TCS Daily

Allies Adrift?

By Nico Wirtz - April 22, 2004 12:00 AM

"The Cold War is over now. Very fortunately so, but at the same time...the glue that kept us together for so long has lost its strength."

- Jean-Luc Dehaene, former prime minister of Belgium

For decades, it was conventional wisdom on both sides of the Atlantic that Europe and the United States were intrinsically bound together by a "glue" which consisted two major components: a common external threat, and the more theoretical notion of "common values". This glue fostered a partnership built on military cooperation, most notably in the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and, to a lesser extent, economic cooperation.

With the Soviet threat gone, there is no doubt that the glue has lost its strength. Only months after the demise of the Soviet Union, politicians and analysts on both sides of the Atlantic began to wonder about the future of transatlantic relations. Yet, while there were calls to redefine the role of the organization, the existence of NATO itself was never called into question as the main pillar of transatlantic relations.

But in recent years, particularly following the atrocious terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the glue's waning cohesiveness has exposed deeper rifts. The refusal of both France and Germany to support the U.S. administration in the decision to go to war against Iraq - even though Article V of the NATO treaty had been invoked after September 11 - is a manifestation of this divide.

In an article published in one of Germany's most influential daily newspapers in March 2004, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell observed that Washington and Berlin have been talking past each other for quite some time. Areas of disagreement have included many more issues than just Iraq, the International Criminal Court or the Kyoto Protocol. A reason for this can be found in a generational shift on both sides of the Atlantic. The generation of "Cold Warriors" has been replaced by what many have called the "Generation X". Germany is a prime example: this "Generation X" has no memory of being on the edge of nuclear warfare, which, during the peak years of the Cold War was a realistic scenario. The sense of profound gratitude felt by the vast majority of Germans for American generosity and support in the years after 1945, which left no room for differences between the two countries, has also faded.

Young Germans do not reject cooperation with the United States in general, yet they do not see their future in the transatlantic realm but inside of the European house - a future made by Europeans for Europeans. This does not necessarily mean antagonism toward the United States, but it surely means "Europe First"; the transatlantic partnership as we know it comes second. The German "Generation X" adds much less emphasis to the romanticized view of transatlantic partnership as a relationship of American military protection, CARE packages, the Marshall Plan or the Berlin airlift. Young Germans want an assertive European Union with greater independence from the United States, a form of independence unthinkable in the minds of the old guard within the German body politic.

The debate over Afghanistan, and most recently the war against Iraq, have shown that the military visions of both Germany and the United States are further apart than ever before. While Colin Powell concluded that the transatlantic partnership must be transformed from the defense of common territory to the defense of common principles, this perspective is still caught up in Cold War thinking and assumes a common military vision.

What is needed is a redefinition of partnership that goes beyond finding a new justification for military cooperation. The transatlantic community needs a shift of emphasis. While the military will always have a strategic value that should not be underestimated, the second pillar of transatlantic relations, which has long been the "junior partner" of the two, should be accentuated. In today's globalized world, politicians and analysts on both sides should try to reap the benefits of strengthened economic cooperation. Basic structures are already in place, but should be fostered. An important step in the right direction was the New Transatlantic Agenda from 1995, which resulted in the implementation of more formalized cooperative structures: the Transatlantic Business Dialogue with the ultimate goal of establishing a transatlantic free trade area.

Only a shift in emphasis will be able to win over the "Generation X" and help revitalize a friendship that has been too precious to give up on.


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