WASHINGTON — By the time President Bush is finished taking Europe by storm beginning yesterday, U.S.-European relations will be fundamentally different. Or will they?
The trip to Europe — which includes visits with the European lions who have caused him the most trouble: French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder — is an important signal of Mr. Bush's renewed emphasis on the Western alliance. It also helps both sides acknowledge that they need each other without either having to eat crow over past behavior.
But what about substance?
Mr. Bush will press his Middle East agenda, building on the Iraqi election turnout. He will ask the allies to train masses of Iraqi security personnel, increase pressures on Iran and its nuclear development programs, intensify cooperation in the war on terror, accept on good faith his commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and — as always — increase European defense capabilities.
From the U.S. perspective, each requirement must be met for Washington again to take NATO seriously. But much more is needed if the alliance is to be rebuilt and genuine cooperation restored. There is clear precedent.
In 1993, the new Clinton administration soon found itself behind in relations with Europe. It was slow to produce new ideas, including on the festering conflict in Bosnia. The Cold War was receding into history, but there was nothing substantial to put in its place. NATO continued to run, but like a machine driven by a flywheel and to no apparent purpose.
Then, in October 1993, NATO's defense ministers gathered at Travemunde, Germany, for their first “informal” ministerial meeting. Three days later, the allies were more unified than they had been since the collapse of the Soviet threat. They had a clear sense of direction and knew what had to be done to reform NATO.
The difference? American leadership — related to true, common, insistent needs of all the allies.
The United States laid out an ambitious plan for European security, to pursue in practice the dictum of President George H. W. Bush to create a “Europe whole and free.” The U.S. proposals included the reform of NATO's military structures, the removal of barriers between NATO and the European Union, an ambitious counter proliferation strategy, and — the centerpiece — a “Partnership for Peace” for countries that had emerged from the wreckage of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union. This package opened the way to expanded NATO membership.
A similar demonstration of U.S. leadership is needed again now, not only on the administration's Middle East agenda but also on the full range of collective trans-Atlantic challenges. The United States should lead in celebrating the success of democratic elections in Ukraine, but then propose major coordinated support for Ukraine's economy and concerted efforts to end the last European dictatorship, in Belarus. And Mr. Bush should:
Offer support for European defense capabilities by convening government-industry talks to open trans-Atlantic defense trade and ensure that all of the allies will be able to fight together.
Offer the EU the services of the new Allied Command Transformation, which is modernizing NATO and could help to bind NATO and EU military capabilities more closely.
Make clear that European cooperation on Iraq and Iran will include Europeans in designing the strategy and deciding the tactics.
Call for a major acceleration of NATO's new Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, designed to create links to Persian Gulf states.
Propose the creation of a Middle East security structure, eventually including all regional states, to replace the failed system of relations among states that was finally toppled by the Afghan and Iraq wars.
Perhaps most significantly, Mr. Bush should propose a U.S.-EU strategic partnership that can help shape parts of the world in deep trouble through large, sustained, coordinated efforts in the public and private sectors.
The president should back up this proposal with two ideas: a major U.S.-EU assault on HIV/AIDS and other diseases in Africa, and a $6 billion fund — one-third each from the United States, EU and Middle Eastern oil producers — to rebuild Gaza after Israel's withdrawal, in a bid to pump up peace negotiations.
Europeans are fated to work with the United States on critical, common and inescapable challenges such as the Middle East. As the sole superpower, the United States is fated to lead. This is the time for Mr. Bush and his team to show what the United States can do.
Robert E. Hunter, a senior adviser at the RAND Corp., was U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1993 to 1998.
This commentary originally appeared in Baltimore Sun on February 21, 2005. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.