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The New Transatlantic Project

Authors: Kenneth M. Pollack, Director of Research, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, and Ronald D. Asmus
October 1, 2002
Policy Review

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For 50 years and more, the United States and our European allies cooperated in a grand strategic venture to create a democratic, peaceful, prosperous continent free of threats from within and without. At the dawn of a new century, that task is approaching completion. This autumn both nato and the eu are likely to launch so-called “Big Bang” rounds of enlargement, encompassing up to seven and 10 countries, respectively. If successful, these moves will help lock in democracy and security from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

Relations between Russia and the West are also back on track. Russian President Vladimir Putin has opted to protect Moscow’s interests by cooperating with the U.S. and Europe rather than by trying to play a spoiler role. The certitude of that decision and, above all, the depth of Moscow’s commitment to democracy at home remain open questions. But Putin’s turn to the West has further reduced the risk that Russia might again become a strategic adversary and has instead opened a window to put the West’s relations with Russia on a more stable and cooperative footing.

There is still work to be done. Not all of the European democracies are fully functional and not all of the European economies are prosperous. Completing Central and Eastern Europe’s integration will take time even after they join nato and the eu. Balkan instability has been stemmed but the underlying tensions are not yet resolved. Ukraine’s westward integration and that of Russia will remain works in progress for years to come. And the West is only waking up to the challenge of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

But the key cornerstones of a new, peaceful European order are in place. The grand strategic issues that preoccupied statesmen and strategists for the second half of the twentieth century — Germany’s internal order and place in Europe, the anchoring of Central and Eastern Europe to the West, and the establishment of the foundation for a democratic Russia to integrate itself with Europe — have been or are in the process of being largely resolved. Europe today is at peace with itself and more democratic and secure than at any time in history. If Harry Truman and his European counterparts could look down upon us today, they would no doubt be proud of what has been accomplished in their names.

Unfortunately, there is bad news too. The extraordinary accomplishment of the Atlantic alliance does not mean that America and Europe are now safe and secure. Success on the continent has been matched by the emergence of new threats from beyond. September 11 has brought home what a number of strategists have been predicting for years — that the new century would usher in new, different, and potentially very dangerous threats to our societies. On the verge of eradicating the danger to our societies from intra-European war and thermonuclear exchanges, we are faced with new scourges — terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, mass migrations, rogue and failed states, and the threat of disruptions to the economic lifelines of the world.

September 11 has become a symbol and metaphor for the new perils looming on the horizon. No one can doubt that Osama bin Laden would have used weapons of mass destruction on September 11 if he had had them. We know that al Qaeda and similar groups are trying to obtain such weapons and will, in all probability, use them if they succeed. The odds of their success are too good for comfort. Indeed, the likelihood of weapons of mass destruction being used against our citizens and societies is probably greater today than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis.

While America is the target of choice for these terrorists, Europe may not be far behind. It was certainly no accident that the United States was struck September 11, but it is not much of a stretch to imagine a similar attack on Europe in the future. There is already ample evidence of past terrorist plots by these groups on the continent. As the U.S. hardens as a target, the temptation to strike in Europe may grow. If one examines the ideology and goals of many of these groups, their hatred is rooted as much in who we are as in the details of specific policies. For them, it is not a great leap to shift from striking Washington to hitting London, Paris, or Brussels.

Even if Europe is only a distant second on the target list of most terrorists today, it is threatened by other problems spawned by the same undercurrents that created al Qaeda and its anti-American allies. Terrorists have often made Europe their preferred shooting gallery, even when their victims have been Americans, Israelis, or their own dissidents. Weapons of mass destruction and medium-range ballistic missiles in the hands of rogue Middle Eastern states would be able to target European cities. Finally, the instability of the states on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean poses a threat to trade across the inland sea, potentially producing vast waves of desperate immigrants headed north and west toward the riches and opportunity of Europe.

The intersection of these trends requires the United States and Europe to rethink the purpose of the transatlantic relationship. For the past half-century, our common purpose was to defend Europe from threats on the continent. Today the most dangerous threats to both American and European security emanate from beyond Europe. The greatest risk of large numbers of Americans and Europeans being killed no longer comes from a Russian invasion or even ethnic war in the Balkans. It is the threat of terrorists or rogue states in the Greater Middle East armed with weapons of mass destruction attacking our citizens, our countries, or our vital interests abroad.

Addressing this threat is the strategic challenge of our time. It is for our generation of leaders the equivalent of what facing down Stalin was for Truman and his counterparts in 1949. The question is whether both sides of the Atlantic will demonstrate the wisdom and strategic foresight of their predecessors to recast the transatlantic relationship to meet this new test. Like building a secure and democratic Europe, the task will not be easy, it will not be cheap, and it will not be quick. But it will make our lives and the world a much better place, and it is a challenge we must meet, lest it threaten not only the Atlantic alliance, but the lives and livelihoods of our peoples themselves.

The new challenge

Neither the u.s. nor Europe has yet fully come to terms with the nature of the new threat we face, our inherent vulnerabilities as Western democracies, and the consequences for our future national security policies. This threat is not just terrorism of the sort many countries, particularly in Europe, have known in past decades. It is the interweaving of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and failed and rogue states from Marrakesh to Bangladesh. Moreover, these problems are themselves only symptoms of the deeper economic and political turmoil afflicting the region.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher has called the combination of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists driven by anti-Western ideologies a “new totalitarian threat.” Like other twentieth century totalitarians, today’s Islamic fanatics claim that they possess absolute truth, despise Western modernity yet borrow from its technological accomplishments in an effort to destroy it, and believe that force and terror are necessary for a new utopia to replace the current corrupt and decadent world.1

This new form of terrorism is fed by wells of hatred and disaffection throughout the region. The result is a Maoist “sea” in which terrorists swim and hide. Their ideologies and causes encourage attacks on American military targets one day, attacks on Israeli, German, or British civilians the next, and attacks on French businesses the day after that. Unfortunately, it may be only a matter of time before it involves the potentially catastrophic use of weapons of mass destruction by either terrorists or rogue states. The only question is whether those weapons will be used first by al Qaeda against the United States, by gia against France, by Kashmiri separatists against India, or by some other group against some other nation.

It is understandable that the initial reaction to September 11, especially in the United States, has been the desire to bolster homeland defense and to go after the perpetrators of the attacks militarily. Yet the more we come to understand the challenge we face, the clearer it becomes that our current approach, though necessary, is inadequate. We can reduce but never eliminate our inherent vulnerabilities as democratic nations whose strength and vitality rest on our openness to the world. Even if we dramatically improve our defenses at home, we will never build anything near a failsafe system. A 90 percent success rate may be excellent in many areas, but it is not good enough when we are dealing with terrorist groups and regimes willing to use weapons of mass destruction against us. A 10 percent or even 1 percent failure rate can lead to the deaths of thousands or tens of thousands of our citizens.

It would therefore be wrong to adopt a modern-day version of a Maginot Line strategy. Instead, we need to go on the offensive to address the root causes and not just the symptoms of terrorism and the other problems we face. To be sure, such a strategy must have a military component. But terrorism is primarily a political problem and the war against terrorism must be won on the political battlefield as well as the military one. We need to think not only in terms of military preemption but political preemption as well.

While we often talk about the terrorist threat as a global one, the challenge we face is de facto concentrated in one specific geographic region — the Greater Middle East. That region starts with Northern Africa and Egypt and Israel at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and extends throughout the Persian Gulf to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In some ways, it can be seen as encompassing the turbulent regions of the Caucasus and perhaps even Central Asia to the extent that those regions suffer from the same underlying problems. It is from this region that the greatest threats to our security come — in the form of foot soldiers for future terrorist attacks, the funding and financing for such attacks, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that can be used against us, the overflow of civil wars from one state to the next, and the refugee flows that all of these developments inevitably trigger.

To make matters worse, the region itself is becoming a geopolitical tinderbox. Violent conflict there can have a direct impact on our economic livelihood and civilization. A new Arab-Israeli war could spark spillover effects in both Europe and the United States. One need only imagine the consequences of a radicalized anti-Western successor regime in Saudi Arabia or a nuclear-armed Pakistan in the hands of an anti-Western Islamic regime to understand the far-reaching impact that events in the region can have on Western security.

The Greater Middle East suffers from a crisis of governance coupled with the inability of its states to meet the challenges of modernity and globalization. While most of the world marches into the twenty-first century, the Greater Middle East clings to the fourteenth. Its regimes are increasingly out of step with its people. Its economies, even those buttressed by massive oil wealth, fail to provide prosperity or even dignity to its people. Its educational systems produce masses of literate but maleducated young people whom the floundering social safety net can no longer support, leaving them ripe for exploitation by the purveyors of hate and terror. Meanwhile, a new wave of modern communications has awakened the region to its own comparative backwardness and given voice to hatemongers seeking to blame that backwardness on the plots of the West.

The failure of the Greater Middle Eastern regimes in the most basic sense has, in turn, helped breed the extreme ideologies, movements, and rogue states that now pose a potentially existential threat to the West. Not all of the region’s woes can be traced directly to the underlying problems of political, economic, and social stagnation, but even those that cannot have been greatly exacerbated by these larger effects of the failure of the Greater Middle East. The Arab-Israeli conflict started for other reasons, but these deeper problems are now feeding it. Saddam Hussein is as much a symptom of the problem as its cause, but he too is capitalizing on it, making himself a far greater threat to the West than he would be if the region were not so volatile. America’s problems are with Saddam Hussein while Europe’s problems are with North African and Middle Eastern emigration and extremist groups, yet both are threatened by the Arab-Israeli violence that might detonate the entire region.

To meet this challenge, the West needs a strategy that is more than a military campaign. While killing Osama bin Laden and toppling Saddam are important objectives, by themselves they are not enough. Indeed, if pursued in isolation, they could fail or even be counterproductive. While we need to attack the capacity of terrorists and rogue states to inflict harm on us, we also need to change the dynamics that created such monstrous groups and regimes in the first place. If we do not, the names of the failed states, rogue states, and terrorists will change, but their causes and the threats we face will not. Instead, in five or 10 years, we could face new terrorist groups and new rogue states that have learned from the experience of their predecessors, and so will pose even greater dangers.

Western strategy must address the root causes of this problem, not just the symptoms. While continuing to wage the military war on terrorism, we must make an equally firm commitment to a political strategy that would help transform the Middle East itself. It would mean changing the nature of the anti-Western regimes from which our enemies draw sanctuary, support, and successors by seeking to create more participatory, inclusive, and accountable regimes that can live in peace with one another. It would mean a new form of democracy in the Greater Middle East. It would mean a new economic system that could provide work, dignity, and livelihoods for the people of the region. It would mean helping Middle Eastern societies come to grips with modernity and create new civil societies that allow them to compete and integrate in the modern world without losing their sense of cultural uniqueness. Working to secure these kinds of changes must be at the center of our strategy. In the end, these issues will be critical to winning the war on terrorism and eradicating the litany of threats to our security from this region.

This is a tall order. Heretofore, such goals have been considered unreachable or simply a bridge too far. Talk about political and economic change has rarely turned into action. All too often we have embraced whichever autocratic leader seemed least undesirable and/or most inclined to share our views, ignoring the aspirations of the people of the Greater Middle East. Indeed, there are few places in the world where Western values and principles on one hand, and the reality of our policy on the other, stand in greater contradiction. This has only contributed to the widespread perception that the U.S. is a hypocritical country pursuing a double standard and caring little about the peoples of the region despite its lofty principles.

September 11 has shown us that the status quo is no longer tolerable and that our past policies have led us into a strategic dead end. Many of the regimes in the region are failing, and one of the consequences of their failures is a growing, possibly existential, and unacceptable threat to our countries. We therefore need a strategy to help this region transform itself from within into more equitable and open societies that no longer produce ideologies and people intent on killing us. Regime change cannot mean only getting rid of the current set of bad guys. It must also mean a long-term commitment to ensuring that the right kind of successor regimes follow in their wake.

This is a strategic project that will take not years, but decades. Its accomplishment exceeds the ability of any one country, including the United States. It will require sustained political, economic, and military cooperation. Critics will say that such a strategy is too ambitious, that we should scale back our goals and hope that a more circumscribed approach will be sufficient to stem the threat. But hope is not a policy.

Elements of a strategy

What would a common transatlantic strategy to address this threat look like in practice? The starting point would be the recognition that the greatest threats to both sides of the Atlantic today no longer come from within the continent but beyond it and in particular from the Greater Middle East. Those threats are not second-tier risks but very real and potentially existential dangers because they involve the growing likelihood of the use of weapons of mass destruction against our homelands.

We also need to stop looking at the problems and crises in the Greater Middle East as separate or distinct problems that can be addressed in isolation. A common set of driving forces across the region from Northern Africa to Pakistan is contributing to the toxic combination of radical anti-Western ideologies, terrorism, rogue states, failed states, and the drive to acquire weapons of mass destruction. The problems we face in Afghanistan, the Israeli-Arab conflict, Iraq, and Iran are all parts of the same interwoven tapestry and a larger strategic problem. Indeed, to some extent, their impact can be felt in the problems of the Caucasus and Central Asia as well.

Most of the people of the region suffer from underlying problems of economic stagnation, political alienation, maleducation, and an inability to come to terms with modernity. We need to encourage them to address these problems themselves, while we provide them with assistance — both resources and expertise. Too often in the past, we have allowed democratization and economic liberalization to slip to the bottom of our list of concerns with our allies in the region. This must stop. The need for transformation must move to the top of both American and European priorities, which must also recognize that this will not be easy for the states of the region.

The West cannot and should not seek to impose its own models of governance on the region. The transformation of the Greater Middle East will inevitably entail elements of democratization, free market economics, rule of law, and progressive education as we understand them. But it is not up to us to dictate the final shape the region adopts. Instead, our goal should be to help the voices for progress in the region be heard and to help craft a new society. We do not know what Arab or Islamic modernity will look like. We can help the peoples of the region to lay the foundation for achieving it. But it will be up to them to define it.

The first place to start implementing this policy should be Afghanistan. We must be just as committed to the success of the new government in Afghanistan as we were to the military defeat of the Taliban. We cannot shy from the task of nation-building. The United States made the mistake of walking away from Afghanistan last time — and reaped the harvest of that mistake on September 11. If the U.S. again disengages, we will send the message to the rest of the region that we are only interested in destroying Islamic societies, not in building them. It will fuel the hatreds and the lies spread by Osama bin Laden and his ilk. It will make allies less willing to let us repeat Enduring Freedom against Saddam’s Iraq — after all, the last thing they will want is for us to topple his regime if we plan to leave behind Afghan-style chaos.

Afghanistan is also an opportunity to set a precedent for positive change and transformation, and to show the rest of the region what the West is committed to. The opening up of Central Asia to an expanded U.S. and Western presence should also be used to encourage these regimes to reform and modernize and not as an excuse not to do so. After all, these countries — as members of the osce and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council — are already officially part of the Euro-Atlantic community. Our priority must be to ensure they become part of the solution and not part of the problem.

The second area in which the United States and Europe need to work together to help the region modernize is the Arab-Israeli conflict. The United States and Europe must bury their differences and make a more determined and sustained effort to address the problems there. Although solving this puzzle may take years or decades, we have learned that ignoring the problem only makes it much worse — and makes it harder for the United States to do anything else in the region. Political and economic transformation can greatly ease the process of Arab-Israeli reconciliation, and this needs to be furthered. President Bush is certainly right that a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Palestinian state will require democracy and therefore, at some point, the old leadership will have to go. But the administration is putting the cart before the horse: We can’t wait for a new Palestinian society to emerge before resuming negotiations because we cannot allow a festering Arab-Israeli wound to prevent the pursuit of our broader agenda in the region. We may not be able to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem in the near term, but we need to get it under control so that we can get to work on the other threats. Consequently, the U.S. and Europe must find a way to come together behind a common approach — and to use their political, economic, and military clout to help maintain a settlement once it has been reached. If required, nato allies should be prepared to help monitor such a settlement.

Third, Saddam Hussein and his regime must go, both because his pursuit of nuclear weapons endangers the vital Persian Gulf region and because a longer-term strategy of promoting democratic change in the Greater Middle East is all but impossible as long as this modern-day Stalin maintains his brutal totalitarian state. This is going to require a full-scale invasion of Iraq. It would be far better for all concerned if the U.S. and Europe wage this campaign together, relying on nato if possible. Not merely to bring the collective power of nato to the military operation, which may be the less demanding part of such an endeavor, but because securing and rebuilding Iraq will be a long and potentially costly operation that will require a sustained security presence (albeit not nearly so costly as many suspect, thanks to Iraq’s fabulous oil wealth) better handled collectively. Establishing a more democratic successor regime is as critical to our collective future as the destruction of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.

Fourth, Iran too is a country where the United States and Europe need to help the process of regime change, albeit in ways very different from those appropriate to Iraq. The good news is that nowhere is the process of change more apparent than in Iran, where reform is only a matter of time and demographics. The bad news is that the country continues to be run by a narrow theocracy that has fought the process of democratic change at every step and pursues a foreign policy that is anathema to the United States and Europe. In the short term, this means finding ways to prevent the current Iranian government from terrorizing the region while finding ways to help the emergence of a new Iranian polity.

Finally, the United States and Europe need to promote change not only in our adversaries but also among our friends and allies in the region. We cannot credibly insist on regime change in countries like Iraq and look the other way when it comes to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. September 11 drove home that the recruiting and financial base for many terrorist groups is in these countries. New opportunities to facilitate change may also be starting to emerge. There are now political forces in the region and an emerging civil society that themselves embrace the need for change. In spring 2002, the United Nations Development Programme (undp) and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development published Arab Human Development Report: Creating Opportunities for Future Generations, authored by 22 distinguished Arab social scientists, which identified the same problems of political disenfranchisement, corruption, economic stagnation, arbitrary legal codes, and maleducation as the sources of regional ailments. The report called on the countries of the region to begin a process of transformation and on the developed world to provide the assistance necessary to make such a transformation a reality. Thus our job is not necessarily to force change on a wholly reluctant region, but to empower those striving for change and provide them with the support necessary to achieve it.

Consequently we should not assume we will be alone in this endeavor. We will have allies in the men and women of the Greater Middle East who are seeking to embrace modernity and take advantage of globalization. In Saudi Arabia, the crown prince himself is working to reform Saudi education and law, curtail the corruption of his own family, create a more viable economy that is not wholly dependent on oil revenues, foster Islamic values of tolerance and charity, and give the Saudi people a greater say in their own governance. Among the Palestinians, there are groups who recognize that the Middle East does not need yet another corrupt Arab kleptocracy and are calling for political change, transparency, and accountability. Even in Egypt, where time is measured in centuries rather than years, President Hosni Mubarak has at times taken halting steps to privatize Egypt’s moribund national industries and energize the Egyptian economy.

Taken together, even such tentative initiatives could serve as the blueprint for a grand strategy not only to win the war on terrorism, but also to build the foundation for peace in the region through political transformation and regional cooperation. Successfully implementing such a strategy will in all likelihood take decades. It will require systematic and sustained U.S.-European coordination and cooperation. In other words, it requires an alliance. Neither the U.S. nor Europe can fix the Greater Middle East by itself. By itself, Europe is not in a position to pursue such an ambitious agenda. Although the U.S. wields power on a far grander scale, American will and might have their limits. We may not be able to do it even together. But together, and working with those in the region who aspire to the same changes, we would certainly have a much better chance to succeed.

Can it be done?

Can this generation of Western leaders perform the modern-day equivalent of what Truman and European leaders did in 1949? The tone of recent transatlantic discourse suggests that the answer may be no. Although September 11 initially produced a tremendous outpouring of solidarity across the Atlantic, the mood has since soured into one of the ugliest U.S.-European spats in recent memory. It has become fashionable on both sides to argue that the differences today are deeper than ever, and that the values and interests that held this relationship together may be in danger of fraying or even breaking. Euro-trashing is as much in vogue in some right-wing circles in Washington as America-bashing is in left-wing circles in Europe.

Current transatlantic differences are real. But it is also important to look beyond the current intellectual fads and see what underlies them — and what doesn’t. U.S.-European differences fall into two categories. The first are those disputes that arise from the fact that our societies are more integrated than any two parts of the planet. Clashes over the environment, child custody, the death penalty, and genetically modified food are important and make for great headlines. But they are not strategic in nature. The fact that we are debating them so intensely is a sign of how closely integrated our societies have become. They are the problems of success, not failure. Such differences were far greater in 1949. They did not prevent us from creating a strategic alliance then. They should not prevent us from working together on a new strategic agenda today.

But there is also a second category of differences. These disputes revolve around how the U.S. and Europe view the outside world, assess threats, and seek to meet them. They are rooted not only in our respective interests but are shaped by our size, historical experiences, strategic cultures, and the asymmetry in power and responsibility that both sides of the Atlantic bring to the table.2 Such differences directly affect our ability, or lack thereof, to cooperate on questions of war and peace. They can become strategic in nature. The central question in the transatlantic relationship today is whether the U.S. and Europe can still harmonize these differences and coalesce around a new strategic purpose and paradigm to guide future cooperation across the Atlantic.

At first glance there are few issues or places where the gap across the Atlantic would appear to be greater than the thorny strategic issues of bringing peace to the Greater Middle East. Making this challenge the centerpiece of transatlantic cooperation is akin to mission impossible, critics will suggest. Without underestimating or downplaying these differences, several caveats are nevertheless needed to put them into perspective.

First, until the present, neither the U.S. nor Europe felt a compelling strategic need to have a common strategy on these issues. Neither side of the Atlantic has been willing to make the political commitment to develop one. When it came to dealing with Moscow during the Cold War, both sides of the Atlantic relied on each other’s counsel, cooperation, and commitment to forge a common approach. But this has rarely been the case in the Greater Middle East. The U.S. has often preferred to keep Europe on the sidelines, and key European countries had their own reasons to pursue a go-it-alone approach. Both sides no longer have that luxury in the wake of September 11.

Second, U.S.-European differences on the key issues in the Greater Middle East, while often bitter, are largely tactical and not strategic in nature. They relate not to ends but to the means by which to reach them. Americans and Europeans do not disagree over Israel’s right to exist or the need for a Palestinian state and a peace settlement — and, at the end of the day, Europe is likely to support almost any settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict that the U.S. can bring about. Nor does Europe oppose toppling Saddam Hussein, although it has grave doubts about how the Bush administration might go about doing so and what Washington’s policy is for the day after. Yet these differences are not necessarily deeper than the issues that divided us during the Cold War over how best to deal with Moscow.

Third, past U.S.-European differences did not prevent the West from winning the Cold War. The alliance won not because we agreed on everything all the time but because there was a commitment to face the challenge together, to share risks and responsibilities, and to work within a common framework to iron out differences. U.S.-European consultations were not always a hindrance but often led to better policy as many a foolish American or European idea got shot down in the process. Nor did the West prevail simply because of U.S. military power. Americans and Europeans still debate whether Ronald Reagan’s arms buildup or Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik was more important in bringing communism to its knees. Ultimately, it was the one-two punch of soft and hard power provided by Europe and America that helped undermine and eventually topple communism.

All of this suggests that bringing the U.S. and Europe together around such a new and ambitious strategic agenda, while certainly difficult, is doable. The fundamental problem bedeviling the transatlantic relationship today is the lack of a common strategic purpose and a shared commitment on both sides of the Atlantic that would generate the will to harmonize divergent views and create a joint strategy.

Achieving such a new consensus would have clear-cut strategic benefits for both sides. A common U.S.-European front would leave our adversaries with less room for maneuver. Working together would give Washington a degree of political acceptance and international legitimacy the U.S. cannot acquire on its own. While the U.S. will be a dominant partner in many areas, there are other areas where Europe is not only more willing, but also potentially more able, to achieve the kinds of results we need.

A common approach could also give the U.S. more and better strategic options. If the U.S. chooses to go it alone, our actions will be circumscribed by what we can do on our own. It could lead us to opt for a more limited, largely military approach — but also one that would fail to get at the root causes of the problem and would therefore be less likely to succeed. While the administration often points to the problems that can come from trying to mount a coalition effort, unilateral action may also lead us into dangerous strategic choices.

As strong as the United States is today, we are deluding ourselves if we think we can meet this strategic challenge by ourselves. Afghanistan is a sober reminder in this regard. While the U.S. did the lion’s share of fighting to defeat the Taliban, we soon discovered that our dependence on European assistance was considerable. Today there are more European forces on the ground than American. When it comes to the arduous effort of rebuilding Afghanistan, our policy is dependent on the close cooperation and support of our European and other allies.

The same is likely to be true when it comes to the other pieces of the Greater Middle Eastern puzzle. A sustainable peace settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict will require close U.S.-European support and cooperation. Some Americans may prefer that the U.S. fight Saddam Hussein on its own, but a common U.S.-European front would make the job much easier.3 And when it comes to the thorny question of securing and rebuilding Iraq after Saddam is gone, we will be even more dependent on the assistance and support of our European allies. The list is almost endless.

Is Europe up to this challenge? Our allies have not yet had their own “Pearl Harbor,” forcing them to fundamentally rethink their national priorities the way Americans have since September 11, 2001. One can only hope that Europe will learn from America’s mistakes. It may take a major terrorist attack in Europe to provide that jolt — just as it did here. But this does not mean that European elite and public attitudes have not shifted at all. European governments have already gone farther than many expected in providing intelligence support, cooperating on law enforcement issues, and working together on the financial and economic aspects of the war on terrorism. While Europe has fallen behind the United States, collectively they remain the second most powerful set of militaries in the world. With modest investments in key areas, our allies can take on an even greater share of the burden in the future.

Europeans are also feeling increasingly vulnerable. In terms of public support, a recent study conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund, as well as the U.S. government’s own public opinion polls, suggest that potential majority support exists in many key European states for the use of force to rid Saddam of his weapons of mass destruction. In spite of all the press coverage over European nervousness regarding U.S. policy on Iraq, many allies in private are signaling that they are prepared, in principle, to go to war in Iraq as long as they are convinced that it will be done right — that Washington will obtain un authorization, has a credible strategy for ensuring that such a war does not destabilize the region, and is committed to working with Europe to rebuild Iraq after Saddam is gone.

Ultimately, Europeans, precisely because they share our values, are likely to be the most dependable allies we have. Indeed, for the more ambitious strategy this article lays out, their cooperation is indispensable. And in fact, the more ambitious agenda called for here is more likely to attract European support than the Bush administration’s current approach.

This does not mean that Europe will give the U.S. a blank check. As they did during the Cold War, Europeans will ask realistic and, at times, pointed questions. We will have to work to gain their support. They are looking for a common strategic framework and a say commensurate with the risks they assume and the resources they devote. That is normal among friends and allies — and we would behave no differently if roles were reversed. We should listen to their questions and criticism. If we can’t answer them, maybe we need to take a second look at our own strategy. If we are convinced that we need to go ahead in any case and despite their doubts, we can always do so.

Toward a new purpose and paradigm

On april 4, 1949, Harry Truman spoke at nato’s founding in Washington, D.C. He defined nato as an alliance to defend the common values and civilization of the democracies on both sides of the Atlantic. The existential threat that Truman and his colleagues faced was Stalin and the Soviet Union. In establishing nato, Truman and his counterparts overcame the doubts of those who did not believe the U.S. and Europe could forge a common strategy vis-à-vis Moscow. Fortunately, Truman ignored such counsel and decided that the strategic imperative of the day required the U.S. and Europe to forge a common strategy. In doing so, he changed the course of history. He would later view nato’s founding as one of the accomplishments of which he was most proud.

Today the United States and Europe once again face a potentially existential threat. There is little doubt that the same values and civilization that Truman spoke about defending in 1949 are again at risk. Meeting this very different challenge today requires no less unified a strategic response. What is less clear is whether today’s leaders on either side of the Atlantic are capable of coming together around a new common purpose and the strategic framework needed to modernize and mobilize the Atlantic alliance for this task.

During the twentieth century, Europe was the locus of some of the greatest wars mankind has known. During the Cold War the greatest threat to international security emanated from the East-West standoff on the continent. Today, the Greater Middle East is the region with that distinction. In Europe, it took two world wars for us to understand that the key to an enduring peace on the continent was not simply managing or muting age-old hatreds and geopolitical rivalries, but overcoming them through political transformation, democracy, and integration. If history teaches us anything, it is that our best hope for a durable peace in the Greater Middle East, too, lies in the transformation of these countries into more democratic and prosperous societies capable of working together.

Forging a new strategic purpose across the Atlantic is not going to happen without the leadership of the United States and the president personally. While there is plenty that Europe must do, the lead in establishing this new direction and purpose must come from this side of the Atlantic. No one else has the authority and the influence to set the kind of new and bold strategic direction and priorities this article calls for. Yet that is precisely one of the ingredients that is missing today — a U.S. commitment to crafting a common U.S.-European approach to confront the most pressing strategic issues of the day — and to make the modernization of America’s most important alliance a priority in meeting that challenge. The starting point for such an overhaul of the transatlantic agenda must be in Washington. Unilateralism and ad hoc coalitions will not be good enough.

Europe also needs to change. It must wake up to the fact that the threat we face is a common one — as well as one for which it, too, is woefully unprepared. It must stop seeking to define its identity and role in the world in contradistinction to that of America. It should learn from the mistakes of the United States — and not wait until it, too, suffers a major attack resulting in horrific loss of life. If Europe wants to remain the great partner of the United States, it must put its money where its mouth is and devote the resources required for it to assume the stature to which it aspires.

History occasionally grants leaders opportunities to turn tragedies into opportunities. September 11 has given President Bush such an opportunity. As before, a U.S. president and his European counterparts have a chance to recast the transatlantic relationship to meet the new dangers of this new era. Thus far neither side of the Atlantic has stepped up to that challenge — and that needs to be the first change we make together.


Notes

[1] For a comparison of today’s Islamic terrorists with twentieth century totalitarians see Jeffrey Herf, “What is Old and What is New in the Terrorism of Islamic Fundamentalism?” Partisan Review lxix:1 (Winter 2002).

[2] See Robert Kagan, “Power and Weakness,” Policy Review 113 (June-July 2002).

[3] For a discussion of the utility of a coalition effort against Saddam Hussein, see Kenneth M. Pollack, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (Random House, forthcoming).