DIVORCE, TRANSATLANTIC STYLE? The Future of the Transatlantic Alliance

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

For forty-five years, the threat of conflict with the Soviet Union brought the United States and Western Europe into a tight partnership, most notably represented by the NATO military alliance. But with the Soviet Union gone and the European Union on the road to possible superpower status in its own right, does the transatlantic alliance have a future? Peter Robinson speaks with Niall Ferguson, Josef Joffe, and Coit Blacker.

Recorded on Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge: the United States and Europe--from the Cold War to the Big Chill...

Announcer: Funding for this program is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation.


Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today: what to do about those Europeans? For 45 years, the threat of conflict with the Soviet Union brought the United States and Western Europe into a tight and enduring partnership, most notably represented by the NATO military alliance. Today, the Soviet Union is gone and the European Union is on the road to possible superpower status in its own right. Does the transatlantic alliance have a future?

Joining us, three guests. Coit Blacker is director of the Stanford Institute of International Studies. Josef Joffe is editor of Die Zeit, the German news magazine. And Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard and the author of Colossus: The Price of America's Empire.

Title: Divorce, Transatlantic Style?

Peter Robinson: Big document, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations--you sat on the panel actually that put it together--it is called Renewing the Atlantic Partnership. I quote, "The Cold War is over but cooperation across the Atlantic will remain critical for addressing the regional and increasing global challenges likely to be central in the 21st century." "Cooperation across the Atlantic is likely to remain critical." My question is why? And I don't mean to put that facetiously. Truly why? In some situations, the Europeans are helpful: Afghanistan. In some, some Europeans are helpful while others are obstructionists: Iraq. In others, Europeans are irrelevant: North Korea. Why should the United States struggle to renew the Atlantic partnership instead of simply putting together ad hoc coalitions, one foreign policy problem at a time? You were on the panel. You defend its work.

Josef Joffe: First of all, we no longer have the European and American economy. We have an Atlantic economy. And that fuses together by hundreds of thousands of jobs, zillions of trade going back and forth. And there we have a common market.

Peter Robinson: We are overwhelmingly each other's largest trading partner?

Josef Joffe: Correct. So when once you have a common market, you can't just do stuff ad hoc. And you see it all the time, you know, the cartel and antitrust laws, stuff like that; hormone beef, you name it. So that's one real big one. The other real big one is it's very hard for me to come up with issues with the United States that are very important for the United States that the United States can deal with on its own. Take Iran. If you want to keep nukes out of the hands of the Iranians, you've got to have the steady cooperation of the Europeans, otherwise it's not going to work.

Peter Robinson: You go for that, Chip?

Coit Blacker: I think what's interesting about this is that it is less self-evident to informed publics in the U.S. and in Europe that we're married at the hip. That's…

Peter Robinson: Economically?

Coit Blacker: Well, kind of in all senses because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Peter Robinson: Because of, rather than in spite of?

Coit Blacker: We are less aware of the ties that bind…

Peter Robinson: Oh, oh, oh I see.

Coit Blacker: …because this great mobilizing force is gone. But the links are still there.

Peter Robinson: Robert Kagan, now famous for his article on Europe and the United States argues that there are a couple of fundamental reasons for the divide--political divide, cultural divide--between the United States and Europe. One is that the United States is strong and Europe is weak. I'm quoting Kagan. "Europe's military weakness has produced a perfectly understandable aversion to the exercise of military power. They, the Europeans, hope to constrain American power without wielding power themselves." Now if that's true, you may disagree with it if you wish, but if that's true--if the European goal is to constrain American power, why should America cooperate in any way in that project?

Niall Ferguson: Oh, I don't know. I mean, I don't take it as self-evident that there should be harmonious transatlantic relations. It's extremely important that we should distinguish my position from your other two guests. It seems to me that…

Peter Robinson: You can always count on Niall Ferguson to pick up a handful of sand and throw it right in the gears.

Niall Ferguson: That's what we're here for. It's, of course, something which everybody feels nostalgic about who grew up during the Cold War. And we are rather used to the idea that we should be able to shuttle back and forth across the Atlantic between London and New York. And we do and we expect there to be harmony of a more general kind prevailing. But, of course, as Chip rightly said, since the end of the Cold War, the rationale for Europe to subordinate itself to the United States, particularly in security matters, has completely gone. There is no longer a threat which the Europeans regard as significantly serious enough to justify that kind of subordination. And particularly, Peter, the Europeans do not see radical Islam as a commensurate threat. And as long as that's the case, as long as Europeans simply don't see terrorism as a fundamental threat, they won't play ball.

Peter Robinson: All right. Let's explore the impact of the end of the Cold War on U.S.-European relations.

Title: The Long Goodbye

Peter Robinson: Is it the fundamental psychology here of what's going on that after those five decades of the Cold War in which the United States really ran the show through NATO--of course, we're consulting here, there and everywhere but the troops were ours, the missiles were ours and so forth--the Europeans are just sick of it. They simply want to stand up…

Josef Joffe: No, no, no, no.

Peter Robinson: No? That hasn't bred five decades of pent up resentments?

Josef Joffe: No. Let's not put it in pathological or psychological terms. Let's put it in structural terms. The great watershed, of course, was the suicide of the Soviet Union, which had enormous consequences on both sides of the ocean.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Josef Joffe: Europeans, no longer dependent for their strategic security on the United States. But interestingly enough, the United States, no longer dependent for its security, not on European armies but on the strategic real estate that Europe represented. So the United States was also willing to pay rent, as it were, for that strategic real estate as the Europeans were willing to pay fealty to the United States for security. Now that's gone.

Peter Robinson: That's just gone?

Josef Joffe: It's a tremendous structural change in the relationship and that explains a lot of our problems. Nonetheless, I would disagree with Niall to say well, we don't have to care about good, nice transatlantic relationships. Who else do we want to hang out with?

Niall Ferguson: I think we'll certainly try to preserve them but I'm pessimistic. I don't see any obvious reason why the European Union should play second fiddle as it did during the Cold War to the United States. And the other key point…

Peter Robinson: Is it--go ahead.

Niall Ferguson: …that I'd like to make which is really very, very important here is that Americans tend to assume it's a fundamental change in the United States that has caused a deterioration in transatlantic relations.

Josef Joffe: No, no, no.

Niall Ferguson: In particular, there's an assumption that the Bush Administration is the problem and that it's a fundamental change in American foreign policy that has caused a deterioration in transatlantic relations. And I think this is fundamentally wrong.

Coit Blacker: It's structural.

Josef Joffe: It's structural.

Niall Ferguson: The real changes apart from the end of the Cold War are within Europe itself. Europe has changed much, much more profoundly in the past decade than the United States.

Peter Robinson: What about this Kagan suggestion that it really is a fundamental part of the European project now to constrain the United States, to tie down the giant Gulliver with thousands of threads?

Josef Joffe: But wouldn't you, wouldn't you?

Peter Robinson: Is that fundamental to the European project?

Coit Blacker: No, I don't think it is fundamental to the European project. I think the fundamental goal set or group of ambitions within Europe are to define what Europe is becoming so that it's much more self-referential than that comment implies. I don't think in Brussels, you know, European heads of state come together to conspire about how best to constrain the United States.

Peter Robinson: The don't need to conspire because it comes so naturally.

Coit Blacker: It's not about that. It's not about that.

Josef Joffe: I disagree with him. Though I'm going to speak from the Euroweenie point of view. If I were a real Euroweenie, and I saw this Gulliver who had suddenly lost his ropes, a.k.a., Soviet countervailing power, and I watched this now liberated giant throw his weight around which he has done, you know, launching two wars in the last couple of years.

Peter Robinson: It makes you nervous.

Josef Joffe: It makes me nervous. It's like, you know, the U.S. is not for--even if I were a Euroweenie, the U.S. is not a T-rex but it's a very big elephant. And I want to keep some ropes on him because even if he is benign, he does trample the grass, doesn't he?

Peter Robinson: Next, the European divide over the war in Iraq.

Title: With Friends Like This…

Peter Robinson: Again let me quote Joe, that report Renewing the Atlantic Partnership: "The war in Iraq brought the strains between the United States and Europe to the point of crisis," self-evident. "France and Germany organized resistance to the United States and the U.N. Security Council alongside Russia, historically NATO's chief adversary." Joe, why did Germany side with its ancient adversary, Russia, against its close ally, the United States over the war in Iraq?

Josef Joffe: Well, our ancient adversary is such an adversary no longer. After all, we've gotten what we want, right? We've gotten reunification. We've gotten the withdrawal of Soviet or Russian power from the heart of Europe and we now have a Russia that has been weakened maybe at the weakest point in the last century. So it no longer is a threat. And so this new kind of balancing game against American power can begin by the secondary powers who are suspicious of this vast unliberated power of the United States.

Peter Robinson: All right. So part of it is sheer power politics?

Josef Joffe: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: What about the difference in perception--go ahead and elucidate the point you were making about the difference in perception of radical Islam.

Niall Ferguson: Well I think, although there was a brief moment after 9/11 when Europeans said we're all Americans now and we're all on the same side, that moment passed astonishingly quickly. And, of course, the intervention in Iraq made it disappear because Europeans refused en masse to believe that there was any meaningful connection between a war against radical Islam and the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime. And I think on a whole range of grounds, Europeans can claim justly today to have been right. I mean, on weapons of mass destruction, on the links to Al Qaeda--that the case made by the Bush Administration for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a very weak one and it did not persuade Europeans.

Peter Robinson: There was a point early on when it seemed to this layman--question for you Chip--that Europe thought well, there is a radical Islam and it is a problem but what they're after is the United States. We're insulated. They're not after us. Can they still believe that after the attacks in Spain?

Coit Blacker: I think part of the reason why there is a clear discrepancy between how Americans regard the world and how dangerous it is and our European allies is because in Europe there has been nothing truly comparable to the attacks on September 11th. Were that to happen in Berlin or in London or in Paris or in Rome, then I think the…

Peter Robinson: Why do the attacks in Spain not do the trick, so to speak?

Coit Blacker: Because frankly they were not as horrific as the attacks on the World Trade Center. I think visually this stuff is terribly important. I know as a proportion of the population…

Peter Robinson: Seeing those towers come down.

Coit Blacker: …it was a terrible loss for Spain but if you say 3,000 people, and we first thought 6,000 or 9,000 with the capacity for 50,000, it's very, very different from an explosion in a train station.

Peter Robinson: Joe?

Josef Joffe: I just would like to disagree and amend this thing. For the Europeans, like the Spaniards, even if they had not killed 250 but maybe 2,500, there's always the option of opting out. You can always say look, the primary target is the United States. And I can save myself by distancing myself from the target. So it may be heinous but it's a rational response to then fink out of the coalition as the Spaniards have done. The point is the Spaniards or the French or the Germans, whoever might be attacked next have that option which the United States does not have. So there's a built in propitiatory or even appeasement reflex…

Niall Ferguson: Can I add something to that? I'm in agreement with that, Josef. I think there's also a tradition of appeasing terrorists in Europe that's now quite well established. Confronted with terrorist threats from the far left and radical nationalist minorities, European governments, including I'm afraid to say, even the Thatcher government in the 1980's, tended, in fact, to appease rather than to go to war.

Josef Joffe: The IRA?

Niall Ferguson: The IRA was essentially conciliated. There was some coercion, but the IRA has practically got what it wants in Northern Ireland. The extent to which the IRA was appeased is constantly underestimated.

Josef Joffe: I disagree. May I just say one sentence?

Peter Robinson: Of course.

Josef Joffe: I think we have normally been quite harsh with our domestic terrorists. The Germans with the Bader Meinhof, the Italians with the Brigate Rosse.

Peter Robinson: Nobody's rougher than the French police.

Josef Joffe: The Spaniards with ETA.

Niall Ferguson: Gerry Adams is now an elected representative…

Josef Joffe: I just gave you the other ones.

Josef Joffe: Don't mess up my general profound pattern with a little puny exception.

Niall Ferguson: The IRA was successful in…

Peter Robinson: Go ahead. Quiet now! Quiet now! We've noted the exception.

Josef Joffe: We have to draw a distinction. I think every single European government has been extremely tough with its domestic terrorists, ruthless almost. Where I think he's right or at least where I would agree is when it came to Arab-Iranian, et cetera, terrorism. That's where the propitiatory response caved in and the unspoken signal was look, if you leave us the Europeans alone, we'll leave you alone.

Coit Blacker: My argument is there may come a time and I think there will come a time when this argument, you know, we'll leave you alone, you leave us alone, is going to be falsifiable. It isn't going to work. And when there's a catastrophic incident in Europe, which I think there will be…

Peter Robinson: European opinion will change overnight?

Coit Blacker: No it's not going to change overnight but it will change, it will shift.

Niall Ferguson: No, no, the United States will be blamed. I think you're underestimating how the Europeans would react.

Peter Robinson: So what will it take to get European support for America's policy in the Middle East?

Title: Welcome the Green Zone

Peter Robinson: Can we and if so, how do we persuade the Europeans to join in this large project of transforming the political culture of the Middle East? You shake your head. We can't do it?

Josef Joffe: It's going to be very hard. I can't quite see how you drag the Europeans in. The only thing I can say is that they may do things short of military engagement, which they're doing already. They're training police and troops, et cetera.

Peter Robinson: What about the success in Iraq? Does that change European attitudes--in Afghanistan, the election in Afghanistan?

Josef Joffe: I think they're kind of passed without notice. If the United States were to really pull this off in Iraq--by pulling off, I mean, you know, stability, peace and some kind of march towards democracy, then the picture will change. But let's not forget one basic thing, a structural thing, I'll finish there--there is rivalry between Europe and the United States in the Middle East. There's rivalry over influence. And one reason why the Europeans are lining up with the Arabs and against Israel is because the United States has lined up with Israel and against some Arabs. So it's a competitive game.

Peter Robinson: The best way the United States can persuade the Europeans to join the large project is to succeed in Iraq.

Niall Ferguson: No, because it's not enough. Europeans have their own project for the Middle East and it's called enlargement. Remember negotiations are now underway for Turkish accession into the European Union. And if that happens within a very short space of time, Turkey would be the biggest in terms of population member of the European Union--bigger even than Germany. That is the key thing to watch because that means conceivably the European Union's borders will be common to those of Iraq within the foreseeable future, not to mention Iran. So I think one has to recognize that there's a European project for the Middle East and it is completely the antithesis of Bush's project for the Middle East, not forcible democratization but in fact, a subtle democratization by offering membership of the EU as the bait. And the Turks have taken that bait.

Peter Robinson: But you're not suggesting they'd offer the bait to Egypt or to Libya, that the European Union would extend across…

Niall Ferguson: Look, the European Union grew by 23% in territorial extent this year without firing a shot. Who says it should stop?

Peter Robinson: So in the backs of their minds in Brussels, they have that idea in their heads?

Niall Ferguson: In the backs of their minds in North Africa and the Middle East, they very clearly have that in mind. And the other point to remember, Peter, is migration. Do not forget that something like 8% of the population of France is now Muslim and the populations are rising for demographic reasons all over Europe. That is another key reason why European countries are not going to support American foreign policy, whatever you do.

Coit Blacker: The most important thing that has been said--I mean, very, very many important things and very elegantly said. The most important thing…

Peter Robinson: Why else would I convene the three of you?

Coit Blacker: …that's been said was Joe's first observation when he said it's structural. And that…

Niall Ferguson: I didn't think that was important. I think that was boring.

Peter Robinson: I thought so, so that makes it three to one against. You're outvoted, Ferguson. Carry on, Chip.

Coit Blacker: And it will be about management. It will be about the management of differences. It will even be about the management of kind of complementarity. And it's going to be awkward…

Peter Robinson: They have their project. We have ours and all we can do is work around the edges to try to keep open hostility from breaking out?

Coit Blacker: I think this project notion is terribly important. And that's partly what I meant earlier when I said that the Europeans are so self-referential in terms of what they're doing that I am not convinced that they sit around in Brussels and contemplate how best to tie us in.

Peter Robinson: Second question. If you're Condi Rice, your friend, Condi Rice, thinking these things through. All right, this huge project of transforming the culture of the Middle East--we have our project, they have theirs. Second question, what about the nuts and bolts of the war on terror, going after Al Qaeda? Are they cooperating in Europe as fully as they…

Josef Joffe: Yes.

Peter Robinson: They are? So that's not a problem?

Josef Joffe: No.

Peter Robinson: We're sharing intelligence…

Josef Joffe: That is the most untold story around these days in part also because the Europeans not wanting to become targets, don't want to trumpet it. But as we speak here, for instance, there's American customs agents in the Port of Hamburg, my hometown, and they're collaborating with the German customs colleague in checking container bound traffic for the United States. So that kind of stuff the police, the customs work, works very nicely.

Peter Robinson: Now, advice for the European leadership.

Title: Hardly, Gerhard

Peter Robinson: There's an argument to be made that the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, started the trouble by campaigning for reelection on an openly anti-American platform. What line of advice--television time so we have to compress it into a line or two--would you give to Schroeder about relations between Europe and the United States? Joe?

Josef Joffe: You can't screw around with the largest power in history forever. It is not a useful thing for a middle power to do.

Peter Robinson: You concur?

Niall Ferguson: Well, Schroeder's nearly history anyway. So in a way, he played his card. He stayed the execution. But politically he is dead. And it's important to remember the political vulnerability of European leaders.

Peter Robinson: Is he paying a price for anti-Americanism?

Niall Ferguson: Well no he's not.

Peter Robinson: He's not?

Niall Ferguson: But it hasn't saved his political bacon.

Peter Robinson: So he's saying, ahh, I was able to screw with them long enough.

Niall Ferguson: But I think Chip's point about the internal, introverted character of European politics is terribly important. Maybe that was the most important thing that was said because Europeans are really much more interested in…

Peter Robinson: It's a structural matter though.

Niall Ferguson: It's not a structural matter. It's about personalities and it's about politics.

Josef Joffe: It's personality structure.

Niall Ferguson: Chirac, Schroeder, these people are politically, tremendously vulnerable for domestic political reasons. They will not be around for much longer politically. And I think Americans forget this.

Peter Robinson: Prime Minister Tony Blair. He has paid a price for sticking up with the United States, has he not?

Niall Ferguson: Well no, actually. He may be less popular than he was but he's still securely in power and quite conceivably going to secure another term in office because there is no opposition…

Peter Robinson: You have simply tossed out a year's worth of the Economist magazine by saying he's paid no price.

Niall Ferguson: I would like to toss out more than that in the Economist magazine.

Peter Robinson: Stop there. Stop there.

Niall Ferguson: After all, they endorsed Kerry. Let's not forget that. But…

Peter Robinson: But your advice for Tony Blair as regards Europe and the United States?

Niall Ferguson: Well, he should continue doing what he's brilliantly done so far which is to play both ends against the middle, to be the bridge.

Josef Joffe: Who's the middle?

Niall Ferguson: Britain is the middle. Britain is the middle.

Josef Joffe: To play both ends against itself?

Niall Ferguson: Yeah. The English expression implies that you play both ends in the game to your own advantage as the player in the middle. That is what Blair has rather brilliantly done. That is why he's going to outlast both Chirac and Schroeder.

Peter Robinson: What would you say to Chirac?

Josef Joffe: I'd say the same thing to him as to Schroeder but he would laugh me out of court because he says look, I can engage in my splendid anti-Americanism and get lots of applause at home and I never get punished by the United States.

Peter Robinson: Should the United States seek to punish him in one way or another, punish him?

Josef Joffe: Very hard for a large power like the United States to do that, to medium and small powers. Very hard. How would you do it? Would you bomb the Eiffel Tower?

Peter Robinson: I think not.

Josef Joffe: Would you forbid port visits in Norfolk for the French fleet. They don't have a fleet to begin with.

Peter Robinson: The only practical step is to ban French wine at the White House.

Niall Ferguson: But you can't in any meaningful way do those sorts of economic measures because when it comes to trade, the European Union is an equal of the United States.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Niall Ferguson: So the United States can't reward its friends in the case of Britain and it can't punish its enemies economically.

Peter Robinson: Finally, advice for President George W. Bush in his second term.

Title: Turn Down the Volume

Peter Robinson: My advice would be something along the lines of look very carefully at who is with you and who is against you in Europe. There is what Don Rumsfeld called the old Europe and it centers on Germany and France and Belgium but the periphery, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Britain, all to varying degrees supported--Spain has dropped out of the coalition but you've got another party in Spain which still favors the United States. So the notion here is to some extent, politely cherry-pick. Establish deeper relations with the nations that are friendly toward us. Wonderful, don't you think Chip?

Coit Blacker: Way too subtle for the United States.

Peter Robinson: Oh.

Coit Blacker: Way too subtle.

Josef Joffe: The United States can't play the balance of power game?

Coit Blacker: No, no, no. We can play the balance of power game when the number of actors is relatively modest. It's just extremely hard in American foreign policy given the nature of the American system, to have that kind of a finely tuned, extremely subtle foreign policy. It's just very, very hard to do.

Peter Robinson: Okay. Let's go around the table then. Give me your advice for George W. Bush over his next four years.

Coit Blacker: Well, my advice would be tone it down a bit.

Peter Robinson: The rhetoric.

Coit Blacker: I think the rhetoric is unnecessary. I think it's polarizing. At the end of the day, it's not how to influence events around the world the way we want…

Peter Robinson: So tone down the rhetoric and what else?

Coit Blacker: I think he should take advantage of the fact that he does have a second term to talk about what the world's architecture should look like. He's been very driven by a very narrow set of issues and he should take advantage of the fact that he's got four more years to contextualize the war on terror, to contextualize all the changes that have taken place.

Peter Robinson: He truly has a chance to do what his father talked about which is to establish a new world order.

Coit Blacker: I think that's right. Yes.

Peter Robinson: Joe?

Josef Joffe: I'd say Mr. President read in the life of your greatest predecessor in the century, namely Republican president by the name of Ronald Reagan who started his first term as a kind of evil empire killer--obsessive evil empire killer--enemy of communism to the max and in his second term as a kind of disarmament guru, as a friend of Gorby, embraced and flattered Gorby, and in that way, brought down the evil empire peacefully without a shot being fired. Now read that and then apply these lessons which have to do with flexibilities, being able to change ideology when the reality so demands and still get American business done. The way to get things done is not to kick somebody else's shin. Right? If I want something from you, I want to confront and affront you but I'll try to find your interest and my interest to see how in the give and take I can come out ahead. That's real politique, in personal as well as international life. And these guys haven't understood how that game works. They are idiots in diplomacy.

Peter Robinson: The Bush Administration.

Josef Joffe: The Bushes.

Peter Robinson: Niall?

Niall Ferguson: Well I think the French are being equally idiotic in diplomacy and I think I would say to them…

Peter Robinson: Thank you, thank you. I feel much better hearing someone at this table say that.

Niall Ferguson: I would say to President Bush, Mr. President, they despise you. They treat you with contempt. Do not expect anything from them. Do not expect, as of course Senator Kerry did expect, assistance in Iraq and do not regard them as in any sense your allies when it comes to the Middle East. Be a realist.

Peter Robinson: Chip Blacker, Josef Joffe, Niall Ferguson, thank you very much.

Peter Robinson: I'm Peter Robinson for Uncommon Knowledge, thank you for joining us.