Nineteen eighty-four has been a quiet year in U.S.-West European relations—a year during which these Western countries had the luxury of organizing a large number of conferences for intellectuals and public figures to ask themselves whether George Orwell’s bleak warnings had actually been prophetic (if they had been, these colloquia could not have been held) and whether Soviet reality resembled Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism. What actually happened in the relations among these nations was less interesting than what did not happen.

The end of 1983 had been marked by the crisis over the deployments of American intermediate-range missiles in several West European countries. The first deployments proceeded on schedule in November and December 1983, despite the hostility of a sizable part of the publics in Britain, West Germany and Italy, and despite massive but, on the whole, not violent demonstrations. The immediate effects were the collapse of the arms control negotiations between Washington and Moscow over intermediate-range nuclear weapons and then the interruption of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks.

French President François Mitterrand, in November 1983, had compared the situation to the Berlin and Cuban missile crises of the early 1960s. Even in West European political circles favoring the NATO deployments, there was apprehension about the consequences that the breakdown of the only important set of negotiations between the superpowers would have on relations between West European and Warsaw Pact countries.

This atmosphere of malaise and anxiety was the product of other worries as well. Many influential Americans, civilian and military, were questioning the validity and credibility of NATO’s doctrine of flexible response. The West German body politic (especially after the repudiation by the Social Democrats of the positions of former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt) seemed to be evolving toward pacifism and neutralism. The European Economic Community (EEC) was in a quasi-paralyzed state where discord centered on the issues of the British financial contribution and of the Common Agricultural Policy. Finally, there was concern over the future of the American economic recovery and the speed with which, if it lasted, it would help lift the West European economies out of their deep troubles. The year past did little either to worsen these apprehensions, or to dispel the malaise.

Among the events that did not happen in 1984, one can list:

1) a spectacular worsening of Soviet-American relations, which the double crisis over the South Korean airliner and the missile deployments could have engendered;

2) a new U.S.-West European crisis over sales of industrial technology to East European countries and to the Soviet Union;

3) further massive protests interfering with missile deployments in Western Europe, especially in West Germany;

4) agreement on a new NATO strategic doctrine;

5) important progress in the development of political links between several East European countries and Western Europe, particularly in relations between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, culminating in a visit by G.D.R. leader Erich Honecker to Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn;

6) agreements between Washington and its main European allies on joint policies for restoring the unity and integrity of Lebanon, for trying to resolve the Palestinian issue, and for a peaceful solution in El Salvador and Nicaragua;

7) a spillover of the American economic recovery, fueled by sharply declining interest rates in the United States and by a fall in the value of the dollar that helped lighten the burden of West European imports paid in dollars without curtailing European exports to the United States too much.

The year brought no breakthroughs, no catastrophes. It did produce some progress on a variety of fronts—East-West, intra-European, NATO—but not enough to make of 1984 something more than a year of frustrations. These can best be discussed by examining the scene first from the viewpoint of the West Europeans, and then from that of the United States.


By the end of 1983, West European governments were both relieved by the relatively successful first missile deployments and anxious about the deterioration in East-West relations. They wanted to use whatever influence they had to prod the superpowers to resume their dialogue, particularly on arms control; and they wanted to preserve as much as possible of the West European-Eastern détente, the nature of which had always been different from the brief Soviet-American détente of the 1970s. These efforts were not entirely unsuccessful.

On the one hand, the superpowers did move, slowly and cautiously, toward a new dialogue. President Reagan’s State of the Union address, on January 25, used a much more conciliatory tone in referring to the Soviet Union, and Soviet-American contacts were resumed the same month, when the Conference on Security and Confidence-building Measures met in Stockholm, and the Soviets agreed to continue the interminable Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) discussions in Vienna. In the fall of 1984, the dialogue became more intense, with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko’s invitation and visit to the White House; President Reagan’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly; President Konstantin Chernenko’s own suggestions for a resumption of talks; the appeal in early December by the foreign ministers of the Warsaw Pact countries for a return to détente; and the Soviet acceptance of the offer of a meeting between Secretary of State George Shultz and Gromyko to discuss the American proposal for "umbrella talks" about arms. All of these developments were greeted with pleasure in Western Europe; particularly well received were indications from Washington in the last weeks of 1984 that the State Department would have a more central policymaking role, and the appointment of Paul Nitze as Secretary Shultz’s counselor on arms control.

On the other hand, there was no sign of the "ice age" that Erich Honecker had predicted for relations between Western and Eastern Europe if the American missiles were deployed in the West. Until September, relations between the two Germanys became closer, rather than less so. West Germany even extended a loan to the G.D.R. East German officials allowed a large number of their citizens to emigrate to the Federal Republic and made their lack of enthusiasm for new Soviet missile deployments on their soil clear to their West German colleagues; more discreetly, Czech officials hinted at the same unhappiness in conversations with the French. Hungary played a quiet but important part in maintaining ties across the Iron Curtain; British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made her first visit to an East European country when she went to Budapest, and Hungarian leader János Kádár visited Paris in October. Bulgaria, usually the closest of the U.S.S.R.’s East European allies, scheduled a state visit to Bonn, tending to emulate East Germany and Hungary rather than Moscow.

These actions seemed to express a sense of common European interests. On both sides of the Iron Curtain, statesmen calculated that their own freedom of maneuver would disappear if their respective superpower protectors engaged in a new cold war, and citizens felt that something had to be done to signal their unwillingness to be dragged back to the ice age of the late 1940s and 1950s. Thus the West Europeans—especially the West Germans, Italians and representatives of the Benelux countries—put constant pressure on Washington for a resumption of the dialogue with Moscow. The Soviet leaders—including the most obdurate and dour of them, Gromyko—obviously felt a need to reassure their own restless allies. Both factors clearly contributed to the warming trend in the fall of 1984.

And yet, the new turn in Soviet-American relations was not only, or even primarily, the result of West European efforts. In the case of the United States, domestic considerations played a major role. President Reagan, up for reelection, had sensed the American public’s own worry about the deterioration in the superpowers’ relationship and an uncontrolled arms race. In order to cut the ground from under his opponent’s feet, the President had to commit himself to a major effort at arms control, and—unlike in the campaign of 1980—to stress more heavily his determination to reach some accommodation with Moscow than his quest for American strength.

The U.S.S.R., deeply concerned about American plans for anti-ballistic missile defenses, had its own reasons for wanting to renew arms control negotiations. A "decent interval" had passed that allowed it to retreat silently from its earlier, increasingly untenable demand that such a renewal be linked to removal of the American intermediate-range nuclear forces from Europe.

Whatever the reasons for the success of West European efforts to avoid a return to the cold war, almost nothing of substance was accomplished between the superpowers in 1984. On the Soviet side, statements about a willingness to talk were always coupled with bitter attacks on the Reagan Administration’s militarism. On the American side, there were recurrent reports about Soviet violations of past arms agreements, and the Administration clearly had difficulty resolving internal disputes about the proposals to be made in January 1985 to Gromyko. In Vienna, the new proposals presented by the Western countries at the MBFR talks in April 1984—proposals which aimed at removing one crucial obstacle, the need for agreement on data—met no positive response from the East, perhaps because in the new Western offer verification measures were made more stringent. As for the Stockholm Conference on Disarmament in Europe—the product of two initiatives in which West Europeans had played a major role (the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and its various follow-up meetings, and the French call for a conference on disarmament in Europe)—by the end of the year it had not gone beyond the settling of procedural issues. Western and Eastern proposals remained far apart—the West stressing a set of measures aimed at improving exchanges of military information and observation, the Soviets emphasizing far more sweeping and political goals, such as the no first use of nuclear weapons and nuclear-free zones. President Reagan’s statement of June 4, which expressed willingness to consider the Soviet proposal for an agreement on the non-use of force, was well received in Western Europe, but it was linked to Soviet readiness to "negotiate agreements that will give concrete, new meaning to that principle"—and so far no such readiness has been visible. At the NATO Council meeting in December, the allies pressed the United States to extend its relationship with Moscow, beyond arms control, to include renewed trade links and political discussions. But American reluctance to do so remains great, given the Administration’s unwillingness to legitimize the Soviet role in various parts of the Third World.

The West Europeans also received, in 1984, many confirmations of a fact that is both familiar and unwelcome to them: that they are unable to exert much influence on Moscow. The Soviets responded to the American missile deployments with new deployments of their own (including additional SS-20s), both in Western Russia and in East European countries. As a result, one of the two main arguments often made for the deployments, particularly in France, that the new American missiles were needed to redress the imbalance between U.S. and Soviet INF, has become less convincing, for that imbalance has worsened—assuming that the argument ever made sense in the first place, since it somewhat contradicts the second, still plausible argument that the stationing of Pershing II and cruise missiles on West European soil increases the visibility of "coupling."

The Soviets have also, throughout the year, shown that they now focus on the United States as the main target of their own diplomatic efforts (perhaps in part as a result of the failure of their 1983 campaign aimed at Western Europe in order to prevent the American deployments). In moments of candor, the Russians have made it clear to Western visitors that Washington was considered to be their only worthwhile partner (or rival). Soviet courting of West European countries has been a way of trying both to weaken, and to gain the attention of, the United States (a strategy that worked rather well in the 1960s and early 1970s). President Mitterrand’s visit to Moscow—his first meeting with the top Soviet leaders since his election in 1981—showed both France’s concern to maintain, or resume, a West European dialogue with Moscow now that the missile crisis was over, and profound Soviet indifference to French concerns. (The French president’s references to Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and human rights played well in Paris but were routinely censored in Moscow.)

Moreover, the Soviets demonstrated once more their grip over Eastern Europe. Clearly, they were worried by changes in what had been one of their most orthodox and efficient satellites, the G.D.R. This model communist state now seemed to have rediscovered that it was German first (and, as such, the country of Luther and Bismarck) and communist second; the links between the two Germanys intensified (with the East Germans referring to two states rather than two nations, and talk about the German nation coming from both sides). There were some embarrassing defections from East to West Germany. Such changes appear to have jolted Moscow, just as the United States was jolted, in 1983, by the rise of the peace or anti-nuclear movement, with its anti-NATO and anti-American fringes, in West Germany. But there the parallel ends: in the West, it was not American pressure, but the determination of popularly elected governments in West Germany, Britain and Italy that prevailed. In the East, it was Soviet pressure that forced Bulgaria’s Todor Zhivkov and the G.D.R.’s Honecker to cancel their planned trips to Bonn in September.

The East Germans used as a pretext for the cancellation some intemperate statements by West German politicians about the G.D.R. and reunification; but the fact that the visit was presented as postponed, rather than permanently cancelled, indicates that a subtle tug of war persists between Moscow and its ally. Bonn’s attempt in November to pursue an active policy of presence in Eastern Europe received another setback when Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher, at the last minute, canceled a visit to Warsaw. This was apparently because, had he accepted Polish restrictions on his visit, he might have been seen as acquiescing at least tacitly to the claims of General Wojciech Jaruzelski’s regime to legitimacy—just when the recent murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko by Polish secret police agents had aroused great indignation in the West.


Western Europe has also, throughout the year, experienced another familiar frustration or humiliation: dependence on the United States, coupled with the difficulty of exerting strong influence on its policy. Concerning East-West relations, the interminable American election campaign made it obviously impossible for West European leaders to do much more, when they met with President Reagan, than encourage him in his new improved disposition toward the Soviets. If, on the whole, they probably preferred his reelection to the election of Walter Mondale, who was much more firmly committed to arms control, it was mainly because they had learned to dread above all else the discontinuity of American policy, and because Mondale had been the vice president of an Administration that had repeatedly made West European leaders seasick.

But their pleasure in seeing President Reagan move more vigorously, at least in words, toward serious arms control talks was accompanied by two fears—one minor and sotto voce, the other increasingly loud and clear. The minor concern was sparked by American statements about the possibility of stopping the new INF deployments, or even canceling them, if the Soviets made adequate concessions. The possibility of a fusion between the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks and the INF talks makes a global deal of this sort more plausible; and such a prospect always rekindles the West European fear of "decoupling," given the Soviet ability to hit targets in Western Europe with or without SS-20s, while Western Europe can only reach Soviet targets from submarines assigned to NATO, or by INF on European soil.

Much more important has been the West European anxiety about "Star Wars"—about the Soviet-American contest in antisatellite warfare, and above all about President Reagan’s plan for an anti-ballistic defensive system. His Strategic Defense Initiative had been announced in March 1983. By 1984, the West Europeans began to realize that there was considerable momentum behind it in the United States and that they could count neither on technical uncertainties nor on the program’s astronomical costs to kill it. They worried for a variety of reasons.

First, they thought that the SDI would make arms control negotiations even more difficult. Although the Soviets clearly wanted the United States to stop the program altogether, American officials—especially in the Pentagon—made it increasingly clear that it was not a mere bargaining chip aimed at getting the Soviets, at long last, to accept drastic reductions in their "heavy" intercontinental ballistic missiles. If this was the case, Soviet attempts to defeat the program’s purposes by multiplying offensive weapons, as former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger predicted in October 1984, would be far more likely than arms control deals. Moreover, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty would be the obvious victim of these dead-locks and developments.

Second, crisis instability would increase. The period of buildup of the American defensive network would be highly dangerous, since the technologically less advanced Soviets might be tempted to strike first in a crisis, before their missiles became ineffective. Furthermore, should the United States succeed in developing a reasonably effective network protecting their own ballistic missiles, at a time when the huge Soviet land-based missile force has become vulnerable to American weapons (MX, Trident II and bombers) and is not yet similarly defended, might it not also be tempted to strike first in a crisis?

Third, if both sides built extensive defenses (because the Soviets caught up again, or because the United States, having attained technological perfection, followed President Reagan’s unlikely suggestion of sharing its miracle cure with its chief adversary), would not the whole current effort of the British and French to modernize their nuclear forces, in order to give them a counterforce as well as a countercity potential, have been undertaken in vain?

Fourth, could the United States—despite its promise to try to do so—actually extend its defense the way it has extended deterrence (against Soviet missiles aimed at Europe), given the very short time it would take for Soviet missiles to reach their targets in Western Europe, and the fact that there are no obvious defenses against non-ballistic missiles?

Fifth, and perhaps most important, the perennial fear of "decoupling" was revived by the "Star Wars" program—immediately after INF deployments intended to dispel it. There is a profound conflict of nuclear philosophies here. On the whole, West European strategic experts still believe—some passionately—in the efficacy of nuclear deterrence (the success in France of André Glucksmann’s book La force du vertige shows both how strong and how unsubtle, not to say uninformed, this faith still is). An American repudiation of deterrence in favor of defense—with the arguments that the former is morally obnoxious, since it entails a threat to murder millions of people, whereas the latter offers security through the mere destruction of lethal machines, and that the United States would thus regain its invulnerability, the one historical factor that sets it most apart from Western Europe—makes West Europeans wonder whether a "safe" America would be willing to take any risk at all for the defense of outlying areas. To the argument that American invulnerability should make the United States more rather than less willing to help its allies, West Europeans answer that if both superpowers have defensive systems, NATO’s strategy of nuclear response capable of hitting the U.S.S.R. (either from Western Europe or from other parts of the world) would obviously collapse. As a consequence, Europe would be doomed to the kind of conventional war, or of "limited" nuclear war, that has been its nightmare and that extended nuclear deterrence was intended to prevent.

These are the fears; American reactions to them have not been very reassuring. The West Europeans, therefore, will watch with anxiety the outcomes both of the domestic debate in America, which finds scientists, strategists and members of Congress deeply divided, and of the upcoming Soviet-American arms control talks. The French proposal, presented at the U.N. disarmament conference in Geneva in June, for a five-year moratorium on antisatellite and anti-ballistic systems and on tests of such systems, was not well received in Washington —but it has not affected U.S. strategic policy.

At NATO Council meetings, West Europeans and Americans have reaffirmed the organization’s traditional doctrine and its mix of nuclear and conventional forces for deterrence and defense. But the West Europeans have not been able to reverse or slow the American trend away from what could be called heavy reliance on threatening the first use of nuclear weapons for deterrence. Gradually, they have come to realize that the famous 1982 Foreign Affairs article, in which the "Gang of Four" argued for no first use of nuclear weapons, was not an exceptional viewpoint but the spearhead of a trend, and that between the positions of a Robert McNamara or a George Ball, and those of a Henry Kissinger or a General Bernard Rogers, there were important areas of agreement, that can be summed up, doctrinally, as "no early first use," and, operationally, as greater reliance on conventional defense.

With some important exceptions—in one faction of the West German Social Democratic Party (SPD), for instance—both the West Europeans who remain attached to 1967-vintage "flexible response," and those eager for some form of nuclear disarmament in Europe, remain extremely skeptical about the credibility of conventional forces as a deterrent, and about the chances of a successful non-nuclear defense if such deterrence fails—given both the imbalance of forces, and the advantages for the offensive even when forces are more evenly matched.

Nevertheless, in three areas, West Europeans have in effect yielded to their protector’s wishes. In November, NATO’s defense planning committee adopted a new directive on "follow-on forces attack," a variant of the air-land battle concept adopted by the American army. FOFA envisages, in case of war, a swift counterattack against the successive waves of enemy forces behind the front line’s first wave. West Europeans have misgivings about adopting tactics—such as deep strikes—that the Soviets might deem provocative and be tempted to thwart by preemption.

They also fear that, as Pierre Lellouche put it, "by postponing the crossing of the nuclear threshold the Alliance risks removing from the minds of Soviet leaders the supreme nuclear threat, that has held them back until now." This new directive entails greater reliance on new, precise and highly sophisticated non-nuclear weapons. These are arms which the United States is able to develop more quickly and efficiently than the West Europeans, who see this as another way for the United States to assure the domination of its own war industry within NATO and to prevent the "market" of weapons in the alliance from becoming less uneven. (They also wonder how effective high-technology systems would prove to be on a battlefield, and how long NATO’s advantage over the Warsaw Pact’s weapons will last.)

Finally, the NATO defense ministers’ decision, in Brussels in December 1984, to approve a $7.85-billion program for improving NATO’s infrastructure over the next six years and increasing ammunition stocks, was clearly an effort at placating those Americans—such as Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Sam Nunn (D-Georgia)—who accuse the allies of not doing enough for the conventional defense of Western Europe.

But if within NATO the West Europeans had to yield, however grudgingly, to American preferences, their relations with the United States in other geographical areas and over other issues were marked, as usual, by unevenness: their difficulty in affecting American policies, and the far greater American ability to affect their own.

In the case of the Middle East, the French, Italians and British had sent contingents to the predominantly American multinational force that had returned to Lebanon after the massacres in the Palestinian camps in September 1982. But the rationale for the force was never the same for all the allies. On the whole, the three European contingents were presented as playing a primarily humanitarian role—preventing new massacres in the camps (which were in the Italians’ zone), helping life go on as normally as possible in the divided city of Beirut. The mission of the American force, however, came to be described in increasingly political terms during the second half of 1983; its purpose was to assist Amin Gemayel’s government in restoring order and unity—and so the enemies of that government came to be seen as America’s enemies. This put the United States on a collision course, not only with the Muslim majority in Lebanon—or at least with its most militant elements—but also with Syria.

Once more, an American policy was marked by unreachable stated ends, inappropriateness of the means (1,600 marines, backed by the fleet) to those ends, and an inability to choose between fighting the enemy and accommodating him (each alternative being seen as inappropriate). The situation became untenable after the October 1983 terrorist attack on the Americans and the French. When the position of the Lebanese army worsened and the government began to crumble, and as U.S. opposition to the continued presence of the beleaguered American force increased, the President ordered a withdrawal first from U.S. positions on land and soon thereafter from Lebanon altogether. This put the European contingents in an impossibly exposed situation—and left the Gemayel regime with no other alternative than appeasing Syria. The Italians, with relief, followed the Americans out, accompanied by the small British force. A few weeks later, the French withdrew also.

In Western Europe, the judgments passed on America’s performance were severe. Once more, the United States was seen as being without a policy in the Middle East—and all its allies could do was deplore this fact and (at the EEC Council meeting in Dublin in December) call for new attempts at resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the absence of any American initiative, President Mitterrand pursued his own effort at evenhandedness by visiting President Hafez al-Assad in Syria and receiving Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in Paris. It was a familiar drama: the Europeans were telling Washington how to use the key that could open the door to a settlement, but Washington fumbled and waited.

The same European inability to affect American actions was evident in Central America. West European hostility to the policies of the United States diminished somewhat: the election of José Napoleón Duarte to the presidency in El Salvador, followed by a series of visits by Duarte to European capitals, was interpreted as a defeat for the opposition in the civil war, and as a chance for a peaceful solution. The refusal of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua to accept the conditions on which its opponents would agree to take part in the November election, and its refusal to postpone this election so as to allow Arturo Cruz to be a candidate, increased many West European officials’ disenchantment with the Sandinista regime—especially since the Socialist International, and Willy Brandt most strenuously, had tried to negotiate an agreement between the Sandinistas and their political opposition.

Nevertheless, American policy toward Nicaragua continued to be judged devious and wrong. When it was revealed that the United States had, directly or indirectly, mined Nicaraguan waters, the French foreign minister let it be known that France would be willing to help remove these mines, if another nation joined the effort. Nothing came of the offer. American objections to the Contadora Group’s plan, after the Sandinistas’ acceptance of it, contrasted with the endorsement, a few days earlier, of the plan’s spirit by the foreign ministers of the Community plus Spain and Portugal, and with the willingness of six of these 12 countries to endorse all the plan’s provisions. In addition, Regis Debray, an aide to the French president, has acted as mediator between the Sandinistas and some of their Miskito Indian opponents. Here again, the allies’ reservations appeared to have little influence on the Reagan Administration’s continued support of the contras, or counterrevolutionaries. U.S. reluctance to get involved more directly in military operations was bred primarily by domestic considerations.

The American ability to affect an ally’s policies, however, was demonstrated rather startlingly when a State Department spokesman, in November, revealed American intelligence information about the continuing presence of Libyan troops in northern Chad, two months after a French-Libyan agreement on mutual withdrawal, just a few days after a French communiqué stated that the agreement had been carried out by both sides, and at the same time as President Mitterrand was flying to Crete to meet Colonel Qaddafi. The American revelation led to a cascade of contradictory statements from France, and to an exacerbation of the French-American disagreement about Libya. As Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson, during a short visit to Washington in November, explained: to the French Qaddafi was a "fact" one had to live with and understand; to the United States he was clearly a trouble-maker, terrorist and foe. This is precisely why Washington must have chosen to reveal Libya’s violation of the September deal—at the cost of embarrassing an ally, of damaging Mitterrand’s reputation for foreign policy success, and of contributing thereby to Cheysson’s removal as foreign minister. Cheysson had been (as usual) particularly vocal in defending an agreement which his president and indeed his successor at the Quai d’Orsay, Roland Dumas, had been just as instrumental as he in negotiating.

Finally, West European inability to influence the United States, even when European interests were very much at stake, persisted in the realm of economics. The West Europeans continued to deplore America’s high interest rates throughout 1984, which were draining European capital to the United States at a time when the need for new investments in the ailing European economies was high, and obliging European governments, in order to limit this drain, to keep their own interest rates high, which in turn slowed down their recovery. They also complained about the rate of the dollar—whose value increased by almost 20 percent in 1984—which increased Europe’s import bills, especially the cost of imported oil. They watched with anxiety the mounting American deficit, which they—like many American economists—interpreted as one reason for the high U.S. interest rates and as a threat to a recovery which had barely begun to be beneficial to the Europeans, insofar as the demand for imported goods (made much cheaper by the rate of exchange) had risen in the United States.

They were also aware of the protectionist pressures fueled, in the United States, by the huge deficit in the balance of trade—a deficit caused by this flood of imports and by the difficulties experienced by exporters because of the excessively costly dollar. The perpetual quarrels over steel exports from the Community to the United States continued throughout the year. In January, the Community announced trade sanctions in retaliation against recent American restrictions on specialty steel imports; in November, after months of unsuccessful talks, the United States blocked imports of pipes and tubes until the end of the year and imposed an import quota for 1985 (5.9 percent of American consumption, compared to 14 percent in 1984). The EEC has complained to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade over the matter, and the new French president of the EEC Commission, former Minister of Finance Jacques Delors, has vigorously denounced the "aggressiveness" of American policy.


Such were the main European frustrations in dealing with the superpowers. Two other series of frustrations will be mentioned only briefly, because they do not affect U.S.-European relations directly. They are nevertheless of great importance, insofar as they affect most assuredly the relative weight of the European countries in their uneven alliance with the United States and their performance on the world stage.

The first series concerns the difficulties of the Community. Many factors have contributed to the desire for a European relance: the frequent impotence of the separate West European nation-states in world affairs; their continuing dependence on an ally whose policy they cannot shape as they would like, and who was widely perceived (especially in France) as tempted to withdraw into "Fortress America" or to turn toward the Pacific; their awareness of the technological challenge of Japan and of a resurgent America; and their experience of the obstacles to an adequate response which result from the fragmentation of Western Europe. During the six months of French presidency of the EEC Council (January to June), Mitterrand was particularly active in this respect, going so far as to endorse, in May, the "spirit" of the Altiero Spinelli draft treaty of European Union which the European Parliament had endorsed in February. A new—one more—committee of wise men was then set up by the EEC Council in June, and it reported to the Council just before the Dublin summit meeting in December.

Two things characterize the EEC’s efforts. The first is their timidity. The wise men’s most substantive proposal is something Mitterrand had also endorsed: reserving the need for unanimity to questions deemed of "vital interest" by a member. This is hardly revolutionary, nor much of a departure from the famous "Luxembourg compromise" of 1966. Moreover, several of the EEC’s members—not surprisingly, Britain, Denmark and Greece—have expressed reservations about the report, and all of its provisions were already accompanied by reservations from among the wise men. We are very far from the spirit of Messina in 1955.

Second, one of the reasons institutional progress has not received much attention by the West European leaders is the Sisyphus-like daily life of the EEC. From one viewpoint, 1984 was a good year: the most irritating obstacle to progress, the dispute over Britain’s financial contribution, was finally removed, at the Fontainebleau summit meeting in June, when Thatcher agreed to a lesser return of "her" money than she had insisted on at the previous meeting in March. Another highly contentious issue, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, was also tackled. EEC members took, in the spring, measures to reduce the production of milk, and, in December, measures to reduce the production of wine—despite strong domestic opposition in several countries. Nevertheless, these reforms were achieved in a climate of constant bickering, with the British threatening to block the budgetary process if the costs of the CAP continued to rise, the European Parliament rejecting as insufficient the budget presented by the Commission, the French minister of agriculture threatening to resign, and so forth.

In sum, no sooner was one thorn removed than another would appear: the latest being the Greek request for Community financing—to the amount of $3.75 billion—of "Mediterranean integrated programs," and its refusal to accept the enlargement of the Community (i.e., the entry of Spain and Portugal by January 1986, which the agreement on wine should have made possible) until this request has been accepted by Greece’s partners.

In a couple of years, the issue of the British contribution will arise again. The lesson of the past ten years is clear: the price of broader membership is a far more contentious process of decision, and harder bargaining among divergent interests rather than "upgrading the common interest," to use Ernst B. Haas’ concept. This is not quite the same as paralysis—the EEC, in 1984, adopted the so-called Esprit program for the financing of "high tech" efforts—but progress is excruciatingly slow and modest. In the meantime, all the factors recently listed by The Economist to explain Europe’s lag in advanced technology—what it calls "the uncommon market"—persist: continuing obstacles to intracommunity trade, government procurement that discriminates against foreign enterprises, legal obstacles to innovation, barriers against the mobility of workers, etc.

Some progress was also noticeable in French-German cooperation: new bonds between the two nations that remain the core of the EEC, and whose agreement is indispensable for progress of any sort in the Community. Mitterrand and Kohl reaffirmed French-German reconciliation in a ceremony at Verdun (partly to assuage bruised feelings in the Federal Republic, caused by Kohl’s absence from the June 6 Normandy celebration). The two countries agreed on the co-production of many weapons, the most important being a military helicopter. And yet, here again, this was only an inch, rather than the mile some had hoped for.

The most impressive call for cooperation came from former Chancellor Schmidt, in his speech to the Bundestag, or parliament, on June 28, 1984. He suggested that France extend by unilateral declaration its nuclear deterrence to West Germany, and that both nations raise a total of 30 divisions (18 German and 12 French) for the conventional defense of Europe; West Germany would help finance the French conventional effort, and the United States could thus reduce its military presence in Western Europe. This would have been a major step toward the situation advocated by Zbigniew Brzezinski in order to reverse or to transcend Yalta: a situation in which Russia is faced, "West of the Elbe, rather less by America and rather more by Europe." And yet, Mitterrand, the very man who after coming to power had asked for "escape from Yalta," made no reference to Schmidt’s call. The speech was barely discussed in France—even though the French nuclear force, deemed in the past too small to cover any territory beside France’s, will be much stronger in coming years, in part because French submarines are being equipped with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). Indeed, as the strength of the peace movement in West Germany seemed to decline, and the rapprochement between the two Germanys slowed, French enthusiasm for French-German military togetherness diminished. (Intra-German rapprochement had clearly bothered the French, although, in this instance, Cheysson had been more discreet in his preference for a divided Germany than his Italian colleague, Giulio Andreotti.)

The second series of intra-European frustrations concerns domestic politics. After all, what has made European unity more difficult is the pull of domestic issues and crises on the attention of statesmen—especially in a period of economic and social difficulties. In 1984, the three most important members of the Community have had their share of troubles. In England, the interminable and often violent miners’ strike, and Irish Republican Army terrorism, without any solutions in sight, have tested and strengthened Thatcher’s intransigence. In West Germany a series of financial scandals have seriously weakened the governing coalition—the Christian Democratic president of the Bundestag, Rainer Barzel, had to resign, shortly after Otto Graf Lambsdorff, the Liberal minister of economic affairs, was forced to do so. The Greens have continued to benefit from the discrediting of the more established parties, but still hesitate to become a party like the others, and to accept SPD offers of cooperation. In France, 1984 has been a year of rising unemployment, industrial bankruptcies, political mistakes and demoralization in the Socialist Party, the breakup of the Union of the Left—and the growing unpopularity of politicians, which has benefitted not, as in West Germany, a predominantly leftist movement, but a racist and nationalist extreme right. Coalitions remain brittle in Belgium and Holland. The one island of stability in 1984 has been Italy—except for a number of scandals, a resumption of terrorism, and the war between the authorities and the Mafia, into which much of the state’s energies have gone.

It is not surprising, in such circumstances, that many West Europeans (mainly in France) should have looked with some envy at the American scene even when (unlike the majority of the French ) they did not take as gospel truth President Reagan’s vision of a revitalized, confident America, the land of grand opportunities and patriotic strength.


The failure of the West Europeans to build a collective entity capable of "speaking with one voice" has long since been accepted as a fact by American policy and opinion makers. Indeed, relief often seems to prevail over regret in Washington: when the Europeans act as a unit, as in trade, or express views that differ from those of the United States, as in the Middle East, America’s reactions have tended to range from anger to derision. However, a more or less complacent resignation is far from being America’s only response. Frustration could be found on this side of the Atlantic also, in 1984.

Sometimes it was caused by the actions (or delaying tactics) of separate allies. The most annoying—to the United States as to the West Europeans—came from Andreas Papandreou’s Greece. The Greek premier often seemed deliberately offensive, whether in calling for demilitarized zones in the Balkans during a visit to Bulgaria; rejecting the conclusions reached in the West and by the International Civil Aviation Organization about the Soviet downing of the South Korean airliner in 1983; certifying the patriotic motives of General Jaruzelski; or refusing to participate in NATO maneuvers because of a controversy with Turkey over Lemnos. However, the essentials—from the U.S. standpoint—have been preserved: America’s bases in Greece.

One could argue that the antics of a Greek leader whose anti-Americanism has been well known for years have been less troublesome than the decisions of Belgium and the Netherlands to postpone their acceptance of 48 cruise missiles each, as agreed in the NATO plan of December 1979. The Belgians, who were supposed to make up their minds by the end of 1984, have given themselves three more months, and the Dutch, after having envisaged a bewildering variety of options, decided not to decide before the end of 1985. The prime ministers of both countries have had to move cautiously for domestic political reasons, and the Dutch foreign and defense ministers have so far resisted both the pressure of American officials and the sharp criticism of Joseph Luns, until recently the Dutch secretary general of NATO.

Sometimes what has frustrated American statesmen has been the collective will of the allies. Reformed or not, the Common Agricultural Policy remains highly protectionist—or, as the Europeans say, preferential—and the American secretary of agriculture has repeated his determination to challenge the EEC’s share of the world market of agricultural products. Above all, the United States, despite its success in dragging its NATO allies toward a strategy less dependent on the early use of nuclear weapons, has not been able to push them very far in the direction of a major effort at strengthening their conventional forces. The earlier targets, or commitments, of a three-percent yearly increase have not been met, and West European governments have been unwilling either to worsen inflationary pressures by augmenting their defense budgets without cutting social expenditures, or to reduce the latter at a time of rising demands for welfare and unemployment benefits. The French, who had pointed with pride at their military efforts, have now imposed "rigor" on their defense as well as their civilian budget.

A study of West European opinion has shown the public’s ambivalence: "support for the general concept" (of defense) is tempered by "skepticism about the consequences . . . in this case the need to have the means to defend oneself against attack or to maintain a balance of power." There is "a clear preference within most Western publics for arms control over armaments or new weapons." Their deep-seated feeling that preparing more systematically for conventional defense reduces deterrence (and will not in any case redress the balance that favors the Warsaw Pact’s forces), and deep reluctance toward any offensive strategy that could be deemed provocative by the U.S.S.R. and help to consolidate the Eastern bloc, have often exasperated Americans.

For Americans question a reliance on nuclear deterrence that is increasingly seen as either an implausible bluff or, if it fails, a formula for global disaster, and they believe that conventional deterrence can work, especially if it is based on a strategy that threatens highly valued Soviet targets. West European assertions that there is no alternative to the NATO strategy of the 1960s are often interpreted on this side of the ocean as a way of obliging the United States either to take excessive risks or to provide the largest share of conventional forces in order to diminish those risks.

These frustrations were sometimes well hidden by a facade of harmony, as at the last NATO Council meeting of 1984, in Brussels in mid-December—largely because the public focus was on the resumption of arms control. This harmony is likely to be fractured if the new talks fail or go nowhere, and West Europeans start, once more, to prod Washington toward concessions, while Washington in turn reminds them of the need for greater strength. In 1984, American pressure for greater European conventional efforts has been mild, largely because foreign policy was not the priority in an election year, and the President had to campaign as a man of peace and as the leader of a united alliance. Although Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger succeeded in blocking a sale of computers to Romania, which would have rewarded that country’s refusal to join the Soviet-led boycott of the Olympics, the United States lifted sanctions on Poland and its veto of Poland’s bid to rejoin the International Monetary Fund, and carefully avoided new disputes with its allies over technology sales.

Patience was not America’s only overt response, however; there were also flashes of anger. I have mentioned America’s role in Mitterrand’s embarrassment over Chad. Earlier, departing Under Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger had blasted the Europeans before a congressional committee for their sluggishness, their tendency to contemplate their navels, and their increasing irrelevance—a blast that was particularly striking given Eagleburger’s record as "pro-European." A few months later, in June, came the showdown over Senator Nunn’s amendment, which linked the size of the American forces in Western Europe to that of the allies’ defense effort; the amendment was defeated, but 41 senators voted for it.

These two episodes provoked a rash of anguished comments in Western Europe about the push of neoisolationist forces in the United States, and about the shift of American priorities from Europe to the Pacific—a move which Eagleburger described in his statement. Such a shift seemed plausible, if dangerous, to many Europeans, less because of pressing strategic problems in the Pacific than because of the growing importance of American trade with Japan and the other rising economic centers of power in East and Southeast Asia, and because America’s political class—especially in the Republican Party—seemed to be moving from the East Coast to the West.

Still, anger was not the dominant American emotion. One reason for this, and also for the combination of U.S. indifference to and patience with West European moves and grievances, may well have been what appears to this observer as the main characteristic of Reagan’s foreign policy (by which I mean defense as well as diplomacy): unilateralism. The Administration clearly could not be called isolationist, given its commitment to the defense of American interests abroad and to a worldwide contest with Soviet expansionism and ideology—but it was certainly (mostly for domestic reasons) cautious. Above all, it was determined to act on its own, without being tied down by international organizations (as evidenced by the U.S. exit from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, deplored by all of Western Europe except Thatcher’s Britain), international law (seen in the invasion of Grenada and the moves against Nicaragua), or allies and friends.

The American withdrawal from Lebanon, behind a final volley of gunfire; the cavalier attitude toward the Contadora Group; the subordination of international economic policy to the priorities of domestic economic policy (except for the rescue of debtor countries—but even there a major concern was the U.S. banking system); the persistence of "constructive engagement" in southern Africa despite skepticism in Europe and hostility in much of Africa, not to mention protests in the United States; the drive toward "Star Wars" despite the allies’ misgivings and concerns; continuing support for Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines despite the warnings of neighboring countries—all of this formed a pattern. That pattern is likely to last, not only because of the reelection of the President, but also because of its congruence with the mood of the public and the shifts in America’s political and business elites.

Thus, at the end of a year that was not portentous, and that ended with the Atlantic allies more in harmony than in agony, the picture is not very reassuring. Behind the facade, there is a good deal of drift. On one side, we find a collection of West European nations that cope bravely, if not always well, with their problems. But they appear as incapable as ever of transcending petty difficulties and of building the entity which both descendants of Jean Monnet and overt or closet disciples of Charles de Gaulle, eager to recreate a Europe from the Atlantic to the Bug, have been summoning in vain.

On the other side, we see a United States that appears to have taken a holiday from the constraints of diplomacy, whose leaders—below the level of a smiling President whose impetus and energy continue to be focused more at home and in outer space than abroad—quarrel openly about the proper conditions for imposing its will, and which now proposes to sail alone, although cheered from the shore by the allies, toward the Soviet Union. But the seas are uncharted and rough, and the crew is divided. A mix of impotence and solidarity quand même, on one side; a mix of illusions of omnipotence and uncertainty about how and why to apply power, on the other: this is how the alliance looks, at the end of 1984. It is not an unfamiliar sight.

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  • Stanley Hoffmann is Douglas Dillon Professor of The Civilization of France and Chairman of the Center for European Studies at Harvard University.
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