US-Europe Dialogue Turns a Corner



New leaders are now in charge of "Old Europe". Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel recently has been joined by Nicolas Sarkozy, the new President of France and Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Some analysts say the change in leadership will help reinforce the transatlantic alliance, which has been challenged in recent years.

U.S.-European relations have weathered a number of controversies in recent years.  Perhaps most notable among them was the crisis over Iraq in 2003, which strained transatlantic ties and bitterly divided the European Union itself.

But in the past several years, many analysts say, both sides have made efforts to restore strong relations.  And recent U.S.-E.U. summits have sought to emphasize areas of cooperation and partnership, especially in trade and business.  The transatlantic economic relationship is the largest in the world -- and growing.  Trade between the Atlantic partners tops $1 trillion dollars a year.  Their mutual investments amount to more than $1.9 trillion.

U.S. foreign affairs specialist John Hulsman, at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, says political relations have also noticeably improved, particularly since the coming to power of new "Old Europe" leaders. He says French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown have joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel in changing the tenor and substance of the transatlantic dialogue.

“Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair got into trouble for being too close to President Bush and former French President Jacques Chirac got in trouble for being too far away from President Bush.  Now you have Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy moving to almost a common position, which is the one that Angela Merkel is,” says Hulsman. “She set the groundwork to be much more pro-American than former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was, but to make it clear you are allowed to disagree with America, while being a friend of America. And that fine line is the line that Brown and Sarkozy are now trying to walk after her.”

Disagreements Over Terrorism Remain

But Hulsman adds that despite better rapport at the government level, America's standing in Europe's public opinion has yet to be restored.

Dana Allin of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies agrees.  He says many Europeans remain wary of U.S. foreign policy goals, which they say often override the interests of America's friends and allies.

"Popular affinities are tattered. You can see this in extraordinarily low levels of public support in various European countries for the U.S.," says Allin. "We don't really know how easily American moral prestige will rebound. It hasn't really sunk this low in a long time."

Allin says Europeans view the Middle East differently than Americans, for example. “There is a much greater consensus in Europe across the board, including a very Atlantacist country like Britain, that the resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is crucial to broader stability in the Middle East and the relations with the Arab and Muslim world.  Americans have tended to look at it the opposite way.  They are saying they need a reformation in the Arab world in order to make Israeli-Palestinian peace possible.”

Moreover, says Allin, Europeans fear the U.S. is losing the battle for Muslim "hearts and minds" as a result of its military action in Iraq and some of its practices in combating terrorism.

Many Europeans would like to see the Guantanamo Bay detention center closed because they say it disregards international human rights accords.  Europeans are also concerned about the American program to detain and question suspected terrorists outside of the United States.

Many analysts say most disagreements stem from the competing foreign policy and security doctrines the U.S. and Europe have developed since the end of the Cold War.  Europeans generally favor compromise, political and economic engagement with adversaries and rarely opt for war.  Americans, mindful of U.S. global security responsibilities, often say unilateral action is justified to prevent serious threats.

The Next Test

Michael Brenner of the University of Pittsburgh says that more than 60 years after World War II, the transatlantic partners need to forge a new, 21st century security arrangement.  He argues its time for Europe to be more assertive.

"A Europe and America, each of which knows its own mind and each of which is prepared to act in the world and on that basis are prepared to act in concert, would simply be more effective dealing with problems than is currently the case,” argues Brenner.  “Allies can provide a corrective. They can raise questions. They can make it clear that doing certain things has some costs. The current balance is so out of whack that you pay a heavy price for it and we are."

According to Brenner, the next test for the transatlantic relationship is how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions. U.S. officials consider it an urgent matter that threatens security and stability in the Middle East.  They say military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities are not off the table, if diplomacy fails.

But most Europeans strongly oppose use of force against Teheran, says John Hulsman of the German Council on Foreign Relations. "Iran is the deal-breaker. All these good trends go out the window if the United States unilaterally bombs Iran.  I think one more good knock at public opinion with America behaving unilaterally in terms of military action, this difficult, tenuous, frustrating, but incredibly important and prosperous alliance comes to an end," says Hulsman.

Still, some experts, including Dana Allin of the International Institute for Strategic Studies say there are signs that some European nations, like Britain and France, are close to adopting the U.S. position.  He points to French President Sarkozy's recent statement on Iran.

"He said it could come down to a choice between an Iranian bomb or bombing Iran.  And he said an attack against Iran would probably be catastrophic, but an Iranian nuclear bomb would also be unacceptable," says Allin.

President Sarkozy, some analysts note, is seeking a bolder global security role for Europe, which would remain strongly allied with the United States.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.


This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs