CIAO DATE: 02/03

International Spectator

The International Spectator

Volume XXXVII, No. 3 July–September 2002


Editor's Note


In the past years it has become a tradition for The International Spectator to dedicate one of its issues annually to a discussion of the state of transatlantic relations, presenting essays by both US and European analysts on the major subjects of policy divergence and convergence between the two sides of the Atlantic. This autumn issue features six articles which, from different perspectives, try to respond to the question of whether the US and Europe are growing apart and to identify new forms of transatlantic cooperation, including a more effective sharing of burdens and responsibilities. Most of the articles are revised and updated versions of papers presented at the IAI conference "New International Challenges: Reassessing the Transatlantic Partnership", held in Rome on 19/20 July 2002 and sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Institute for Security Studies of the European Union and the US Embassy in Rome.

To start, Alan Cafruny examines the nature and extent of transatlantic economic conflicts, focusing on the cases of steel, agriculture and monetary relations. His main thesis is that the economic relations between the two sides of the Atlantic are not substantially more contentious than in the past. There is little evidence, according to Cafruny, that the current transatlantic disputes can reverse the general trend towards integration. Even the weakening of the dollar against the euro is unlikely to cause a major drift since the European currency still faces numerous obstacles, not least its weak institutional foundations, before it can rival that of the US. However, failure to settle transatlantic disputes is resulting in substantial costs for the rest of world, particularly the developing countries. The key problem of the global political economy is therefore not so much one of protectionism versus free trade, as one of disguised US and European mercantilism constraining the overall growth potential.

Cesare Merlini then discusses the question of whether or not US foreign policy corresponds to a hypothetical imperial role and examines the possible impact of newly emerging imperial ambitions in the US on its relations with the rest of the world and particularly Europe. Drawing a comparison between the transformation of ancient Rome from republic to empire and the current situation in the US, he observes that, while there seems to be a demand for the US to build a sort of imperial order, several factors make this prospect unrealistic. The predominance of the major powers is increasingly challenged by other groups of nations and new types of non-state actors. Moreover, the transnational dimension of such spheres as finance, trade, migration and communications has grown in importance to the point that their management and regulation require the extensive involvement of a variety of institutional actors. In addition, these are fields in which the US does not enjoy a clear superiority. Finally, the US' unrivalled military power can serve to impose peace, but a set of rules and institutions are needed to maintain it. Merlini concludes by underlining that the Europeans should concentrate on building new capabilities as a key prerequisite for revitalising the partnership with the US and putting it on more solid foundations.

In the article that follows, Steven Everts points out that in the post-Cold War order, transatlantic disagreements regard, in the first instance, the role of international regimes and the legal instruments on which they are based. While the EU gives high priority to the establishment of robust international normative systems and enforcement mechanisms, Washington has become increasingly reluctant to accept constraints on its freedom of action. Everts also notes that differences stem not only from the shifting nature of US foreign policy but also from the EU's structural weaknesses. A more effective European performance would help to fill the gaps left by US strategy. Moreover, a stronger EU would give Europeans more influence in Washington and help address various global problems that have fallen off the transatlantic agenda. Everts suggests some concrete steps the EU should take to strengthen its capabilities and give greater coherence to its various external actions.

The article by Stephen Larrabee discusses the impact that the events of 11 September has had on US policy in the Middle East, changing its attitude towards a number of important areas: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. He critically notes that the war on terrorism has become the organising principle of US foreign policy and, in particular, that the US administration tends to see the various problems of the Middle East through the prism of terrorism, a view that obscures their deeper roots. This attitude, the author underlines, represents a relevant source of divergence from the Europeans who instead consider the Palestinian issue a high priority. He also gives a critical evaluation of the US' declared objective of regime change in Iraq, emphasizing the formidable difficulties of any plan aimed at its democratic reconstruction after a major conflict. However, Larrabee argues that, as a result of the recent evolution of the Middle East area, its problems are likely to intrude on the NATO agenda and that greater efforts will be required to reach a common transatlantic stance. Hence he concludes with a set of suggestions on how to achieve this goal, notably by reinforcing the NATO's Mediterranean Initiative which can, in his view, provide the basis for a comprehensive Western policy of security cooperation in the area.

The next two articles examine the different approaches followed by Americans and Europeans towards Iran and Iraq, two countries that US President George W. Bush identified as part of the same "axis of evil" in his famous 29 January 2002 speech. Daniel Brumberg focuses on US policy towards Iran and its impact on the struggle between hardliners and reformists in Tehran. The fact that this struggle involves not only domestic matters but also foreign policy considerably complicates the definition of an effective common Western approach. In fact, while the US seems to move from the assumption that any form of cooperative relations with the Iranian regime is precluded as long as the current leadership remains in power, Europe's greatest concern is to avoid initiatives that can weaken the reformists internally. Brumberg notes, however, that the US' tough policy has not actually reinforced the hardliners, as shown by the dynamics of the internal political debate after Bush's "axis of evil" speech. In any case, according to Brumberg, the key elements of Iran's policy towards the US and Israel are unlikely to change in the near future since they enjoy a very large consensus both within the establishment and in the population.

The case of Iraq is analysed by Jeffrey Laurenti against the background of European criticism of the US doctrine of preventive war. He notes that there is a fundamental divergence in this regard since conflict prevention is still thought of in Europe in terms of preventive diplomacy rather than preventive military action. Laurenti also examines the three major schools of thought in Washington concerning the action to be taken towards Baghdad and the policy options that the Europeans should consider in responding to US insistence on the need for military action. He underlines that the military option against Iraq emerged in the US as a result of the international community's waning determination to compel Iraq to disarm and the prospect that fraying UN sanctions would soon collapse altogether. This implies that if Europe insists on multilateralism it must then ensure that this approach is effective rather just lamenting US unilateralism. European cohesiveness and unity of purpose is essential, according to Laurenti, for achieving a commonly shared Western approach towards an issue that is of central strategic importance.

The problems of transatlantic policies in the Balkans are analysed by Patrick Moore. He notes that the EU and the US share the same long-term goals in the area, that is its full integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. However, he also underlines that the US will continue to reduce its military presence in the region and call for a greater European role. This offers the EU the opportunity to act, for the first time, as a major player in its neighbouring area and to make up for the failure of its Balkan policies in the early nineties. According to Moore, the Balkans—beginning with the military operation in Macedonia—could represent a starting block for the European security and defence policy. And this could also help the Europeans to get over their general sense of frustration about US predominance in security matters.

Last in this section, Tom Farer discusses the implications for the UN normative system of the US' declared readiness to act pre-emptively rather than simply as a response to an actual or imminent attack. He argues that the Bush doctrine of preventive war, to the extent that it implies unilateral action, is not compatible with UN Charter norms as it is in stark contrast with the principle of the equality of states on which the Charter system is founded. By the same token, according to Farer, the concept of self-defence cannot be resorted to to legitimize the use of force against states considered unfriendly or even with records of aggressive behaviour. He also argues that if the US should obtain UN endorsement of coercive action to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or to hit selected regimes that are developing them, this would introduce an element of discrimination that would undermine the UN Charter frame. In turn, this would make it increasingly difficult to put restraints on the use of force and could pave the way for an uncontrollable spiral of violence.

Finally, continuing the series of articles on the legal and political issues currently being discussed at the European Convention, the journal's European Forum presents an essay by Alessandra Mignolli on the distribution of external relations powers between the European Union and its member states. She examines how the Union's external powers have evolved, focusing on the judicial practice of the European Court of Justice and the successive revisions of the Union's treaties. She underlines that the EU's external powers have developed according to a number of fundamental principles which are now rooted in its legal order and hence need to be preserved. She also argues that the general objective of the ongoing reform effort should not be a rigid classification of the Union's external competencies—not least because it is impossible to restrict their material expansion—but a flexible system allowing for continuous adaptations to the changes in the EU's internal order as well as its external environment.