Foreign Policy Blogs

Engaging the US

Wolfgang Ischinger, the designated head of the Munich Security Conference, former German Ambassador to the US currently serving as his country's top diplomat in the UK, has published an article in the Financial Times arguing that now – not after the US elections – is the time to forge stronger transatlantic ties. A rare opportunity is emerging to set the agenda on future EU-US relations due to the confluence of two key events in 2009: the inauguration of a new US President and the entry into force of the Lisbon Reform Treaty. Each of these events will give both sides new figureheads, as the new EU Treaty foresees the creation of a permanent presidency (for a two-and-a-half year term) of the 27-member bloc (see my earlier entry on this issue). The hope is, of course, that a high-profile figure will at least superficially solve the age-old question attributed to Henry Kissinger: “Who do I call when I want to talk to Europe?”

Ties between the allies have been tenuous at best throughout the two-term Bush Presidency. The Iraq war drove a stake through the heart of the Union, with Spain and the UK deploying troops and Germany and France fronting the anti-invasion coalition. During the first Bush administration the two regular semi-annual US-EU Summits were cut to one, further reducing necessary ‘face time’ between diplomats on both sides.

Thus, while the second term of the Bush administration has been about ironing out diplomatic creases between the US and European allies, the relationship could surely be more productive in light of the global challenges: instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, a volatile situation throughout the Middle East, natural catastrophes caused by global warming, instability on the world financial markets.

Aside from the future EU President who won't take office before 2009, it will be up to Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the country most critical of US military plans for Iraq (the decision which prompted the American side to begin consuming “Freedom Fries” and dismissing the French as “Cheese-eating surrender monkeys”) to forge closer ties as the issues the EU should begin to tackle now – not later- to prove to the US that the bloc is serious about reaffirming its commitment to transatantic relations.

In the piece, Ischinger argues that Europe must enhance its military engagement around the world, by building the kind of military capacity necessary in a world of modern conflict. Implicitly, he is criticizing the work of the European Defence Agency, designed precisely for the purpose of finding more functional solutions toward crisis prevention while coordinating the actual military capabilities (i.e. the coordination of weapons development and procurement) of the EU Member States. Granted, the EDF, which has been around a mere three years has a difficult and challenging role, particularly since it is not designed to produce short-term effects, but rather create a coordination mechanism, which will facilitate and accelerate a European response to certain situations. This will take time, but it is a major improvement to the intergovernmental mess that was European Security and Defence Policy after the Amsterdam Treaty. To not mention it, is to ignore its important contribution to long-term improved relations with both the US and with NATO.

Which brings us to Ischinger's second point: The EU and US must resolve questions on the future of NATO. Just how difficult this will be is evidenced by the NATO Summit in Bucharest earlier this month. How Europe is to offer a solution to that situation in a matter of months is still somewhat a mystery to me, given the tight-rope walk that was the last summit. Certainly, however, the US has got to stop offering membership to countries that counteract certain priorities of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Closer coordination between the EU members of NATO and the US is thus undoubtedly needed.

Ischinger also wants to see the EU pull the US over to its side with respect to robust plans toward reducing the harmful effects of global warming and reaffirming the “western” values, which dismiss torture and advocate dialogue in addressing the issue of radical Islam and terrorism. Here Ischinger is undoubtedly right – the EU is one of the leading players in the actual reduction of green-house gases and has businesses which have clearly seen the light with respect to their competitive advantage. Going green is becoming a huge future business sector for Europe, and that is an angle, which could be played in discussions in which the US has continually pointed to the negative business effects of increased environmental legislation.

Europe and the US could profit immensely from a closer exchange of experience not solely on intelligence and security information with respect to the global spread of terrorism (this is already onoing), but means of reaching out to communities most likely to become subjected to radical Islam and its negative consequences. Transatlantic dialogue on this issue must be stepped up on all levels – government and non-government.

For more on Ischinger's views on the future of the EU-US relationship and Russia's role in the world, you can watch an interview with the Financial Times’ foreign affairs editor Quentin Peel here.



Cathryn Cluver

Cathryn Cluver is a journalist and EU analyst. Now based in Hamburg, Germany, she previously worked at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, Belgium, where she was Deputy Editor of the EU policy journal, Challenge Europe. Prior to that, she was a producer with CNN-International in Atlanta and London. Cathryn graduated from the London School of Economics with a Master's Degree in European Studies and holds a BA with honors from Brown University in International Relations.

Areas of Focus:
Refugees; Immigration; Europe


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