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United States and European Union, Separate Ways Or Together?

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Many Europeans see President Bush’s re-election not only as validation of a unilateralist national security strategy by fellow Americans, but also as repudiation of certain ideals that Europeans believed both sides held in common.

In London’s "Guardian" columnist Jonathan Steel writes, "What Americans share with Europeans are not values, but institutions. The distinction is crucial. Like us, they have a separation of powers between executive and legislature, an independent judiciary, and the rule of law. But the American majority's social and moral values differ enormously from those which guide most Europeans."

Europeans take a dim view of gun ownership and capital punishment, and are far less religious than Americans. Some Europeans would even abandon NATO on the grounds that it keeps Europe from building its own security institutions. Officially embedded as US allies in NATO, Europeans, say critics, must go along with American policies they sometime object to. Otherwise, they can be charged with disrupting the alliance.

Charles Kupchan, Director of the Europe Program at the Council on Foreign Relations and Professor of International Law at Georgetown University, recently visited several European capitals. He says the political mood in Europe has decidedly shifted against its sole security reliance on NATO.

"On this side of the Atlantic the forces of what one could call assertive nationalism have won out over the traditional liberal internationalism," says Professor Kupchan.  "It has to some extent strengthened what one might call Euro-Gaullism at the expense of Euro-Atlanticism. That means it will be harder for Britain, Italy and Poland to side strongly with the United States. And I think what one is hearing in disparaging comments about NATO is the strengthening of the voices calling for a stronger and more independent European Union," he says.

The main unifying power in Europe in the last half-century, America has now become the main dividing issue among the 25 members of the European Union. Some believe NATO now serves almost entirely as a device for giving the United States an unfair influence over European foreign policy. But Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation points out that Europe is a continent of disparate countries with long and diverse histories, including contradictory relations with the United States.

"Many of them are pro-Atlanticist: Britain, the Scandinavian countries, Holland, Italy, Poland a number of the former East Block countries. There are a lot of countries that continue to consider their relations with the United States some of the most important in their foreign policy agenda. And there are others, represented primarily by France, Germany and Belgium and now Spain. I think they are split among themselves. I don’t think the United States necessarily needs to do anything to split them," says Ms Dale.

The United States is dedicated to continuing the NATO alliance, says analyst Dale. "NATO is extremely important for extending and preserving freedom on the European continent and for uniting East and Western Europe where NATO provides the security guarantee in the way the European Union never could. It is also a way to look for allies as the United States undertakes missions around the world. Europe remains the best ally of the United States, the best source of allies and has been for a very long time, and I think there is a definite perception in the administration that will continue," she says.

Still, Ms. Dale acknowledges the transatlantic partnership could be heading toward a new critical dispute, this time over Iran. Although Washington and Brussels coordinated diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to step back from its nuclear program, the United States reserves the option of a military action should Teheran not heed the warnings. Europe is likely to resist such a use of force.

Professor Kupchan says a new dispute might threaten the very foundations of the Atlantic community.  "I think that will strengthen political forces in Europe that call for greater independence. If that occurs, if the European Union comes to define itself in opposition to the United States, then we could see the compromise of perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the 20th century – and that is the Atlantic zone of peace in which the balance of power does not operate. I fear that we are reaching a point in which that possibility, the return of the balance of power logic, is now before us," he says.

So analysts say it is in the interest of both Europe and the United States to reach some sort of an agreement, within NATO or without, on the various critical issues that arise.

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