The first major meeting of transatlantic leaders since French and Dutch voters rejected the European Union constitutional treaty takes place today in Washington. The annual U.S.-EU summit, between President George W. Bush and leaders of the EU Council and Commission, is set to be the usual routine of economic business.
If only it could become the next great leap in building transatlantic relations.
After France and the Netherlands sidetracked, if not derailed, the European project, Mr. Bush has wisely said little. American critics of the EU, who would prefer playing one or another country off against the whole, have been largely silent. Schadenfreude, that favourite transatlantic feeling, has been kept under wraps.
Coupled with Mr. Bush's positive trip to NATO and EU headquarters in February, this evidence of "good blood" rather than "bad blood" sets the stage for the President and his EU colleagues to make something truly special of today's gathering. They should launch a new U.S.-EU strategic partnership — at the same time, inviting Canada to join. This would recognize that what unites the United States, Canada and Europe in terms of the global future is far more important than what has divided them, including issues such as Iraq.
The countries of the North Atlantic collectively make up a large part of global economic might. Even more relevant, they have democratic governments. They have excellent health and education sectors with the ability to export best practices and human and financial resources. They share a commitment to development of poorer nations, each has a wealth of non-governmental organizations acting abroad, and they face an inescapable demand to deal together with common threats and challenges, notably fighting the war on terrorism and helping to sort out the Middle East and its societies.
On this side of the Atlantic, Canada is particularly well placed to play a leading role. It has led in engaging countries in the so-called developing world; it has reached deep into the realm of social transformation, especially in the areas of health and education. Its inspiration and effort have fostered broad understanding that security in the 21st century demands both military instruments (including peacekeeping in strategically critical areas such as the Balkans and Afghanistan) and the political and economic tools to help individual peoples shape their own destinies.
The collective leadership, commitment, and energies of the transatlantic partners can be a prime mover in shaping the future of economies and societies in the Middle East and beyond. Such shaping is indispensable if we are to push beyond the current state of crisis and begin charting a more secure and hopeful future.
At the same time, Mr. Bush should call for a 2006 NATO summit, to meet in conjunction with a U.S. and Canadian summit with all the EU leaders. To this end, he should set forth a positive, reinforcing NATO agenda, in parallel with creating a U.S.-Canada-EU strategic partnership. For more than a decade, visionary leaders in the U.S., Canada, and some European countries have been chipping away at the barriers between the EU and NATO. It is time to bring that wall crashing down and begin integrating what NATO does and what the EU does — alone and with North America. This will serve the common good, both in classic military security and in the new security of political, economic, and social advance beyond the bounds of the North Atlantic region.
Whatever European caviling there has been about the course of U.S. policies in recent years, there is little doubt that positive American leadership will be welcomed now, as it has been at every decisive moment since the end of the Second World War and, in equal measure, the end of the Cold War. There is also little doubt that launching a grand venture for 2006 will energize governments and the private sector.
Many elements both of EU-NATO co-operation and a U.S.-Canada-EU strategic partnership have already been advanced — most recently the decision to deal with the debt of poor nations. What is needed now is a uniting vision, inspiration, and a firm show of leadership and political courage on both sides of the Atlantic.
Robert E. Hunter, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, is a senior adviser at the Rand Corporation.
This commentary originally appeared in The Globe and Mail on June 20, 2005. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.