Many Americans—especially the 2008 presidential candidates—continue to misinterpret Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. Both are pro-American, but from a European perspective. And it is clear that their overwhelming priority remains to reinvigorate the Franco-German partnership that is at the heart of the EU.
Take the matter of Kosovo. Washington has continued to believe that in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution delineating final status for the province, the United States could move ahead with its plans to recognize an independent state. Former chief of staff for President Clinton John Podesta stated the Washington consensus when he declared last month, in advance of the visit of Vuk Jeremic, the Serbian Foreign Minister, to Washington: “It is clear that after those talks conclude, the United States is prepared to recognize an independent Kosovo.”
Most here believe that, as fellow democracies, the European countries would accept this outcome—especially since the common EU position is to use the plan presented by Marti Ahtisaari as the basis for any final settlement. Indeed, the United States is completely dependent on the EU taking responsibility for the transition, especially in terms of providing security and proffering economic assistance, since Washington remains distracted by its involvement in Iraq.
The EU, of course, came to its common position—endorsing eventual independence for Kosovo coupled with a UN Security Council resolution—because member states of the Union have understandable fears about possible precedents. Most Europeans recognize, if many Americans do not, that no “imposed solution” is going to last unless, in the final run, both Serbia and the Kosovars are prepared to implement it.
And a compromise solution is possible—but the problem is that it would require the United States to have to modify its own position about its preferences for Kosovo (as well as the desire of a number of 2008 presidential candidates to use a “success” in Kosovo as part of their own campaign pitch, notably for Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton).
But I cannot fathom that Sarkozy and Merkel would want anything that would repeat the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war—where the United States engaged in a strategy of cherry-picking support from European countries in order to bypass the EU as a whole—and that, having helped the Union to find a consensus position on Kosovo, that the president of France and the chancellor of Germany would then wish to undercut the very process. Nor could what Robert Kagan and Ivo Daalder said at the end of their Washington Post missive last week laying out their vision of a “Concert of Democracies”, they hedged their bets by arguing that the United States can and will act on its own vision “even when some of our democratic friends disagree”—be a sentiment that would be welcome in Paris or Brussels: that, in the final analysis, the U.S. will “do what it sees fit.”
So I believe that the transatlantic honeymoon engendered by the recent G-8 meeting (and shared concerns about disturbing trends in Putin’s Russia) will be short-lived. Whether Washington accedes to Gordon Brown’s request to release UK nationals held at Guantanamo Bay is an important first test. Whether the United States will forge ahead on Kosovo in the absence of any agreement at the United Nations will be another.
Perhaps, sooner rather than later, U.S. policymakers will accept that European leaders have their own perspectives on policy and priorities. Sarkozy and Merkel—and Gordon Brown, for that matter, expect to work with Washington, not simply follow an American agenda. Whether Washington—not only in the waning days of the Bush Administration but under the next Administration would be willing to move beyond simply informing and consulting with European allies but actually negotiating to forge a true and enduring transatlantic policy remains to be seen.
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is Editor-in-Chief of The National Interest , Senior Fellow at
The Nixon Center and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and George Washington University.
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community
- Ulf Gartzke on Kosovo: The Next Transatlantic Clash?
- Morton Abramowitz says that Lack of EU Solidarity Jeopardizes Kosovo Independence
- Cornell and Jonsson on Kosovo’s Uncertain Future