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U.S.: Ties To Europe Remain Firm

  • Ben Partridge



London, 28 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A leading American academic has dismissed the idea that the United States and Europe are drifting apart, predicting that the relationship will look very much the same in the year 2010 as it does right now.

Joseph S. Nye, dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, spoke on Thursday (June 24) to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. His theme was: America and Europe, are they drifting apart? Nye acknowledged that there are serious potential problems in the relationship caused by economic disputes, trade wars, unequal defense spending, and an increased mood of domestic preoccupation on both sides of the Atlantic.

Nye said there is always a danger that economic frictions could be magnified by cultural differences over issues such as the use of capital punishment or genetically modified food. But he rejected the idea that Americans and Europeans are at a parting of ways.

"I sum [up the differences] by saying 'We are bound to bicker, but not necessarily to divorce.'"

Some theorists argue that the U.S. is about to be challenged for ascendancy by a politically united EU. They say the U.S. and Europe used to be held together by three unifying forces. First, the Soviet threat. Second, the U.S. economic stake in Europe. And third, a generation of like-minded elites. The theorists argue that all three unifying factors are eroding -- the Soviet threat has gone, the U.S. now has a bigger economic stake in Asia than in Europe, and the nature of elites has changed.

Those who argue this say the removal of the Soviet threat has meant a loss of cohesion in the transatlantic relationship. They point to disputes between Americans and Europeans about how to handle Iran or Iraq, and the need for Americans to focus more on security in East Asia to deal with a rise in Chinese power.

Moreover, the Europeans and Americans have focused their attention on different goals -- the Europeans, on the deepening of the EU, the Americans on the North American Free Trade area.

A sign of the potential friction between the allies came with the launching of the Euro, a time of "Europhoria" when some Europeans wrongly predicted the demise of the dollar as a reserve currency.

Another changing element in the equation are new U.S. and European elites. When the European-U.S. relationship was solidified in 1950, 27 percent of Americans lived in the northeast, and tended to be oriented toward Europe. Today, the percentage has fallen to 20 percent, and the influence of America's west and the south has grown. Thus domination of U.S. foreign policy by northeastern elites has dissipated.

Similarly, in Europe, the generation of statesmen who were engaged in building the Atlantic Alliance has been replaced by new elites more preoccupied with the creation of European unity.

So does all this mean that the Americans and Europeans are headed for a bust? Not at all, according to Nye.

He says those who argue the transatlantic security dimension is no longer important neglect the continuing popularity of NATO, which, polls find, is supported by two-thirds of Americans, and is also very popular in Europe, including Central and Eastern Europe.

Nye says citizens on both sides of the Atlantic regard NATO today as a continuing insurance policy for defending Europe in the event of the re-emergence of a Russian threat. According to Nye, it is a scenario which could happen in the event of a "Weimar-Russia collapse."

Nye says NATO is also perceived as having a new set of tasks, something the alliance proved after the collapse of communism.

"One [task] has been to orient the center and east of Europe towards Brussels. In the period after the [Berlin] Wall fell, when everything was up for grabs, no-one knew what would happen. The idea that the future lay in one direction, rather than another, was important, as elites struggled for power in eastern European capitals....The fact that NATO was a part of Brussels that could serve as a beacon, or, if you want, a magnet, attracting the center of Europe towards the west, turned out to be extremely important."

Nye said another new task for NATO is now the creation of stability in the Balkans, long the "cradle of European wars." He also said it is important to find ways to integrate the Russians into a western security structure, and to build up a closer relationship.

Turning to the economic arguments, Nye said suggestions that the euro would replace the dollar as a reserve currency reflected exaggerated rhetoric. Forecasts that people would switch their holdings to euros, and dump dollars, have proved to be wrong.

Nye also disputed the argument of those who argue that American power is in terminal decline and is to be challenged for ascendancy by a newly-confident Europe.

He pointed to the buoyancy and strength of the American economy vis-a-vis the sluggish performance of Europe. He says this difference has been of enormous importance, particularly because it has allowed the U.S. to take the lead in the global information revolution.

As for the argument that Asia has replaced Europe as a trade partner, Nye said U.S. foreign direct investment in Europe has not declined. Both Americans and Europeans are profiting from increased trade, and have a healthy stake in each others' economies.

Nye also said the arguments about the changing nature of elites may be overstated. He said that two-thirds of Americans still trace their ancestry to Europe, and they maintain a strong interest in their families' country of origin, while remaining loyal Americans.

"Indeed any American politician approaching a political campaign for president makes sure he travels to the three "i's" -- Israel, Italy, and Ireland. The fact that two-thirds of Americans still identify with European ancestry is bound to have an effect. So there may be a tempering effect of demographic change but it's not about to overwhelm the European traditions."

In arguing for the preservation of a rough status quo in the transatlantic relationship, Nye said neither the U.S. nor the Europeans threaten a vital or important interest of the other. He also said that Europe and the U.S. share a common set of values, notably on democracy and human rights. He also said Americans want, and need, a global partner. While understanding the risks of prophecy, he sees the future in reasonably bright terms.

"While I profoundly believe that history has surprises, I would argue that in the year 2010, U.S.-European relations will look more like they do today, rather than something radically different."

Nye was visiting the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London to deliver the second C. Douglas Dillon lecture, named after a distinguished American public servant.

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