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Unprecedented European Alliance Challenges USA - 2003-04-17


The war in Iraq seems to be well on its way to a successful conclusion, but the fallout in the run up to the war among the transatlantic allies might not be healed as quickly as many would hope. Some analysts say an ‘axis of transatlantic dissent’ is emerging that runs from Paris through Berlin to Moscow and is based on the issue of challenging America's dominance in the world.

Despite hopes that the quick war and cooperation in rebuilding Iraq will help allies mend fences, France and Germany remain at odds with the United States. Many analysts say the war may be as much a turning point for the foreign policy of the ‘Core of the EU’ - Germany and France - as the September 11 attack was for America. The European countries want the United States to remain committed to international institutions, primarily the United Nations, in settling disputes. But elements within the current U.S. administration seek to reduce the UN role in deciding issues of international importance and limiting it to providing humanitarian aid when crises occur.

The discord between allies is reflected on a personal level. President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac have just spoken for the first time in over two months. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder last talked to the White House on November 8, when the UN resolution calling for Iraq’s compliance with disarmament obligations was approved. The continuing tensions are hard to overcome because the issues are serious, says Simon Serfaty, Director of the European Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“They are from the United States standpoint existential, and there is a pattern of existential terrorism that has denied the U.S. administration the ability to show as much patience and tolerance toward its allies as in the past,” he says. “On the other hand, France and others in Europe are apprehensive about the way decisions were made and the consequences of the war.”

Mr. Serfaty says U.S.-French relations have never been so strained, not even in the 1960’s when the President Charles de Gaulle pursued a highly adversarial foreign policy. He removed NATO forces from France, condemned the American war in Vietnam, and tended to support the Arabs in their war with Israel. Even so, the discord was not lasting, says Mr. Serfaty. “The U.S. problem is not with the French president and France but with Europe,” he says. “An overwhelming number of Europeans are opposed to use of force. Then we have the Europeans that don’t understand the significance of September 11 in terms of security issues.”

During the Cold War and after, Germany never wanted to have to choose between Paris and Washington, says Gerard Livingston, former Director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University. On the issue of war with Iraq, Germany has for the first time defied the U.S. on a security matter and chosen to side with Paris against Washington.

“The most important area of foreign policy for the German government is Europe, and that is where the fate of every government is played out,” he says. “European policies are policies that more directly affect a country than security issues in far away areas, like the Middle East. Germany gives priority to whatever strengthens its position in Europe.”

The seeds of German emancipation from Washington were sown a decade ago. The generation that experienced the catastrophe of World War II as well as American generosity in helping rebuild Germany no longer shapes German foreign policy. The generation in power today matured in the anti-Vietnam war era.

But this new assertion of independence is a surprise to old guard Germans like Hans-Ulrich Klose, a member of the German parliament. He says it used to be German practice to avoid sovereign actions and defer to the wishes of a larger community.

“We wanted to be a partner of Europe and act with the conviction that we should enter multilateral systems of cooperation and security and at the same time give up our sovereign rights,” Mr. Klose says. “Something happened in the last 10 years in Europe and Germany. We have a tendency of new national pride in Europe. We never thought Germany would ever be a normal patriotic state.”

The German ‘68 generation is also taking a second look at its catastrophic past. As this year marks the 60th anniversary of the fire bombing of Dresden and other cities, Germans are beginning to see themselves not only as perpetrators of horror in World War II, but as victims too.

German Chancellor Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer belong to the generation of ‘68-ers that are striving to escape --- as they see it -- from U.S. tutelage. After losing the “battle for peace” over Iraq, both leaders are determined to formulate a new foreign and security policy. As reported in German media, they believe America has turned its back on much of Europe and the global community.

The new German defense policy envisions a professional military capable of global deployment. It also calls for a more concerted effort to develop a European intervention force of some 60,000 troops that was first proposed at the 1999 EU summit in Helsinki.

The Helsinki decision resulted from NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, in which Europeans lagged far behind the United States in military capabilities, says Karen Donfried of the German Marshall Fund here in Washington.

“After Bosnia and Kosovo, there was a real push within the EU to create a common security and defense identity,” she says. “Britain signed on to this decision. The British felt the Europeans could only be interesting partners for the United States if they were able to bring greater military capabilities to the table.”

These efforts stalled for a while but are back in focus. On Belgium’s initiative, representatives of France, Germany and Luxembourg will meet in Brussels on April 29 to discuss strengthening European forces in NATO. The EU’s foreign affairs representative, Javier Solana will also attend.

Patrick Chamorel, professor of political science at Georgetown University, says that prior to the current row with the United States, France was keen on joining Britain in a new European security effort.

“It is France and Britain which are the two leading military powers in Europe. Both have nuclear weapons, for example,” he says. “It has never been with Germany that the French saw that they would build a European defense. Right now it is a political signal that Britain is too close to the United States on Iraq.”

Meanwhile, Germany and France intend to continue consolidating Europe’s armaments, a goal set at their Mainz summit in June 2000. The Germans agreed to purchase 75 Airbus military transport planes that will give all three of the leading European powers -- France, Germany and Britain -- a uniform means of air transport independent of American technology and suppliers.

The Mainz summit also declared its intention to develop an independent reconnaissance satellite system. Until now, Europe has largely relied on the United States for satellite reconnaissance, a decisive factor in modern warfare. The project is in its initial stages.

In an article in Foreign Affairs journal after Mainz, three Americans with high-level national security experience warned “all leading politicians seem to believe that a European armaments industry is a crucial factor for a European Union which can confront the United States as a political equal.”

The dispute over the war with Iraq has added to such concerns. Some analysts say Washington may want to punish the French and perhaps the Germans in economic ways for their opposition to the war. But the French and Germans may have a postwar plan of their own, notes Simon Serfaty of CSIS. “The option goes in the direction of Russia,” he says. “We have seen emerging in the past several months an ‘axis of transatlantic dissent’ that goes from Paris to Berlin to Moscow. These are the three states that have issued joint positions, and that kind of relationship is unprecedented in European history.”

But analysts ask how far can this realignment go? Both the European nations and the United States have much to lose in severing nearly six decades of a transatlantic security partnership and possibly disrupting an annual $2.5 trillion transatlantic economy.

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