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Kupchan: G-8 Summit Will be 'Chilly' but 'Civil'

Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
Interviewee: Charles A. Kupchan
May 29, 2003

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Charles A. Kupchan, who has long predicted the eventual breakup of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), says that the Group of Eight (G-8) meeting of major industrialized powers in France will be "civil" but with "a somewhat chilly undertone." A former Clinton administration National Security Council staffer and currently the director of Europe Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Kupchan says that the divisions over the Iraq war have created “a double whammy”--hastening the demise of NATO and widening a rift between Europeans on future policy with the United States.

The author of The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century, Kupchan also says the United States is preparing to pull its military forces out of Germany and move them eastward as part of the change underway in the Atlantic alliance.

Kupchan was interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for cfr.org, on May 29, 2003.

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Monday’s G-8 meeting in Evian, France, brings President Bush together with the leaders of several countries that opposed the Iraq invasion. What kind of a meeting do you expect?

G-8 meetings in general tend to be fairly scripted events, with most of the communiques and issues worked over beforehand, so I don’t expect any big news out of this meeting. I also think that the leaders of the main countries involved in the dispute over Iraq will be careful to be civil. I don’t expect either Bush or his counterparts in France, Germany, or Russia [Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, and Vladimir Putin, respectively], to be offering apologies or to come crawling back to the table. There will be a somewhat chilly undertone to the gathering.

Sometimes at these types of meetings, the photo opportunities and other semi-informal get-togethers often tell a fuller story. Do you think there will be a lot of hugging?

If [former President Bill] Clinton were there, he’d be hugging everybody. I don’t think that Bush is going to do a lot of hugging; he will go through the obligatory handshakes and photo opportunities, but if the statements and events of the last few weeks are any indication, he fully intends to exact retribution against those countries that did not back America at the U.N. Security Council.

The Bush administration still seems to be holding a serious grudge against France. What does the United States want from France?

The roots of the estrangement with France are quite deep. They go back to the 1960s, when [then French President Charles] de Gaulle essentially kicked NATO out of France and [withdrew France from NATO’s] integrated military structure. The legacy of the Gaullist period has induced many French leaders to stand up to and be critical of American hegemony. [As a result] a certain anti-French sentiment is very much a part of America’s foreign policy community. More recently, the Bush administration saw France as the ringleader in the effort to block the Iraq war resolution in the Security Council. So, the United States is interested in punishing France more than Germany and Russia, which it sees as having gone along with the French-led effort [rather than leading it themselves].

What about the Germans? They were very outspoken against the war.

It’s interesting that this whole saga began with Germany. It was Schroeder who initially said, “Let’s resist the war against Iraq,” and then began running for re-election on that theme. After [Schroeder won] on a platform of standing up to George Bush, Chirac joined him, and Putin joined the Franco-German coalition. Had Germany been alone, it would never have seen this through and organized a blocking coalition in the Security Council. But on the other hand, what Germany did is itself revolutionary, because the Germans have been living under the American security umbrella since the defeat of the Nazis [in 1945], and by standing their ground against America on questions of war and peace, they said that they are ready to contemplate life without the Atlantic alliance. That’s a big deal for Germans.

You’ve written about the inevitable break-up of the Atlantic alliance over the next 10 years or so. Has the Iraq war hastened this process?

The Iraq war accelerated the demise of NATO and the strategic separation of America and Europe. It was more a symptom than a cause of that division. It’s become apparent that European and American security are no longer indivisible. The United States is, as a consequence, trying to reconstitute a different Atlantic alliance, in which its main partners are countries like Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. But I don’t think that’s a workable proposition. You can’t ignore or turn your back on Europe’s major powers and still talk meaningfully about the Atlantic alliance.

Will Poland’s dispatch of troops to help occupy part of Iraq exacerbate tensions and increase France’s irritation?

It’s certainly going to ensure that there is a double-whammy, that is, transatlantic tensions intermixed with an intra-Epuropean rift. Certainly, Poland is carrying America’s water and is not coming into the European fold. In that sense, it calls into question whether a common foreign policy will be attainable in Europe anytime soon.

Have the Americans and the Russians mended their relations since the Iraq war? ?

The soundings that have been coming out of Moscow would not suggest that Putin is ready to go back to being Bush’s close buddy. [Secretary of State Colin] Powell was in Moscow not long ago, and it was clear that significant differences remain between Russia and the United States on Iraq and on Middle East policy in general. [Still,] of the three parties— France, Germany, and Russia— Russia is the one that the United States will try hardest to bring back into the fold, and that’s because Russia remains important as a strategic partner in the war on terror, particularly because of intelligence, its fight against Muslim extremists in its southern republics, and its tacit approval of American access to bases in Central Asia. Bush needs Putin now much more than he needs Chirac or Schroeder.

Why did France, Germany, and Russia all support Security Council Resolution 1483 that more or less gave the United States and Britain permanent occupying rights in Iraq?

It was a pragmatic decision, based upon the reality that they had little influence on the occupation because the United States has the boots on the ground. The United States now owns Iraq.

Their votes didn’t signal any real rapprochement?

Absolutely not. I think it was a pact of convenience that stemmed from the reality on the ground.

Is there anything to be done to stop the United States and NATO or the United States and the Europeans from going their own ways?

There is an optimistic scenario, and that is one in which both sides realize that the old Atlantic alliance is gone, that the game has changed, and they have to figure out what this next relationship will look like. If you do that, you could definitely get a cooperative dialogue going. It won’t be as close and it won’t be as meaningful as the traditional alliance, and in that sense we need to lower our expectations, but I think there are still plenty of common interests and objectives on which we can work together.

NATO was created in 1949 to meet a perceived and probably real Soviet threat. Is it time for NATO to announce a fade-out?

That would be a little bit more stark than most politicians can handle, but I would say that we ought to prepare over time for a handoff in which NATO becomes somewhat less Atlantic and much more European and the European Union assumes more responsibility for European defense. One proposal would turn NATO primarily into an anti-terror strike-force. That will make it relevant to the United States, but I don’t think that that is in the offing.

Whose proposal is that?

At the Prague [NATO] summit, in November 2002, [the] United States proposed what I think it called a global strike-force for NATO. Ron Asmus [a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and an adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations] has written a piece, with Kenneth Pollack [former National Security Council Persian Gulf director and CIA analyst], about NATO going off into the Middle East and fighting terrorism. I don’t think the Europeans are going to sign off on that.

If the Europeans take more responsibility for NATO, will the time finally come that the United States pulls its troops out of Germany?

I think it’s happening as we speak. Two things are happening. One is that— and this is not yet completed— I believe that a good number of the heavily armored troops that went from [U.S. bases in] Germany to Iraq will not be going back, and may well return to the United States. Other U.S. troops in Germany will probably be redeployed further east, in Poland, in Hungary, in Romania. They will not really be troops focused upon European defense. They will be lightly armed troops capable of being rapidly deployed to south and east. So beneath the surface there are revolutionary changes taking place.

Has this been discussed with Congress?

There have been mentions of such plans in some hearings. And none of it is set in stone. I pick this up being in Washington and hearing what people in the Pentagon are thinking about.

Given the strains in the relationship, are there any steps the United States and the Europeans can take to improve things?

It would be beneficial to both the Europeans and the Americans to identify a new agenda on which there remains congruence of interest. That will tend to be on the softer side of things— dealing with the AIDS crisis, promoting development in Africa and the Middle East, addressing the question of global growth, trying to figure out the impact of a weaker dollar on transatlantic relations. There’s a lot of room for working together and for making some progress, and in that sense the Atlantic relationship may remain intact, but it’s going to be without its strategic foundations.

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