Monday, September 03, 2007

The Transatlantic Relations: Can EU balance the US’ Global Role?

By Perry PADA

It is a fact that along with the successful expansion of the EU 27 (Jan 2007), the European Union has made significant achievements in many fields. With the population close to 487 million, at the same time EU has emerged as one of the most powerful global players in terms of economic, trade and investment shares. It contributed around 51% of the world’s foreign direct investment outflows; its export of goods and services accounted for around 38% of the world market, controlled close to 36% of the world’s GNP, and contributed around 56% of official development assistance.

EU Member States make up the largest block in the Breton Woods institutions: 23% of the votes in the World Bank, and 29% in the IMF, and it constitutes the largest collective number of votes as a regional grouping in the WTO. Noting these, it is also significant to remind ourselves of the ongoing progress of expansion of EU 29 to include the Balkan countries. The EU is becoming a significant global international relations entity in term of its geo-economy and geography. With this rate of achievement, a major question emerges: will the EU become a new global player particularly on the issues of global peace and security as a balancing force against United States hegemony?
It is widely acknowledged by many European scholars and political observers that the ongoing development of the political framework of the EU is however not as mature as the economic framework and achievements. With all of these, EU political unification remains unaccomplished, thus diluting the Union’s ambition to play a global role on political and security issues. It is without doubt that the beneficial synergy of the expansion will gradually restructure American – European future global relations. This restructuring may not prove significant in the area of global security in the immediate future due to US global predominance. America’s global agenda is clearly stated in the Bush’s doctrine that The U.S. will act against threats before they are formed and act alone and preemptively, as the best defense is an offense, recognizing that enemies can not be permitted to strike first -- with a "coalition of the willing" if possible, but alone if necessary .

It is reasonable to assume that the (enlarged) EU, as the result of its developing Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), will enable Europe to become an even more effective international partner with the US in tackling regional and global problems; terrorism, proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and international crimes and other global security issues. Therefore the EU will be a collaborative power with the US, but will it be a restraining power? However, the recent test case of the Iraq and/or the very recent Iranian nuclear issue; it has yet to find a single voice on vital issues of peace and security. Moreover, both crisis, clearly demonstrated that the European Union is not as monolithic as it may appear in rejecting USA unilateralism. Pro and contra of USA interventionist policy among the EU member states on the issue of Iraq speaks for itself. The U.S. has exploited this in its reference to ‘new’ and ‘old’ Europe. ‘Old’ Europe led by French, represented by many of the former Communist countries in the contra camp, while ‘New’ Europe in the pro one. Therefore, the EU’s intention of being a global actor in balancing the USA is not without hurdles. The remedy is strong political unification to realize such a mission.

The current debate exposes the argument that the uneasy process of EU political integration greatly affects its foreign policy capabilities and to some extent weakens its capacity as a new global force to balance the US role. It is therefore questionable whether the EU’s Common Foreign and Strategy Policy framework (CFSP) will be an effective foreign policy, or remain as a merely academic one due to divergent interests. At this point, it can be forecast that the future of the EU CFSP is at stake. Faced as it is with “less obedient member-states”, It is intriguing to examine the argument postulated by many scholars that the real question for European politics lies between “living in an integrated Europe dominated by France and Germany …or preferring to maintain a degree of independence by aligning with the US on security issues”. Is reliance on the US real or merely nominal independence? Supporting this latter argument is the existing ‘good’ traditional relations between US and some individual EU member-states. These bi-lateral relations contribute to the EU’s ineffectiveness, as they tend to neutralize the principle of multilateralism as a counterweight to US Unilateralism.

It can be easily predicted that the major EU member states will adopt divergent positions when confronted with security issues as they did in the Iraqi case. The US unquestionably will pursue an approach of multiple bilateralisms with EU members on security and defense matters, as there leverage is increased. In the context of the ineffectiveness of EU foreign policy, the ability of British, French and German national foreign policy will to a certain extent influence if not dominate the UE foreign policy orientation. Between them, as a rule, France and Germany tilt toward a unified and independent foreign policy, while the British retain their traditional Anglo-American ties. The current partial involvement of EU in the case of the Iran Nuclear debacle by establishing the UE- 3 “European God Fathers” (Britain, Germany and France) to deal with Iran is maybe the exception.

The CSFP with all 27 members should it fully support a position would prove to be little more than illusory if the EU member states maintain a double agenda or disguise their goals. The goals are clear: (1) to pursue their own national agenda to maintain the guaranteed alignment with the US on security issues but retain the right to determine what is a security issue, (2) gain its economic interest at the expense of the collective EU economic trajectories. Is the national foreign policy initiative to always support the national political interest? It is a questionable proposition that the divergent views and internal divisions within the union can be addressed by the decision to create an EU Foreign Ministers and diplomatic service to conduct EU diplomacy. It is, however, possible that the foreign ministers consultation institution can become one of the forums to cope with the problem of internal division. The effort to enhance the existing mechanism stipulated in the EU Constitution is to prevent the EU security system from being torn apart especially when dealing with its ‘global partner’ the USA in a real sense. The EU states “The global relationship is irreplaceable. Acting together, The European Union and the United States can be a formidable force for good in the world. If we build up capabilities and increase coherence, we will be a more credible actor and a more influential partner” .

On the other hand the Director-General of the EU for external and politico-Military affairs Sir Brain Crow has presented a variant analysis: “ [The] EU has been effective in its foreign policy only where the US has chosen not to be significantly engaged, where the EU and the US shared policies and work together, or at least where the EU accepted however reluctantly that it had to work with the US. This statement clearly acknowledges the existing leadership of the US in foreign relations.

The development of EU – US relations reflected at the US – EU summit in Ireland of June 26, 2004 is a clear signal from both sides of a rapprochement after the disagreement over the Iraqi invasion. At the Summit, the US admitted, at least rhetorically, that the EU’s role is very important as it is impossible for the US to play its role unilaterally. The Summit produced several EU - US Joint declarations on the issues of the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Sudan, Iraq, Terrorism, HIV/AIDS, Economic cooperation and Non Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The relationship has already been on a positive track, encouraged by their common concern and sense of solidarity and cohesion to combat post 9/11 terrorism and the bombing in Madrid of 11/03/2004. These events, for many European observers, strengthened the global bonds.

For the US part, a strong and stable EU certainly will support its global security agenda in the region; it is a benefit for the US since it realized that the cost was high to tackle alone security problems in Europe. The US President explicitly praised the success of the EU expansion. There remain major reservations about Turkey over fear of including a Moslem – culture country in Europe as well as concern over Turkish immigration in the future. The ‘temporarily’ failure accession of Turkey membership in EU was officially reported by the EU Presidency – Finland, due to Turkey’s inability to implement the “Ankara Protocol” particularly in solving its bilateral conflict with Cyprus. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that the success of EU expansion and its further development may very well lead to the spirit of European togetherness and gain ground as a new global force.

This picture has an alternative possible meaning for the US that is gradually the EU’s role would lessen its hegemonic role in the security area. For example the pro US policy of the EU member states will change its stance to support the old Europe (countries who remain opposed to the interventionist US policy in Iraq). But for many it is still insufficient to fulfill their ambitions to balance US political influence.

The current rapprochement of EU - US relations could be observed at the Vienna EU - US summit meeting in June 2006 which successfully produced a Vienna Summit Declaration. The summit displayed that both sides had been trying hard to increase their bilateral relations by adopting a common view on four areas of cooperation under the title of EU - US strategic partnership, namely:

- Promoting peace, human rights and democracy worldwide;
- Confronting global challenges, including security;
- Fostering Prosperity and opportunity;
- Promoting strategic cooperation on energy and energy security, climate change and sustainable development.

While the four areas of cooperation are too broad to be effectively implemented, the EU – US summit meeting clearly indicated that both sides tried to put behind them the previously held different views particularly the approach to tackling global security issues. Some important areas of cooperation had been reached, among them, continuing close cooperation on the Middle East through the quartet formation; preventing access by terrorists to weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery and promoting “democratization” in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan and on the Iran Nuclear issue, both sides had a common perspective to urge Iran to suspend its Uranium enrichment program.

For some analysts, the meeting clearly showed a nuanced approach reflecting the desire that both sides were seeking a common strategy on the issue of combating terrorism. Political criticism had been expressed by Europeans regarding the way the US approached combating terrorism and treating of prisoners in violation of international law and human rights principles. The current case of Guantanamo prisoners and US secret prisons scattered in Europe and elsewhere are the strongest to come under criticism but unfortunately no further action is proposed to investigate. Can Europe use its leverage to sway US policy in responding properly to global security and terrorism? The answer is, not likely

To this point, can we expect a balance of EU - US relations within the context of global relations? The immediate answer depends on the EU’s process of greater political unification and the ability of the EU as an effective union to tackle its problematic diversity while trying to replace US political supremacy employing leverage by its own economic policy in the third world. For example, the involvement of EU in Indonesia, in supporting the Aceh peace process and its great contribution through the multi donor trust fund for reconstruction and rehabilitation in post-Tsunami Aceh. This was a relatively successful intervention and substantially increased its leverage in the region.

It is important to note, however, that the recent EU Summit in Brussels during June 2006 clearly indicated that EU political integration needs much more times to be fully mature, this phenomenon can be learned through the rejection of Dutch and French people to ratify the European Constitution (among 25 EU member excluded Romania and Bulgaria, only 15 have ratified the Constitution).

In scholarly language, in order to fulfill its role playing as a global force, the immediate requirement is that the EU has a solid and integrated political framework, while developing its independent security and defense policy supported by an independent military force outside of NATO. Unless this takes place the result of the giant EU is that it will always be fragmented and remain in the shadow of the US and parts of it act as merely a part of “US coalition of the willing”. It is for this reason that the US vehemently opposes such an initiative.

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