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The EU and the US: What Strategic Dialogue?

Anförande vid IISS Global Strategic Review i Genève, Schweiz

Is there a strategic dialogue between the United States and Europe on the vital issues of today?

If we look back, we all know that there was a severe lack of more serious strategic dialogue for a rather long time. It wasn’t just a question of the first part of the Bush 41 presidency, although that period brought the situation to new lows.

What we had to deal with was the fact that the core strategic agendas of Europe and America had been drifting apart in the last few years.

After having been forged together for a generation by a common threat, during the 1990’s the leaders of America and Europe failed to develop a common vision.

And while Europe continued to be preoccupied with its vitally important strategic 1989 agenda – to build a new structure of peace on this old conflict-ridden continent by the sharing of sovereignity through structures of economic and political integration – after 2001 America become absorbed with its very different strategic different agenda – to safeguard its citizens and interest through the exercise of what it considered its sovereign rights.

The two strategic agendas were and are certainly different, but they are not necessarily incompatible. In fact, it is easy to argue that they are both important, and should be shaped in such a way as to make them mutually supportive. Fighting terrorism is undoubtedly a European interest as much as an American and creating a new structure of peace and prosperity in Europe should be in the American interest as well.

But it did not work out that way. Leading up to the Iraq war, we saw the Atlantic becoming wider and wider, reflecting not only different tactical perceptions, but also underlying differences in values, interests and perceptions. European public opinion turned more or less sharply against the United States and that more or less independently of which attitude respective governments took.

And we know from recent opinion poll result that this has remained the case.

When President Bush was re-elected, there was a sense of relief in the chancelleries of Europe. Instead of a new shake-down cruise for a new administration, there was the perception that there was now a Bush Two administration keen to learn from some of the steps that Europeans had seen as mistakes.

And President Bush started immediately by declaring his intention to put the relationship with Europe on a new footing. European leaders were more than keen yo join in the effort.

The visit by President Bush to Brussels in February was undoubtedly a success. In a sharp departure from previous occasions, it was a visit with less Europe and more European Union.

While in the old days NATO was the centre-piece, and it was European issues that dominated the agenda, now it was rather the European Union that stood in the centre, and the agenda was almost totally dominated by different non-European issues. On substance, there was an important common emphasis on the need to move forward with the Middle East peace process, and a noticeable narrowing of the differences on how that should be done.

The visit was a very deliberate attempt at a new start. And more than half a year later, it is clear that there have changes that are of significance.

After years when the absence of consultations on key issues was very noticeable, we have now seen an avalanche of emissaries of different sorts and on different issues descending on Brussels. If one listens carefully around the Rond Point Schumann, one can even hear the small signs of consultation fatigue.

So there has undoubtedly been a marked improvement in consultation of different sort. And there has been an improvement in cooperation on different issues – small and big. The question remains, however, if it has been a real strategic dialogue that has started to bring the respective strategic agendas more in tune with each other.

If we turn the clock back a year or two, we were in the middle of the discussions on the hard power of the United States versus the soft power of the European Union. And the task was seen as making the powers of the United States somewhat softer by relying also more on multilateral actions of different sorts, as well as making the powers of the European Union somewhat harder by the addition of additional instruments.

To some extent this is already happening. The speech by President Bush to the 60th UN General Assembly the other day had a tone that was noticeably different from some years ago. The charge of unilateralism was always somewhat exaggerated, but now things are very clearly different.

And the European Union has taken decisions that over time will give it somewhat harder powers as well. The setting up of the so called battle groups for rapid interventions also in far away areas will add a very significant instrument to the combined arsenal of Europe.

But the most significant change that we have seen aren’t these, but rather a substantial and undoubtedly worrying decline in both the hard powers of the United States and the soft powers of the European Union.

American military power is seriously bogged down in the marshes, back alleys and deserts of Mesopotamia. And it is likely to remain so for some considerable time to come. No one will say it openly, but everyone knows that the world’s number one superpower is seriously limited in its military and hard power options in virtually every other part of the world. The single superpower is a weak superpower.

And to this has now been added hurricane Katrina. To which extent its political effects, and the immense cost of rebuilding, will alter the strategic priorities of the United States is in all probability too early to tell. But it seems unavoidable that there will be some shifting of emphasis from the forward strategy of the global war on terrorism to an emphasis on true homeland security.

Katrina will sooner or later give us a new New Orleans. But it might well be that it has reduced the possibility of giving us a truly new Baghdad.

If there has thus been a decline in the hard powers of the United States, the decline in the soft powers of the European Union is no less obvious.

For a time, it was a smashing success story. It was the magnetism of the European Union and the model that it provided that made the astonishingly smooth regime and system change from Tallinn to Sofia – ten nations and a hundred million people – possible.

As a result, Europe has never been so free, so secure and so prosperous as it is today. Never throughout its entire history. A continent that during the last century exported wars and totalitarian ideas to the rest of the world was gearing up to be ready to export stability, peace and democracy to its adjacent areas as well as to the wider world.

But then came the sudden and serious setbacks in the referendums on the proposed Constitutional Treaty in two of the founding members of the Union. Initial talk of continuing with ratification as if nothing has happened soon gave way to talk about a period of reflection which since then seems to have given way to absolutely nothing.

This loss of faith in the momentum of integration has already undermined the soft powers of Europe, and threatens to do so even further if action is not taken to restore faith in the momentum both of the process of enlargement and the process of strengthening the common foreign and security policy.

From Sarajevo to Istanbul to Kiev there is now a rapidly increasing uncertainty of where the entire thing is heading. There is a serious risk that reform processes in these countries – indeed in the entire fragile near abroad of the European Union - will stall or even go into reverse as the guiding light from Brussels is starting to faint.

In much the same way as we have seen a virtuous circle of integration and reform and stability in these wider areas during the past decade, the decline in the soft powers of the European Union might well read to a vicious circle of instability and tension within and between societies in that wide and strategically important area that is the neighbourhood of Europe.

There is a risk of a dangerous combination of enlargement fatigue and reform fatigue.

This is far more than a problem just affecting the immediate interests of Europe. We border directly on the Muslim world in which the clash between the forces of reform and the forces of reaction is now played out, and this world in agony increasingly stretches right into our own suburbs and city centres.

Where Europe to give up its soft powers and de facto close the door to the countries of the Balkans and Turkey it seems unavoidable that this will have a negative effect on that clash within that wider and important world. We, as well as the United States, would suffer the consequences. Our common agenda of promoting political and economic reforms towards more of freedom and democracy is likely to suffer as well.

A year ago the dominating agendas in both Europe and the United States were reasonably clear – the 1989 and 2001 agendas, respectively. On this basis, the efforts to improve the relationship and establish a true strategic dialogue could start to make progress.

Now, it’s different. Both the United States and the European Union has suffered from a certain loss of strategic direction. The priority now should be for each of them to restore a consensus on a sense of strategic direction, and then re-energize the efforts to improve the strategic relationship.

There is certainly not a lack of issues that need to be addressed.

As both Ariel Sharon and Abu Mazen are confronting the fundamentalist forces within their respective societies, building a new consensus on which a new attempt at peace could possible be done, they clearly require all the support that we jointly can give.

State-building as Palestine gradually emerges from occupation and despair will hardly be easy. It will require the best of what we together can give. But even if the problems of the wider Middle East have many dimensions, we all know that without success in state-building in Palestine there will neither be peace for Israel nor improved prospects for stability and freedom in the wider region.

There is an urgent need to try to establish a true strategic dialogue on the future of Iraq. There is less than universal acclaim in Europe – even among those that were reasonably supportive of the war – for the way in which the United States has been handling the critical peace- and state-building efforts there. But in spite of this there is universal recognition that a failure to facilitate the setting up of a functioning state in Iraq could have potentially devastatingly destabilizing consequences over a wide area.

There is an obvious and dangerous political tremor line that runs from Baghdad over Kirkuk to Ankara and to Brussels.

And these issues can hardly be dealt with if we are not dealing in a coherent way with the entire region. We can hardly have hard confrontation with Iran over nuclear issues at the same time as we seek soft cooperation with them over the stability of Iraq and Afghanistan. And we should be more than careful with playing around with military options in a situation in which today 40 % of the daily oil exports of the world passes through the Strait of Hormuz. Some time into the future, that figure will increase towards 60 %.

In a bleak picture, the way we have so far been dealing with Iran over the nuclear issue must be seen as a success. It has certainly not achieved everything we sought, and at the moment we are at a time when critical decisions need to be taken. But the coherence in the European trio has been obvious, as well as the fact that it has had discreet US support, although perhaps less because of genuine conviction than because of recognition that the alternative policy options are distinctly worse.

And it can be argued that there has been more progress on the Iranian nuclear dossier in the last year or two than there has been on the Korean nuclear dossier in the last five or so years. The risk of fast deterioration seems larger in the later than in the former case.

It is development in the wider area from Amritsar to Agadir – from Astrakhan to Aden – that has to be at the core of the trans-Atlantic strategic dialogue. This is an area where we can only succeed if we work together, and where we must recognize that if we don’t, we will anyhow fail together.

Balkans is one example. There are a number of open issues that needs to be addressed.

In Kosovo, we failed in our search for peace and stumbled into a war which we ended without achieving the peace we have sought. Since then everything has been in limbo, and policy has evolved more by default than by design. But now this is no longer sustainable, and we have to achieve a strategic consensus on how the issue can be sorted out.

But the agenda is of course wider than these sorts of issue in that wider region.

The last year has clearly demonstrated the need for a far deeper strategic dialogue on the consequences of the rise of China. It is the United States that is the security power in East Asia, but Europe must be aware of what that entails and how it can be supportive – not seen as disruptive.

China is far more than an export promotion issue, and this is now beginning to be more widely recognized in Europe.

There must be more of a coming together on the critical issues of peace- and state-building in areas that are often as difficult as they are demanding. Look at Sudan. The task here is very much more than a publicity contest on who can produce the most airlifts the fastest. A wave of disintegration from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa could easily develop into a belt of genocide.

And we must show that cooperation is effective when it comes to addressing the issues that are close to the perception of security of our citizens - be that the global war against terrorism, with its slightly stronger support in America, or the global war against warming, with its slightly stronger support in Europe. And our common security agenda might suddenly be overwhelmed by the need to fight a global war against infectious diseases.

To sum up:

We are both in a somewhat more difficult situation than only a year ago. Both the hard powers of America and the soft powers of Europe has been weakened.

In Europe, we face a number of important issues.

We need to revisit the different issues of the governance of our union. It’s not an imminent issue – but it is one that we sooner or later need to sort out.

We need to discuss and forge a true political consensus – within our countries, and between them – on a new grand strategy of enlargement, partnership and neighbourhood policies.

We need to get back to the European Security Strategy, re-read the text and re-energize the policies that should flow from it.

And it’s on the basis of these and other initiatives that we can then go back to the task we initiated in the beginning of this year of creating a true strategic dialogue with the United States. We must both restore strategic clarity in order to be able to resume the strategic dialogue.

Perhaps this is an ideal time to try to establish a true strategic dialogue. We are both somewhat humiliated by the failures and the challenges also of the recent months. We might be more ready to listen and learn than is normally the case.

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