Another Crack in the Transatlantic Alliance?

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Another Crack in the Transatlantic Alliance?

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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s first visit to NATO headquarters on February 27 came at a time when strains in transatlantic relations are more evident than ever before, despite the solemn pronouncements made during the alliance’s 50th anniversary celebration two years ago.

When the common threat posed by the Soviet Union ceased to exist in the early 1990s, NATO pessimists wondered whether the United States and Europe would be able to maintain the special relationship established during the Cold War years. In retrospect, it seems that those pessimists may have had some kind of crystal ball.

The strains in the transatlantic relationship are somewhat paradoxical, since in so many ways Europe and North America share basic common interests. Democratic governments, individual freedoms and human rights are basic philosophical tenets shared by both continents. In addition, transatlantic business is intertwined as never before, with large-scale mergers, such as German automaker Daimler’s acquisition of American manufacturer Chrysler, becoming commonplace and capital exchanges via stock and currency markets creating an ever denser web of economic interdependency.

Although economic relationships generally are quite good, there are frequent squabbles over agricultural policies (Europe’s large subsidies for its farmers, America’s liberal approach to genetically altered food and fertilizers) and manufacturing subsidies, such as those granted for the Airbus.

Conflicting EU and U.S. interests

Foreign policy contrasts largely fuel those developing cracks in the transatlantic partnership.

America sees itself, rightly so, as a world power with the right to intervene as a global disciplinarian (although it is not yet clear if the new Bush administration will be as proactive as the Clinton administration was). By contrast, Europe’s interests are now largely regional and may not always coincide with America’s wishes in its overall foreign policy framework. In addition, to date Europe and America have been unable to develop or pursue a coordinated foreign policy approach to Russia and China.

The United States would like to see a stronger European effort as the eastern pillar of NATO, but is not excited at all by the thought of an independent European military alliance, or whatever name is eventually given to what the European Union now calls the Rapid Reaction Force. When Europeans voted in December 1999 at the Helsinki summit meeting to establish their own rapid-deployment force of 60,000 troops, it was the first time since the Suez crisis of 1956 that Europe had initiated its own military cooperation outside of the NATO alliance with its American leadership.

During his brief visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Secretary Powell heard concerns voiced by NATO’s European members over the decision made by the new American president to continue development of the National Missile Defense system (NMD). NMD may prove to be a major test of the alliance’s resiliency. What concerns European military planners and governments the most is the fact that they would be beyond the perimeter of NMD’s anti-ballistic shield, which is seen to protect only North America. If NMD is able to be implemented, America may be safe from missile attack by rogue states, but where would that leave Europe?

Threat from the Middle East

The latest intelligence report from Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND (“Federal Intelligence Service”) on Saddam Hussein’s armaments program illustrates why Europe is concerned about its own anti-missile defense shield.

According to the BND, the Iraqi leader has plans for developing a missile with a range of up to 1,850 miles, capable of delivering either a nuclear device or a biological warhead weighing as much as 300 kilograms. German intelligence officials believe that the development of the missile by the year 2005 is a distinct possibility. As part of its report, the BND outlined its assessment of an Iraqi attempt to revive its armaments program, including biological, chemical and nuclear capabilities.

The projected range of the Iraqi missile thought to be under development would place all of southeastern Europe, a portion of southern Europe (including nearly all of Italy) and half of Germany, including major cities like Munich and the capital Berlin, within range of Saddam’s military forces.

German journalists speculate that the BND report was shared with the German government soon after the U.S. and British warplanes struck at Iraqi targets on February 16.

In contrast to the very critical French reaction to the attack, German Chancellor Gerhard Schrsder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer were very restrained in their comments. During a quick visit to the United States the week following the bombing, Fischer remarked at a joint press conference with Secretary of State Colin Powell that it was not for Germany to criticize the decision to strike at Iraq.

Recognizing the potential for European discontent over America’s NMD, Russia has now proposed its own missile defense plan intended to provide a defensive shield for Europe as well as its own territory. Oddly enough, the Russian proposal was announced in mid-February when NATO Secretary-General George Robertson visited Moscow and conferred with Igor Sergeyev, the Russian defense minister.

The Russian NMD would be developed in a three stage process, with stage one devoted to a risk assessment analysis of current threats and projected threats over the next 15 years. The final stage, implementation itself, would provide multinational rapid-deployment units capable of being dispatched on short notice to any part of Europe. The mobile-missile concept was also a mainstay of the Soviet Union’s ICBM program.

America is reported to be concerned at times about Europe’s perceived growing independence politically and militarily. It does seem odd indeed that President Bush’s decision to continue development of NMD with its anti-missile shield limited to North America just may provide the impetus Europe’s military planners need to chart an even more independent course for the future. WNP

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