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CIAO DATE: 07/02

Competing or Complementary Policies? Understanding the Relationship between the NEI and NDI

Christopher S. Browning

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute
June 2002

Introduction 1

In recent years the relationship between the European Union and the United States has become increasingly contentious. The principal European critique laments what many Europeans see as America's blatant disregard of global norms and what Chris Patten, the EU's External Affairs Commissioner, has labelled America's "neuralgic hostility to any external authority over its own affairs". 2 In its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and the establishment of an International Criminal Court, its reluctance to pay its dues to the United Nations, and its eagerness to scrap the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Europeans often see America as lurching towards a unilateralist stance based on America's military preponderance, whilst multilateral organisations, legal conventions and international norms are pushed aside. 3

The various merits or otherwise of such criticisms are not the concern of this paper. However, such debates do provide an interesting background to American policy in the Baltic Sea Region through its Northern European Initiative (NEI), which has been widely overlooked in EU debates on American policy. This is surprising since the NEI is precisely the type of inventive, norm-driven, multilateral-based policy that Europeans tend to champion. What is more, in the NEI the US has explicitly picked up on the EU's own Northern Dimension Initiative (NDI). Rather than being an arrogant hegemon with a simplistic understanding of the dynamics of world politics, which is how Europeans often characterise America, in the European north American policy has been driven by a sensitive understanding of the dynamics of the region and a distinct concern not to appear as an overbearing superpower.

This paper explores the relationship between America's NEI and the EU's Northern Dimension Initiative. Firstly, the paper elaborates on the complementarities between the policies and highlights how both represent rather innovative approaches to governance that break out of traditional Westphalian frames of reference and that prioritise questions of 'soft' societal security over those of 'hard' military security. The second and main focus of the paper, however, highlights that significant tensions and differences between the policies can also be identified. These are particularly evident in the position accorded to NATO in each of the policies. The paper attempts to explain the reasons for these differences and notes that whilst there is significant complementarity, the policies can also be seen to be competitive in other respects. To a certain degree, therefore, the relationship between the NEI and NDI stands as a microcosm of the tensions and compatibilties in EU-US relations more generally. In conclusion the paper speculates on how the post-September 11 environment and the likely future enlargement of NATO to the Baltic States, will affect developments in the region and the dynamics between the NEI and NDI.


Note 1: I would like to thank Sten Rynning, Stanislav Tkhachenko and Pertti Joenniemi for comments on this paper. A version of this paper was presented at the ISA Conference in New Orleans, 27/03/2002. Parts of the argumentation have been drawn from Christopher S. Browning (2001) 'A Multi-Dimensional Approach to Regional Cooperation: The United States and the Northern European Initiative', European Security (Vol.10, No.4)Back

Note 2: Chris Patten, speech to the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales, Paris, June 2000Back

Note 3: For an overview of European views see, Steven Everts (2001) Unilateral America, Lightweight Europe? Managing divergence in transatlantic foreign policy (London: Centre for European Reform, Working Paper). The debate between multilateralism and unilateralism is, of course, also a lively American debate. E.g., Martin Walker (2001) 'Bush's Choice: Athens or Sparta', World Policy Journal (Vol.18, No.2)Back