- Ethics Home Page
- About the Center
- Focus Areas
- Contact Us
- Site Index
Value Issues in Transatlantic Relationsby Jean François-Poncet
Jean François-Poncet, president, French Senatorial Committee on Regional Planning; former foreign minister, France, gave this presentation Sept. 7, 2005, as part of the William P. Laughlin Lecture Series.
Is the Atlantic Alliance a Cold War relic? The question has come up ever since the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Never did it seem more topical than when the U.S. invaded Iraq in the spring of 2003. Not only did America's intervention trigger the most severe transatlantic crisis in a generation, dividing Europe and America and the Europeans between themselves, the rhetoric that accompanied it on the American side seemed to imply that longstanding alliances were, from now on, considered obsolete in Washington.
Yet, the Iraqi crisis offers two lessons. The first is that the U.S., in military matters, can easily go it alone. It needs no one, let alone Europe. The second is that winning peace is much more difficult than winning war, and when it comes to peacekeeping, to nation-building, or to international legitimacy, Europe remains a useful if not indispensable partner. President Bush and his new foreign policy team seem to have understood this, and they have undertaken the job of mending the badly damaged transatlantic fences, to the great relief, I must add, of the Europeans.
It is difficult, however, to escape three fundamental questions:
I shall try to make my answers as brief and simple as possible, which will make them easy to challenge.
I: The value gap
A certain value gap has, of course, always been there, probably since the Mayflower pilgrims crossed the ocean to build, on a new continent, a society different from the one they left. Since then, the gap has widened or narrowed according to the ups and downs of the transatlantic relationship. When Europe and America were allies in war, the gap seemed to disappear, only to remerge when relations soured. And, as you would expect, the land of successful free enterprise and buoyant capitalism has always been the preferred target of left wing intellectuals in Europe and, I hate to admit, especially in my own country.
Let me quickly run through some of the issues that are being periodically brought up.
One of them, as you probably know, concerns the death penalty.
It has been banished all over Europe by virtue of a treaty binding
all member states of the European Union, whereas it is practiced
in quite a few American states, especially, from what I understand,
in Texas. Whether this reflects a deep-seated transatlantic
divide is, however, questionable. Opinion surveys show that
far more Europeans support capital punishment than the elites
would let on. Approximately 50 percent of Italians and French
want it reinstated, and I understand that the issue of capital
punishment is debated in this country.
Genetically modified foods are yet another subject of quarrel, albeit minor.
More significant is the charge by left wing elites in Europe that America has sold its soul to "savage capitalism," at the expense of the poor, allowing inequality to increase and agreeing to pay a high social cost for economic progress. Things, however, are gradually changing. An increasing number of European economists and politicians underline the impressive achievements of the America economic model: unemployment below 5 percent, a stunningly high rate of growth with low inflation, a remarkable increase in productivity, home ownership at its highest level, etc. The same emphasize that Europe may achieve a higher degree of income equality, but at the cost of an unacceptably high unemployment and a dismally low rate of growth. This is why Europe is, grudgingly but gradually, coming around to the American way of doing business: greater labor market flexibility, deregulation, privatization, and share holder empowerment. The difference in economic philosophy is unlikely to disappear, but it is clearly diminishing.
Can the same be said concerning the place of religion in our
respective societies? Not sure. The proportion of Europeans
observing religious practices and participating in religious
activities has indeed sharply declined since World War II, a
trend that does not reflect hostility to religion, but rather
One should not, however, overemphasize the difference. Christian concepts, values, and practices pervade European culture. The World Youth Day Festival that has just taken place in Cologne, Germany, attracted a million youngsters, mostly from Europe. It was a truly impressive gathering that stressed, as Pope Benedict pointed out, the vitality of Europe's Christian heritage. This was confirmed by a study published in France a month ago, showing that, contrary to the trend prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, a significant revival of religious feeling has become apparent in the 18-to-29 age group.
In other words, yes, value differences exist and should not be ignored. They are not such, however, that they stand in the way of a reconstructed Atlantic partnership, especially if one takes into account the common values on which our respective political systems are built: liberty, democracy, individualism, pluralism, and the rule of law. It is abundantly clear that an "Atlanticist" policy of close collaboration between America and Europe will best protect and advance these values, to which Europeans are at least as committed as Americans and more so than any other of America's allies.
II: The strategic divide
The quick answer is yes, but other factors have also had a
decisive impact. The fact is that a very different world has
emerged over the course of the last 25 years. Let me list five
major changes, amongst many others, which together have created
an entirely new international environment:
The impact of these changes on the transatlantic relationship has been considerable, due to the fact that the U.S. and Europe reacted to them in very different, if not opposed, ways.
The Bush administration has developed a security strategy as well as a foreign policy largely based on its overwhelming military power, thus distancing itself from the principles it had promoted since World War II.
Its security strategy concentrates on the acquisition of a universal and absolute military supremacy, on huge defence budgets equal to those of all other nations put together, and on the development of new, sophisticated weapons no other country possesses. This has, quite logically, led the administration to emphasize "hard power" over "soft power," considering that military answers to political problems can, at times, improve the international system. Preventive strikes, in particular, are deemed acceptable, if not necessary, in order to counter terrorist threats or to reign in rogue states.
The new security strategy called for major course corrections in America's foreign policy, some of which startled the Europeans. First was the announcement that, from now on, "the mission would determine the coalition," which seemed to mean that permanent alliances, such as the Atlantic Alliance, belonged to the past. Second is the notion that unilateral decisions have to supersede multilateral commitments and institutions when these challenge national interest or prove incapable of achieving their stated objectives, such as stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Third is the declared ambivalence towards Europe's unification process, a divided Europe being deemed preferable to an untied Europe if the latter stands in the way of U.S. priorities.
Europe, meanwhile, has drawn very different conclusions from the same set of international changes.
The elimination of the Soviet threat and the stabilization, with the decisive help of the U.S., of the situation in the Balkans, has led most European nations, with the partial exception of France and Britain, to disarm. This has created a huge military gap between the two sides of the Atlantic and caused the neo-conservatives in this country to declare that Europe had, from an American point of view, become "irrelevant."
Influenced by its military weakness and the legacy of two devastating world wars, Europe has been inclined, contrary to America, to rely on international institutions and procedures, rather than on force, when dealing with emerging threats.
Almost all European nations have ratified the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, and the treaty creating an International Criminal Court, all of which have been rejected by the U.S.
One can, of course, question the very existence of a European foreign policy, especially in light of the division between European states over America's intervention in Iraq. One should not, however, overlook that, while governments were clashing, public opinions were not. They almost unanimously opposed the war, including in countries officially supportive of the American intervention, such as Great Britain or Italy, not to speak of Spain.
One could almost say that while Europe was becoming "Wilsonian," America was turning "Bismarckian!"
III: Building a new transatlantic partnership
These differences, however, could well be waning. Why? Because major new challenges are confronting America and Europe and are calling for joint responses: the terrorist threat, on one hand, combined with the spread of weapons of mass destruction; and the gradual shift in the world balance of power in favor of Asia and, in particular, China and India.
It was only a matter of time before those who planed the destruction of the Twin Towers would strike Europe.
Significant differences exist between these attacks: the means used, the extent of material and human casualties, and the fact that 9/11 was perpetrated by a group from the Middle East, mostly Saudis, whereas the London bombers were home grown, mostly born and educated in Britain.
The challenge, however, is basically the same. In both cases, the attacks were suicide attacks, the ultimate security nightmare. The bomber's motivation also seems to be identical. Their shared objective was to pit the West against the Islamic World in a clash of civilizations.
The good news is that intelligence and law enforcement cooperation between America and Europe, especially France, has been excellent and has never been adversely affected by the crisis over Iraq.
The bad news is that Europe and America have diverged in their more general approach to the Islamic threat. Europe reacted sceptically when President Bush declared a "global war on terror," a slogan that seemed to imply that the enemy was a state and could be defeated as such, and not an intricate network of terrorist organizations more or less inspired and controlled by Al Qaeda.
Fortunately the transatlantic mood seems to be changing. The London suicide bombings have lead the government to reverse its age-old tradition of welcoming into Britain all sorts of radicals, leaving them free to propagate subversive doctrines. The days when the British capital was derisively dubbed "Londustan" are now over. Tony Blair has introduced in Parliament a legislation that is as tough, if not more so, than America's Patriot Act, and the French government plans to tighten the country's already strict legislation.
America's thinking seems also to be changing. Officials, including Donald Rumsfeld, have started to speak of a "global struggle against violent extremism" instead of a "global war on terror." The change in language reflects a significant shift in policy. The gist of the change is to stop focusing on military action and to develop a comprehensive strategy using all the instruments of Western power: diplomatic, economic, and ideological-an approach that is meant to reach out to moderate Muslims, many of whom are appalled by the hideous cruelty of the Jihadists.
The change also concerns Iraq. Europeans, even those who objected to America's intervention in Iraq, today agree that a retreat from Iraq before a democratically elected government is ready to successfully confront the insurgency would raise havoc in the Middle East and would backfire among Europe's large Muslim communities. Europe knows it would be on the front line of a clash of civilizations triggered by a failed western Middle Eastern policy.
The emerging transatlantic consensus, however, still has limits. There is no agreement on how some of the extremist movements in the Middle East should be dealt with, such as the Palestinian Hamas or the Lebanese Hezbollah. The way the Israeli-Palestinian peace process should proceed after Gaza could also lead to differences. And although there is a general agreement on the necessity to promote democratic reforms in the Middle East, European capitals tend to be more cautious than the administration in Washington. They fear that prematurely held elections could result in bad governments being replaced by worse ones, as was the case in Iran, after the fall of the Shah in accordance with the dictum "one man, one vote, one time."
Europeans believe that most major issues in the Middle East are interrelated and that pacifying the area is a global task. Success in Iraq has become a key to most other problems. The same applies to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to Iran's nuclear program. Developing an integrated Western strategy, geared on facing these challenges, is a vital element of a reconstructed transatlantic partnership.
Islamic extremism is, for sure, the greatest immediate threat that confronts Europe and America. But the West cannot afford to ignore other challenges which, though less acute, could prove just as hard to face in the long term, such as the rise of Asia and, in particular, of China and India.
The emergence of China as a major world economic power may well turn out to be the most far-reaching development of the twenty-first century. Here are a few quick remarks.
There is nothing extraordinary about the rate of China's growth. China's gross domestic product (GDP) per head rose by 370 percent between 1978 and 2004, whereas Japan's GDP per head had increased by 460 percent between 1950 and 1973 and South Korea's GDP by 680 percent between 1962 and 1990. This means that the era of China's rapid growth is probably destined, in the absence of internal upheavals, to continue for many years, if not several decades, at a high single digit rate.
What makes the Chinese expansion so unique and potentially destabilizing is not so much its rate as its exceptional scale. The chaos created in the textile industries of the world by the end of quotas gives a foretaste of what is likely to happen to many other manufacturing sectors.
The greatest implication for the world is likely, however, to come not so much from China's industrial competition, no matter how severe, as from its hunger for oil and raw materials. China imports five billion barrels of crude a year. It is already the world's second largest importer of oil after America and its demand for oil is bound to increase sharply for many years to come.
China's momentous rise is also beginning to generate significant political repercussions. Simply stated, China has, in many ways, started to behave like a world power and its military build-up and modernisation is raising concerns in America and Japan.
Could existing economic and political clashes escalate into military collision? The likelihood of anything of the sort happening is, I believe, very slim. The Chinese leaders are nationalists but also pragmatists. They know they could not prevail militarily over the U.S. if they tried to overrun Taiwan.
What the distant future holds, once China becomes a full-fledged diversified world power is, however, impossible to predict. Much will depend on the West's success in engaging China and defusing emerging confrontations before they degenerate into open conflicts.
India, the world's largest democracy, though lagging behind China, is emulating its dynamic neighbor, not only economically but also politically. Its economy is expanding at the rate of 7 to 8 percent a year and its information industry is one of the fastest developing and most advanced in the world. Its military might is growing and it is actively pushing its influence in Asia. It has an appallingly large underclass, but it might soon also have one of the world's biggest middle classes.
India accomplished a significant step towards its goal of achieving superpower status as recently as July, on the occasion of its Prime Minister's visit to Washington where he was given a red carpet treatment. President Bush declared India a legitimate, responsible nuclear power. This, however, does not mean that India is about to become a U.S. satellite, as was clearly demonstrated last year when, instead of putting pressure on Teheran over its nuclear program, as the West was hoping, it signed a multibillion dollar deal to buy gas from Iran.
In mentioning China's and India's spectacular economic expansion and growing political ambitions, I merely wanted to highlight the historic sea change that is underway. A new world balance of power is emerging and it is happening faster than most of us had anticipated. For Europe and America it amounts to a formidable challenge. The West's pre-eminence is going to be increasingly challenged economically, politically, and even culturally in Asia as well as in the Islamic world. The outsourcing of so many of our jobs to China, India, and South East Asia is but the first sign of things to come. And it is abundantly clear that, in order to successfully face this formidable challenge, the West must act in unison.
First, prerequisite: Europe and America must recognize the density of the existing network of interests binding their economies together. China's rise is truly spectacular. Yet, over the past eight years, America has invested 60 percent more in Eastern Europe alone than in China: $16.6 billion versus $10.3 billion. Europe has provided 75 percent of all foreign investment in the U.S., and profits earned by U.S. affiliates in Europe in 2003 soared to $75 billion.
Second prerequisite: giving the Atlantic partnership a new lease on life requires the existence of a European entity sufficiently cohesive and determined to be a useful and attractive partner for the U.S. Europe has made great progress in that direction since the 1950s, gradually creating a powerful economic and monetary union. It did not, however, succeed in creating a meaningful political and military union. The rejection by France and Holland of the European Constitutional Treaty is a major setback for the integration process. It will not, however, bring an end to the European construction. The previous treaties remain in force, including the treaty that created the Euro and the European Central Bank. And I expect the institutional reforms that were the essence of the Constitution, such as increased majority voting, a stable presidency, and the expansion of the powers of the European Parliament, to be taken up again sometime in 2006 or 2007. The Europeans know full well that they have no other alternative open to them than an ever- closer Union.
Third prerequisite: the U.S. on its part must accept, as it did during the Cold War, that a united Europe, even if at times it proves to be a difficult partner, is better than a divided, and thus useless, Europe. Churchill, after a difficult discussion with the General De Gaulle during World War II remarked, after the General had left: "There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies and that is fighting without them."
Finally, Europe and America should understand that their partnership must be built on the basis of comparative advantage. Europe will durably possess a much weaker military force than the United States, even if it increases, as it must, its military spending and develops the projection capabilities of its forces. But in almost every other dimension of global influence Europe is strong. Meshing the two sets of capabilities, diplomatic and military, is the surest path to a durable understanding. Complementarity is the key to a productive transatlantic cooperation.
This cooperation is badly needed, not only to face the Asian
and Muslim challenges, but for the West to continue playing
a creative role in the multi-polar world of tomorrow. Divided,
Europe and America are likely to be disabled by their internal
conflicts; united their global influence will remain decisive.
These remarks were delivered as part of the Laughlin Lecture
Series, September 7, 2005.