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This thoughtful, informative overview of the subject derives from a presentation by Ambassador Schoonover before the Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on February 28, 2006. The presenter (and author) brings to the topic an unusual degree of familiarity with the topic, in that she served several years recently as a senior Foreign Service careerist at the U. S. embassy in Brussels. — Ed.

by Brenda Schoonover

My remarks will focus on United States/European relations, which I see as an evolving alliance. For this presentation, when I speak of Europe, I am referring mainly to Western Europe, members of our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and the European Union (EU). This includes the EU in its recently expanded form, although most issues mentioned here initially surfaced before the April 2004 enlargement to twenty-five members.

Chris Patten, chancellor of Oxford and Newcastle universities in England and former European Union commissioner for external affairs (1999-2004), has recently published a book about U.S./EU relations, entitled:Cousins and Strangers, America, Britain and Europe in a New Century. Patten says that anti-Americanism in Europe is nothing new:

It is plain wrong to see anti-Americanism as a phenomenon of recent years, the reaction to an assertive, nationalist president, whom we in Europe do not understand and with whom we assuredly fail to empathize. There was never a golden age in transatlantic relations, when all Europeans doffed their hats to the superpower that defended our freedom. We Europeans were always a bit tiresome, and sometimes… there was a good reason for it.

Nevertheless, Patten has determined that more than ever there is a need for an open transatlantic dialogue to address issues of concerns that seriously impact on transatlantic relations. I agree with him.

In assessing fairly recent events in U. S./European relations, you may recall that immediately following the tragedies of September 11, 2001, there was a tremendous outpouring of support for the United States from many nations around the world, most demonstratively from our European allies. Gerhard Schroeder, German chancellor at the time, called for “unconditional solidarity” with the United States. A cover of the French newspaper Le Monde proclaimed, “nous sommes tous Americains!” In addition, for the first time in history, NATO evoked article V of the Common Defense Treaty stipulating that an attack against the United States was an attack on all of NATO.

Unfortunately, the Europeans’ widespread show of solidarity proved to be short-lived. One of the reasons cited is the Americans’ go-it-alone attitude and another, our pre-emptive actions in Iraq. Seemingly stymied by fear and suspicion after 9/11, we failed to capture and build on those high notes of solidarity. Instead, in no time, Americans were perceived as taking our unilateralist tendencies to a new extreme.

I see several majors factors which have affected transatlantic relations in recent years:

1) the end of the Cold War;
2) the recent advancements in communications technology;
3) the integration of Europe and the growth and strength of the European Union;
4) the increased threat posed by global terrorism, particularly the events of September 11, 2001; and,
5) transatlantic and global differences concerning the United States invasion in Iraq.

Let me examine these factors more closely:

The end of the Cold War—sometimes referred to as 11/9 in reference to November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall was first breached, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991—has impacted on international relations in so many corners of the globe. Former adversaries and present allies are still making adjustments to that historic event. The political cohesion of alliances based on nuclear and ideological confrontations were replaced by the surging aspirations of nations seeking a voice in international affairs and a stronger position in the global economy. In some areas, such as the former Yugoslavia, old ethnic grievances resurfaced and exploded into violence. New states were born, torn apart, and reassembled. European integration, closer than ever to being realized, continues to be a complex process.The second factor, advancements in communications technology, along with other forces of globalization, have enabled developing nations to be less isolated from and more competitive with richer nations. Many newly independent states skipped decades of upgrading to the computer age and proceeded directly to the latest state-of-the-art communications technology, most vividly demonstrated by the proliferation of cellular telephones and internet cafes. Access to information and current events through satellite television, the internet and mobile phones have broken previous communications barriers, creating a rush of demands from the populations of newly independent and developing nations around the world for freedom and prosperity and a larger piece of the economic action. Non-democratic national leaders find it more difficult than before to censure, control or stop the flow of information from the outside world.

Global advances in communications, along with shrinking U. S. public diplomacy resources, have had a profound impact 0n American public diplomacy—the way we package and convey our messages. Without the threat of communism, we have not yet developed fresh, successful new strategies, methods, and approaches in order to “tell America’s story.” For that matter, we may be less certain as to exactly what America’s story is. In today’s world, our “Voice of America” (VOA) approach and official media updates are no match for commercial television such as CNN, able to transmit practically instant relays of unfolding current events. Developing nations are no longer as dependent on the VOA broadcasts (or BBC for that matter) as their window to the outside world.

Recognizing the need for more effective public diplomacy on the international front is the reason Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently asked Congress for $75 million dollars in funding to enhance public diplomacy – – in particular, efforts to influence the hearts and minds of the Iranian people and portray Americans in a more favorable light.

I believe we Americans lost a lot of public diplomacy muscle when we abolished the United States Information Agency (USIA), folding it into the State Department, where it lost its identity and momentum. We let an effective arm of American public diplomacy slip away. In 1998, we appeased the then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jesse Helms, by agreeing to incorporate USIA (along with two other foreign affairs agencies) into the State Department, in part in exchange for getting the Senate to agree to pay our in-the-arrears United Nations’ dues. Wilson P. Dizard Jr., in his book, Inventing Public Diplomacy, the Story of the United States Information Agency, called this deal with the senator, “a Faustian bargain.”

EU Headquarters

The third factor, the creation of the European Union and its subsequent success, is considered by some historians and political analysts as the most significant economic and political development since the Second World War. The European Union has built Western Europe into a strong economic force with considerable political clout. Now, with its expanded membership of twenty-five, the Union will significantly affect the economic and political profile of an even wider population on the continent. We, the United States, can be proud that we played a contributing role in initiating the process of European integration through the establishment of the Marshall Plan, which is part of the EU’s foundation. We have said that a strong, prosperous and peaceful Europe is in the best interest of both sides of the Atlantic. Both derive benefits from transatlantic commerce to the tune of 2.5 trillion U. S. dollars annually.While the United States and the EU are partners, we are also competitors. As such, we have definitely had our spats and feuds and ongoing trade debates on various issues: genetically modified foods, Boeing versus the Airbus, subsidies, and bananas and more bananas. As trading partners with self-interests, we will always have our differences and healthy competition. Nevertheless, the United States government has applauded many of the European Union’s achievements. To name a few:

A) The EU’s Schengen agreement, which went into practical effect in 1995. In addition to creating a common security and justice system, it opened the borders of member states.
B) The establishment of the common currency, the Euro, one of the results of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which also established close police and judicial cooperation within the organization. the Euro went into circulation effective january 2002, and, in just a few years has become a strong competitive currency.
C) The 2004 addition of ten new members to the Union.

A good gauge of the importance the United States Government places on the European Union is the amount of resources and expertise our government continues to invest in our mission to the European Union located in Brussels.

Nevertheless, the European Union faces real challenges. With its increased membership and even more to come in the future, the EU will need to embrace its new members, which, while having passed certain economic hurdles and good governance tests required for admission, are still in varying stages of economic and democratic development. The EU will need to find an inclusive approach to accommodate a wider array of peoples, cultures and languages and it must recognize and appreciate that each state brings to the table its own footprint of identity.

Many of the founding EU member nations need to do a better job of internally integrating their own growing minority populations. For example, in just counting the Muslim population, there are more than 300,000 Muslim minorities in Belgium, one million in the Netherlands, a country with an overall population of 16 million; over five million in France, and approximately thirteen million, or five percent of the EU. Many minorities, and not just Muslims, complain of unequal treatment and the lack of opportunities. By contrast, there are majority native-born Europeans who blame some minority groups for resisting assimilation into the mainstream society. Others resent the presence of immigrants and their offspring, convinced that they take more than they give to society and place a disproportionate burden on Europe’s generous, but strained, welfare systems.

One professor of European studies reminded me that integration is complicated and one cannot generalize. Each country has its own set of racial and ethnic situations, with its own historical context and unique set of problems in different stages of progress or decline. The Turkish minorities in Germany may have different grievances from the Moroccans and Congolese in Belgium or the Tunisians and Senegalese in France. It is true there is no one pattern or formula that will fit all. Each individual nation will need to work with its minority populations to resolve its internal integration problems.

We have seen how racial and ethnic frustrations and dissatisfaction can erupt into chaos in normally peaceful nations. We know what happened in France in 2005 when thousands of Muslims and other minorities, including a significant number of unemployed youth, rioted for days, destroying millions of Euros in property in many parts of the country in protest of unequal treatment and insufficient opportunities. As Alan Cowell said in a recent New York Times article in reference to the Muslim protests and violent reactions to Danish cartoons depicting images of the Prophet Mohammed—disturbances that took placed in numerous countries on several continents—“some Europeans have come to realize that relatively small minorities … can wield power across the Islamic world, a widespread violent reaction.”

The EU will need to encourage individual member states to create bold forward-thinking means of improving internal integration in each nation. Many sons and daughters of those who came as migrants or guest workers from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, and other areas have only loose ties to their parents’ ancestral homes. They consider themselves Europeans and more and more refuse to be marginalized, demanding rights and opportunities as full citizens. If the governments of the lands in which they were born fail to embrace this new generation of minorities, they will resort to desperate means to address racial, social and economic ills and will most likely use destructive tactics in search of their quest for equality.

As is the case with our American representatives, senators and congressmen, EU representatives and leaders come to the Union table with competing interests and sometime conflicting demands stemming from specific national interests and pressures from local constituents. This was evidenced in the French “no” vote to ratifying the EU constitution in May of 2005, followed by the Dutch “no” vote in June, plus serious disagreement over the EU budget for 2007 to 2013.

Despite its growing pains, the European Union is an impressive healthy competitor. It is also our partner in the world’s largest economic relationship. We complement each other and learn a tremendous amount from the technological advancements developed on each side of the Atlantic.

Now let’s turn our attention to the fourth factor, the menace of global terrorism and its impact on transatlantic relations. We should be enjoying a period of tranquility following the end of the Cold War. Instead we are contending with a ferocious, growing, mysterious enemy with no national borders – one less clear cut or tangible than the enemy defined during the Cold War. In many cases, we are not even sure where the enemy is, where he is coming from, nor exactly why we are targets, why we have incurred such wrath. Terrorism, a huge menace to the world, certainly affects the way we deal with each other.

Yes, the incidents of 9/11 elicited expressions of solidarity and empathy from our European allies. But not too long after 9/11, some observers considered the United States’ reaction to preventing terrorism to be too extreme. Like a tortoise, We retreated into a hard shell and then emerged embittered, only to come out snapping, trusting no one, apparently not even our traditional allies. Our attempts to fight the elusive enemy have built up frustrations and suspicions, distrust and prejudices that impact on core democratic principles, integration and immigration and old and valued international friendships.

We have been accused of using reasons of national security as an excuse to resort to heavy-handed tactics and ignoring the Geneva Convention when it suits our convenience, of failing to curb the mistreatment and torture of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan and of illegally holding detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s description of the detainees, “enemy combatants,” as being the “worst of the worst” has not silenced our critics, many whose own nationals are or have been imprisoned in Guantanamo.

Another thorny issue under the category of our anti-terrorism measures leading to considerable frustration would be our newly enforced rigid student visa restrictions, which have discouraged potential applicants. Recent reports indicate that fewer students even bother to apply to the United States schools and that English medium universities in Singapore and Australia have become alternatives to studying in the United States, benefiting from the tough U. S. visa criteria and procedures.

Terrorism, a threat neither side of the Atlantic knows exactly how to deal with, is a subject we approach from different perspectives. We read of European governments weeding out terrorists and cells of extremists discovered in their territories, resulting in investigations and subsequent arrests and convictions in places such as London, Madrid, Paris and Belgium. However, some Europeans citizens believe that the 2004 Madrid bombing and 2005 London subway tragedy are isolated incidents and still think the likelihood of a threat specifically directed at them as very slim, considering terrorism as mainly an American problem and obsession. We attempt to convince our European colleagues that the terrorists are not just targeting the United States, citing attacks in Indonesia, the Middle East, targets in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, Bali and more. Some get it and some don’t.

One extreme reaction is to blame the United States for creating global terrorism because of our Middle East policy seen as unwavering support of Israel to the detriment of the Palestinian people. And of course there is the argument that our intervention in Iraq has made matters worse, escalating the number of suicide bombings, creating terrorists’ breeding and practice grounds – arenas for them to hone their terrorist skills and foment ethnic strife. This leads to the fifth factor — differences regarding the United States invasion of Iraq

European opinion of our invasion of Iraq varies from country to country with France and Germany at the farthest end of the disagreement and Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Poland more supportive, at least initially. But time has not been on our side and opposition to the war and concern for the direction it is going continue to widen and intensify.

Europeans know close hand the hell of war from the two World Wars fought on their soil. Consequently, they are more reluctant to go into battle than we are and think we take the prospect too lightly. They have neither the will nor might that we have for combat. The U. S. defense budget and military capacity are overwhelmingly larger than its allies and the rest of the world.

In addition, the fact that to date our claim of the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is unfounded. Because most of our partners were not convinced of the threat in the first place, the absence of WMDs, confirming their skepticism, has fostered a “we told you so” attitude.

The former secretary of state, Colin Powell, in his September 2005 interview with Barbara Walters said he feels terrible about the claims he made before the UN of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When asked if this information, which later proved false, had tarnished his reputation, the former secretary said, “Of course it will. It’s a blot. I’m the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world and it will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It is painful now to me.”

It is a blot, not just on Secretary Powell’s record, but, on our nation’s record.

With regard to whether Europeans are involved in supporting our efforts in Iraq, in a September 22, 2005, speech Ambassador Tom Korologos, the current U. S. envoy to Belgium, addressed the question in this fashion: “Is Europe helping? It sure is. Over 17,000 troops from twenty-three European countries are serving alongside Americans forces in Iraq, and all twenty-six NATO allies are contributing to the NATO mission to train Iraqi security forces and providing military equipment. Twenty-three European countries have contributed more that half a billion dollars to help with Iraqi reconstruction. The EU Commission has contributed a quarter of a million more.”

Despite some official EU cooperation, there are still cool reactions from some European leaders, as well as outright anti-American sentiments from many of their citizens.

President Bush’s comment: “You are either with us or agin us” has not been forgotten. This comment struck a particularly negative chord and allies questioned whether or not it implied that friends dare not respectfully disagree with the great giant and still remain friends. They are not comfortable with the concepts of the “axis of evil” or “good and evil,” interpreting a religious connotation, a judgmental over-simplification of the political motives of some national leaders, their governments, and complex cultures.

In addition to the factors already mentioned, there is a broad brush of prickly issues and initiatives, which in recent years have added to our differences. These are:

1. International Criminal Court: The Bush Administration’s rejection of the ICC, exempting Americans from its rules and threatening to impose sanctions and curb military and economic support to those who do not grant the United States exceptions in a ‘bilateral immunity agreement” (a reference to the 2002 American Servicemen’s Protection Act and the 2004 Nethercut Amendment).

2. The Kyoto Protocol: Our reneging on the UN framework convention on climate change, the 1997 treaty that would require countries to curb emissions. In explaining his decision, President Bush said, “Kyoto would have wrecked our economy.” Despite the fact that many participating nations struggle to meet the standards set by the treaty, they still resent our not joining Kyoto and see it as a failure of the world’s biggest emissions generator to make an effort at climate control. The United States meanwhile has taken steps to enter into a new alliance, known as the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate” with Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, and India. Some critics interpret this pact as an American effort to bypass the Kyoto Protocol, considering it a lukewarm effort at environmental safeguards and controls.

3. The slogan, “old Europe and new Europe” introduced by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld: Our traditional allies saw this as a rejection of old friends and an effort to divide Europe. In our government’s attempt to capture the hearts and minds of the newly independent states and to form “a coalition of the willing” as support for our invading Iraq, we were seen as turning our backs on our traditional allies. Now Secretary Rice’s new initiative, “transformational diplomacy,” among other things calls for removing 100 Foreign Service positions from Europe and Washington, to be recyled to countries such as China, Nigeria, India, and Lebanon. In the current climate, this move is likely to be interpreted as another way of de-prioritizing U. S./European relations.

In addition, there are some observations of our internal issues, which seem to confuse and baffle our transatlantic “cousins.” These include:

  • Our politicizing views and government interference in abortion rights.
  • Our so-called morality and the religious right. For the most part, Europeans are not comfortable with American Christian religiosity. Western Europeans seem to be headed in the opposite direction, away from the Church with increasingly secular attitudes. Many citizens are diligent about maintaining the principle of separation of church and state in their own countries and are ill at ease with the proliferation of American Christian faith-based organizations and their political influence in the United States. They are leery of uncompromising fundamentalism, whether it be Christianity, Islam or any other faith.
  • Our critical and sometimes negative attitudes about multinational organizations, such as the United Nations.
  • There is widespread unpopularity of President George W. Bush in Europe, who many Europeans term the roughshod cowboy.

One might ask why anti-Americanism seems to be at an all-time high in so many parts of the world, including Europe. One explanation is the old adage that all politics is local. I saw this in the Belgian local, regional, and national political rhetoric leading up to its elections. It is not surprising that some European politicians play the in-vogue anti-American card as a way of deflecting attention from domestic problems. For example, in contrast to his post-September 11, 2001, expressions of solidarity, in 2002 German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder scored enormous political points reportedly by opposing Washington on the invasion of Iraq. Also, the government of Turkey, succumbing to internal pressure, rejected our request to use Turkish territory as a staging area for the Iraqi war.

Finally, let’s turn to some good news:

Not everything in U. S.-European relations is bleak. There are some recent positive signs of thawing of relations:

President Bush’s remarks in his 2005 inaugural address affirmed that Washington considers Europe a partner. And his spring 2005 visit to Europe reportedly went in the direction of rekindling U. S.-European relations. But of course that was some months ago and a lot has happened since then.

Secretary of State Rice’s trips to Europe have for the most part had positive effects. The Europeans appreciate her authority stemming from her position in the administration’s inner circle. She has been admired as a diplomat at times and for being “a tough cookie” at others.

With regard to China – the EU has agreed for the time-being not to lift arms embargo on China despite France’s and Germany’s leanings to end the embargo.

Surprisingly, the European Union did not block Bush’s nomination of the former deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, as president of the World Bank. His nomination met with little resistance despite the fact he is known as an unrelenting neoconservative, labeled as an architect of the Iraq War. Wolfowitz is credited with defusing opposition to his nomination by visiting Brussels to meet personally with top EU officials.

On the ongoing issue of Iran’s nuclear initiatives and its stonewalling the International Atomic Energy Agency, the EU and the United States are on the same page in insisting that Iran reverse its stance. How we handle Iran’s nuclear capability and how we handle the recently elected Hamas in Palestine may be the two most important agenda items for the United States and European allies in the near future. Both require the utmost transatlantic plus United Nations cooperation.

There are some in Europe who seek to define Europe in opposition to the United States, contending that we have irreconcilable differences. Others argue that our differences concerning the war in Iraq have permanently damaged transatlantic relations. Despite Chris Patten’s pessimistic analysis of our relationship, he acknowledges that “there is more that unites north America and Europe than divides us.” In my opinion, he is correct.

To get us back on track, however, we on both sides of the Atlantic ocean need to keep our wits about us in this complex global political environment. The United States and Europe need each other as much as ever, and maybe more so, not only to combat threats that endanger us all, but also to build a more equitable, decent, and prosperous world. We need to find a way of passing the message of the importance of our Alliance to our youth on both sides of the Atlantic—educating them, instilling in them a sense of our historical ties and mutual respect and responsibilities that they too must pass to future generations. Both sides must make every effort to maintain a healthy transatlantic relationship. Neither Europe nor the United States can afford to take the other for granted.

I happen to be a former Peace Corps Volunteer and a great admirer of the first director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver, who is now well into his eighties. About a year and a half ago, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, in his article honoring Shriver’s many achievements, described Sarge’s commitment to public service as “always joyous and total.” Herbert recalled that in 1994, Sargent Shriver spoke to the Yale University graduating class and said to them, “Break all the mirrors! Yes indeed, shatter the glass! In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourselves and more at each other.”

I hope we can find a way to follow Sarge’s lead.End.


Brenda Brown Schoonover

Ambassador Brenda Brown Schoonover is a retired Foreign Service officer. She was U.S. ambassador to Togo. Her last assignment was deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Brussels and chargé d’affaires ad interim during her last year there. She received the Presidential Meritorious Service Award in 2003. Mrs. Schoonover is a member of the board of directors of American Diplomacy Publishers.


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