Europe and the United States are taking different paths. Unlike the United States, Europe does not strive to be a hegemonic world power. But it could and should be an autonomous global actor—a “fifth pole” in a multipolar world. Germany can push European foreign and security policy in this direction. For its part, Berlin should focus on traditional strengths like cooperation with Russia, as well as arms control and disarmament.
Washington’s thoughts about NATO shed light on the possibility of Europe emerging as a fifth pole. The United States’ rediscovery of NATO under the catchword “transformation” takes many guises but has a single goal: to use the alliance to gain support for US foreign policy. Under such a policy, any advantages that NATO members might have are subordinated to US interests. For instance, the United States has a clear interest in containing Russian influence in the Caucasus, an interest it arguably shares with Turkey, but not with Norway or Germany. In part, Washington approves of the fact that NATO is no longer the central forum for the transatlantic dialogue—a development that former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder criticized two years ago. But this development also raises doubts in Washington about the unity of its NATO partners, from whose ranks it might wish to choose willing and capable parties for future action. Furthermore, Washington is not inclined to formalize the security policy discussion between the European Union and the United States, since that would help the European Union become a fifth pole. NATO is being expanded to include new members and authorities; in a very pragmatic way, the United States is aiming to make this expansion an instrument of its grand strategy.
From a US standpoint, there is no reason to expect the European Union to develop into a global player. Europeans are easier to manipulate as individual states, especially since their military capabilities play a subordinate role in determining the scale on which the United States operates. The United States’ hegemonic position is unchallenged within the European Union. As an organization, the European Union lacks the attribute of state sovereignty. The United States does not see a strategic interest in supporting EU efforts to become an independent leader and to deploy its troops accordingly. Europe will not become independent as long as it fails to achieve autonomy.
In its current state, Europe virtually invites the United States to see it as a pillar of its national grand strategy. No one can hold it against the Americans. These ambitions were summed up under the heading “the globalization of NATO.” The current goal is to transform the regional defense alliance into a global organization that is not subject to geographic limitations and that works together with its partner states to solve crises or security threats. In other words, the old NATO, in which the United States guaranteed the security of its partners against the potential threat from the East, will be retooled into a new NATO, in which members are obligated to support the United States in achieving its global objectives.
The potential institutional expansion of NATO could include Asia, with Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, and perhaps the Philippines becoming new members. Since NATO does not possess autonomous, supranational decision-making powers, the United States would continue to dominate the alliance, thus providing it with an instrument to marginalize Europe and hamstring the United Nations. With a new NATO of this caliber, the United States could take a casual view of multilateralism. The idea of old Europe being caught up in and responsible for conflicts in Asia is pure adventurism. The moment Europe enters into such obligations, it will abandon autonomy. France does not want NATO to be expanded in functional, institutional, or geographic terms. The German-French engine driving the European Union would be consigned to the scrap heap of history if Paris and Berlin did not see eye to eye on this issue.
We can expect an American proposal on the globalization of NATO in spring 2008. In view of the issue’s complexity, it is likely to be an innocuous draft resolution that establishes a general willingness to examine and analyze prospects. Here Europe must adhere to the motto “resist from the start.” In the name of European interests, Europe should respond with an unequivocal “no.”
Egon Bahr is the German Social Democratic Party’s leading foreign policy thinker. He was the architect of West Germany‘s Ostpolitik during the early 1970s.
This article is presented as an excerpt from a longer essay published in the Global Edition of Internationale Politik, Germany’s foremost foreign policy journal and a collaboration partner of the Atlantic Community.
Europe’s Strategic Interests, IP Summer 2007
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