By Doug Bereuter
Since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952, the United States has strongly supported the process of European integration. In the years following World War II, our leaders recognized that closer cooperation among former enemies would bring stability and economic growth to Europe and greatly reduce the likelihood that the nations of Europe would ever again engage in armed conflict against one another.
As it has evolved, the European Union has become both a strong partner and a strong competitor for the United States. Most Americans will accept fierce competition in trade. Competition can be beneficial, as long it is fair. But it must be recognized that Americans are increasingly disturbed by EU trade-distorting policies and the Union’s restriction of imports on the basis of emotion instead of sound science. It remains my concern that, if these trade disputes grow, they will spill over into foreign and security policy and divide us where we have no reason to be divided.
We are now witnessing an even more divisive conflict in the U.S.-EU relationship, with the visible efforts of some European leaders, particularly French President Jacques Chirac, to build the EU into a counterweight to the United States. Chirac has spoken of the need to “create a multi-polar world” in which “the EU becomes a major pole of the global balance.” Such a European counterweight will weaken international institutions by obstructing their decisions.
To many Americans the push for Europe to be a counterweight to America looks like an overt effort to marginalize the influence of the US in Europe. This includes marginalizing the role of NATO, of which the US and Canada are members.
It must be emphasized that Americans support a European security and defence policy (ESDP) that works closely with NATO to undertake crisis management operations in and around Europe when NATO, as a whole, is not engaged. When it fully develops its defence capabilities, the EU will be, for example, best suited to solving problems similar to those faced in the Balkans in the 1990s. If the Helsinki Headline Goal is fulfilled, ESDP will enable the EU to use its military assets to ensure security.
Likewise, the EU Rapid Reaction Force is welcome. If it becomes fully operational, this crisis-management force would enable the EU to carry out the full range of the Petersburg tasks. But the force should complement the NATO Response Force – a much smaller unit designed to undertake combat operations in support of collective defence missions wherever NATO decides there are threats that require a military response.
But Americans look with concern at efforts to turn ESDP into a collective defence organization to duplicate the role of NATO, a concern that is shared by many European members of NATO. The proposal of France and Germany last November to allow EU members to “transfer to the European Union the commitments to which they have subscribed ” is a thinly veiled attempt to incorporate a collective defence commitment into the EU, at the expense of NATO. This is troubling because such efforts would undermine the commitment of the European nations to NATO while adding no additional military capability. If the 29 April meeting of the leaders of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg has the intent of developing collective defence “within the framework of the Union,” as outlined in the December report of the European Convention’s working group on defence, it would be a step away from developing an ESDP that can complement NATO and contribute meaningfully to European defence.
North America and Europe can forge common policies and approaches to threats like terrorism because we share many common values. Our focus should be on the common security and prosperity of our citizens. Efforts to turn our partnership into a strategic rivalry are, on balance, bound to be damaging. The crucial challenges that we face are common to us all; we must work together on a common response.
Congressman Doug Bereuter is president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Europe.