Vol. 4, No. 1 August 25, 2004
Fifteen years ago the Berlin Wall fell and Europe woke up to a different world, one in which it suddenly became far less dependent on the United States for security, setting in motion a process that brought a kind of emancipation.
It was hard for many Europeans to accept the kind of dependence they had on the U.S. during the Cold War. Dependence breeds resentment, and many things that were suppressed have risen to the surface across Europe because Europe wants some space from the United States after independence.
Yet Europe remains frustrated because there still remains a rather large imbalance of power. Furthermore, Europe is lacking in economic growth and dynamism, in self-confidence, and is hurting demographically.
In the changed relationship between Europe and the U.S., with increased competition and touches of rivalry, Israel is seen as a partner or an outpost of the United States. As some European thinking seeks to cut America down to size, some European thinking also believes it is good to cut Israel down to size, too.
Much of what we are seeing has to do with pathology, to define Europe in opposition to the U.S., rather than according to national or regional interests. It is quite clearly in Europe’s interest for there to be a stable Iraq that pumps oil and that is at peace with its neighbors. The discussion shouldn’t be about the Americans succeeding; it should be about the Iraqis succeeding.
There is a struggle in Europe today between those who think building Europe up means cutting America down, and those who think that building Europe up can be done in the context of a healthy, robust Atlantic partnership.
In the summer of 2002, months before any decision had been made on military moves against Iraq, the German chancellor declared that even if the United States moved multilaterally, and even if there was a UN mandate, Germany would not participate. Almost immediately afterward, a senior State Department official arrived in Berlin to consult with America’s European allies and spent the whole day in the Hilton Hotel because the allies did not want to consult with him.
The Iraq debate was a symptom of tensions with the U.S. and not a cause, not just in Germany but elsewhere in Europe. In many European capitals, the debate was not just about containing Saddam Hussein. It was about containing George W. Bush and the United States.
In that context, it is hard to overlook certain strange ironies, such as the European Union’s sudden passion for giving sanctions a chance to work. This was the same EU that had spent the previous years trying to end sanctions because they didn’t work. In the case of France, there was a sudden obsession with giving arms inspections a chance to work, from the same France that had been trying to end arms inspections. In fact, when UNMOVIC was established by the UN Security Council to monitor Iraq’s weapons, France chose to abstain.
September 11th transformed the debate about foreign policy in the United States in a very fundamental and profound way. Many have described September 11th as an attack against the West, against humanity, against democracy, against civilization. Principally, though, it was an attack on the United States of America, a fact that makes a big difference in the conversation after that. In Bin Laden’s first statement after the September 11th attacks, he mentioned the United States eleven times by name. He did not mention the European Union or France or Belgium.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall Brings European Emancipation – From America
A different event had a similar kind of profound effect on some of America’s closest allies in Europe. Fifteen years ago, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Europe woke up to a different world, one in which it suddenly became far less dependent on the United States for security, setting in motion a process that brought a kind of emancipation.
In fact, the United States and Europe actually are moving closer together in terms of economy, commerce, and trade. At the same time, there is no doubt that in their strategic partnership, Europe and the U.S. are drifting apart, and this didn’t start over Iraq.
The new Europe will be different than the Europe of the Cold War because it is less dependent on the United States and it legitimately wants to have a different sort of identity. There is a struggle in Europe today between those who think building Europe up means cutting America down, and those who think that building Europe up can be done in the context of a healthy, robust Atlantic partnership.
Israel is Seen as Too Close to America
Whatever problems there are between America and Europe, this affects Israel because Israel has always been counted as a partner or a satellite or an outpost of the United States. In the changed relationship between Europe and the U.S., with increased competition and touches of rivalry, Israel is probably seen even more in that way. While America and Israel of course share common values, as well as many ties of history and culture, it is also true that in certain fundamental ways the U.S. and Israel are a bit different from the countries of Europe. So it comes as no surprise that intellectuals in Europe would frequently see both Israel and the United States as rogue states; or, according to one poll, majorities in a number of European countries see both Israel and the United States as leading threats to world peace.
While there is no question that a motive in some European thinking is to cut America down to size, some European thinking also believes it is good to cut Israel down to size, too.
The European Worldview
The next clash between America and Europe doesn’t have to be catastrophic, but it could be, depending on what next emerges as a crisis and how it is handled. The differences that arise will be about power and pathology and worldview.
The European Union in the last dozen years has gone to a casino and put all its chips on number seven. Number seven is a world where civilian and economic power predominate and where geopolitics and military power are increasingly less important. September 11th and the American reaction to it, as well as Yasser Arafat’s walking away from Camp David and the Israelis electing Sharon, represent an extremely inconvenient interruption of that worldview, one pointing to a very different kind of worldview.
Europeans and Americans are not entirely divided over the threat of terrorism. Of course Europeans think that terrorism is a threat, but there is a difference in emphasis. In the United States, we knew that terrorism was a threat in the 1990s because the World Trade Center was attacked in 1993, because two American embassies were attacked in Africa, and because the USS Cole was attacked in a harbor in Yemen. Yet the U.S. treated that threat mostly as a law enforcement issue. In a couple of instances military power was applied, a few cruise missiles were sent off, but mostly, the emphasis was where it still is in Europe today. But in post-9/11 American consciousness, a role is also seen, on a case-by-case basis, for military power, while the Europeans are still more broadly skeptical of that.
The premise in the United States is that there is a long-term need to eliminate the incubators for this virus of radical militant Islam. These incubators have been able to thrive due to lack of decent, accountable government, and transparency, and pluralism. Americans understand about root causes, but are skeptical that the problem is simply one of poverty. A lot of the terrorists seem to be very well to do and there are poor countries that produce little or no terrorism. There are rich countries that produce a great deal (Saudi Arabia), and there are places that produce quite a bit but have been the recipient of inordinate amounts of financial aid.
Europe Wants Some Space
Germany has always been an important partner and ally of the United States, and there are lots of ties that bind the two nations together. But Americans underestimated how hard it was for many Europeans, with the Germans at the center, to accept the kind of dependence they had on the U.S. during the Cold War. We all know that dependence breeds resentment. While France had nuclear weapons and an independent foreign policy to a considerable extent, Germany had neither. So it should probably not come as a surprise that many things that were suppressed or contained or controlled have risen to the surface in Germany. They rose to the surface across Europe because Europe wants some space from the United States after independence, so to speak, after the end of the Cold War. Europe remains frustrated because in seeking this independence or space, there still remains a rather large imbalance of power.
Germany is at the heart of a Europe which now has these ambitions to be more independent, to be more adult, to be more equal, and to have more of a voice. Germany is a medium-sized country with no permanent seat on the Security Council, that faces economic problems that are serious and structural in nature, as well as demographic problems that are quite acute and that will have an effect on economic developments in the coming decades.
Furthermore, this Europe that suddenly proclaims independence and seeks a Boston Tea Party of its own is lacking in some serious areas: in capabilities, in economic growth and dynamism, in self-confidence, and is hurting demographically. This means that Europe often acts more reactively than actively. It is simply easier to oppose U.S. policy, or to criticize Israeli policy, then to come up with alternative solutions and the capabilities to implement those solutions.
A Degree of Pathology
So much of what we are seeing has to do with pathology, to define Europe in opposition to the United States in order to be distinct from the U.S., rather than according to national or regional interests. It has to do with a European sort of nationalism.
I use the term “pathology” because it is often hard to discern a clear strategic debate about interests in many European countries. The chief speech writer for one European leader told me: “In Iraq we don’t want the Americans to fail, but we don’t want them to succeed either. We want them to leave with a bloodied nose.” Now this seems to have to do with adolescence and pathology, because it is quite clear that it is in Europe’s interest for there to be a stable, peaceful, secure Iraq – an Iraq that pumps oil, that is at peace with its neighbors, and that has decent, accountable government. But right now, in candid conversations, there is great ambivalence about wanting the Americans to succeed. The discussion shouldn’t be about the Americans succeeding; it should be about the Iraqis succeeding.
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Dr. Jeffrey Gedmin is Director of the Aspen Institute Berlin. He is the author of The Hidden Hand: Gorbachev and the Collapse of East Germany (1992) and editor of European Integration and the American Interest (1997). This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on June 29, 2004.