Deutsches RIAS-Fellows-Treffen 2003
Berlin, 18. Mai 2003

Am 18. Mai 2003, Sonntag Vormittag, nahmen rund 175 deutsche RIAS-Fellows am traditionellen RIAS-Fellowtreffen im Hotel Park Inn, Berlin-Alexanderplatz, teil. Prof. Dr. Thomas Risse vom Zentrum für Transatlantische Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik, Otto Suhr Institut für Politische Wissenschaften, Freie Universität Berlin, hielt den Gastvortrag “Beyond Iraq: The Crisis of the Transatlantic Security Community.”

Prof. Thomas Risse
Otto Suhr Institute, Free University Berlin

Beyond Iraq: The Crisis of the Transatlantic Security Community
European Responses to American Unilateralism

As to the three fundamentals of the transatlantic security community — interdependence, identity, institutions — a mixed picture emerges. Two of the three “I”s — interdependence and identity, as a commitment to collective value — appear to be still intact. Yet, its institutional basis as well as the norms governing the security community appear to be eroding gradually. These conflicts stem from domestic developments on both sides of the Atlantic leading to different perceptions of contemporary security threats and, more importantly, different prescriptions on how to handle them. Unilateral and even imperial tendencies in contemporary U.S. foreign policy violate constitutive norms on which the transatlantic community has been based for more than fifty years. They also touch upon fundamentals concerning world order and the rule of (international) law in dealing with international conflicts. American neo-conservatives are as committed as the European center-left to the global promotion of human rights and democracy, but they are also convinced that the unprecedented American power position in the world requires unilateral action to promote these goals including the unilateral use of (preventive) force. In contrast, a strong European consensus favors a cooperative foreign policy geared to strengthening international institutions and the rule of international law.

What policy consequences follow from this assessment, particularly for European responses to America’s “imperial ambitions?” I see three major corollaries.

First, neither balancing nor band-wagoning can be a valid basis for a European response to American imperial ambitions. Building Europe as a “counterweight” to U.S. power is neither feasible in practical terms nor can a European consensus be built around it which would have to include the United Kingdom as well as the new EU member states in Central Eastern Europe. Bandwagoning is not an option, either, since it would betray core principles of European foreign policy when dealing with U.S. unilateralist tendencies. Thus, there is a European paradox: On the one hand, Europe and the EU need to speak out with one voice in order to be listened to in Washington. On the other hand, a European common foreign policy will fail immediately and split Europe further apart if it is constructed as counter-hegemonic project.

Second, however, there is a way out. I would argue that the social structure of the transatlantic relationship and its institutional basis in particular can be repaired. Moreover, the traditional European reaction to U.S. unilateralist impulses remains valid. In the past, Europeans have usually responded to transatlantic conflicts by increased binding through strengthening the transatlantic institutional ties rather than counter-balancing. They have used the open U.S. domestic system for their purposes by successfully forming transnational and transgovernmental coalitions across the Atlantic in order to increase their leverage on American foreign policy. There is no compelling reason why this strategy which worked well during the first Reagan administration with a similar domestic configuration of forces, cannot be successfully employed today. Now and then, the natural allies of Europeans inside the administration and in Congress are the moderate conservatives who care about the transatlantic community. Moreover, European foreign policy can exploit the fact that American public opinion contin-ues to hold views much closer to European outlooks than to those of the neo-conservatives inside and outside the administration.

Third, it is important that European voices are being heard loud and clear in Washington. While European governments should pick carefully the conflicts with the U.S. administration and cannot fight simultaneously on all fronts, the “National Security Strategy” document deserves a common European response. Of course, one can argue that this response already exists in practice given the emerging European foreign policy focussing on human rights, democracy, and multilateralism. Yet, European practice has to be complemented by a European foreign policy discourse. The goal is not to weaken the institutional ties in the transatlantic community, but to strengthen similar voices in-side the U.S. domestic system. Such a European foreign policy strategy needs to tackle the world order conflicts which constitute the root causes of the transatlantic policy disagreements:

1. A clear expression of a liberal vision of world order based on the rule of law, democracy, human rights, and market economy: It would be disastrous to leave liberal visions to American neo-conservatives and not to recognize that Western foreign policy is first and foremost about promoting liberal values. This entails in particular that a European response is needed to the neoconservatives’ political agenda of promoting democracy in the world’s crises regions, par-ticularly the Middle East. A pro-active European foreign policy is needed in this regard.

2. An equally unambiguous commitment to multilateralism and the rule of international law: This is the characteristic feature and trademark of contemporary European foreign policy that distin-guishes a European foreign policy strategy from some of the ideas articulated in the recent U.S. “National Security Strategy” The point is that a liberal vision of world order cannot be promoted unilaterally without being inherently contradictory. If it is constitutive for domestic liberal orders that nobody — not even the most powerful — is above the law, this is also true for a world order based on democratic principles. A liberal world order requires recognition of the rule of law as a constitutive feature — together with democracy and human rights. This is also the ultimate reason why European foreign policy must not give in to U.S. pressures concerning the International Criminal Court. However, one has to recognize that contemporary international law is in serious need of reform. This concerns first and foremost norms of national sovereignty which are increasingly at odds with commitments to international human rights.

3. Europe also has to articulate a clear strategy on how to deal with the new security threats, such as weapons of mass destruction in the hands of dictators and the dangers emanating from transnational terrorism. Transnational terrorist networks and weapons of mass destruction are real threats to liberal societies that require not just political, but also military answers. The current transatlantic division of labor — the U.S. as the military fighting force and the world’s policeman, Europe as the main provider of political nation-building and cleaning up afterwards — is not sustainable. Once again, it would be disastrous to let the use of military force be dictated by American unilateralists. This is particularly true if one rejects the idea of preventive war in the absence of a clear and present danger. We need a serious transatlantic debate, not on preventive war, but on preventive action to stem the double dangers of WMD and of transnational terrorism. The new EU foreign policy document constitutes a step in the right direction.

In short, a new “transatlantic bargain” is required if the U.S.-European alliance is to survive the coming challenges. Whether this can be done by reforming NATO or by building new U.S.-EU security institutions remains to be seen. But current and future world order problems require a strong transatlantic relationship to meet these challenges jointly.