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Striking a New Transatlantic Bargain
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The recent war in Iraq has triggered the most severe transatlantic tensions in a generation, dividing Europeans and Americans from each other and themselves. Pundits proclaim daily the imminent collapse of three vital pillars in the institutional architecture of world politics: NATO, the UN, and even the EU. And yet some form of transatlantic cooperation clearly remains essential, given the vast mutual interests at stake. Where, then, should the Western alliance go now?
The Iraq crisis offers two basic lessons. The first, for Europeans, is that American hawks were right. Unilateral intervention to coerce regime change can be a cost-effective way to deal with rogue states. In military matters, there is only one superpower -- the United States -- and it can go it alone if it has to. It is time to accept this fact and move on.
The second lesson, for Americans, is that moderate skeptics on both sides of the Atlantic were also right. Winning a peace is much harder than winning a war. Intervention is cheap in the short run but expensive in the long run. And when it comes to the essential instruments for avoiding chaos or quagmire once the fighting stops -- trade, aid, peacekeeping, international monitoring, and multilateral legitimacy -- Europe remains indispensable. In this respect, the unipolar world turns out to be bipolar after all.
Given these truths, it is now time to work out a new transatlantic bargain, one that redirects complementary military and civilian instruments toward common ends and new security threats. Without such a deal, danger exists that Europeans -- who were rolled over in the run-up to the war, frozen out by unilateral U.S. nation building, disparaged by triumphalist American pundits and politicians, and who lack sufficiently unified regional institutions -- will keep their distance and leave the United States to its own devices. Although understandable, this reaction would be a recipe for disaster, since the United States lacks both the will and the institutional capacity to follow up its military triumphs properly -- as the initial haphazard efforts at Iraqi reconstruction demonstrate.