An Ocean Apart

History will surely judge us not by our old disagreements but by our new achievements,” Condoleezza Rice told a Paris audience on February 8, speaking on her first European trip as secretary of state. If the Bush administration is truly interested in a trans-Atlantic rapprochement, it is not a moment too soon. U.S.–European relations are more acrimonious than they have been in decades. The broad European opposition to the Bush administration's policies on Iraq, global warming, human rights, arms control, and trade is reciprocated by Washington's disdain for everything from Europe's view of Iran to its proposed new constitution.

American conservatives are angry not just at the failure of much of Europe to support the Iraq War. They are also alarmed by Europe's effort to achieve closer integration through a new European Union constitution and greater coordination of foreign and defense policy, all of which are seen as evidence that Europe is going its own way in world affairs -- or worse, following the French recipe of “balancing” the United States.

Yet even a truculently conservative United States and an occasionally self-indulgent Europe share abiding vital interests. Europeans and Americans agree on the need to combat terrorism and nuclear proliferation, the desirability of a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine, the need for humanitarian intervention, support for democratization from the Ukraine to China, multilateral maintenance of a liberal world economy, debt relief for developing countries, and the expansion of the EU to include Turkey, to name just a few. The areas of disagreement, such as the Kyoto accords and the International Criminal Court, are far from trivial, but the core common interests are far more extensive.

Indeed, the recent Iraq War is quite unrepresentative of deeper trends in trans-Atlantic relations. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western powers have intervened repeatedly outside the NATO homeland -- the Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, and Afghanistan -- and every one of those interventions was, at least in the end, strongly supported by both the United States and Europe. European nations now deploy more than 100,000 troops abroad, most of them in defense of U.S. commitments. Twenty years ago, the possibility that European troops would be stationed in Afghanistan to back a U.S. intervention would have been treated as an absurd fantasy. This unheralded revolution in European policy demonstrates substantial Western consensus even on the use of force, contrary to Robert Kagan's oversimplified distinction between America as “Mars” and Europe as “Venus.”

* * *

Despite abiding common trans-Atlantic interests, however, many in and close to the Bush administration consider a united Europe at best an irrelevance and at worst a fundamental threat to U.S. interests. The disappearance of the Soviet threat in Europe and the increase in U.S. defense to nearly 50 percent of world military expenditures mean that the United States finds itself less dependent on its allies for conducting classic military missions than at any time in the past half-century.

Some American conservatives even favor an all-out diplomatic attack on the EU. They fear that France and Germany, having revealed fundamental opposition to the United States in the Iraq crisis, seek to exploit the new EU constitution to neutralize America's ostensible allies in Europe, such as Britain, Spain, Italy, and Poland. David Frum, George W. Bush's former speechwriter, believes that the German campaign for a United Nations seat -- a quixotic, but benign, ambition -- shows the EU desperately split between large and small states. The United States, Frum urges, should side with smaller European democracies against France and Germany, reassuring those “without a Security Council seat that their interests will be championed.”

Jeffrey Cimbalo, a private lawyer writing in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, advises the United States to “end its uncritical support of European integration.” As in the Iraq War, the United States should aim to “divide and conquer” Europe by forcing a stark choice between the EU and NATO. The United States, Cimbalo contends, should publicly encourage populations in the United Kingdom, Poland, and Denmark to reject the new European constitution pending renegotiation of its security clauses to permit a permanent “opt out.” Once that is in place, the United States should eject any participants in the EU arrangements from NATO, or seek “bilateral or multilateral strategic arrangements … to replicate NATO's core of close supporters.”

* * *

This sort of talk is dangerously misguided and misinformed. First, there is nothing radically new about the proposed EU constitution. The (oft-amended) Treaty of Rome has functioned as a de facto EU constitution for decades, and the new constitution would only modestly change the formal status of EU cooperation. Second, EU military cooperation, like that of NATO, would continue to function on the basis of “coalitions of the willing.” The proposed EU common defense policy does not prevent member governments from acting alone or opting out of any joint action. Moreover, undermining the EU would not thereby strengthen NATO -- an organization that has been pushed into irrelevance by, above all, U.S. policy. The Bush administration initially resisted NATO involvement in Kosovo, sought to refuse the first ever allied invocation of NATO mutual defense provisions in response to September 11, remains ambivalent about NATO involvement in Afghanistan, and has done little over the past four years to reform or strengthen the organization.

We have seen that in almost every military action between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the election of George W. Bush -- and currently in Afghanistan -- Europeans have been our most steadfast military allies. And whereas most European governments are skeptical of U.S. actions in Iraq, they do not support the French rhetorical goal of balancing the United States. It is unclear that even the French actually seek this.

As a practical matter, a conservative effort to isolate the EU would backfire, boosting politicians like French President Jacques Chirac while undermining U.S. allies like Tony Blair in Britain. By siding with the United States on Iraq, Blair paid an enormous price in terms of public support and diplomatic credibility and gained little in return. Shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Britain's UN ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, responded to a public question about the failure of Blair's efforts to influence Bush in the run-up to Iraq by supporting U.S. policy with one sentence: “We shall never do this again.” Another U.S. “war of choice” in the Middle East would probably gain no support from any European country.

The obsessive focus of conservative U.S. analysts on the EU's nascent defense policy, rather than on its powerful and useful civilian and peacekeeping capabilities, tells us more about the narrowness of U.S. strategic thinking than about the real intentions or capabilities of a united Europe. If Americans and Europeans have learned any common lesson from the war in Iraq, it is that “it is harder to win the peace than to win the war.” And with regard to each of the key policy instruments essential for crisis prevention and postwar reconstruction -- trade, aid, peacekeeping, monitoring, multilateral legitimation, leading by example -- the Europeans are more capable than the United States.

In reality, European defense cooperation is not aimed at balancing the U.S. hegemony but at mustering troops for humanitarian and peacekeeping operations. Current and prospective EU members contribute 10 times as many soldiers to UN peacekeeping and policing operations as does the United States. In trouble spots around the globe, European nations take the lead, as did the United Kingdom in Sierra Leone, France in the Ivory Coast, Italy in Albania, and Germany in Afghanistan. Eighty-four percent of the peacekeepers in Kosovo and more than half of those in Afghanistan are non-American.

* * *

In that sense, the post–Cold War world is bipolar after all. The European Union is the quiet superpower. Consider the following elements:

Enlargement. Arguably the single most powerful Western policy instrument for conflict prevention is admission to, or association with, the EU. In 20 years, the EU will likely stretch from the Arctic Circle to the Turkish border of Iraq. In country after country, authoritarian, ethnically intolerant, or corrupt governments have lost elections to democratic, market-oriented coalitions held together by the promise of EU membership. EU member states have recently made a courageous decision to move forward in negotiating the accession of Turkey, a long-term U.S. goal.

Trade. For those who cannot join the EU, economic association remains an option. Association agreements already encompass Russia, much of the rest of the former Soviet Union, Israel, and many Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa -- all of which trade more with Europe than with the United States. Any serious Western effort at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem, reaching a settlement with Iran, or reforming governments in the Middle East requires trade concessions.

Aid. Foreign assistance -- whether in the form of humanitarian aid, technical expertise, or support for nation building -- reduces immediate human suffering and bolsters peaceful development. Here, too, Europe is the civilian superpower, dispensing 70 percent of global foreign aid and spreading its largesse far more widely than the United States. This includes aid for democracy building in the Middle East, where -- excepting Iraq -- the EU dispenses 15 times more aid than the United States.

Monitoring. Multilateral oversight of disarmament and human rights by an international organization is generally more effective and legitimate than a unilateral effort. Multilateral measures are also less sensitive politically, for the monitored party has less reason to suspect the inspectors' motives. There is now a considerable agreement that the UN inspection regime was quite effective, rendering the Iraq War unnecessary. Although neither UN inspections nor U.S. coercive diplomacy work very well alone, they can be extremely effective as complementary elements of a “good cop, bad cop” routine. Europe has extensive regional experience at conditioning aid on monitoring and is the major supporter of multilateral institutions with serious inspection capability.

Multilateral Legitimacy. In assembling international legitimacy -- the persuasive influence that Joseph Nye terms “soft power” -- for confrontations with rogue states, European involvement is crucial. In 1991, President George Bush Senior was initially disinclined to move against Iraq through the UN, but he was advised that European countries would not back his efforts without a Security Council resolution. The result of his administration's careful diplomacy was near-unanimous Western support for the Gulf War, the unlocking of more than $50 billion in co-financing, and near-universal logistical cooperation from neighboring countries. Compare this with the recent Iraq War, which failed to secure the support of even longtime U.S. allies like Turkey, largely because of the clear lack of multilateral legitimacy.

* * *

In all these respects -- peacekeeping, trade, aid, monitoring, multilateralism, and the use of nonmilitary instruments of policy -- Europe is already a superpower equal to or stronger than the United States. For institutional and ideological reasons -- from supermajoritarian ratification rules for treaties and conservative opposition to foreign aid to the lack of a social democratic tradition -- the United States seems quite incapable of matching European achievements in sustaining regional integration, trade concessions, foreign aid, peacekeeping, multilateral participation, and monitoring. But encouraging greater Western capabilities in these areas is very much in America's interest, and the United States would thus do well to acknowledge and encourage united European efforts to develop them.

The optimal trans-Atlantic relationship would thus be one in which the United States and Europe exploit their respective comparative advantages, each doing what it does best. In some areas, this strategy of complementarity may not require much explicit cooperation; the EU, for example, can admit Turkey and the United States can defend Korea without much assistance from the other. Yet, as the war in Iraq and pressure on Iran demonstrate, the number of areas where smooth parallel policy options exist is decreasing. Policy goals such as nuclear nonproliferation in Iran, debt relief in Africa, an Arab-Israeli settlement, and an arms-sales policy consistent with the containment of China are far better pursued with prior Western cooperation.

The death of Yasir Arafat has created new opportunities to push the Middle East peace process forward. Though American presidents sometimes find it difficult to pressure Israel, and European governments sometimes find it difficult to coordinate at all, a joint U.S. and European strategy is surely preferable to isolated action. The future of a broader Middle East peace settlement rests on the success of the transition to a well-functioning Palestinian Authority in Gaza, and, later, on a combination of military and economic incentives that only the West as a whole can provide. If Europeans truly support a settlement, and if President Bush truly aims to make good on his pledge to forge a new Middle East (something that would surely involve a modicum of sophisticated pressure on Ariel Sharon's Israel), they cannot ignore this vital trouble spot. Generous European aid has been an essential element in previous efforts at Middle East peace settlements, and it must become so again.

Unfortunately, as with policy toward the new EU constitution, neoconservative resistance to collaboration with Europe often stands in the way of opportunities for collaboration. Take the case of Iran. The military options for preventing a nuclear Iran by force are risky and probably futile, as the Iranians have hidden most of the critical materials. Any strike would also likely lead to a nationalist wave that could only strengthen the current Iranian regime. An invasion to change the regime, even if the United States did not have 120,000 troops held hostage in Iraq, would be beyond our means. In January, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, backed by a 200-page dossier, declared that his government, like those of France and Germany, does not believe there is a useful military option in Iran. If the United States were to precipitately invade Iran, it would have no major European allies.

Over the past year, the British, French, and German governments have crafted a joint initiative to create a peaceful alternative. They have offered Tehran diplomatic and economic incentives to forgo nuclear weapons and place its program under multilateral supervision, while threatening further sanctions if it does not. (The informal and tripartite nature of this initiative is further evidence of both the strength of the post-Iraq European consensus and the essential irrelevance of legalistic commitments.) We do not know how likely the European effort is to succeed, but the British, French, and Germans believe it can't succeed without American support. It would seem prudent for the United States to fully explore the possibility of offering Tehran a security pledge and economic benefits in exchange for forgoing nuclear weapons, much like the deal John F. Kennedy offered Cuba.

Yet conservatives inside and outside the administration have publicly criticized Europe's Iran initiative as naive. In her confirmation hearings and even in interviews abroad, Secretary of State Rice pointedly refused to rule out a military strike. The administration is reported to be split on the advisability of an attack, with most top officials retaining it as a live option. A repeat of Iraq may well be in the offing, right down to widespread but unsupported claims in conservative circles that Iran is teetering on the brink of a reformist revolution -- a claim for which little reputable evidence exists.

* * *

If there is any hope for trans-Atlantic cooperation under a second Bush administration, it probably lies in lower-profile efforts to craft pragmatic solutions to specific problems, while keeping any initiatives below the public rhetoric of presidential speeches (whether by Chirac or Bush) and congressional electioneering. Some examples are:

Intelligence Cooperation. A model for such a strategy is ongoing intelligence cooperation; the United States works very closely with European governments to share intelligence. Of particular value is intelligence from France -- which still possesses, unlike the United States, a human intelligence network inherited from colonial times. French information has foiled a number of major terrorist attacks on U.S. citizens at home and abroad.

Strategic Export Controls. The Europeans will soon lift their post-Tiananmen arms export embargo on China. This is a symbolic act desired by the Chinese to acknowledge the current leadership's greater openness and desired by the Europeans largely for economic reasons. The incentives to electioneer are almost irresistible. Congressional Republicans have issued a statement insisting that this issue is a “test” of whether Europeans are fit to be allies, and hinting darkly at sanctions and a reassessment of U.S. strategic commitments. This issue is poised to become a major trans-Atlantic row. Yet it is unnecessary. The truth is that -- below the level of symbolic politics -- the Europeans are proposing to replace the current export control system with a stronger, more transparent, and more detailed system. The smart U.S. strategy (not least because the Europeans, with strong support from “new Europeans” like Italy, Spain, and Britain, will move forward anyway) would be for mid-level officials to work quietly with Europeans to strengthen that list -- a policy recommended by our British allies. Yet such a pragmatic view remains at best controversial within the administration for essentially ideological and bureaucratic reasons.

Killer Containers. The lifeblood of the world economy flows through shipping containers. Yet of the containers that enter Western ports, only a small percentage are inspected. A centralized tracking system with information on the origins and contents of all containers could be had for just a few dollars a container. The existence of more detailed data, and a level playing field in enforcing data provision rules, would benefit business as well by improving the efficiency of trade, while also dampening smuggling of goods and narcotics. If Federal Express knows where your packages are and where they came from, shouldn't homeland-security agents as well?

“Loose Nukes.” Forty countries possess nuclear materials that could be fashioned into either an atomic or “dirty” (radioactive) bomb, much of which remains vulnerable to theft or purchase by terrorists or is held by governments whose motives are in doubt. A robust multilateral nonproliferation regime could be designed to shut down the production, theft, sale, and transfer of nuclear technology, knowledge, and materials, with particular focus on countries such as the former Soviet Union and North Korea. The key to success is providing those nations with financial subsidies and trade preferences -- from the United States as well as Europe -- and securing compliance from private-sector suppliers.

All these policies have the advantages of keeping a low profile and avoiding the sort of heated ideological debates that weigh down the Western alliance. They could be implemented informally, rather than raising sensitive public issues of multilateralism and sovereignty. At the same time, they would indubitably help to reinforce a common understanding of vital interests on both sides of the Atlantic. The Bush administration would get concrete action in the war on terrorism. The Europeans would be able to act through largely diplomatic and civilian means. Moreover, most appeal to broader elite constituencies, including international business, ethnic groups, and nongovernmental organizations. Taken together, the existence of such opportunities would demonstrate that U.S. and European interests are largely convergent and that their policy instruments -- a military superpower America and a civilian superpower Europe -- are ultimately complementary. Therein lies the last best hope for the West.

Andrew Moravcsik is a professor of politics at Princeton University, where he is the director of the European Union Program. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of The Choice for Europe: Social Purpose and State Power from Messina to Maastricht.