With so much at stake, the president needs to disarm the doubters with a burst of agenda-setting for the Western Alliance and a vigorous display of U.S. leadership.
There is recent precedent. Eight years ago, President Clinton also worried European allies, especially by irresolution over Bosnia. But at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in October 1993, Defense Secretary Les Aspin proposed a bold and comprehensive agenda for European security that formed the basis for much of NATO's transformation. Immediately, European doubts about the Clinton administration began to dissipate.
Bush can similarly claim the high ground by boldly setting forth a leadership agenda for transatlantic relations. In addition to obligatory reassurances about America's continuing role as a European power, he should propose five initiatives:
Bush did the right thing by offering to consult the allies before making final decisions. Now he should commit to joint assessment of threats and a variety of ways of dealing with them. He also must reaffirm the importance of arms control agreements. It is simplistic and dangerous for Bush merely to renounce the Antiballistic Missile Treaty. The president must lead the way to a multilateral replacement and also seek Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Such a partnership is logical and compelling. NATO's restructuring for the 21st century is done. An increasingly confident EU has established its single currency (the euro) and is creating institutions for both foreign and defense policy.
But huge problems remain, including nearly constant transatlantic squabbling over trade. And challenges beyond Europe and North America--cross-border crime, migration, environment, globalization, emerging security threats and the needs of left-behind regions like those in Africa--are likely to be met only if the United States and its allies pool their resources, talents and political will. Such a strategic partnership, launched and sustained at the highest levels, would also help reduce U.S.-EU frictions over trade and defense by embedding them in a larger purpose.
Taken together, this five-part agenda would instantly reverse the administration's fortunes in Europe, and it would foster European confidence in the president's vision and leadership.
Robert E. Hunter, a senior advisor at the RAND Corp., was U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1993 to 1998
This commentary originally appeared in Los Angeles Times on June 6, 2001.