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America and the world into a new era - Part III

By Klaus Naumann - posted Tuesday, 16 September 2008

It is obvious that, for mutual strategic interest, Europe needs the US to be a global player beyond Europe and the US needs Europe to sustain its global commitments.

But this indispensable partnership is in troubled waters. The future appears bleak, whether observing European sentiments at the mere mention of President George W. Bush or comparing the foreign-policy statements from US presidential hopefuls that include scant mention of Europe.

The real reason why the partnership is in trouble is because too many different perceptions and gaps in capabilities lead to different approaches on global problems. Moreover, the so-called West has lost credibility in the world and many Europeans hold the US government responsible for that.


Europe’s risk awareness is very different from that in the US. While most in the US believe in the global war on terror, Europe does not see itself as being at war.

The US begins to understand the new dimension of trans-national threats - terrorism, organised crime and cyber war in conjunction with proliferation and failing states. In Europe the experts agree with their American colleagues, but not the general public.

The European governments are reluctant to speak about threats as are the media. The general public in Europe is therefore not really aware of the truly dangerous situation in which we live on both sides of the Atlantic although many in Europe feel a degree of uneasiness.

Following a period of unilateralism, the US will probably return to a new form of multilateralism as of January 20, 2009. Whatever the label, the net result for Europeans will be the same: they’ll be called upon to take more responsibilities and show solidarity by risk-sharing without reservations. To avoid new transatlantic disputes, both sides must consider the prevailing perceptions they have of each other.

Europeans see the US as prepared to use its overwhelming military power early in crisis, unleashed from customary international law. Indeed, the US often takes a robust approach, heavily shaped by military options - although a growing number of Americans is aware that few future problems can be solved with military means alone. On the other side, Americans overlook the diversity of Europe and tend to see Europeans’ use of soft power, dialogue and international law as a fig leaf to hide a lack of resolve. Europe is more reluctant than the US to use military power, and the degree of being prone to the use of force varies from country to country.

Germany, not at all reluctant in using offensive military power throughout the 20th century, is now probably most reluctant to use military power for other than homeland defence operations. Germany arrived at the conclusion that any war of aggression must be banned and that it’s extremely difficult to justify war as an instrument of politics. Germany’s interpretation of the customary international law and its views on the ethics of power are not shared by all European countries and never will be, yet German views do delay decision-making in both NATO and the EU.


In addition, most European governments must win parliamentary approval for any deployment in operations outside the country. This constitutes a major obstacle in any transatlantic consensus since the US president can take advantage of the War Powers Act, whereas the allies must base their requests for approval on an international consensus.

Moreover, looking at the peaceful end of the Cold War conflict, many Europeans believe that most conflicts can be solved through dialogue, negotiation and compromise thus reinforcing a European school of thought aiming at a total ban of war.

But war is alive and well. Any claim otherwise was bombed into pieces when non-state actors using deadly instruments attacked the US on 9-11.

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Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal Online - 2008 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

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About the Author

Klaus Naumann is a German Army four-star general who served as NATO’s highest ranking military officer during the Kosovo Air Campaign. He retired as chairman of the NATO Military Committee in May 1999.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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