between the U.S. and Europe.
U.S. and some European opinions and interests are likely to continue to diverge, although thinking back to past arguments over Cold War security issues, I would hardly call this a new phenomenon. For us in the U.S., some of these differing views surprise and even irritate and we will say so. That said, I would not characterize certain opinions in Europe as Europe’s opinion, especially as I see the broad agreement with our Estonian allies on the vast majority of issues here in this small northeastern corner of the continent.
So I arrive at some, but not all of Richard Hass’ conclusions. Clearly there is no thought of doing away with NATO. And yes, Europe and transatlantic relations no longer uniquely dominate U.S. foreign policy. That said, the U.S. must not “accept and adjust to” the absence of a strong and important Europe from our common set of regional and global responsibilities. Europe matters not because of fading historical ties to us, but because it has significant human and material resources to bring to bear to meet the challenges of a shrinking globe. For European prosperity and safety, stability in Europe alone is not enough. If other parts if the world go to pot or meet success without European participation, Europe suffers. In the end most of our friends on this side of the Atlantic will come to appreciate such consequences – and opportunities – without American browbeating.