Old Allies

Economist.com | Europe and America
The Economist seems to understand the reason so many in America were angry with Europe last year: obstructionism. Even when we have made mistakes in the past – Vietnam could be considered one, though it did have the effect of destroying a lot of Soviet infrastructure and contributed to their downfall – Europe looked the other way and let us do what we wanted. Not so with Iraq. They also touch on the fact that Europe has an inadequate military and is very reluctant to use what they do have.

I still think we need a new military coalition with minimum spending requirements on defense so we don’t end up carrying the bulk of the load, as is the case today.

The second world war left America with a military, economic and moral pre-eminence that made it the natural leader of the free world. Its military power is still unsurpassed. But now Europe is rich too, and – more than two centuries after America’s constitutional convention – inventing its own continent-wide system of power in the shape of the European Union. Mr Chirac wants the EU to be a counterweight to America. But even Europeans who do not share the Gaullist horror of a “unipolar” world think differently nowadays about the alliance. Free from the fear of Soviet invasion, they do not feel the same need of American protection, and so are less inclined to defer. Some Germans were ashamed when Mr Schröder found it electorally convenient in 2002 to denounce Mr Bush’s “adventurism” in Iraq. Others greeted this as an overdue coming of age.

You do not save a partnership by glossing over such profound changes in interests and attitudes. The transatlantic alliance will probably never again be as strong as it was when the Red Army was poised to storm through the Fulda gap and NATO was poised to repel it. And although a new and common peril has arisen in the form of Osama bin Laden and his jihad against “Jews and Crusaders”, this is not likely to provide the same sort of transatlantic glue. The nature of the new threat is too amorphous, and governments hold too many differing views about the right ways to deal with it. In the meantime, having finished its half-century post-war task of making Europe “whole and free”, today’s America has shifted its focus to threats farther afield. Having been let down by France and Germany in Iraq, it may prefer in future to form ad hoc alliances with other countries instead of turning instinctively, as in the past, to a Europe that spends too little on defence and seems allergic to using what little military force it has.

Absent the Soviet Union, an estrangement of this kind need not be fatal to world order. But it would still be a needless loss. When they act in unison, the rich democracies deploy overwhelming political and moral as well as military force. And there is much on which they should still co-operate: securing Afghanistan, sorting out Palestine, spreading democracy to the Arab world, persuading Iran not to build an atomic bomb. Some Americans think they can do all this alone; Iraq did after all show that France and Germany cannot prevent America from going to war if it wants to. But their opposition has made the post-war job in Iraq very much harder. And that is where to start mending relations. For all their pre-war differences, both sides have an interest now in making sure that Iraq enjoys peace and prosperity rather than degenerates into another terror-breeding failed state. The UN this week appointed an interim government for Iraq. What better moment to put aside the recriminations and work together for that?

It would be nice to be able to put differences aside over Iraq, but it’s not likely to happen and I’m not sure what we would gain from it. True, Europe does have a good deal of wealth, but their economies are weak, they aren’t creating very much new wealth these days and their population is aging rapidly. I’m not sure what we would gain by bringing them to the table other than a lower decible level for their complaints.

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