European Affairs

Two Pleas for Greater Transatlantic Understanding     Print Email
Louis R. Golino

An Alliance at Risk: The United States and Europe since September 11
by Laurent Cohen-Tanugi
Translated by George A. Holoch, Jr.
Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. 2003
140 pages

Friendly Fire: The Near-Death of the Transatlantic Alliance
by Elizabeth Pond
European Union Studies Association, Pittsburgh, and Brookings Institution,Washington,DC. 2004
141 pages

Reviewed by Louis R. Golino

Transatlantic relations have always attracted wide interest because of their centrality to questions of world order. But since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and the run up to the Iraq war, they have received much more attention than usual. In large part this is because, although Europeans and Americans briefly came together after September 11, the war on terror has since widened the gulf in policy and perceptions between the United States and Europe.

It is also because the Atlantic alliance came closer than ever to breaking up over the Iraq war. Much of the treatment of these issues in the press and especially in the broadcast media has, however, probably exacerbated the troubled state of Transatlantic relations by focusing excessively on areas of disagreement.

Those looking for a more balanced discussion of why the post-September 11 harmony was so short-lived, and why the alliance almost self-destructed over Iraq, would do well to read these two new books on the subject, both by experienced writers on Transatlantic relations. One, "An Alliance at Risk," is by a European expert on the United States, the other, "Friendly Fire," is by an American expert on Europe.

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi is a French lawyer who writes about international affairs for the newspaper Le Monde and is the author of books on French and American legal traditions and other topics. Elizabeth Pond is a former European correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor, currently based in Germany, where she edits the foreign policy journal, Transatlantic Internationale Politik. She has written a number of books on Germany, Russia and Europe.

The two authors have quite a lot in common. Both are committed Euro- Atlanticists who believe Europe should have an international role more commensurate with its economic clout, and that the Atlantic Alliance can and should be sustained through enlightened political leadership. Both see the Alliance as still rooted in shared values (particularly democracy, free markets, civil society and the rule of law) ­ an important point rarely mentioned during recent debates.

In addition, both see the roots of today's troubled Transatlantic relations in trends that have emerged in the post- Cold War period. They point out, for example, that while the United States and Europe will continue to be each other's most important global partners for the foreseeable future, Europe is no longer the center of world politics as it was during the Cold War. As a result, Europe is less central to American foreign policy.

Both writers consider European integration to be a positive development that Americans should support, provided that Europeans do not define their identity in opposition to the United States. Both authors stress that Europe should be a partner of the United States, not a counterweight to it. They also agree that leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have contributed to the recent deterioration in relations and suggest essentially the same prescription. This can be described as a Europe that takes greater responsibility for its security and an America that works harder at listening to others and taking their views into account. The two authors also stress that recent events have created new realities in the relationship and that, after the discord over terrorism and Iraq, there can be no return to the relative harmony of the Cold War era.

Cohen-Tanugi and Pond mostly cover the same themes, especially September 11 and the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan and the war against terror. Both also deal at length with European reactions to America's status as the world's only superpower and the Bush administration's doctrine of preemption; U.S. policy towards European integration and whether, instead of supporting it as it has in the past, America now seeks to divide Europe internally; and Europe's drive to become a more influential world power. Both also examine anti-American attitudes in Europe and anti-European views in the United States.

There are, however, some differences. Cohen-Tanugi's book is analytical and prescriptive and focuses on the past, present and future of Transatlantic relations, whereas Pond's book is primarily descriptive and analytical and deals mostly with the recent past.

Both authors make numerous references to the influential ideas of American neo-conservative foreign policy analyst Robert Kagan, who argues that American and European attitudes toward key international issues, such as the role of force, have continued to widen in recent years, making foreign policy differences more frequent. He maintains that because America has so much power, it has a propensity to use that power, whereas, because Europeans have so little power, they tend to put greater faith in international law and multilateral organizations. Cohen-Tanugi regards Kagan's analysis as somewhat over-simplified, but otherwise appears to accept much of his argument. Pond in contrast discusses in greater depth the numerous critiques and criticisms of Kagan's work.

Cohen-Tanugi provides a solid overview of key developments in Transatlantic and European affairs since the end of World War II and argues passionately in favor of Euro-Atlanticism. In a plea for greater mutual understanding between Europe and America, he suggests a number of steps such as the institutionalization of "regular political and strategic coordination" between the allies. Some readers, however, may not be persuaded by his essentially optimistic perspective and may feel that he underestimates the difficulties of achieving his proposed reconciliation of Europeanism and Atlanticism.

Pond is less concerned with advocating a particular course of action (other than working toward improved trust and understanding) than with establishing a shared narrative of recent events. She believes the two sides should try harder to agree on precisely how and why the recent polemical arguments and heated rhetoric erupted.Her review of the American- French-German diplomacy that preceded the Iraq war is a good example of her contribution toward those objectives. She provides effective summaries of recent Transatlantic debates, but given the author's extensive experience of the subject, it would be interesting to know more about where she stands.

Both authors argue that Europeans underestimated the extent to which September 11 fundamentally transformed America and U.S. foreign policy. In addition, they say, the Transatlantic relationship will continue to be influenced by the fact that Europeans, like many Americans but unlike the Bush administration, do not see the Iraq war as part of the war on terrorism. Europe has played a significant role in the fight against terror, but Europeans do not feel they are "at war" with the terrorists.

Europe has also so far made fewer changes in its approach to homeland security than the United States and has largely delayed implementation of increased judicial and intelligence cooperation. In the aftermath of the March 11 terrorist attack on Spain, Europe is bolstering its anti-terror strategy ­ a move that Washington should welcome, and that should over time improve the state of the relationship.

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