European Affairs

During the Dutch Presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2004, EU-U.S. relations will be given appropriate attention, based on a broad agenda that includes security policy, terrorism, and economic issues.

In a stable and mature Transatlantic community there is always room for disagreement and debate. Some commentators have argued that recent disagreements, such as those over Iraq and the International Criminal Court, show that the Transatlantic relationship has entered a period of decline. The reality, however, is that virtually every decade has had its share of Transatlantic disagreements, over issues like Suez, Vietnam, cruise missiles in Western Europe and, most recently, the war in Bosnia- Herzegovina. Each of these disagreements led to deep reflection, better mutual understanding and ­ in the end ­ greater determination to tackle new threats and challenges in partnership.

One need only look at the facts to see that we are still each other's natural and indispensable partners. Our relationship is based on a shared set of values. A high level of commitment to promoting democracy, good government, human rights and freedom brings together North America and the European Union, and distinguishes us from many other regions of the world. Notwithstanding high-profile trade disputes, we are also by far each other's most important economic partners. In NATO, we possess the most successful military alliance in world history, an alliance that is being reformed to meet the threats and challenges of the 21st century.

Terrorism, whether or not combined with weapons of mass destruction, is the most acute threat that we currently face. The day that not only states but also terrorists and criminals can lay their hands on weapons of mass destruction, the world will become a totally unpredictable place.

The Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004 destroyed any lingering illusions some Europeans may have had that their continent would be safe from terrorism. It is one thing to be conscious of one's vulnerability; actually becoming a target is another thing altogether. What is worse, we know that Al Qaeda will not stop at blowing up trains in Madrid. In fact, we know that Al Qaeda cells are ready to commit other murderous acts.

After the terrorist attacks against the United States of September11, 2001 the European Union responded to UN Security Council Resolution 1373 by drawing up a list of terrorist organizations and individuals whose accounts were to be frozen. In accordance with Security Council Resolution 1267, all organizations with links to Al Qaeda have been placed on the list. The joint approach to terrorism is made easier by a new pan- European arrest warrant.

Following the Madrid attacks, EU leaders adopted further antiterrorist measures. We appointed a counterterrorism coordinator, Gijs de Vries from the Netherlands, who is charged with coordinating all the European Union's counter-terrorism efforts. Cooperation between intelligence services is being further intensified, and Europol will have greater responsibility for coordinating police operations.We are intensifying our efforts to disrupt terrorist organizations' financial flows and freeze their assets.

Willingness to engage in the fight against terrorism will also be a litmus test for EU relations with third countries. The European Union is prepared to assist those countries that are willing but unable to take action against terrorism, but will reconsider relations with the unwilling. The Dutch Presidency offers an excellent opportunity to reinforce Transatlantic cooperation in the fight against terrorism in all its forms.

The line that separates external from internal security is blurring, like the one separating ecological, criminal and military threats. The predictability of a bipolar world vanished with the end of the Cold War. The communist threat is gone. Borders have been flung open, and globalization has made its influence felt in every corner of the globe. Unfortunately, terrorists and criminals have also seized their chance to exploit the open borders. Globalization brings not only opportunities but also challenges.

The same message is coming from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, President George W. Bush, my European colleagues and Director General Mohamed El Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is that if we want to safeguard international peace and security, the multilateral system will have to find an effective response to new realities. This is why NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, my predecessor as foreign minister of the Netherlands, has called for a multilateral system with teeth, one that can deliver on its promises.

Against this background, does it really make sense to caricature the Transatlantic relationship as a confrontation between a "hyperpower" and a limping economic giant? To propagate a simplistic tale of an all-powerful America that no longer needs the multilateral system and a European Union that defends multilateralism only because Europe lacks the means to act unilaterally?

This black-and-white picture does not do justice to the facts. In my experience, few people in Washington still support the idea that the United States is so powerful that it can do without friends. Opinion polls show that the American public believes in multilateral cooperation. The difficult road to peace and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan, moreover, has taught us that concepts like unipolarity, or "hard" versus "soft" power, are outmoded. In fact, both America and Europe must have hard military power, as well as soft economic and diplomatic power, and be prepared to use both as circumstances require. And while EU member states have the task of improving their military capabilities, the United States needs to improve its post-war reconstruction and peace building capabilities. There is little point in winning wars if one does not have a proven concept for winning the peace.

In the meantime, we must not forget that countries like China and India are also evolving into great powers ­ in the military, economic and cultural spheres. Two hundred years ago, Napoleon said that when China awakes, the world will tremble. And now, like the rest of Asia, China is waking up, and nobody knows how strong it will become or how it will use its military and economic might. Russia, too, remains in the equation. Which means that Europe and America must work out how to make the role of international policeman and peacemaker consonant with the need for broadbased international cooperation.

In the light of this increasingly complex agenda, there is one danger against which it is imperative that the United States and the European Union cooperate and act jointly: the growing threat of weapons of mass destruction. How can we make the multilateral non-proliferation regime more effective so that we will be protected from this threat, as well as generations to come?

The discovery of the secret black market in nuclear weapons technology run by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan has opened our eyes, far more than any previous developments in North Korea, Libya and Iran. The current nonproliferation system is not preventing the spread of nuclear technology or the materials needed for weapons of mass destruction. Mr. El Baradei has said that the recently discovered cases of illegal trade in nuclear technology are only the tip of the iceberg. It is essential that loopholes in the non-proliferation system be closed as quickly as possible. Several recent proposals may point the way.

In an address at the National Defense University in February 2004, President Bush argued for a UN Security Council non-proliferation resolution that would inter alia require states to cooperate on criminalizing proliferation. Such a resolution would provide a basis in international law for tightening export and transport controls throughout the world. The Netherlands supports this proposal and believes such a resolution should be adopted under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, to make it binding on all UN member states.

Another important subject is enforcement of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and verification by the IAEA. Parties to the Treaty are free to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The problem is that some of them are prepared to abuse that freedom. Under the current regime, states have the right, subject to monitoring by the IAEA, to build up a complete nuclear fuel cycle, but once the cycle has been completed, they can denounce the NPT, refuse access to IAEA inspectors, and begin to produce nuclear weapons 90 days later. Although this is certainly not the intent of the treaty, such a scenario has been playing out in North Korea. And many are worried that Iran may have embarked on the same road.

We need a universal regime that is binding on all countries. The road to that regime is long, but a first step might be a Security Council resolution declaring that withdrawal from the NPT automatically constitutes a threat to international peace and security. This would create a de facto prohibition against denouncing the treaty after becoming a party to it. For such an approach to succeed, all countries must regard the NPT as fair, and so one important step is for nuclear states to put more effort into reducing their own arsenals.

The IAEA inspectors must not only be able to verify whether a country is doing what it claims ­ as is now the case ­ but also whether it is doing anything it has not declared. This is the basis of the Additional Protocol, which all IAEA member countries should be required to accept as the new safeguards standard. At the very least, accession to the Additional Protocol should, in the short term, become a prerequisite for providing nuclear materials to a country for peaceful purposes.

Along with strengthening the multilateral non-proliferation regime, it is necessary to tackle the feelings of insecurity that drive countries to arm themselves, as well as the deeper roots of instability. I have in mind regional crises like those in the Middle East and Kashmir. The European Union's strategy includes detailed non-proliferation criteria for its relations with third countries. States like Iran and Syria are already feeling the effects of this policy. The security strategy also has a "soft" side that focuses on effective ways to tackle instability at its roots and to export stability to the regions bordering the European Union.

We have a clear interest in supporting the calls for reform that we now hear coming from many quarters in the region that Americans call the Greater Middle East. Europeans refer to their strategic partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Both Americans and Europeans want to support voices for democratic reform in the region. The desire for more intensive dialogue and closer cooperation, both within the region and with Europe and America, is very strong. Other G-8 countries also play an important role. The European Union will continue to use existing instruments that have proved their worth, such as the Barcelona process aimed at strengthening economic and political links with the Mediterranean countries, and MEDA, the EU program for development cooperation with countries in the Mediterranean and the Middle East with which the Union has concluded association agreements.

Also, where appropriate, we must reinforce existing structures, such as the cooperative activities of the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Our relations with countries like Yemen, which have so far remained outside the fold, must be placed on an entirely new footing. The political-military security aspects will be handled in NATO.

The ultimate aim is to improve the prospects for reformist forces and eradicate the breeding grounds for extremism. Even the appearance that America and Europe are trying to impose their will on others would be pernicious. So we must stress the principle that the Middle Eastern countries themselves are responsible for initiatives in these areas. The European Union is promoting a cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue between Europe and the Islamic world. It is my firm belief that Europe's own Muslim communities have a crucial role to play in this dialogue.

Clearly, such a dialogue would benefit from an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is currently a catalyst for hatred. It feeds the forces of extremism and serves as a recruiting ground for terrorists. It is a political black hole that cancels much of the good work done by reformists elsewhere in the region. This is why our common effort to further the Middle East peace process is crucial for our overall credibility and our ability to support reform effectively.

We must continue to encourage the two parties to reach a political settlement of which the essential elements are well known: the Taba plan, the Arab League's Beirut Declaration and the recent Geneva document have provided us with an increasingly detailed outline for a definitive solution. The parties, however, must first honor their commitments to the Road Map agreed by the four-power "Quartet" (the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia), which is essential for rebuilding trust and bringing them back to the negotiating table.

The complex international agenda demands an active European contribution, which means that Europe must be able to respond to every sort of threat and challenge. To do so effectively, policy coherence is indispensable. We cannot afford the luxury of addressing only simple problems and neglecting more difficult ones. If the European Union really wishes to help make the world safer, it must mobilize all its hard and soft power and use it wisely.

Since its enlargement on May 1, 2004 the European Union has a population of more than 450 million and its Gross National Product represents one fourth of the world total; it must be able to do more than it is doing now. The question is not one of competing with the United States but of assuming some of the responsibility the Americans are currently shouldering. In short, we must share the burden.

The European Union is thus working hard on strengthening its military capability, so that the member states can deploy their armed forces quickly and effectively, even when the battlefield is far away. Such missions could take place under a NATO or an EU mandate. The recent Franco-British proposal to set up rapid reaction battle groups is not as new as it may seem. European countries had already agreed in 1999 to develop a rapid reaction capability. But the new proposals give concrete form to this objective. The aim is to create units of around 1,500 troops, with their own logistical and transport facilities, which could be deployed in theater in a matter of days. The EU member states possess only a single set of forces, whether under a European or a NATO flag. This means that any overlapping between the EU battle groups and the NATO Response Force, for which EU member states also provide the majority of units, will have to be avoided by means of a smart rotation system, which is currently being discussed.

The Netherlands does not believe that the further deepening of the European Security and Defense Policy implies a weakening of our Transatlantic ties. Europe needs America, and America needs Europe. In security matters, NATO is the Transatlantic forum that binds Europe and the United States. We must cherish and make optimal use of this forum, both in terms of political dialogue and concrete cooperation. This is equally true from Washington's perspective. Ad hoc arrangements are sometimes unavoidable, but the use of permanent structures like NATO is by far the best option. NATO must be a two-way arrangement, with continued investment from both sides of the Atlantic.

We live in a world that can suddenly become unstable and dangerous, a world in which national borders provide less and less protection. To respond to this challenge, cooperation between Europe and America remains crucial. The problems we face are global problems. Neither the United States nor the European Union can handle the new threats in isolation. Global problems are best dealt with through collective action, provided, of course, that such action is credible and effective.

That is why we must increase the effectiveness of the multilateral framework. The United States, the European Union, Russia, China and other interested parties should continue to apply their military power under the multilateral umbrella. But in the longer term we cannot expect them to do so unless the multilateral system allows for effective action against serious and acute threats.

In short, the question of the Transatlantic relationship is part of an even more significant one: How can Europe, America and other important partners contribute to a more stable, secure and peaceful world? The international agenda forces us to work together. It is not a mere option but an inescapable necessity. Those Europeans who believe that our future path will diverge from that of the United States should bear in mind that we rely on our partnership with the United States to keep the multilateral system intact.

When circumstances warrant, the European Union must not shrink from backing up soft power with hard power. At the same time, the United States should give soft power the credit it deserves. In the long run, both are necessary to maintain peace and stability.

Bernard Bot is the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs. Born in Batavia, Indonesia in 1937, he studied at Leiden and Harvard Universities, entering the Dutch diplomatic service in 1963. He has served in Buenos Aires, East Berlin and as Ambassador in Ankara, deputy-permanent representative to NATO and, from 1992 until 2002, as permanent representative to the European Union. This article is an adaptation of his Beyen lecture, delivered in Utrecht on 6 March 2004.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number V, Issue number II in the Spring of 2004.