Stopping the Drift: Recalibrating the Transatlantic Relationship for a Multipolar World


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Stopping the Drift: Recalibrating the Transatlantic Relationship for a Multipolar World

  1. 1. CREDITSCentre for European StudiesDesign: RARO S.L.Printed in Brussels by Drukkerij Jo VandenbulckeBrusselsCentre for European StudiesRue du Commerce 20Brussels, BE – 1000The Centre for European Studies (CES) is the official think-tank of the European People´s Party(EPP) dedicated to the promotion of Christian democrat, conservative and like-minded politicalvalues.For more information please visit:www.thinkingeurope.euThis publication receives funding from the European Parliament.© Centre for European Studies 2010Photos used in this publication: Centre for European Studies 2010The European Parliament and the Centre for European Studies assume no responsibility for facts oropinions expressed in this publication or their subsequent use. Sole responsibility lies on the authorof this publication.2
  2. 2. Stopping the DriftThe New TransatlanticParadoxYou might call it the Obama Paradox: With the election ofBarack Hussein Obama as forty-fourth president of theUnited States, America chose a leader the entire worldseemed to identify with. Europe, in particular, hailed themulti-ethnic, post-racial and cosmopolitan Obama with reliefand hope as ‘one of us’. Atlanticists on both sides of theocean were certain that this president would save and renewthe transatlantic alliance. Yet two years later, the UnitedStates and Europe are further apart on many key issues thanthey have ever been—in their policies as much as in publicattitudes. For the United States, Europe appears to be lessrelevant than ever before in recent history; in Europe, anti-Americanism seems to be drifting into simple (and often noteven hostile) indifference. The transatlantic gap, far fromhaving narrowed, seems to have widened. The post-World War II alliance between the United Statesand Europe, grounded as it was in the shared experience ofsurvival after an epochal mass slaughter, in a commonperception of threat and in widely overlapping interests andvalues, was bound to mutate with the passage ofgenerations into a more pragmatic, less emotionalrelationship. Then, at least for a moment, the attacks of 11September 2001 seemed to herald a return to the old senseof unity, based on a joint stance against a global terroristthreat. But in retrospect, it has become clear that the so-called Global War on Terror was an interlude as well. 3
  3. 3. Stopping the Drift There are those—like Robert Kagan—who argue that weare in fact returning to normality, because the entire periodwhich saw the creation and flowering of the transatlanticalliance between 1945 and 1989 was itself a historicalanomaly.1 They contend that history, far from disappearing,is coming back with a vengeance, in the shape of classicnineteenth-century–style great power competition, the keydifference being that (at least in America) the EuropeanUnion or individual European nations are no longerconsidered likely to play a featuring role in this game. Thistake on the current state of the world implies a transatlanticrelationship in which Europe is at best a minor ally to the US,and at worst, a deadweight irrelevance. Yet there is a major flaw in this view. It ignores two forcesthat did not exist in the nineteenth century, but are the primeshapers of the twenty-first century’s geopolitical landscape.Firstly, globalisation—the worldwide exchange of goods,people and ideas—has created degrees of integrationwhose political implications we are only beginning to grasp.At the very least, it limits the sovereign freedom of actionthat nation states took for granted during most of theirexistence. For evidence, one need look no further than thecurrent global economic crisis, which provided a starkrevelation to governments in Washington, European capitalsand Beijing of just how complex the web of globalinterdependencies had become. Second, the post-1945international liberal order, created by the United States andEurope, is being challenged by the new phenomenon ofmultipolarity: the rise of non-Western powers like Russia,China, India and Brasil. Despite some talk of a ‘Beijingconsensus’, these challengers rarely present rival visions of1 R. Kagan, The Return of History and the End of Dreams (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008).4
  4. 4. Stopping the Driftwhat a new order ought to look like. But their arrival raisesthe prospect of a future global disorder, because some ofthe new powers act as spoilers, and all instinctively rejectWestern pleas to act as ‘responsible stakeholders’. In sum, these forces—globalisation and multipolarity—givethe United States and Europe more rather than fewer reasonsto coordinate and cooperate with each other on a broadrange of issues from climate to trade to foreign and securitypolicy. Of course, the US remains the world’s solesuperpower, and the main stakeholder in global governance.But its power, hard and soft, has been eroded over the pastdecade. In an increasingly multipolar world, America needsalliances with like-minded countries more than it did in anearlier age, because they give it leverage and help conserveits resources. Europe, conversely, is a trade giant, butremains—to put it politely—vertically challenged in thepolitical sense. Still, its ambitions (and, occasionally, its senseof responsibility) extend considerably beyond its immediateneighbourhood: Europe thinks of itself as America’s keypartner and co-stakeholder in dealing with global challenges,but it needs American power to gain worldwide leverage. YetAmerica has made it very clear that Europe should no longerrely blindly on its ability to ride on the superpower’s coat-tails,or to shelter in its shadow. Europeans for the most partunderstand this, but they have yet to draw the appropriateconclusions. On both sides of the Atlantic, then, there is atension between goals and capability that ought, logically, todraw America and Europe closer together. This report will examine America’s and Europe’s positionsin the world and their relationship with one another. What arethe reasons for the widening of the divide? Are they rootedin current political or individual constellations, or are there 5
  5. 5. Stopping the Driftlarger structural causes—even paradigm shifts—that areslowly driving the partners apart? It will then discuss several areas of transatlanticcooperation and describe how the current divides over theseissues can be bridged and a new framework established: anew transatlantic relationship for the multipolar age.Recalibrating AmericanPower for a Multipolar AgeWhen Obama took office in January 2009, he found himselffaced with an extraordinary set of challenges: a country in thethroes of the worst recession since the Great Depression; twomilitary operations in dire straits; a bitterly divided, anxiousand war-weary public—and all this in the context of anunprecedented erosion of American influence and legitimacy,as well as the rise of new, non-Western powers. It was clearthat the new president’s immediate priority would have to berepairing America, not reordering the world. Obamaacknowledged as much when he explained to a gathering ofWest Point cadets that America’s commitment in Afghanistancould not be open-ended, ‘because the nation that I’m mostinterested in building is our own’.22 Barack Obama, ‘The way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan’ (speech at the US MilitaryAcademy at West Point, 1 December 2009). The May 2010 US National Security Strategynoted a ‘fundamental connection between our national security, our national competitiveness,resilience, and moral example’ (p. 1). Available at
  6. 6. Stopping the Drift In response, Obama has emphasised domestic policy—the economy, jobs, health care, clean-up after the BP oilspill—throughout most of his first 18 months in office. Yet hehas also crafted a remarkably bold and complex strategy forrecalibrating America’s role as a superpower in a multipolarworld. It seeks to repair American legitimacy and power. Atthe same time, it aims to reduce the burden on America asmanager of global governance by persuading old and newpowers to take on greater responsibilities. Europe, in thiscontext, is seen as adding value inasmuch as and to theextent that it is able and willing to share the burden of globalgovernance with America. It remains a partner, perhaps eventhe preferred partner. But it is no longer the automaticdefault partner for the United States.A Strategy for America in a Changed WorldNo single stand-alone document lays out an ‘ObamaDoctrine’. Yet two years after Obama’s inauguration, it isclear that such a doctrine exists, and has been meticulouslyconsidered. Aspects of it have been formulated in theNational Security Strategy (NSS), the Nuclear Posture Reviewand the Quadrennial Defense Review; it is supported andexplained in a string of speeches and essays, by thePresident himself, and also by other members of his team,such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary ofDefense Robert Gates. Taken together, these texts provide ananalysis of the world in our times—and America’s role in it. The pivotal insight of the Obama Doctrine is therecognition that the power of the United States of America isnot just diminished, but also limited. It is diminished becauseits soft power has been drained by the economic crisis and 7
  7. 7. Stopping the Driftthe erosion of its legitimacy, and because its hard power hasbeen eroded through overuse and overstretch. Thisdiminution may be transient; history has shown many timesthat America possesses an extraordinary ability to regroupand regain its strength. But the limitations on Americanpower are new, fundamental and permanent, because theyderive from the combined impact of globalisation and therise of other powers, such as Russia, China and India. Obviously, America remains the world’s sole superpowerin absolute terms. Its military, economic and cultural strengthwill continue to eclipse that of most rising powers for theforeseeable future; even China remains far from being agenuine strategic competitor. America’s intention to lead isnot in question. And hard power—the use of force—continues to occupy a central place as the ultimate resourcein the United States’ foreign policy toolkit. True, Obama’sNational Security Strategy no longer mentions pre-emption,but it also says that the US should maintain conventionalmilitary superiority over all potential adversaries.3 In hisNobel Prize acceptance speech, Obama explicitly reaffirmedthe doctrine of just war, as well as that of humanitarianintervention.4 Yet in today’s world, hard power matters less, relativelyspeaking. It is of limited use in preventing acts of terrorism orhalting a cyberattack. In Obama’s view, the Bushadministration grossly overemphasised the centrality ofdeterring threats far from America’s borders, simply replacing3 National Security Strategy, May 2010, 22.4 ‘Remarks by the President at the acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize’, 10 December 2009;available at
  8. 8. Stopping the Driftthe Cold War’s Soviet territorial menace with the moreamorphous threat of Islamist terrorism as an organisingprinciple of national security. The new NSS downgrades therole of counterterrorism and adds a host of other nationalsecurity issues, including nuclear proliferation, cyberthreats,climate change, pandemics, global criminal networks, fossilfuel dependency and the hypertrophic US national debt.More fundamentally still, the new NSS appears to haveshifted emphasis from direct power projection to (oftenindirect) risk management.5 Compared with thetransformational thrust of the Bush administration’s foreignpolicy, Obama’s take on the world is far more realistic. Heassumes that the US cannot be protected against all threatsand that it would be pointless and wasteful to try; far better isto prioritise, accept that bad things happen and manage theafter-effects. This requires the US to deploy all the tools in itsforeign policy toolbox, in order to focus on prevention andpersuasion, as well as to create resilience at home throughreducing vulnerabilities. In this thinking, soft power almostalways trumps hard power, because it conserves resourcesand energy; it helps to match America’s mission to its means. Globalisation and the rise of other powers only reinforcethe need for America to use its influence intelligently: ‘Noone nation can meet global challenges alone.’6 Obama’sunique take here is to refuse to concede that multipolarity5 These shifts are also clearly reflected in the February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review; seepp. 5–16 and pp. 89–95; available at See also R.M. Gates,‘Helping others defend themselves’, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2010; available at National Security Strategy, May 2010, 1. In many ways, this analysis appears to build on theNational Intelligence Council’s ‘Global trends 2025: A transformed world’ (November 2008);available at 9
  9. 9. Stopping the Driftimplies a return to great power games, balancing and zero-sum thinking. Unlike traditional realists, he firmly believesthat even competing powers can be brought to cooperate—by persuasion and the realisation that cooperation is in theirown enlightened self-interest. Obama seeks to recruit otherpowers as responsible stakeholders in order to share theburden of international governance, and thereby to leverageand maximise America’s influence.7The Troubles of Translating Strategy into PolicyFaced with the twin challenges of diminished and limitedAmerican power, the Obama administration proceeded withgreat deliberation to repair the damage, as well as tomitigate the new constraints on its foreign policy. The President has dealt with the diminution of US powerin three main ways: by working to rebuild America’s strengthat home, repair its soft power abroad and prioritise itsforeign engagements. The economy, energy, infrastructure, banking, housing,jobs, education, health care, immigration, social inequality—the scope and scale of the domestic challenges Obamafound on his desk when he took office in January 2009 werehistoric, and impossible to tackle all at once. Theadministration did manage to bail out some of America’s7 See, for example, Obama’s speech at the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2009;available at See also A.-M. Slaughter, ‘America’s edge: Power in thenetworked century’, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2010, 94–113; available at
  10. 10. Stopping the Driftlargest banks, and pushed a $787 billion stimulus package(including funds for public infrastructure investments, energyefficiency and renewables) through Congress. It coordinatedthe international response to the economic crisis. In theprocess, the Obama team managed the transition from theG8 to the G20 as the central forum of economic andfinancial consultation for the world’s key economies. TheObamacare project swiftly degenerated from a hard slog intoa national all-out partisan fight—which clearly came as anasty surprise to the administration—but the epochal healthcare reforms were finally voted into being by Congress inMarch 2009. In July, the Dodd-Frank Act enacted the mostsweeping financial regulation reform since the Depression.At the halfway mark of Obama’s first term, much of hisnational reform agenda remains unfinished, and America’sdomestic travails are far from over. But today moreAmericans have decent health care coverage than everbefore in their country’s history. The swift action of thePresidential team at the outset of the economic crisisappears to have stopped the recession, though theeconomy continues to struggle. Notwithstanding the grimness of America’s domesticsituation, Obama simultaneously undertook to repairAmerica’s soft power abroad. Within months of coming tooffice, the President ordered the closure of the Guantánamoprison, banned torture, paid his country’s UN debts andsubmitted to Congress legislation curbing greenhouse gasemissions. During a year-long round of worldwide travel, heapologised to the Japanese people for Hiroshima andNagasaki, and to G20 leaders for America’s part in causingthe global financial crisis. He expressed his respect forRussia, as well as Islam and the Muslim world, and toldEuropean audiences that he had come to listen rather than to 11
  11. 11. Stopping the Driftlecture. He even stretched out a hand to problematic leaderssuch as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s HugoChávez. In the speeches he gave while travelling, heexpressed himself directly and courteously, emphasisingarguments rather than making demands, and he laid out theblueprint for a complete overhaul of US strategy. In doing all this, Obama scored several key points at thesame time. He affirmed America’s ideal self-image as aresponsible, benign and righteous nation, committed to thedefence of the international order and the global commons(and in doing so, discreetly dismissed his predecessor’spolicies). He reset the standards for international discourseabout foreign policy to a level of civility and seriousness notseen in years. In leading by example, he morally disarmedhis critics in authoritarian countries and put unresponsiveleaders on the defensive, making them look unprepared,graceless or weak. This effect is corroborated in recentsurveys by the Pew Research Center and the GermanMarshall Fund,8 which show that overall approval rates forPresident Obama’s foreign policy remain high, despitedisagreements over specific contentious issues like Iran orAfghanistan. Prioritising (and reducing) America’s foreign engagementsin the short term is essential, in this administration’s view, tohelping America conserve its resources and rebuild itsstrength in the long term: hence the withdrawal from Iraq inthe summer of 2010 (a continued presence of tens of8 Pew Research Center, ‘Muslim disappointment: Obama more popular abroad than at home,global image of US continues to benefit’, Global Attitudes Project, 17 July 2010; available at; German MarshallFund, ‘Transatlantic Trends’, 15 September 2010; available at
  12. 12. Stopping the Driftthousands of ‘trainers’ notwithstanding); and hence thesurge aimed at creating the conditions for a handover ofresponsibility to the Afghan authorities to begin in 2011. Atthe same time, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates isruthlessly culling senior officer positions, commands, staffand major weapons programmes. The point is not simply tocut costs or to relieve the overstretched US military; rather, itis to satisfy the needs of ongoing operations. To this end,the Pentagon is shifting resources away from expensive andtactically outdated legacy platforms (such as the F-22 fighterplane) and into weapons that are in far greater demand inAfghanistan or Iraq, like unmanned drones. Gates has alsotold allies to contribute more troops to joint NATO operationsor risk not receiving US help in the future. Foreign policy has been prioritised in similarly pragmaticways. Here, too, this president has been choosing hisbattles very carefully. Despite calling the conflict in Sudan a‘genocide’ in his Nobel acceptance speech, Obama hasscrupulously avoided any US role there beyond diplomacy.His response to the brutal quelling of the Green movementafter the 2009 elections in Iran was cautious in the extreme,as had been his reaction in 2008 (when he was a candidatefor presidency) to China’s forcible ending of unrest in Tibet.He has also trod very quietly regarding Moscow’s failure tohonour its obligation under the 2009 Russo-Georgianceasefire agreement to withdraw its forces from Georgiaproper. Some of this reluctance is no doubt due to the fact thatObama and his team have come to the conclusion thatpromotion of democracy and public lectures on humanrights have become toxic by association with the presidencyof George W. Bush. But more importantly, it is rooted in the 13
  13. 13. Stopping the Driftsecond fundamental diagnosis informing Obama’s strategy:Even a rejuvenated America will face limitations on its powerbecause of the rise of new competitors and potentialchallengers. The ‘smart power’ approach here is to seekcooperation from these new powers, based on shared or atleast similar interests, and to persuade them to share theburden of global governance by becoming responsiblestakeholders. In particular, Washington’s attention has beenfocused on Beijing and Moscow. China’s sheer size, its rapid growth and its impressiveability to modernise, but also its military build-up and itsaggressive resource diplomacy around the world, currentlymake it the only plausible future strategic competitor to theUnited States. At the same time, Beijing holds $800 billionin US debt, meaning that China and America areeconomically joined at the hip, regardless of their politicaldifferences. For Washington, this means that persuadingand cajoling China to become a responsible stakeholderand co-governor of the international order is its biggest andmost urgent foreign policy imperative. Certainly, the Obamaadministration has tried hard. During a November 2009 visitto the region, Obama pledged that the US would seek‘pragmatic cooperation’ with China, not containment; hisremarks in Shanghai contained twice as many references to‘respect’ as to ‘democracy’.9 He deferred a meeting withthe Dalai Lama until after the trip. Shortly before thePresident’s visit, a senior administration official had offeredwhat he called a pact of ‘strategic reassurance’: ‘Just aswe and our allies must make clear that we are prepared to9 Barack Obama, remarks at a town hall meeting with students in Shanghai, 16 November2009. Available at
  14. 14. Stopping the Driftwelcome China’s arrival as a prosperous and successfulpower, China must reassure the rest of the world that itsdevelopment and growing global role will not come at theexpense of security and well-being of others.’ 10 Commentsabout China’s diplomacy, its environmental policies or itshuman rights record were made sotto voce or behindclosed doors. Even on the issue of the value of therenminbi, the US has been avoiding overt pressure or evenconfrontational rhetoric. The response from China so far has been mixed, rangingfrom wary collaboration on individual issues (UN sanctionsagainst Iran, the economic crisis) to outright refusal tocooperate at the Copenhagen climate negotiations inDecember 2009. If anything, the prospects for rationalengagement as envisaged by the US President appear likelyto decrease, as China veers between fitful assertivenessabroad and preoccupation with its own looming leadershipchanges and prospects for domestic stability, and as tradeprotectionist impulses in the US grow stronger. Improving the relationship with Russia—the ‘Russiareset’—was another key Obama goal. Here, too, theadministration has invested a great deal of effort inimproving the atmosphere by repeated references to Russiaas a ‘great power’ and the US’s desire for a ‘strong, peacefuland prosperous Russia’,11 as well as a deliberatedowngrading of issues that had been dear to the Bush10 Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, remarks at the Center for a New AmericanSecurity, Washington, DC, 24 September 2009. Available at President Barack Obama, remarks at the New Economic School graduation, Moscow, 7 July2009. Available at 15
  15. 15. Stopping the Driftadministration’s heart (and fiercely opposed by theRussians), such as NATO enlargement, missile defence andpromotion of democracy in Eastern Europe. In return,Washington got cooperation over troop transport routes toAfghanistan, Iran sanctions and the New START treaty onstrategic arms reductions. Nonetheless, Washington doesnot see Russia (unlike China) as a potential strategiccompetitor, or even as a potential collaborator in globalgovernance, given its dysfunctional politics and a pervasivecorruption reaching high into the country’s leadership. TheUS has consequently been quietly dismissive of Russianproposals for a new Euro-Atlantic security architecture(which would in effect give Moscow a veto in NATO).American expectations of Russia’s willingness and ability toengage with other major powers are clearly very limited.These reservations were no doubt reinforced by the Russianauthorities’ shambolic handling of the catastrophic forestfires during the summer of 2010.And… What Role for Europe?Given the limited results from Washington’s recent wooing ofChina and its narrow expectations from Russia, what role isthere in the Obama administration’s strategy for Europe—first among America’s strategic relationships for over half acentury? After all, the transatlantic relationship, beyond alldisagreements on issues, remains indispensable, sweepingand deep in a way that none of America’s other bilateralrelationships can begin to match, from politics to militarycooperation, and from commerce12 to cultural exchanges.12 P. Whyte, ‘Narrowing the Atlantic: The way forward for EU-US trade and investment’, Centrefor European Reform, April 2009.16
  16. 16. Stopping the DriftSurely the rise of new, non-Western powers ought to causethe Western nations to draw even closer? Yet the Obama administration’s approach to Europe has,overall, been oddly muted. Obama himself made six trips toEurope in 2009 alone. In a speech in Strasbourg in April2009, he announced that he had ‘come to renew ourpartnership, one in which America listens and learns fromour friends and allies’.13 But at the same time, presidentialmeetings with European leaders were curtailed or cancelled,as was an entire US–EU summit. Despite Obama’s still-highpopularity ratings in Europe, policymakers on both sides ofthe Atlantic found themselves in disagreement—sometimesbehind closed doors, sometimes in public—on a broadrange of issues: the right approach to the global economiccrisis, voting rights on the boards of the internationalfinancial institutions, the Afghan surge, the release ofprisoners from Guantánamo, missile defence in Europe,climate change policy, Turkey’s bid for EU membership,tracking terrorists via sharing of banking data and rewritingNATO’s strategic concept. Finally, there was realconsternation in Europe when the President attended neitherthe commemoration of the beginning of the Second WorldWar in Gdansk nor the commemoration of the twentiethanniversary of the fall of the Wall in Berlin. Meanwhile, areas of real strategic agreement, such assanctions on Iran or the Afghan surge, are few, and oftenbased on a brittle consensus (the Europeans hope thatsanctions will prevent military strikes, and see the surge as13 Barack Obama, remarks at Strasbourg Town Hall, Strasbourg, 3 April 2009. Available at 17
  17. 17. Stopping the Driftthe unavoidable price to pay for an early pull-out).Apparently, there is neither an ‘Obama bonus’ nor a‘multipolarity bonus’ for the transatlantic relationship. Indeed,it is beginning to seem as though the loosening of America’sties to Europe may not be a temporary phenomenon, after all,but something rather more permanent. The root causes for this drift range from the tectonic to thetransitory to the tactical. On the tectonic end of the scale,there is the simple but fundamental reality that a US–Europeanalliance whose raison d’être has shifted from the deterrence ofa common territorial threat to joint global risk managementmust necessarily find it much more difficult to come to a broadbasis of agreement. Moreover, during the Cold War, thestrategic imbalance between America’s worldwide purviewand Europe’s strictly regional remit was (mostly) irrelevant. Buttoday, from the vantage point of an America urgently seekingco-equal partners in leadership, it has become a glaringdeficit. Finally, a strategy based on risk management ratherthan threat deterrence does not fit well with rigid institutionsand alliances—or with historic allegiances. Nowhere has thisbecome more clearly visible than in the Obamaadministration’s attitude towards NATO. Where George W.Bush and his predecessor saw NATO as the anchor of a liberalinternational order based on Western values, Obama’s teamsees an institutional framework for organising coalitions of thewilling. The focus is less on common values, and much moreemphatically on added value. Achieving any kind of alliance consensus on global riskmanagement requires foresight, flexibility, efficient decision-making processes and deft diplomacy backed by publicopinion. But, as seen from the other side of the Atlantic, allof these are currently in short supply in Europe, due to the18
  18. 18. Stopping the Driftcombined impact of the economic crisis and as-yetundigested structural changes introduced by the LisbonTreaty, as well as a war-weary and increasingly inward-looking public. Hopefully, this state of affairs is transitory, butit sharply limits the Europeans’ utility as allies. Unlike theirneoconservative predecessors, the ‘whatever works’pragmatists in the Obama administration do not insist onideological fealty from their partners. But they do need themto be able to act and produce results. From Washington’spoint of view, the Europeans are too rarely united (e.g. onclimate policy and Iran) and too often divided (e.g. onRussia, China and energy policy) to be effective. In defence of Europe, some of the transatlanticdisagreements have been due to tactical slip-ups on theAmerican side. Indeed, while this US administrationpossesses a thorough grasp of strategy, its diplomatictradecraft and timing have often been rather less thanperfect. An obvious case in point is the bungledannouncement of Washington’s decision to shift from a land-based to a more flexible (and sensible) missile defencesystem, which triggered concern across Eastern Europe. Inthis and similar cases, the administration listened to criticismand adjusted its policies. The coolness palpable in Washington’s treatment ofEurope is all the more remarkable because so many of theleading policymakers in the administration are profoundlyfamiliar with European culture, languages and politics. Manyamong them have studied in and published extensively onEurope; they speak European languages; some were evenborn in Europe. These are not people whom Europeanscould suspect of ‘not getting us’. They do. That may beprecisely the problem. 19
  19. 19. Stopping the Drift Obama himself is another matter. In his multiracialparentage, peripatetic childhood and cosmopolitan outlook,he is actually more representative of greater demographictrends in his country than the great majority of theWashingtonian policy elite, which remains overwhelminglywhite and ‘Western’ in its thinking. His connections to andexperience of Europe are tenuous, as his autobiography andSenate career attest.14 Obama is undoubtedly sincere whenhe says that European support matters for much that Americadoes in the world. But he is also manifestly the first presidentwho is not an Atlanticist by default.Obama in Mid-Course: a Reality CheckShortly before the November 2010 mid-term elections, Obama’spopularity plummeted; a recent Gallup poll notes that noAmerican president in the history of polling has polarised the USmore in his first year in office than Obama.15 The US economyappears to be headed for at least a half-decade of weak growthand instability, accompanied by pervasive structuralunemployment, which in turn is exacerbated by the fact that thehousing market slump prevents Americans from simply sellingtheir houses and following the jobs. The emergence of a broad-based and incandescently angry Tea Party movement clearlycaught the American political establishment completelyunaware—on the right as much as on the left.14 Barack Obama, in Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York:Three Rivers Press, 2004), wrote about his feeling of alienation as a student travelling inEurope, as well as his Kenyan half-sister’s ‘tribulations’ as a student in Germany (p. 208). Aschairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee on Europe, he did not ever travelthere; nor did he hold a committee hearing on Europe.15 Gallup, ‘Obama’s approval most polarized for first-year president’, 25 January 2010; availableat
  20. 20. Stopping the Drift Some of the anger and criticism is unreasonable. Obamatook office amid global euphoria and a hyperinflation ofexpectations; against that background, disappointment wasguaranteed. He is also not getting due credit for some of thethings he did right, like stopping the recession, or thingswhich, if flawed in execution, were noble in their aspiration,like health care reform. Other problems, like nucleardisarmament or Middle East peace, may simply be toointractable for even the president of the world’s soleremaining superpower to resolve—much less in his first term. Yet in hindsight the Obama’s foreign policy was altogetherover-cautious, such as when he refused to publicly condemnthe brutal repression of Iran’s post-election protests by theregime, or when he deferred his meeting with the Dalai Lamauntil after his visit to China. In many more cases, theadministration failed to see that its rigorously selectiveprioritisation would expose it to accusations that it was willingto sacrifice issues it cares about profoundly, such as humanrights and democracy,16 in favour of achieving progress on itschosen fronts: the Russia reset versus support for politicaltransformation in Europe’s eastern periphery; engagingBeijing versus freedom of speech for the Chinese and theTibetans; and strengthening relations with the Egyptiangovernment at the expense of Egyptian human rightsactivists.17 It must be said that Obama’s team—Secretary of StateHilary Clinton and her undersecretary for Europe, Philip16 See President Obama’s seminal speech at Cairo University on 4 June 2009 (available at G. Packer, ‘Rights and wrongs’, New Yorker, 17 May 2010; available at 21
  21. 21. Stopping the DriftGordon—have spent much of the past year redressing theseimbalances. The US sponsored a 12-nation military exercisein the Baltic in 2010, deployed missile defences in Poland andcalled on NATO to draw up defence plans for its newermembers; all these are things the Western European countrieshave long been reluctant to do, and to which the Kremlin hasstrenuously objected. Similarly, in Asia, Obama has combinedhis overtures to China with continued arms sales to Taiwan. But all too often Obama’s team stumbled and stalledbecause of flawed execution. Europeans’ refusal to take informer Guantánamo detainees in numbers large enough topermit the closure of the prison badly wrong-footed theadministration’s policymakers, as did US taxpayers’resistance to Obamacare, Congress’s opposition to climatechange legislation and Israeli outrage at the President’s bluntpublic criticism of settlements. This recurrence of disagreeable surprises for the Obamateam points to a deeper, more insidious problem, one rootedin the doctrine rather than its implementation. At any rate,Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, China and indeed Europe havedone very little to validate Obama’s vision of a rationallycooperative multipolar world. For example, when the US, in amove designed to give new powers a greater say in globaleconomic affairs, suggested the Europeans should give upsome of their voting rights on the board of the InternationalMonetary Fund, reactions from Europe were indignant;Germany suggested the US should give up its veto right inreturn. Indeed, the strategic default position of many of thenew powers and other actors whom the US aims to engageconstructively seems to be reluctant and partial cooperationat best, and outright rivalry at worst. (Even in the case ofmajor powers like China and Russia, there is much to suggest22
  22. 22. Stopping the Driftthat their freedom to manoeuvre is greatly constrained by theirpolitical dysfunctionality and structural instability.) This begs the question: does the Obama administrationhave a Plan B, a response in cases where the outstretchedhand is rejected? (One of the little-remarked side benefits ofObama’s soft-power campaign is that it provides legitimacyfor harsher action when example, incentives and persuasionfail.)18 The answer is already visible in some areas: sanctionswith real bite against Iran and a rougher tone towards Chinaafter its latest military muscle-flexing, including filingcomplaints against it at the World Trade Organisation. Nodoubt these will not be the last examples. Still, here too,America’s options are currently limited. It may leave themilitary option on the table with regard to Iran, but given theongoing presence of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, theactual likelihood of it being exercised is remote. In the end,being able to steer a course of patient and enlighteneddiplomacy that engenders occasional cooperation fromothers may well be as good as it gets for Obama.After the Midterms, What Foreign Policy?Barack Obama’s Democratic Party suffered a historic‘shellacking’—as the President put it—in the 2 November2010 midterm elections. Having lost the Democratic majorityin the House and barely held on to it in the Senate, what willthis defeat mean for the President’s foreign and securitypolicy agenda? There are several possible scenarios.18 Or as President Obama said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, ‘Yes, there will beengagement, there will be diplomacy, but there will be consequences when these things fail’(‘Remarks by the President at the acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize’; see n. 4 above). 23
  23. 23. Stopping the Drift On the Administration side, a chastened President,informed by post-vote polls that his electorate felt he hadbeen devoting too much attention to foreign entanglementsand not enough to repairing the economy, might well try toput his foreign policy on auto-pilot for the rest of his tenure.Conversely, having lost the ability to push through atransformative national reform agenda, he might turn toforeign policy (Middle East peace? Russia in NATO? A de-nuclearised Iran?) in order to burnish his legacy. The Republicans’ victory in Congress might encouragethem to try to force the President to implement their goals,as they did in the late 1990s when they forced missiledefence on an unwilling Bill Clinton; still, the lack of a Senatemajority will hamper any such effort. Moreover, there arehuge disagreements within the conservative camp, not juston specific issues, but on their overall relevance as opposedto domestic concerns. Some Republican grandees, likeSenator McCain or Obama’s Secretary of Defense RobertGates, are committed internationalists, and still set greatstore by America’s European allies (frustrations notwith -standing); but they are a dwindling band within their ownparty. The prevailing mood among the Tea Partiers inCongress is isolationist, not interventionist. In fact, it is by nomeans clear that there is currently such a thing as aRepublican foreign policy agenda. As for the voting public, its attitude is succinctly expressedin a December 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center whichfound, for the first time in 40 years, that a plurality ofrespondents wants the US to ‘leave the world alone’.1919 Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, ‘U.S. seen as less important, China asmore powerful: Isolationist sentiment surges to four-decade high’, Survey Reports, 3 December2009,
  24. 24. Stopping the DriftA Europe Lost in Transition?By rights, 2010 ought to have turned out to be a glory yearfor Europe, and for its relations with America and the rest ofthe world. The Lisbon Treaty, in force since1 December 2009, was supposed to help it leverage andtransform its economic weight and normative pull intopolitical superpower status—or at least into greater politicalcoherence and relevance. Many old irritants in Europe’sforeign policy have disappeared, and Europe, while hard hitby the global economic crisis, has been rising to thechallenge. Yet Europe appears more morose and inwardlooking than ever. What went wrong? The Lisbon Treaty brought a series of sweeping changesto consolidate Europe’s institutional architecture and make itmore effective. The European Union is now a single legalpersonality. This is not merely symbolic; it means that the EUcan now sign treaties, represent its 27 members inmultilateral institutions and deploy representatives abroadwho are able to speak on behalf of all its institutions. Withnew co-decision-making powers over the EU budget and agreater say in the legislation tabled by the EuropeanCommission, the European Parliament is the other bigwinner of the Lisbon Treaty, even though its democraticlegitimacy still leaves something to be desired. These‘federalising’ gains are balanced by a strengthening of theEuropean Council through the appointment of a president,who over a two-and-a-half-year term acts as themouthpiece for the 27 heads of state and government, setssummit agendas and hosts state visits to the EU. The most important change, however, concerns the EU’sforeign policy institutions. By creating the position of high 25
  25. 25. Stopping the Driftrepresentative for foreign and security policy (which mergestwo previous positions, the Council’s foreign policy supremo,and the head of external relations for the Commission), theLisbon Treaty resolves a long-running and crippling divisionbetween resources held by the Commission on the onehand, and the political and policy clout of the EuropeanCouncil on the other. The high representative will rely on anew European External Action Service (EEAS), which, after ayear of difficult negotiations, started operating on 1 January2011. By 2013, it should bring together as many as 7,000officials from the Commission and the Council, as well asthe 27 European diplomatic services, with a base in Brusselsand 136 EU delegations abroad. Meanwhile, some key irritants in Europe’s foreign policyhave faded away. The rancorous transatlantic divide over theIraq war, between an American ‘unipolar hegemon’ and aEuropean soft-power ‘counterweight’, was consigned to thehistory books during the latter days of the Bushadministration, with both sides discreetly admitting failure.American attempts to rule Europe by dividing it into ‘Old’and ‘New’ went with it. Instead, the Bush administrationdecided to support the EU’s Common Security and DefencePolicy (CSDP), ending many European governments’ conflictof loyalties between NATO and the EU. Gone as well was theideology of the ‘Global War on Terror’, replaced by a farmore supple, pragmatic and broad-based counter-terrorismeffort. France’s decision to return to NATO’s militarystructure underlined the new cooperative frame of mind, asdid Poland’s full embrace of the CSDP. Russia, too, plays aless divisive role, because the 2008 Russo-Georgian warstripped some of the more enthusiastic European elites oftheir illusions about the will and ability of the Russianleadership to play a ‘responsible stakeholder’ role in26
  26. 26. Stopping the Driftinternational affairs, and because the economic crisis hasmade Russia less assertive. Moscow has also become moreflexible, seeking rapprochement with Warsaw, mendingfences with others such as Ukraine and Norway, and offeringcooperation on Iran (by agreeing to sanctions and stoppingthe already-promised sale of S-300 missiles). As a result,Russia is seen less as a source of internal division than as adifficult and complex neighbour to be managed—as far asthat is possible. Even more importantly, the EU was able to stop Europefrom sliding into a new recession during the Greek crisis inMay 2010 by creating a €440 billion European FinancialStability Facility (EFSF) as a safety net for the 16-memberEurozone against further speculation aimed at underminingthe European common currency. By September 2010, theEU had created three new European supervisory authoritiesfor banking, stock markets and insurance (based,respectively, in London, Paris and Frankfurt). Fears of asystemic meltdown of the euro seem to have beenbanished.From the Symptoms…Despite all these encouraging developments, the prevailingmood in Europe seems to be one of self-doubt and gloom.Indeed, there is substantial evidence to support this crisis ofconfidence. One year after the entry into force of the LisbonTreaty, the process of actually making the new foreign policymachinery function properly—by, for example, setting up thenew EEAS or balancing out the relative powers ofCommission President José Manuel Barroso, EU PresidentHerman Van Rompuy, the High Representative Lady Ashton 27
  27. 27. Stopping the Driftand the governments of the 27 Member States—hasappeared mostly as a protracted and petty wrangle aboutcontrol, resources and appointments, in which short-termparochial interests (status, salaries, office size) all tooregularly get the upper hand. As for the issues themselves,the symptoms of crisis are visible across the board, fromeconomic to social to foreign policy. The economic crisis revealed the inability of the EU topolice its own stability and growth pact, and threw a stark lighton the weaknesses of many European economies, as well ason the profound structural imbalances within the singlemarket, long considered the central mainstay of Europeanunity and power. It also revealed ideological disagreementsbetween Member States over key policy questions andappropriate responses: austerity versus stimulus, bailoutversus sovereign default, stricter oversight of national budgetprocesses versus sanctions, treaty changes versus pragmaticmuddling through and, of course, the core question of therespective roles of EU institutions as opposed to nationalgovernments in making economic and fiscal policy decisions. If many of these differences remain unresolved nearly twoyears after the onset of the crisis, one development hasbecome unambiguous: despite the recent bailouts ofGreece and Ireland and the creation of new Europeansupervisory institutions, the general trend is towards the re-governmentalisation of European economic policy.20 A taskforce on ‘economic governance’ headed by CouncilPresident Van Rompuy was more or less quashed by the20 K. Barysch, ‘The political consequences of the euro crisis,’ Centre for European ReformBulletin 74 (October/November 2010): 1–2; available at
  28. 28. Stopping the Driftcapitals, and strict new sanctions rules proposed by theCommission in late September (with strong German input)are already being met with resistance from governments.21National protectionism—whether in the form of Germanyenacting ‘cash-for-clunkers’ measures to protect itsautomotive industry, or France’s President NicolasSarkozy’s abortive attempts to prevent French carmakersfrom outsourcing jobs to the Czech Republic—is hardly anew phenomenon, and probably peaked during therecession. The new element here is that Europeangovernments, including Germany, have become far lesssqueamish about pursuing short-term national interests,whereas the larger nations (particularly France andGermany) are displaying an increasingly robust sense ofentitlement to direct Europe’s economic course throughunilateral, uncoordinated actions. All this, combined with along and nasty public debate about the Greek bailout inMay 2010 (pitting the ‘frugal’ countries of the North againstthe ‘profligate’ nations of the South), has underminedEuropean solidarity at home, and its credibility abroad.Since the difficulties of the Eurozone are far from over—theeconomies of Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain remainfragile — it is by no means assured that Europe’s solidaritywill not be tested again. Social policy, too, has become polarised to anunprecedented degree. The simmering tension recentlycame to a head when Sarkozy clashed with EU Home andJustice Affairs Commissioner Viviane Reding over France’sdeportations of Roma after their camps had been brokenup by police.21 C. Gammelin, ‘Die Union der Bindungsscheuen’, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 30 September 2010. 29
  29. 29. Stopping the Drift The Roma (estimated at 10–12 million people) areEurope’s largest and most disenfranchised ethnic minoritygroup, but at least they are EU citizens. Although migrationinto the EU has remained stagnant throughout the decadeand slightly lower than in the late 1980s and early 1990s,the issue has once more become politically divisive. AcrossEurope, the economic crisis has exacerbated theincomprehension and tensions between the ‘indigenous’population and immigrants, including a growing group ofMuslims (estimated at 38 million in the EU).22 Nationalistand anti-immigration parties like the Hungarian JobbikParty are on the rise (Jobbik became the third largest blocin the Hungarian parliament after elections in April 2010).The Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands, the so-called Sweden Democrats and the Italian Lega Nord havebecome kingmakers in government coalitions.Governments and mainstream parties fearful of losing theirmajorities have responded with strict policies, pushingforcefully for greater integration, and threatening therecalcitrant with expulsion. In Europe’s foreign, defence and security policy there hasalso been a general lowering of ambitions and capabilities.True, the European Union, led by the ‘EU-3’ (France, theUnited Kingdom and Germany), has stood remarkably firmon sanctions against Iran. But there are almost no otherareas of interest in which Europe has been able to setforeign and security policy qua EU. At the Copenhagenclimate summit in December 2009, Europe did not achieveits goal of a binding agreement; worse, it was not even in theroom when the final agreement was hammered out. Despite22 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (Pew Research Centre), ‘Mapping the global Muslimpopulation: A report on the size and distribution of the world’s Muslim population’, 7 October2009; available at
  30. 30. Stopping the DriftEurope’s considerable post-conflict stabilisation experience,Europe’s Afghanistan policy is a patchwork of nationalstrategies and approaches coordinated with NATO andWashington, but not channelled through Brussels. It was theUS, not the EU, which coordinated emergency relief to Haitiafter the disastrous earthquake in January 2010. The EU isabsent in the current round of the Middle East peaceprocess, after years of trying to carve out a strategic positionfor itself and of encouraging other actors, such as SaudiArabia, to play a responsible role. Enlargement—arguablythe Union’s most important foreign policy engine—is all butstalled. Turkey’s accession process has ground to a haltamid bitter recriminations from Ankara and listless snipingbetween the pro- and contra-Turkey camps within Europe.The EU’s Eastern policy, aimed at stabilising Europe’speriphery, remains a mostly unfulfilled promise, leavingcountries like Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova adrift andvulnerable to Russia’s claims of a sphere of ‘privilegedinterest’ in its post-Soviet neighbourhood. On larger global and regional issues where Europe hasexperience, an intrinsic interest and ideas to contribute—such as nuclear disarmament, energy security, NATO’s futurestrategic concept or the reform of global governanceinstitutions (UN, IMF and WTO)—Europeans have been sodivided that they have made few constructive contributions. A similar phenomenon is at work at the national level,even in Europe’s largest and most powerful Member States.Under the pressure of the economic crisis, the UK, Franceand Germany have been reducing foreign service staff andshrinking their global cultural representation networks.Defence budgets are being cut drastically. Since mostEuropean militaries are both bloated and underperforming, 31
  31. 31. Stopping the Driftthis might be an opportunity for rigorous modernisation; butthere is little evidence that these reductions are beinginformed by any strategic considerations beyond Treasuryconcerns. At the same time, Europe’s Member States havestraightforwardly pursued national economic interests—forexample, Germany’s bilateral energy contracts with Russiaand France’s sale of Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia—and the new British Conservative Foreign Minister, WilliamHague, has explicitly charged his diplomats with ‘a greatercommercial focus’.23 All this might perhaps seem honest,rather than cynical, if Europeans devoted greater effort topromoting core European values, like human rights anddemocracy.…to the Causes of the MalaiseThe contrast between the current mood in Europe and thehopes (not to say hubris) of half a decade ago could not bemore striking. But what has caused this astonishing deflationof ambition? The first and most obvious answer is the economic crisis,which has made European publics (much like their Americancounterparts) far more inward looking, focused on theeconomy and unemployment, rather than on global issues.The effect is compounded by a wave of weak leaders. Eventhe few exceptions - the new Prime Minister David Cameron23 William Hague, speech at the Conference of Finnish Heads of Mission, Helsinki, 23 August2010; available at Eurobarometer, Public Opinion In The European Union, Standard Eurobarometer 72,December 2009.32
  32. 32. Stopping the Driftor German Chancellor Angela Merkel appear to take littleinterest in strategic affairs, much less visions of a futureworld order. Yet the forces at work here predate the 2008 financialmeltdown. Two bloody and inconclusive wars in Iraq andAfghanistan, as well as a series of terrorist attacks in Europe(some successful, some foiled) in the wake of the 9/11catastrophe, have exhausted European publics, anddampened their belief in the possibility of nation-buildingabroad. But the difficulties of bridging the political, socialand economic differences of a Europe at 27 have alsodismayed and disappointed many Europeans. Former EUCommissioner Mario Monti sees ‘two mutually reinforcingtrends:… an “integration fatigue” eroding the appetite formore Europe and for a single market, and, more recently, a“market fatigue”, with a reduced confidence in the role of themarket.’25 This bleak mood is aggravated by a growing sense ofpowerlessness stemming from a double dispersal of control,at the international level through globalisation andmultipolarity, and in Europe through the diffusion of powerbetween the European and the national levels. What at firstglance seems like a renationalisation of policy across Europeis in reality an attempt by governments to wrest backcontrol, an attempt at reassertion by a weakened nationstate, but without Nationalism, or even nationalism with asmall ‘n’. It is quite possible that these self-doubts (and theself-absorption that goes with them) have already created a25 M. Monti, ‘A new strategy for the single market: At the service of Europe’s economy andsociety’, report to the President of the European Commission, 9 May 2010; available at 33
  33. 33. Stopping the Driftperceptions trap, which causes Europe’s governments tounderestimate their power and leverage vis-à-visdysfunctional powers like Russia, or conflicted, self-contradictory powers like China.26 But it may also beprecisely this sense of governments fighting to remainrelevant that is encouraging populists of the right and left intheir campaign to exploit Europeans’ weariness anddisillusionment. It is useful to compare American and European reactionsto what are essentially very similar experiences withglobalisation and multipolarity, exacerbated by the globalcrisis. Obama’s America is aware of its weaknesses andrelative decline, but this, if anything, confirms its innate beliefin its global responsibility as the indispensable superpower.Or, to quote US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ‘Thecomplexities and connections of today’s world have yieldeda new American moment, a moment when our globalleadership is essential, even if we must often lead in newways.’27 EU Council President Van Rompuy must have beenhoping for a rekindling of European ambition and purposewhen he called the EU’s heads of state to a summit meetingin Brussels on 16 September 2010 to discuss a commonstrategy of engagement towards emerging powers. Yet thesolemnity of the moment swiftly degenerated into asquabble about France’s expulsion of Roma squatters—amissed opportunity, which, in a way, was itself a commenton the state of affairs in Europe.26 P. Stephens, ‘Europe heads for Japanese irrelevance’, Financial Times, 9 September 2010;available at Hillary Rodham Clinton, speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, 8 September 2010;available at
  34. 34. Stopping the DriftThe Transatlantic Relationship as seenfrom EuropeEurope’s honeymoon with President Obama’s America wasover almost more quickly than it happened. The policydifferences, it turns out, remain enduring. One year later, asa poll by the German Marshall Fund shows, Europeans stillapprove of Obama’s general handling of international affairs,but when asked about specific polices—like Afghanistan orIran—approval rates drop considerably.28 Europe holds three sets of grievances vis-à-visWashington. The first relates to the sense that some ofEurope’s close interests have been dismissed or neglectedfor higher bilateral gains; Obama’s Russia reset is a case inpoint. Central European governments in particular resentedthe way the US hastily revised its missile defence plans withlittle consultation. But Western European governments, aswell as policymakers in Brussels, felt that the US was oncemore treating Europe as an overfly zone with regard to itsrelations with Russia. While America built a robust, top-leveldialogue with Moscow, centred on nuclear arms control,Europeans concluded that they would have to deal on theirown with less strategic but infinitely thornier issues, such asRussia’s human rights record, immigration, borders andterritorial disputes. The second European complaint against Obama relates tothe economic crisis. The fiscally prudent European countriessuch as Germany, Holland and the Czech Republic, andothers attempting to reduce their deficits, such as the UnitedKingdom, see the US as too profligate. The June 2010 G2028 German Marshall Fund, Transatlantic Trends, 15 September 2010, 35
  35. 35. Stopping the Driftsummit in Toronto tried, but failed, to narrow the growinggap between an American administration advocating morestimulus and government spending and the large Europeaneconomies, which continue to insist on austerity measures,especially after the near-death experience of the Greek debtcrisis. Their resistance is hardened by the conviction(conceded, at least in part, by Obama during his first visits toEurope) that this crisis originated in, and was mostly causedby, the United States. Finally, Europeans also worry that America is seeking toestablish a new global directoire with China, Russia andother emerging powers, in which Europe is excluded fromthe concert of major players—or at least sits on thesidelines. This fear was fuelled by Washington’s cancellationof the March 2010 US–EU Summit. American suggestionsthat the Europeans ought to consolidate their voting powersin the Bretton Woods institutions have done little to dispel it. Even on issues where America and Europe are marchingin lockstep—such as Iran—Europeans have mixed feelingsat best. After having kept alive the diplomatic backchannelsto Tehran for years while the US was disengaged andhostile, Europe is now back in the passenger seat. But italso knows it has little choice but to follow the US carrot-and-stick track, and has little or no leverage over the US’sultimate choice between further negotiations and escalation.(In the latter case, it is hard to see Europe maintaining acommon stance.) Beyond divergences in policy and priorities, however, thereal gap between the two sides of the Atlantic is measuredin perceptions of power. Where the US, despite its currentweakness and the economic crisis, continues to act as a36
  36. 36. Stopping the Drifttransformative power, Europe tends to cling to outdatedpositions, unable to overcome internal differences, andturning its decline into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Europe—apower lost in transition?RecommendationsAs we argued in our introduction, the transatlanticrelationship today is characterised by a striking paradox:globalisation and the rise of non-Western powers giveAmerica and Europe more, rather than fewer, reasons towork with each other. Yet the transatlantic gap is clearlyexpanding, not narrowing: as subsequently explained,Europe and the EU occupy a smaller role in Americanconcerns, and vice versa. The current economic crisis hasnot created this drift, but it has massively reinforced atendency to withdraw from international engagement, withpublics on both sides of the Atlantic clamouring ever moreloudly for their governments to safeguard their economies,their jobs, their pensions and their children’s education—inshort, the stability and prosperity of their own nations. Publicsupport for any international engagement is a scarceresource these days, and leaders employ it sparingly. What can be done to bridge this transatlantic gap? Wepropose three main areas for action: 1. Europe must overcome the weaknesses that render it unable to engage coherently with the United States (or in fact, other international actors). 37
  37. 37. Stopping the Drift 2. The US and Europe must remove or at least lower the barriers that currently prevent closer collaboration. 3. The US and Europe should agree on a common agenda for dealing with global challenges.Recommendation 1:Repair Europe’s Strength and Influence The Obama administration has made mistakes, certainly,in the way it has engaged with Europe. But any attempt atimproving the relationship from the European side mustbegin with the fundamental recognition that Europe is todayby far the weaker partner in the transatlantic alliance.Europe’s continuing economic malaise, its incoherent foreignpolicy and its deepening military weakness, combined withrising social and political tensions, all currently prevent itfrom rising to the challenge of working shoulder to shoulderin an equal partnership with the United States. Obama’sinsight that a nation’s power and influence abroad dependon (and are relative to) the health of its economy, society andpolitical system is equally applicable to Europe.Economic PolicyIf the global economic crisis has had any salutary effect, it isthat it brought to light some key flaws in the economicunderpinnings of Europe’s power—flaws that had beenunrecognised, or deliberately ignored. It revealed for all tosee the huge structural weaknesses in, and disparitiesbetween, the EU Member States’ economies and thedangers these constitute for the stability of the 16-nation38
  38. 38. Stopping the DriftEurozone, and its common currency, the euro. It exposedthe fragility of the European Union’s institutionalarrangements for economic governance and integration. Thebitter and protracted debates between Member Statesabout the right approach to resolving the crisisdemonstrated that the very principles of equality andsolidarity, which are at the heart of European integration, arepresently being called into question; if anything, thesesquabbles reinforced the impression that the EU’s MemberStates are becoming increasingly Eurosceptic andunilateralist. (The crisis also made the US governmentrealise the degree to which Europe’s economic troublesmight threaten recoveries in America and Asia, and led it topush European governments towards a ‘shock and awe’financial aid package to end the Greek debt crisis in May2010.)29 Last, but not least, it undermined the leverage, andeven the credibility, of Europe as a foreign policy actor. AsRussia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, noted in a now-notorious ‘leaked’ memo to the Kremlin, ‘The financial crisisis a reflection of a deeper crisis of West-centric governanceand the dominance of the United States.’30 A lasting solution to Europe’s economic crisis must surelycombine a wide-ranging liberalisation and integration ofmarkets, on the one hand, and far greater European policycoordination, on the other; growth and stabilisation policiesmust go hand in hand. At the national level, Europeangovernments will have to address macroeconomic29 S. Erlanger and K. Bennhold, ‘Debt aid package for Europe took nudge from Washington’,New York Times, 10 May 2010.30 S. Lavrov, ‘Programa efektivnovo ispolzovania na systemnoy osnove vneshnepoliticheskychfaktorov v celyach dolgosrochnovo razvitia rossiyskoi federacii’ (Programme for effective andsystematic use of foreign factors in the long-term development of the Russian Federation),, 11 May 2010. 39
  39. 39. Stopping the Driftimbalances between surplus and deficit countries within theEuropean Union. This would mean boosting domesticdemand in Germany as much as internal microeconomicreforms to install more responsible fiscal policies in theheavily indebted countries along Europe’s periphery.Governments must also push for improved growth to offsetthe costs of public debt servicing and budget cuts, bydeepening market integration in the services or energysectors and by making labour markets more flexible, as wellas by strengthening the banking sector; for while betterregulation can prevent a repeat of the current crisis, onlygrowth can end it. At the EU and Eurozone level, MemberStates will have to accept much stricter scrutiny andregulation by the EU—and not just a beefed-up system forenforcing budgetary discipline.31 Here, Europeangovernments would do well to remember the role played bystrong EU institutions in defending the Union’s historicachievements, such as the single internal market. Moreover,despite two comprehensive and successful stabilisationprogrammes in the spring of 2010, the EU cannot afford toignore the real risk of further serious market disruptions. Thenew permanent European stability mechanism agreed by EUleaders (it will follow, in 2013, the European FinancialStability Fund which was created as a three-year stopgapmeasure in June 2010) is an important move in the rightdirection.32 Solving Europe’s economic woes is not to be achieved,however, by bureaucrats re-engineering its national and31 For a detailed discussion of economic measures to be taken, see S. Tilford, ‘How to save theeuro’, CER essay, Centre for European Reform, September 2010; available at See also P. Bofinger, H. Enderlein, T. Padoa-Schioppa and A. Sapir, ‘Europe needs apermanent bail-out fund’, Financial Times, 28 September 2010.40
  40. 40. Stopping the Driftsupranational policymaking architecture, or yet anotheriteration of the Europe 2020 Agenda (or its predecessor, theLisbon 2010 Agenda). The approaches outlined above aredestined to fail without a new narrative about growth andeconomic reform, and determined political leadership fromEurope’s governments. It clearly falls to Germany, as theeconomic hegemon in Europe, to bear the largest burdenhere; greater size and power begets greater responsibility.But the EU is not NATO: Germany cannot expect to call theshots or, alternatively, forge ahead on its own. In a semi-federal Europe of 27 Member States, Berlin must learn(again) to broker lasting compromises. That will be possibleonly if all EU Member States develop more empathy for oneanother’s respective positions, and commit to greaterresponsibility and solidarity. If that sounds like a truism, it isworth remembering that the current state of disarray wasunthinkable only a few years ago.Foreign PolicyChief among the goals of the Lisbon Treaty was to enableEurope to speak with a clearer voice in the world and toimprove the consistency of its foreign and securitypolicymaking through the consolidation of decision-makingpower at the European level, the creation of an EEAS, andenhanced cooperation procedures. Less than a year later, itmay simply be too early to pass judgment on these changes.The EEAS only came into being in January 2011, and theEU’s new foreign policy chiefs are still probing the extentand limits of their relative powers. Yet in essence, thesechanges were about delivery of agreed policy—not aboutthe creation of policy itself. They contribute little or nothingtowards paving the way for common policies on issues 41
  41. 41. Stopping the Driftwhere European national interests diverge strongly, such asenergy policy or relations with Russia and China. Geography and history will doubtless continue to informand shape national interests in Europe for a long time tocome. But at the same time, there are signs that Europeangovernments are reconsidering their recent bilateralism—most visible in relations with the new rising powers—in theface of unmistakable evidence that these policies havebrought them little tangible gain. (In truth, they have beenused shrewdly by Beijing and Moscow to play their Europeanpartners against each other, forcing them into a competitiverace to lower their standards when dealing with undemocraticpowers.) One such indication is the fact that CatherineAshton, the EU’s new foreign policy chief, has been taskedwith developing a common platform for European policytowards China.33 Nonetheless, the EU as a foreign policyactor remains noticeably short on overall strategy, particularlycompared with its preferred partner, the United States.Whereas the American executive is mandated by law toproduce a national security strategy at regular intervals, theEU knows no such requirement. It has only produced onesuch document, the 2003 ‘European Security Strategy’,followed by a 2008 ‘update’, both of which are worthy effortsbut regrettably thin on practical recommendations. SomeEuropean writers have therefore argued forcefully that Europeought to develop a grand strategy of its own.3433 A. Small, ‘Beijing is worth a missed dinner—Lady Ashton goes to China’, German MarshallFund Blog, 2 September 2010, J. Howorth, ‘The case for an EU grand strategy’, in Europe: A time for strategy, EgmontPaper 27, January 2009, Royal Institute for International Relations, Brussels; available at See also S. Biscop, ‘The value of power,the power of values: A call for an EU grand strategy’, Egmont Paper 33, October 2009, RoyalInstitute for International Relations, Brussels.42
  42. 42. Stopping the Drift An easier way to nudge reluctant European governments,faced with a multipolar world, into a more clear-eyedanalysis of their common interests might be to task a groupof experts consisting of respected foreign policypractitioners from all over Europe to write a regular‘European intelligence assessment’. Like its US model—theNational Intelligence Council’s assessments35—suchdocuments would highlight key risks and threats to the EU,forecast potential future development scenarios and suggestpriorities for action. This should help to galvanise and shapedebates among official policymakers at the EU andgovernment levels—perhaps even to the point of creating anassessment cell capable of producing such reports (andusing classified intelligence) within the EU itself. Therepetition of such exercises over time might create thepolitical conditions for the formulation of a Europeanstrategy paper.36 Strategy aside, a great deal of practical homeworkremains for the European Union to accomplish in its ownneighbourhood: homework for which it ought not to needAmerican prompting or tutoring (which is not to deny USinterests in the region, nor the need for transatlanticcoordination). Europe’s southern and eastern periphery—from Northern Africa via the Balkans, the Black Sea andTurkey, and up from the Southern Caucasus through Ukraineto Belarus—remains a source of instability and of a constantillicit influx of people and dangerous wares. In the past, the35 For more information see G. Bruno and S. Otterman, ‘National Intelligence Estimates’,Council on Foreign Relations, 14 May 2008, Reflection Group on the Future of the EU 2030, ‘Project Europe 2030: Challenges andopportunities’, Report to the European Council, May 2010; available at 43
  43. 43. Stopping the DriftEU has mainly relied on two tools to spread stability in itsvicinity: enlargement and preferential trade agreements. Asthe EU has expanded, it has become clear that theseinstruments are increasingly unsuited to their task; theaccession process risks overwhelming a fragile politicaleconomy (as indeed the cases of the new entrants Bulgariaand Romania have shown), and is viewed with ever greaterreserve by European publics, whereas trade agreementslack the carrots and sticks necessary to encouragetransformation. What Europe needs, in other words, is amore flexible instrument to export stability, prosperity—and,yes, democracy—to its periphery. The ‘European Stability Initiative’ for the Balkans, the‘Eastern Partnership’ for the six countries on the EU’seastern periphery and its southern counterpart, the ‘Unionfor the Mediterranean’, were all created with the intention ofhanding Europe just such an instrument. As they stand now,they must be considered at least partial failures, becausethey are not sufficiently backed by political will, imaginationand resources. Much more effort and investment is neededto make these frameworks transformational. This will, ofcourse, involve the transfer of money. But even moreimportantly, their success requires an energetic andgenerous transfer of experience, best practices, institutionaland personal networks, and ideas. These should cover theentire spectrum of political life, from high diplomacy tobusiness, cultural, academic and civil society exchanges.Nor should the EU be prudish about using incentives andconditions to help nudge change along. It is crucial that theEU stop shying away from conflict resolution and security. Obviously, it will be necessary to differentiate from regionto region and from country to country. There can be no one-44
  44. 44. Stopping the Driftsize-fits-all approach. But, unlike the US, which as the lastremaining superpower can choose to engage selectivelywith partners on other continents, Europe does not have thatoption, particularly with its eastern neighbours; with them, itmust necessarily engage broadly and comprehensively. Tobe credible, such a policy of active and close engagementought neither to exclude the option of membership in the EUfrom the outset nor to promise it. Rather, it ought to arguethat its goal is to create the internal transformation thatwould make a candidature plausible in the first place. Lastbut not least, an updated foreign policy ought to includeEurope’s largest (and most problematic) eastern neighbour,Russia—to the extent that that is made possible by Russia.Defence PolicyAccording to a hoary old chestnut, Europe is an economicgiant and a military dwarf; the problem today is that thedwarf appears to be shrinking. Under the pressure ofausterity policies across Europe, Member States areinflicting drastic cuts on their defence budgets: Germany ispondering plans to cut its armed forces by a third (andabolish conscription); the United Kingdom has reducedmilitary spending by 8%. Smaller countries, such as Latvia,have made even more draconian reductions. This development raises several awkward issues. Thedefence cuts diminish even further Europe’s value to theUnited States as an ally in Afghanistan and elsewhere.3737 US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates articulated an unusually scathing critique of Europe’smilitary weakness in a speech at the National Defense University on 23 February 2010. Availableat 45
  45. 45. Stopping the Drift(NATO recommends that allies spend 2% of GDP on theirmilitaries; the US spends close to 4%, but many Europeancountries have trouble staying above the 1% mark.) But thecuts also sharply limit Europe’s ability to undertakeautonomous peacekeeping and stabilisation operations in itsown vicinity—much less a humanitarian intervention to stopgenocide, as in the Balkans wars of the 1990s. It is true, ofcourse, that most of Europe’s armed forces are both bloatedand underperforming, their impact and ability to adaptencumbered by outdated and ludicrously expensive legacyplatforms. (The Americans had been lecturing the Germansfor the past two decades to give up conscription as anoutdated relic of Cold War postures.) However, the currentcuts are by all accounts driven exclusively by nationalTreasuries, with little or no attention paid to the overallimpact they will have on Europe’s ability to deploy hardpower effectively. At this juncture, the core weakness of Europe’s fledglingCommon Security and Defence Policy becomes blatantlyobvious. The CSDP has hitherto served mainly tocoordinate two dozen small-to-medium military operationson the lower end of the kinetic spectrum; the EuropeanDefence Agency (EDA), for its part, has been hampered atevery turn by national governments’ reluctance to exposetheir cosseted national defence industries to competitionand harmonisation. As a result, there are no Europeanstructures to coordinate defence and procurement policy atthe very time when they are most urgently needed. Norhave national governments thought to consult with theirpeers in the context of EU or NATO, except for theoccasional ‘briefing’ on what essentially were faitsaccomplis. This must stop. In the short run—that is, thebrief time frame allotted to national defence ministries by46
  46. 46. Stopping the Drifttheir Treasuries—the EDA, as well as NATO, ought to begiven a consultative supervisory role in the process ofnational defence reductions. For example, they couldaccompany the process by mapping cuts and their impacton overall European capabilities. In the longer run, the only way for the EU to mitigate theimpact of the budget reductions is through partialintegration of its Member States’ armed forces. This is notto suggest the creation of a (fully integrated) ‘EuropeanArmy’, which would entail delegations of nationalsovereignty to the EU on a scale that most Europeans todaywould still find unacceptable. However, Europeans shouldlook very seriously at pooling and Europeanising resourceswherever that is feasible. Potential candidates include, butare not limited to, a European general staff academy, aEuropean gendarmerie school, European doctrines andhandbooks, common European air defences, European airtransport capabilities, European military observation andcommunications satellites, common civilian disaster reliefand nation-building capabilities and perhaps even aEuropean territorial and marine border policing capability.Beyond these areas, Europeans ought to explore adifferentiated approach to integration that reflectsdifferences of scale, historic alliances and regional securitypriorities. For example, the British and the French (and theGermans) will want to stay as close as possible to fullspectrum force postures, but may try to save resources bysharing the use of certain military assets with each other;meanwhile, the Nordic and Benelux states are alreadypooling some portions of their forces. Europe’s newMember States (many of which saddled themselves withcostly and often pointless defence procurementprogrammes after the end of the Soviet Union) would do 47
  47. 47. Stopping the Driftwell to follow the example of the smaller Western states,even while retaining a stronger territorial defence element.The introduction of permanent structured cooperation bythe Lisbon Treaty will allow Member States to forge aheadin pioneer groups, rather than being weighed down by theburden of achieving consensus at 27. At the same time, the EU needs to provide a process foridentifying future long-term strategic risks and threats, aswell as the consequences implied by these for national andEuropean capabilities and force postures. One key problemto be addressed in this context would be finding the rightbalance between internal and external security provision(and the relative costs engendered by both). Anotherimportant challenge would be determining the appropriatebalance between instruments of prevention (diplomacy,development aid, intelligence and policing), instruments ofdeterrence and intervention (hard power proper: troops,platforms and weapons) and instruments to strengthenresilience (domestic security assets, such as hospital andsupply infrastructures). And what will be the ultimatepurpose of security policy: to contain or destroy threats fromas far away as possible or to defuse and transform themthrough engagement? The above discussion is by no means intended to implythat Europe’s efforts to regain strength and credibilityshould be limited to the realms of economic, foreign anddefence policy. Arguably, social policy reform, educationreform, the adaptation of political parties and the successfulintegration of migrants into the old continent’s agingsocieties will also be crucial factors in reinvigorating Europeas an external actor.48
  48. 48. Stopping the DriftRecommendation 2:Deepen the Transatlantic RelationshipThere is little the West can do to halt the decline in itsrelative power, as long as the economies of Asia and LatinAmerica continue rising at their present rate. But the US andEurope have a say over how much absolute power theyexercise together. They could be more prosperous than theyare at present, more powerful militarily and more effectiveglobally, if they deepened mutual trade, strengtheneddefence cooperation and improved political consultationswith each other.Trade CooperationThe United States and Europe are by far each other’s mostimportant trade partners; the transatlantic economic space isthe most dynamic and integrated in the world. In sum, eventhough we often disagree with each other on foreign andsecurity policy, economically, we are joined at the hip. Thisstate of affairs remains unchallenged by the rise of theemerging economies.38 Still, the transatlantic economic relationship could bemade to work better in many ways: reducing non-tariffbarriers, opening markets, improving regulatory cooperation(including on financial markets and banking), exchangingbest practices for energy sustainability and sharingconsumer protection measures. The Transatlantic Economic38 P. Whyte, ‘Narrowing the Atlantic’. See also D. Hamilton and F. Burwell, ‘Shoulder toshoulder: Forging a strategic US–EU partnership’, Center for Transatlantic Relations,Washington, DC, December 2009. 49
  49. 49. Stopping the DriftCouncil, set up in 2007, failed to remove regulatory barriersto deeper trade, largely because of the new protectionistmood that has settled over both sides of the Atlantic. Afterthe US midterm elections, these protectionist impulses arelikely to become even stronger. Yet that is all the morereason for the EU and the US to strengthen theircooperation both bilaterally and in institutions of globaleconomic governance such as the WTO and IMF. If the USand Europe expect the rest of the world’s economies toremain open in the face of rising cries for protectionistmeasures, they need to lead by example.Foreign and Security Policy CooperationThe partnership between the US and Europe in NATO hasbeen the foundation for the world’s most powerful andsuccessful military alliance for more than half a century. Yetcurrently it seems to be struggling to define a sense ofpurpose—despite the fact that the US, under PresidentObama, has stopped its former divide-and-rule games, andFrance has rejoined NATO’s military structures. The debateover a new strategic concept, approved at the summit inLisbon in late November 2010, was listless and lacklustre onboth sides. NATO’s largest and most demanding operation, inAfghanistan, is floundering under the onslaught of the ever-more resilient Taliban, and allies are trying frantically to handover security responsibilities to local institutions whilepreparing for the beginning of a pullout in 2011. At this point,a sober assessment would have to conclude that it is neitherclear what the endgame in Afghanistan will look like, norwhat its impact on the overall cohesion of the alliance will be.50
  50. 50. Stopping the Drift All the more important, then, for allies to address theevident weaknesses and failings of the alliance across theboard: an apparent inability to discuss and come to termswith transatlantic disagreements over political strategy orthe purpose of specific operations within NATO fora; asuperabundance of committees and regional commandsaimed more at maximising Member State representationthan at organisational efficiency; rules of engagement anddefence equipment so divergent that they hamper tacticalcooperation on the battlefield; and persistent inability by amajority of European allies to supply the forces and assetsneeded in theatre (e.g. police and trainers). In the future, NATO and the EU government should agreeon clear guidelines for each operation outside their borders,as the NATO ‘group of experts’ recommended in May2010.39 Assessment of the resources needed for training andbuilding local security forces should be a part of initialcampaign planning. A key element in improving NATO’s performance andmaximising resources in times of crisis and defence cuts willbe overcoming the barriers between NATO and the EU. Theinstitutional relationship is still held hostage by Greece andTurkey in their enduring dispute over the status of Cyprus.Nevertheless, there are ways to chip away at the wallsseparating the two institutions. The NATO secretary generaland the new EU high representative for foreign policy shoulddo all they can to set a cooperative tone, co-authoring policytexts on issues of common concern or visiting theatres39 NATO 2020: Assured security; dynamic engagement’, Analysis and recommendations of thegroup of experts on the new NATO strategic concept, 17 May 2010; available at 51
  51. 51. Stopping the Driftwhere EU and NATO personnel are deployed together. Bothinstitutions should start harmonising pre-deploymenttraining, with a view to developing joint post-conflict andstabilisation doctrines. Whether or not NATO and the EUmake a breakthrough in mutual institutional relations, theywill most likely continue to deploy personnel side-by-side inthe future. This requires that the soldiers, police andadministrators serving under their respective commandsfollow the same rules of engagement. The US and Europe should also change the way they buytheir weapons. While they already procure much militaryequipment from one another, the transatlantic defencemarket is far from open. Meanwhile, the spiralling costs ofdefence equipment mean that the US and Europeangovernments procure ever less hardware for ever moremoney. To inject more competition into defenceprocurement, the recently adopted US–UK defence tradecooperation treaty (which exempts most US and UK defencecompanies from onerous export controls when exporting toeach other) should be gradually expanded to all EU MemberStates. The Europeans, for their part, ought to implement the2009 European Commission directives on arms transfersand defence procurement, which would create a pan-European defence equipment market, while resistingpressure from some European quarters to close this marketto US competition. The recognition that armamentscooperation is a powerful enabler for joint operations—which remain the more likely case—ought to help the pushfor change. In the increasingly important area of cooperation indomestic security affairs—most importantly, incounterterrorism—much has happened since the attacks of52
  52. 52. Stopping the Drift11 September 2001, which were coordinated by an Al-Qaeda cell based in Hamburg. Recent reports of radicalisedEuropean Muslims planning new attacks on Europe from theborder areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, however,have highlighted the need for continued and intensifiedcollaboration. In June 2010, the US and the EU signed anagreement on the transfer to US counterterrorism authoritiesof information on international bank transfers through theSWIFT system (after an initial rejection by the EuropeanParliament). European governments have also finallydecided—belatedly and grudgingly—to take in formerGuantánamo detainees. Yet much more could be done, fromthe exchange of intelligence to greater cooperation in thefields of cybercrime or illicit trafficking in people, drugs andarms, to best practice exchanges and exercises to testsocietal resilience. In foreign policy—particularly where newly assertiveactors like Russia, China or Turkey are concerned—the USand Europe have frequently been at cross purposes in thepast, in many cases allowing the third country to play oneside of the transatlantic relationship against the other. Forexample, unbalanced and inconsistent Western policies forEastern Europe allowed Russia to regain a foothold in thepost-Soviet space and to reclaim parts of it as its ‘sphere ofinfluence’. In an era of increasing multipolar competition,such a failure to coordinate only undercuts the effectivenessof Western policy. Even where they agree to disagree (e.g.on policy concerning the Middle East or Turkey), the US andEurope must learn to do better at sharing assessments and40 See the options laid out in a non-paper on a political settlement in Afghanistan that wasdrafted and circulated following workshops in Kabul, London and Washington in June 2010and funded by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. 53