TCS Daily


The Case for Complementarity

By Alfred van Staden - July 15, 2003 12:00 AM

The following is a speech that was delivered to an international conference on "America's Changing Role in the World: Implications for World Order and Transatlantic Relations", organized by the German Council on Foreign Relations (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik), Berlin, 26-28 June 2003.


As our distinguished colleague Karl Kaiser wrote in the latest April issue of Internationale Politik, the central question for the years to come is essentially whether the main global challenges will be dealt with multilaterally and with strong involvement of the United Nations in particular or will be taken care of by the American hyperpower, the so-called 'benign hegemon', cooperating with pick-and-choose coalitions only. Unfortunately, a wide gulf seems to separate the United States from the European Union as far as their performance or non-performance on the world stage is concerned.

The international role of the US today is generally described in terms of an imperial power pursuing global strategic interests; a power which is ill at ease with the entanglements and complexities of multilateral institutions, and is dissatisfied with the status-quo, while reserving the right to pre-emptive military action -- unilateral, if necessary.

By contrast, the main features of EU's international profile has been outlined as that of a civilian power with strategic ambitions that barely reach beyond the outer rim of Europe; a power which believes in the virtues of international law and multilateral institutions, and is basically happy with things as they are, equating the status-quo with stability. In addition, most EU member states have a different understanding of the classical concept of sovereignty than the US. Whereas European nations are used to pooling their sovereignty in highly interdependent policy domains, the US has become very reluctant to water down its sovereignty by becoming immersed in systems of global governance. As President Bush put it in his latest State of the Union address: 'The course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others'. Can one imagine a European leader making such a statement?

On the face of it, these differences are unbridgeable, precluding meaningful co-operation between America and Europe in the global context. I venture the thought, however, that some degree of convergence in world view and role conception is not only desirable but also feasible. After all, notwithstanding tensions at the government level that arose over the Iraq crisis, recent surveys (as conducted by Pew Charitable Trust) reveal a great deal of commonality between American and European publics with regard to their attitudes on a variety of key international issues. In the analysis of one of these issues, the new security threats, the European security strategy document, which was issued about a week ago, shows a high degree of overlap with official American views. Besides, economically, in terms of trade and investments, the US and the EU are by far the most interdependent areas in the world. If the rational calculation of mutual interests guides their behavior, the two are likely to cling together somehow. Of course, hope is always a poor substitute for analysis, but there are real possibilities to avoid a prolonged stand-off between Europe and the US, to prevent animal spirits from taking precedence over logic, so to speak. Let me substantiate and explain my contention by elaborating on the options available to the two sides.

America's choice is absolutely not whether or not it wants to remain a global power. Extensive economic and security interests compel the country to stay engaged in many parts of the world. The real choice for America is whether or not it would be willing to match its military preponderance with due respect for international law and multilateral institutions. There is also a related choice to be made between the option of actively supporting the development of regional forms of cooperation, thereby restricting the American role to guarantor of last resort, and the option of preserving unchallenged hegemony by playing the game of divide and rule. I firmly believe that sooner or later the US administration will digest in its policies the obvious lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq: hegemonic powers can win wars without the support of allies and friends, but will fail to secure lasting peace and stability in restive regions by going-it-alone posturing. It is a foregone conclusion that support for American-sponsored policies of nation-building and post-war reconstruction will only be forthcoming when the US is prepared to give allies and friendly states a fair part in its decision-making on these policies.

Equally, the choice for Europe is absolutely not whether or not it should aspire for full superpower status. Attempts to organize at the global level a counter-weight to the US are from the outset both dangerous and futile. They are dangerous because such 'balancing' attempts can only exacerbate transatlantic tensions and strengthen unilateralist tendencies in Washington. Balancing is a strategy which belongs to the foreign-policy arsenal of powers that see each other as adversaries rather than partners. Such attempts are also futile because the majority of EU member-states (including Germany) are opposed to lending muscular power to Europe, nor are European taxpayers in the mood to double defense budgets for the sole purpose of catching up with America's military might. Moreover, a European defense union or a European army, which seems to me an unalienable attribute of full power status, would require the establishment of a full-fledged political union or European government. This is simply not in the cards of current deliberations about the EU's future. I find much comfort in the fact that prevailing European opinion is gravitating towards strengthening the multilateral international system rather than building multipolarity rooted in rivaling power centers. But Europeans can help to narrow their differences with Americans if they accept that multilateral institutions need coercive means to be able to punish those who break the rules.

For European citizens to become more supportive of the general cause of European unification it is imperative for the Union's formidable economic power to be converted to commensurate political influence. Moreover, there are reasons to believe many
Countries -- in Latin America, for instance -- expect the Union to punch according to its economic weight. After the next rounds of enlargement the EU will cover a further third of the European continent. As a result, it will share a border with poor countries that need its help to improve their stability and prosperity. If the EU wants to remain faithful to its lofty ideals of conflict prevention and peace-building, the eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights, as well as the control of globalization for the sake of social balance, it has no alternative but to broaden its strategic horizon to include non-European crisis areas, and to accept joint responsibility for the management of global security threats. Oddly enough, there is only weak awareness in Europe that the threat of catastrophic terrorism may also strike against Europe's vital security interests.

At the same time, EU's new common strategy "against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" has brought European countries closer in line with the US by explicitly mentioning the use of force where diplomatic pressure would fail to stop nations from developing WMD capacity. In addition, the decision by European foreign ministers early this month to deploy, independent of NATO, a military force in the Congo for the implementation of operation Artemis, may be seen as a clear recognition by the EU of its responsibility to maintain or restore stability in regions outside Europe. Yes, only limited numbers of troops are involved in this particular operation; the EU lacks large expeditionary forces with sophisticated weaponry. But almost by the sheer fact that the EU will count shortly 25 member states, with 450 million people who produce about a quarter of the global economic output, representing the largest trading block in the world, the Union is a global player.

EU's extensive record in the field of international trade, foreign aid and peacekeeping led Andrew Moravscik to speak of Europe as "The Quiet Superpower". His claim that Europeans already wield effective power over peace and war as great as that of the US seems a bit too sweeping and far-fetched for general persuasion. But it is true that the overall European share of development assistance throughout the world is more than 70 per cent -- about four times as much as that of the US. Likewise, in comparison with the American effort, the contribution of current and prospective EU members to peace support operations is about ten times greater. Indeed, Europeans recognize that foreign aid directed at both short-term rehabilitation and structural development, as well as ongoing policing by peacekeeping, are indispensable tools with which to bolster international and domestic peace settlements. Additionally, the EU's radical enlargement with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, putting the Union's cohesion and capacity to act at risk, may be hailed as an unprecedented attempt to eliminate the sources of war in a continent where conflicts were once deemed endemic. Those Americans who fail to grasp the momentous nature of the integration of both parts of Europe should think at least twice about the obstacles that would have to be removed if, for instance, Mexico were to join the American Union.

I would argue that the EU's full potential to play an effective role on the international scene is far from having been exhausted. The Union's capability for external action can be made more effective by joining up all its policies that have an international dimension, from foreign aid, migration and agricultural trade to traditional diplomacy. It must be better prepared to use the carrots of trade preference and assistance and the sticks of economic punishment and withholding privileges as to give European diplomatic efforts more clout. Hopefully, the introduction of a European foreign minister, an 'overlord' being responsible for both the community and the intergovernmental components of the EU's foreign relations, will turn out to be conducive to achieving more synergy between policy instruments at hand. Similarly, short of developing a single European foreign policy binding all members, the capacity to act may also be improved by more effective coordination of common policies at the European level, with external activities of individual member states.

Although the EU's first security doctrine, already referred to, sets out a course that is aimed to give the Union more military teeth towards parties that cannot be pressured by civilian means, the Union's orientation is likely to remain predominantly focused on 'soft security'. However, I concur with those who have taken the view that the 'soft-security' orientation of the EU and the 'hard-security' orientation of the US are mutually supportive rather than antithetical. Neither the EU nor the US is able to deal single-handedly with the full life cycle of conflicts; that is to say, to prevent conflicts, and if they cannot be prevented, to fight them, end them, and cope with their aftermath. As a counterpart to the US, the EU can provide stability tools that supplement the American toolkit well.

That said, the -- rather familiar -- case for complementarity goes further than the necessary addition of policy instruments. Mutual cooperation between the EU and the US can also give more credence and even-handedness to efforts undertaken by each to seek peace for warring parties.

The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is an obvious case in point. To some degree, both the EU and the US are hampered in their search for a peaceful solution because they are seen as tilting too much to the position of one of the parties; the US to the position of Israel and the EU to that of the Palestinians. By pulling together, the US and the EU could overcome suspicions on both sides of the dispute, to act as an 'honest broker'. Cooperation should be obvious since the US and the EU agree not only on the fundamental elements of a final settlement, but also on the diplomatic mechanism to achieve it: the roadmap prepared by the Quartet (the US, the EU, the UN and Russia). Again, the overwhelming military force of the US could be combined with Europe's vast financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority and the prospect of closer partnership between Israel and the enlarged EU.

As was eloquently stated in the CSIS Declaration of last May (endorsed by Madeleine Albright and other former prominent American policymakers), while it may not be possible for the EU and the US to take on everything together, it is essential to make sure that taken together they do everything. Indeed, a genuine Atlantic partnership would first require a better understanding of what each party can accomplish, as well as a better insight into the reasons that prompt its actions.

Quite obviously, American and European leaders should refrain from publicly voicing disagreement before -- or while -- these are discussed behind closed doors. From this point of view, it is also sad to note that the transatlantic discourse has turned into a dialogue of deaf-mutes. The malicious rhetoric that has escalated during the crisis in Iraq has not only hurt the feelings of political leaders but, perhaps more importantly, undermined the confidence of ordinary citizens in the relevance and the vitality of the transatlantic relationship. The New Transatlantic Agenda (NTA), which was signed in Madrid in 1995 and supposed to create a forum to pursue dialogue on a broad range of issues, has largely bogged down in an accumulation of good intentions. The half-yearly encounters, with highly predictable outcomes, remain heavily focused on trade and institutional issues. Moreover, the nature of the meetings tends to be formalistic and ritualistic, not least because the lengthy list of issues under discussion lacks any prioritization.

The rhythm of EU/US meetings ought to be driven by events directly affecting the state of the transatlantic relationship rather than by bureaucratic calendars often out of step with these. In view of the new security environment, priority should be given to reassessing some of the basic legal principles that have been enshrined in the UN Charter, such as the prohibition of the (unilateral) use of force and the right of self-defense. Important questions are posing themselves: Under what conditions other than those of imminent threats might pre-emptive or preventive military action be legally justified? Would there be an inherent right of anticipatory self-defense? Another topic that needs to be addressed in transatlantic discussions is the issue of regime change of non-democratic countries. Clearly, the mere existence of autocratic and repressive regimes in the Middle East is viewed by the US administration as a security risk, as the countries involved are supposed to be fertile ground for the growth of terrorist movements. In as much as this assumption is true (and many Europeans may beg to differ), the question emerges as to what are the most effective ways of furthering democratic transformation. How can the rise of illiberal and anti-western populist regimes be prevented? It seems to me that discussions about these kinds of questions may be more rewarding than the usual squabbles about trade disputes.

Finally, there is another subject I would like to touch upon. It concerns the dialogue sustained by parliamentarians, the academic world and 'think-tanks'. Over the past decade, the often heralded transatlantic 'security community' has become alarmingly small. This community is not only in jeopardy among the top echelons of politicians and policymakers, but also at the middle-level of advisors, commentators, and those who tend to shape public opinion in general. Since this demise has been a slow process, little attention has been given to it. It is high time to bring this tendency to a halt. Hopefully, this conference organized in honor of Karl Kaiser, one of the leading members of the transatlantic community for several decades, will be remembered as a turning point in this respect.

The author is director of the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands
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