Washington’s Missing China Strategy
To Counter Beijing, the Biden Administration Needs to Decide What It Wants
What is "Europe?" The answer remains to be seen, but "smaller than it seemed last year" is one quick response, given what is happening on the edges—the disintegration of the Soviet Union and open warring in Yugoslavia. In Europe’s center the future becomes less of a guessing game. Indeed the treaties on European monetary and political union (EMU and EPU) signed December 1991 at the Maastricht summit mark a stunning success in light of the "Europessimism" of the mid-1980s. A new federation, anchored by a single currency and a central bank, is thus mandated for the end of the decade.
But Europe remains a far cry from the "Europe whole and free," as President Bush liked to put it. In particular the eastward reach of the 12-nation European Community will be limited by the bloc’s west European preoccupations, and the EC itself will be strained by the reaching.
By the same token, no one on either side of the Atlantic has much idea how to reshape the American connection to Europe after the vanishing of the Soviet threat—or whether a reshaping is really necessary. Five years ago, or even three, warfare in Yugoslavia would have rushed to the top of the American foreign policy agenda. This time though, Washington, its gaze fixed on the Middle East, first stayed aloof and then left the crisis to the EC.
While it is clear that Americans cling to NATO as the only serious trans-Atlantic security connection and as the most explicit American engagement in Europe, it has become equally apparent that NATO is mismatched with Europe’s future security problems: more eruptions like that in Yugoslavia, not a Soviet invasion across the central German plain. And it is just as apparent that NATO in its current form will not serve as the basis for anything like America’s political role in Europe over the past forty years.
Initially the EC’S single market program—"1992" for short—had given precedence to deepening collaboration among the 12 members rather than taking on new ones, but the November 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall upset that presumption. Instead, with East Germany added on, the Community widened immediately, then came under pressure to stretch further into Europe’s east. German unification came to a Europe that was prosperous but still in the middle of the 1992 program. Two key steps, monetary union and political union, still lay ahead; the former would provide for a single currency and central bank, while the latter, slightly misnamed, would enhance supranational European decision-making powers and begin to forge common foreign and security policies. With these crucial steps yet unresolved, fears grew among the architects of the New Europe that their singular focus on EC integration would be lost. A united Germany, it was feared, was bound to become self-absorbed.
There was never any reason to doubt that German unification would be a resounding success in the long run; the question was how long? The process has been more expensive than western Germans had hoped and had been led to believe by their chancellor, Helmut Kohl, in the first all-German elections in December 1990. At the same time it has been slower than eastern Germans craved.
The wreckage of the old East German economy is appalling. By the end of 1991 eastern German industrial production was about half what it had been before the fall of the Wall. More than two-fifths of the labor force was unemployed or suffering forced short-time work, and the labor situation will get worse before it gets better. The unified country also remains divided in ways deeper than economic circumstances; eastern Germans feel colonized by their western brethren.
Yet the east’s economic trough has probably passed. Privatization staggers in eastern Europe but not in eastern Germany. The German Trusteeship Agency, or Treuhand, started haltingly—hardly helped by the tragic Red Army terrorist assassination of its first chief, Detlev Rohwedder—but is now rolling. It has privatized nearly half of some 10,000 former state enterprises of the defunct German Democratic Republic that are now under its control. Eastern Germany has everything eastern Europe lacks: stable government, hard currency and predictable rules of the economic game. While success in the form of parity with western Germany in employment—not to mention per-capita income or living standards—is years off, success stories in the area of investment are beginning to emerge. This year growth in the east may approach ten percent, driven by construction and services. And in the end Germany—with its resources, drive and cultural affinities—will become Europe’s resident expert in reconstructing former communist economies.
Western Germans’ concern over unification costs—which resulted in markedly higher taxes and interest rates—camouflaged their own boom: growth rates in western Germany jumped to nearly five percent in 1990, up more than a point from 1989. After all, those westerners’ taxes primed the pump in the east, which in turn fueled purchases of consumer goods from the west. The eastern German consumer boom petered out, and the drag of taxes plus higher interest rates drove western growth down to three percent in 1991, perhaps two percent this year. But no one doubts that eastern Germany’s economy will experience a major investment-driven expansion in the years ahead, one that will fuel western Germany’s growth as well.
In the run-up to unification the Bonn government was under pressure to reassure its partners that unification would not deflect it from its EC vocation. It agreed to accelerate EMU if its partners would advance at least modestly along EPU’S supranational agenda—for example, by deciding more issues by majority vote instead of consensus in the Community’s Council of Ministers, by bringing new issues like immigration and asylum into that policy framework and by making the European parliament somewhat more than a consultative body.
Economically, though, achieving the 1992 program and not much more would suit unified Germany just fine. It would get a bigger market and a freer flow of goods and services through the program, all but completed in Brussels but which mostly remains to be implemented in member-state legislation.
The existing European Monetary System (EMS) makes the EC in effect a deutsche mark zone without compelling the German central bank to share any real power. Thus, for instance, in the spring of 1991 and again in December, hard on the heels of Maastricht, the Bundesbank could drive up interest rates for purely German reasons—assuring that the fiscal stimulus needed in the east did not ignite inflation. The action, however, put upward pressure on interest rates in much of the rest of the Community, where recession, not inflation, was the problem. Alas, Germany’s solution became the Community’s problem.
Moving from EMS to EMU and a European central bank (or EuroFed), however, might mean sharing decisions with less inflation-phobic Europeans, like the Italians, and so Germany has been tenacious in its insistence that any EuroFed be as monetarily conservative as the Bundesbank. EMU will happen only on Germany’s terms. That much was clear at the Maastricht summit, which accepted a number of German preferences—monetary stability as the EuroFed’s goal (implying that it should have at least as much independence from member governments as the Bundesbank); considerable "convergence" in fiscal policy among member-state economies as a condition for EMU; and discipline for those waywards running excessive budget deficits.
When Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s prime minister, she railed against EMU as an unacceptable transfer of sovereignty, and her presence as lightning rod served to shroud the anxieties of other nations. Not so now; those with big fiscal deficits, Italy in particular, take Germany at its word and so fear the consequences of EMU for themselves. Thatcher’s successor, John Major, sounds more European but shares her opposition in principle and is stalked by Thatcherite ghosts on his party’s right. At Maastricht the EC set a tight timetable for EMU—by 1997 if a majority of the states qualify, by 1999 at the latest for whichever qualify—but agreed to let Britain opt out if it chose when the time came. Thus EMU will not happen before the end of this decade and perhaps not with unanimity.
Almost certainly the EC will become what it has sought to avoid: a community of different speeds, tiers and forms of association, perhaps with variations by the issue at hand. The EC’S imminent absorption of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) will, for one, make for a less cohesive Community. The European Economic Area (EEA) agreed by the EC and EFTA last October will complete a market of 380 million people, accounting for 40 percent of world trade. The EEA will be more than a free trade area but less than a customs zone, leaving the EFTA countries to continue regulating their own trade relations with the rest of the world beyond the EC. It is more Anschluss than merger: EFTA will assume existing EC rules governing matters from antitrust to the environment, yet EEA forces EFTA to adhere to EC rules and taxation policies without much say in framing them.
It is one of the finer ironies of Europe’s dramatic evolution that Jacques Delors, president of the Brussels-based EC Commission and a shrewd political tactician, launched the EEA negotiations in January 1989 as a way to fend off pressure from the EFTA countries to become full members. But what was meant as a barrier turned out, predictably, to be an enticement. The EC’S offer to EFTA amounted to taxation without representation and consequently pushed the EFTA countries to the realization that there was no alternative to full EC membership. That realization could only be reinforced when at year’s end the EC’S European Court cast doubt on whether EEA could be put into effect as negotiated.
Austria has already applied, as has Sweden, and the other EFTA countries—Norway, Finland, Switzerland and Iceland—will not be far behind. These EFTA nations easily qualify for full EC membership on economic grounds. Yet all of them—save NATO member Norway—have traditions as neutrals, and they all lack the years of cooperative experience that characterize the existing EC core. On some issues, such as human rights, the Scandinavians have been more activist than most current EC members, while on others—intervention in Yugoslavia, for instance, not to mention beyond Europe—they are likely to be more reluctant.
Conversely economies in Europe’s east will not soon be ready for full EC membership, yet states there hanker for tighter political association with anything "European": the Council of Europe, NATO, the Western European Union (WEU) defense group, but above all the Community. French President François Mitterrand floated the idea of a confederated Europe beyond the EC, but no one has picked up the suggestion. The states in Europe’s east have fewer illusions about the EC than they did two years ago, but they will continue to emphasize their connections to it as reflected in the "association" agreements they are now negotiating.
Those negotiations, however, seem to have given an acid postscript to the sardonic line making the rounds in eastern Europe: How far east will Europe extend? The glib answer: as far as German taxpayers want, and that is not very far. Eastern Europe fears it will get less of what it wants from Europe’s center—market access in the short run, full membership in the EC in the long, and not too long at that—while the center worries it will get more of what it fears from the east: people. Eastern Europe wants what the EC finds hardest to give. The Community’s earlier association agreement with Turkey, for example, left it chary of granting full membership, even in principle and even after a long transition; doing so is to create a persistent political claimant no matter how unready the applicant state’s economy.
Widening the market for east European products is difficult enough, because those imports impinge on vested interests—textiles, coal, steel and agriculture. In the wake of the failed Soviet coup, however, the EC had proposed to phase out over six years tariffs against products from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, thereby creating a free trade zone, and to begin negotiations with Romania and Bulgaria. Special restrictions would apply to the aforementioned areas, but the Community would grant "asymmetry." It would begin a round of tariff cuts before the east Europeans were required to start theirs.
In September 1991, though, France held up the agreement, citing objections over Polish exports of processed beef. The move angered France’s partners: France was balking at access for east European products that amounted to a bare sliver of the EC market. Compounding the irony, Poland had no beef for export anyway. France lifted its veto only when the Community agreed to subsidize Polish meat exports to the Soviet Union—another irony, one neither lost on nor esteemed by a Poland that sought to break its eastern economic ties, not reinforce them.
Widening the Community, like so many other issues Europe confronts, awkwardly exposes Germany’s pivotal role. Bonn and London have been the chief advocates of widening eastward but for different reasons. Britain sees widening as diluting and thus as insurance against the supranational Community it opposes on grounds of national sovereignty and for fear of importing continental socialism through the EC.
Curiously for American ears (and German ears as well), Britain’s code word for what it opposes is "federal." In fact Prime Minister Major had warned he would sign no union treaty at Maastricht that mentioned the word—and his EC counterparts obliged. Moreover, in one of Maastricht’s looser ends, when Major objected to the Community’s proposed introduction of "social policy"—workers’ rights and the like—the other 11 member states agreed to proceed within Community institutions but without Britain.
Germany is a federal decentralized state, not a unitary one like Britain, and so a supranational Europe looks comfortable: a sort of enlarged Federal Republic. For Germany the argument for widening eastward is more Zwang nach Osten than Drang nach Osten, more the pull of perceived obligation than the push of imagined destiny. When Americans look at eastern Europe they see brave peoples struggling for freedom. When Germans look eastward what they see is more akin to what many in the United States see in Latin America—turbulent, faintly inferior lands that can cause trouble, not least by sending in streams of migrants.
Eastern Europe will feel it has little alternative to seeking trade and aid from Germany. It seems destined to return to its prewar pattern: economies organized around Germany’s. Prewar Germany had at least a quarter of eastern Europe’s trade, and with the collapse of Soviet trade, Germany has again become the largest trading partner for Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. (The Community as a whole took between a third and a half of their exports.) The questions are, how much will that German role be contained in an EC framework, and how much will it matter politically if the answer is "not much"?
Germany’s presence will be heaviest in those areas where history gives it a basis—for instance, Czechoslovakia, whose regions of Bohemia and Moravia have had long, if not always happy, ties to Germany; Croatia and Slovenia, and the Baltics. Those territories adjacent to Germany, especially the former German ones, will wind up bearing the same relation to Germany that northern Mexico does to the United States: independent in sovereignty, but in practice of a piece with the stronger nearby economy.
If Europe’s east stands to gain less economic benefit from Europe’s center than it hopes, that center in turn fears it will get more people from the east and from north Africa than its societies—culturally homogenous and with no tradition of economic migration—can stand. Indeed immigration comes up in every European political conversation. Perhaps a half million people sought asylum or refuge in western Europe in 1991, and there is no end in sight. The specter of new immigrants has turned the spotlight on foreigners already present—and especially on second-generation Muslims. One recent poll showed that more than two-fifths of French respondents held unfavorable views toward North Africans.
In 1990 nearly 200,000 foreigners arrived in Germany seeking political asylum (there is no provision for economic migration). This was three times the number going to any other European country and nearly twice what Germany had received in 1988. In 1991, the 1990 total had been exceeded by September. Reforming the asylum law, perhaps by setting quotas, cuts against the country’s image as one open to the oppressed. Thus the question divides both Chancellor Kohl’s governing coalition and its opposition.
The government and the opposition tried but evidently failed to contain the issue. In the September 1991 regional elections in the western city-state of Bremen—a long-time Social Democratic stronghold—the right-wing German People’s Party ran on an anti-immigrant program and gained representation in parliament for the first time. Indeed while eastern German skinheads with fascist insignia have captured most of the headlines, more beatings of foreigners have taken place in western Germany than eastern.
In March 1991, and again in September, chaos in Albania drove floods of refugees across the Adriatic to the Italian port of Bari. Italy, like its EC partners, has liberal political asylum laws but no provision for economic migrants. Faced with the flood, the Italian government felt it had no option but to refuse asylum, offer no assistance to the refugees and deport them en masse. The decision was criticized by Catholic and human rights groups but was probably accepted as necessary by most Italians.
In France Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front is the party of choice of nearly a fifth of those polled, and its anti-immigration stand is supported by a third of public opinion. In France and elsewhere mainstream politicians have themselves taken tough-sounding stands for fear of losing the immigration issue to the fringe. Last summer Jacques Chirac, a conservative former prime minister, said he understood why French workers were tired of the "smell and noise" of immigrants. Shortly afterward former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing warned of an immigration "invasion."
Immigration and foreigners have not been the targets in all cases—the move to the right in northern Europe, with Sweden and Finland dethroning social democratic governments, reflected economic discontent. But those concerns have been present everywhere, often mixed with the frustrations of individuals at the bottom of the economic ladder who feel most threatened. In that sense there are echoes of the Federal Republic’s experience of the 1960s, when a neo-Nazi party gained strength on the back of economic recession. Most of Europe’s 1991 election results, however, largely reflect backlash against incumbents, and so should not be overstated. In Belgium’s elections last fall both the anti-immigrant party on the right and the Greens on the left gained strength.
In the long run most of western Europe faces labor shortages and so will need immigrants to sustain its living standards; France’s statistical agency reckons the French shortfall at 150,000 per year by the second decade of the next century. Yet economic need will not settle questions of which immigrants should be preferred or how Europe’s societies will adjust, reluctantly, to the prospect of cultural and ethnic diversity.
While some in the EC, Britain in particular, are reluctant to relinquish sovereignty over immigration, they are being forced to recognize that the problem cannot be addressed at the national level. The 1992 program is supposed to lead to an end to border controls throughout the Community (though by 1995, not 1993), thus implying that immigration policy would in effect be set by the Community member that was the "weakest" link—hence more reason to push the issue to the Community level.
As a compromise between sovereignty and necessity the EC has been handling immigration as a matter to be decided among governments, not by the Community’s supranational machinery. At Maastricht the EC states left immigration, like foreign and security policy, outside the formal Community structure but did agree to coordinate their policies more closely and, in particular, to establish a common visa policy by 1996.
Open warfare in Yugoslavia is vivid testimony to both the dashing of pan-European dreams and the strain on Europe’s center. A year ago there were hopes that the pan-European Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe might be the nucleus of a new European security order. Before 1990 CSCE hardly existed, and so in the Charter of Paris, signed in November 1990, CSCE foreign ministers undertook to give it some substance by deciding on regular follow-up meetings, as well as establishing a small secretariat in Prague, a conflict prevention center in Vienna and an office for free elections in Warsaw.
Yet whatever the long-run possibilities for CSCE, it never got into the game in Yugoslavia. Its limits were all too apparent: it is too inclusive (38 nations) and it operates on the basis of unanimity. Thus Yugoslavia could itself block any CSCE role. The Soviet Union also resisted CSCE intervention in Yugoslavia, its eyes fixed on its own disintegration. And so the most the CSCE could do in this case was pass a vague mandate to the EC. The CSCE will for a long time be no more than a convener of, and umbrella for, smaller groupings of states who are prepared to act.
Backed by referendums Slovenia and Croatia made good on their threats to declare independence by the end of June 1991 if Serbia and its allies did not agree to a looser Yugoslav confederation. Slovenia had fended off attempts by the center to disband its territorial army in 1990 after the communists were turned out of power; it kept about 40 percent of its weaponry. In Croatia, by contrast, the disarming of the territorials was almost complete.
Slovenia, small, armed and ethnically homogenous, proved too prickly to hold, and its separation in some form soon became a given. Croatia, by contrast, was ill-armed and more diverse: ethnic Croats account for three-quarters of the republic’s 4.6 million total, commingled with enclaves of 600,000 ethnic Serbs scattered in clusters across the country. Over the summer and into the fall of 1991 fighting intensified, as the Croats gradually lost territory to Serbian militias and the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav army. The human cost was high enough—estimates range as high as ten thousand, including many civilians. For Europe as a whole the higher cost was that of dashed hopes for a prosperous, stable future as artillery rained down on the ancient city of Dubrovnik.
The EC did not feel it could remain aloof, for it had members adjacent to the conflict and others with direct interests. It demonstrated that it could act politically with some dispatch; its foreign ministers were in almost continuous contact. By the end of July the EC had 50 observers in Yugoslavia, including Croatia, a number that had expanded to 200 by October.
Once the Community became involved, however, schisms within the EC emerged, especially between France and Germany. Germany argued for supporting the sovereignty of Slovenia and Croatia, with which it had both economic and historical ties—not to mention the half-million Croatian migrants in Germany—and for branding Serbia as the aggressor by imposing economic sanctions against it. In contrast, France, with its own traditional connections to Serbia, held to the primacy of sustaining some Yugoslav federation—a position consistent with that of the United States.
As a compromise the EC tried to broker peace through a conference at The Hague chaired by Lord Carrington, former British foreign secretary and NATO secretary general. It arranged a dozen or so ceasefires, all of which collapsed. At various times the Community flirted with the idea of moving from peacekeeping to peacemaking, perhaps by dispatching troops through the WEU to enforce a ceasefire. The idea came to naught: the scattered nature of the conflict meant that 30,000 troops or more would have been necessary; Germany was still in the midst of its constitutional quandary about whether its troops could be sent beyond NATO for any purpose; and Britain, once badly burned by its bloody attempt at peacemaking in Northern Ireland, was twice shy.
A frustrated EC finally applied sanctions in November—formally against Yugoslavia but explicitly aimed at Serbia and the federal army. The United States, which had stayed aloof while hoping some Yugoslav unity could be preserved, followed suit. Ironically, though, it was Cyrus Vance, the U.N. mediator and former American secretary of state, who had enough success by year’s end in brokering a ceasefire to lead the U.N. to plan on deploying 10,000 peacekeeping troops. His position as honest broker was consolidated when, in a stunning display of Germany’s new influence, Bonn pulled its EC partners into recognizing Slovenia and Croatia in January 1992. Whatever the merits of Germany’s argument for taking a clear stand against Serbia’s aggression—and there were some such merits—EC representatives became persona non grata in Serbia.
The sad truth is that Yugoslavia is a problem without a solution. The EC members disagreed not so much about how to decide as about what to do. The original EC plan envisioned the country as a loose federation in a currency union, without border changes and with international peacekeepers overseeing the demilitarization of disputed areas inhabited by minorities. That plan made eminent sense to everyone but the warring parties, especially Serbian leader Slobodan Miloševic. Having miscalculated by overreaching for independence, Croatia might have settled for less. For their part the Serbs were disinclined to yield the fruits of their military victory, perhaps aiming for an enlarged Greater Serbia if not a restored Yugoslavia under their domination. They were moved to accept a ceasefire only when their offensive stalled and the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav army began to fall apart.
Yugoslavia is a particular case. Its ethnic antagonisms are especially intense, its borders particularly artificial, its populations intermingled, all of its republic’s economies—except possibly Slovenia’s—inviable on their own. And none of its leaders are likely candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize, to put it diplomatically.
On the other hand the interethnic Yugoslav crisis has resonance elsewhere in eastern Europe. Redrawing boundaries and moving people, as in the aftermath of World War I, is hardly appealing, which leaves two choices, neither one much more appealing. The first would be deep and lasting international intervention in the affairs of what had been thought sovereign states, in order to safeguard borders and protect minorities stranded amid hostile neighbors. But who would be the intervenor: the United Nations, the EC, NATO? The other, now heard more often in Europe, is to write the troublemakers out of Europe, to be ostracized if need be and walled off as best they can be.
In the intra-Community schisms over Yugoslavia there are echoes of nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century European politics. They are visible enough not to require exaggeration. It is perhaps too early to say, as many Americans are prone, that Europe has failed, that it cannot succeed without the United States. On closer inspection the EC’S response to Yugoslavia has brought mixed results: the Community had tried but failed in brokering a peace, and in the process its own divisions had been displayed for all to see. But in taking on an awkward, perhaps intractable, problem when no one else could or would, the EC was able to contain the strains among its members, however uneasily.
It can no longer be denied that trying to cope with Europe’s east will put pressure on Europe’s center. The lure of being accepted one day into Europe’s club, the Community, may be a deterrent to nastiness in Europe’s east—but not a very powerful one. And however the EC’S political role is judged, there remains a manifest lack of military instruments to backstop that role, even to protect unarmed Community observers or for simple peacekeeping.
This weakness suggests a mismatch between institutions and purposes, and it points up a broader gap in western Europe’s construction. Both France and Britain have shrunk from drawing the full implications of Europe’s transformation since 1989, especially in the security area, a fact underscored by the Yugoslav crisis. At the same time Germany is caught between its past reticence and its new prominence.
Britain’s position during 1989-90 was unhappily reminiscent of its role in 1950 at the beginning of European economic integration; under Ernest Bevin, it had been the godfather of NATO but then parted ways with the continent as economic integration began. This time the political map of Europe changed at a stroke, but Britain was carping from the sidelines, not leading the next steps of European construction.
In many respects present Europe is set up for an Anglo-German partnership. Yet despite Margaret Thatcher’s departure from the scene, there is scant enthusiasm across the British political spectrum for playing such a leading European role. The two nations are the freest traders in the Community, and they see eye to eye on the need to broaden the EC eastward; Germany’s insistence on tough conditions for EMU makes Bonn and London closer on that issue than they seem. Even where they seem most divided, over defense, they share a commitment to NATO and to the American presence in Europe, and a British connection would have the benefit of not seeming to trap Germany between its American connection and its EC commitment.
France’s predicament is the dawning realization that it has invested in approaches that have been devalued by changed circumstances. Pursuing grandeur, Paris skewed its defense effort toward nuclear weapons at the expense of conventional forces only to find the prestige of nuclear weapons debased. Seeking independence, it opted out of NATO’S military command only to find that independence meant conventional forces that had difficulty getting to the Persian Gulf or doing much once there. So, too, the EC as an instrument of French statecraft has declined with Germany’s unification and the prospect that new Community members will incline toward Germany.
France has stopped short of a new version of its historic gamble of 1950, the Schuman plan, when it decided that if it could not restrain Germany, it would join it and so began organizing the EC. Now the shock of German unification, real enough, was less than that of prospective German rearmament in the 1950s. It was not enough to call forth a new vision and, besides, if the Soviet threat was going away, there seemed no need for new thinking about defense. Instead France has clung to Gaullist orthodoxy, trying to sustain the same policies when circumstances no longer permit.
In economics that has meant trying to have influence over German monetary policy through EMU. France has attempted to hold Germany tight to the Community but without abandoning its own Gaullist preference for a Europe des états: close cooperation among governments, not a supranational Europe. In foreign policy that approach has meant trying to constrain German decisions through common EC approaches, but again intergovernmental ones.
In security, too, France stopped short of real efforts to build west European defense arrangements. For instance in October 1991 President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl proposed a European force to be developed out of the existing 4,000-man Franco-German brigade. At the same time they suggested that Denmark and Greece, both NATO members, join the Western European Union and that Ireland become an observer. (The existing WEU members are Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Benelux countries, Spain and Portugal.) The Mitterrand-Kohl letter had referred to a "European corps," setting loose the impression that the two had in mind a force as large as 100,000.
However it turned out that the whole idea was more of an afterthought in a letter mostly devoted to EPU. Britain and Italy objected to the idea, saying it would undercut NATO, and Germany took pains to reassure them—and the United States. The size and composition of the force were, it transpired, still matters for study. The initiative was well short of a serious west European force—of, for instance, a more than symbolic mixing of French and German units and the stationing of German, if not American, forces on French soil. It was even further from proposing the sharing of nuclear weapons with Germany in a European army—a return of sorts to France’s other proposal of 1950, the Pleven plan for a European Defense Community.
To be fair, the United States has been more than ambivalent about the prospect that western Europe might organize for its own defense. For Washington, rhetoric like "European defense cooperation" or a "European pillar" has always meant that the Europeans should organize themselves better to do what America wanted. Last spring, when there was talk in Europe of a WEU rapid-reaction force, Washington weighed in with a sharp letter arguing that nothing Europe did on its own should disrupt NATO.
In May 1991 NATO agreed on its own rapid-reaction force as part of a broad reshaping of the alliance, which will have but half as many soldiers five years hence. The scaled-down NATO force was a preemptive strike against the WEU trial balloon, but a strike with little purpose. Because it was a NATO force, it could not train for, or be deployed in, contingencies outside the alliance area. Thus it cannot be a vehicle for including some German units in operations beyond Europe—when and if Germany’s constitutional debate is resolved. Neither will it help Europeans plan for such operations. Nor will it let Europeans organize their own operations for contingencies inside Europe in circumstances like Yugoslavia, for which NATO does not seem appropriate. In principle the WEU idea could have served all those purposes and, to boot, might have brought France a little closer to NATO’S integrated command through the back gate.
The starting point for American policy should be an end to ambivalence over the Europeans building some defense cooperation of their own. Europe will do so anyway; indecision and divisiveness over Yugoslavia’s crisis will be a goad to do better. Yet despite its best efforts, Europe may bog down in confusion and muddle in its attempts to forge common foreign and security policies. It would be better all around if the United States did not play spoiler but instead encouraged Europe’s efforts.
West European defense cooperation would complement, not compete with, NATO. The alliance would remain as a deterrent against renewed threats from the east; a reassurance to nations in both eastern and western Europe; and a structure to take the edge off intra-west European arguments about defense, especially about Germany’s role. It is one thing for western Europe to build cooperation given NATO’S continued existence; without NATO, the process could be sharply contentious.
Moreover it makes little sense to worry about the EC getting too involved in security matters. On recent form the Europeans will not do all that much, for they will continue to disagree on what is to be done. Common foreign and security policy was the most contentious clutch of issues in the preparations for Maastricht. Last spring the British saw the WEU force as a way to keep the EC out of security; the French saw it as a bridge to getting the Community into the defense sphere. At Maastricht there was a compromise on both foreign and security policy. Foreign policy was left outside the formal Community institutions, but members committed themselves to tighter cooperation; they can, by unanimity, make a particular issue the subject of joint action. On defense, the WEU was labeled both the defense component of the Community and a way to strengthen the European pillar of NATO.
As the Community expands it will find cooperation of all sorts difficult, most acutely in security. Rather the challenge for Europe—and the concern for U.S. policy—is ensuring that Europe’s center does not begin to break apart under the pressures from the east and the fragmenting tendencies implied by the absorption of the EFTA countries.
NATO will not continue to serve as the cornerstone for an American political role in Europe. Yet if not NATO, then what? Is America’s political role in Europe to be reshaped or simply allowed to decline? On that score there are no good answers, surely not from Europeans who have been absorbed in their own affairs.
The alliance has been one of the great postwar successes, so some nostalgia for it is understandable, all the more so for Americans who have dominated it. It remains the only serious security game in town. But it is fruitless in the long run for American policy to acknowledge, on the one hand, that the Soviet threat which NATO was constructed to contain is no more and yet insist, on the other, that NATO must remain the preeminent European security institution.
Americans may decide that their interests no longer require them to play the active, leading political role Washington has played in Europe for the last four decades. That conclusion is suggested by the American government’s response to the Yugoslav conflagration. It is one not easily dismissed. The overarching Soviet threat is all but gone, a fact recognized by the United States and NATO, not least in the nuclear realm.
President Bush announced in September 1991 wide-ranging unilateral cutbacks in nuclear weaponry. With the agreement of NATO leaders the United States will eliminate all ground-based tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. The alliance will be left with only a few hundred aircraft-delivered nuclear weapons, in contrast to the existing 3,500 weapons. NATO thus implicitly, but not yet formally, is abandoning its threat to use nuclear weapons first; the change is logical since the contingency that called for the threat, that of a Soviet conventional attack overwhelming NATO, is no more.
The removal of the Soviet threat also figured in the first post-Cold War trade dispute between the United States and Europe, when the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade collapsed over agriculture in December 1990. The EC offered a 30 percent cut in overall farm supports over the ten-year period from 1986 to 1996 (and so only a 15 percent cut over the next five years), with no assurances on lowering export subsidies or providing access to its markets. The United States and other farm exporters sought 75 percent cuts over ten years, with 90 percent cuts in export subsidies.
There was nothing new about American objections to the Community’s Common Agricultural Policy, but in the past the United States had yielded on the issue in exchange for European support on other trade issues. This time it did not; without the common security imperative, the "fallout" risks of disputes over trade seemed less. Many Americans, not least Bush administration officials, felt Germany "owed" the United States one on agriculture in exchange for the highly supportive American role on unification. Germany, however, was self-absorbed, hardly likely to take on either its own farmers or France in cutting agricultural supports. The United States and the EC sought to repair the damage but could not come to agreement in a year of off-again-on-again discussions.
If, absent the Soviet threat, trade disputes can be allowed to simmer, the absence of that threat makes civil war in Yugoslavia tragic but not a threat to the wider peace of Europe. Nasty turns of politics on the territory of the erstwhile Soviet Union would, as well, take literally years to pose again the kind of military threat to Europe’s center that was the defining feature of the Cold War. With its autonomous regions threatening to become ministates, Russia seems doomed to turn repressive, its citizens associating the democracy they never quite had with longer queues for food. But its violence will be directed inward for a long while. Indeed the one concern that has animated official Washington, control of nuclear weapons in a disintegrating Soviet Union, is a product of weakness and desperation, not strength.
In these ways Europe needs America much less than it did in the years after World War II, and America has much less to fear in Europe. American attentions are not nearly so concentrated on Europe as they were then. The time may come again when Europe will need America desperately, and the need may call forth comparable American attention. That time might come if real danger again appeared in Europe’s east, from Russia, if Europe’s center around Germany disintegrated, or both in some combination. With luck that prospect will never arrive, despite the straining of Europe’s center.
NATO will remain as present reassurance and residual insurance: to be refurbished should the need arise, but otherwise declining in a genteel way as circumstances permit. The number of American forces in Europe is being cut dramatically in any event, by half or more, which will take some years, so there is no need now to make more radical and potentially premature decisions.
This approach would imply a diminished, though still important, political role for the United States. In the security realm it would resemble the role imagined for the United States in the first few years after World War II—as Europe’s backstop, not its present defender. In economics it would mean developing the forms of consultations with the Community that have been set in place in the last several years—in order to limit the damage of future arguments over agriculture, for instance—while not pretending that consultation can substitute for the political engagement of America’s security connection throughout the Cold War.
Finally, though, the opposite tack is tantalizing even as it seems beyond the imagining of the American body politic and its elected leaders. Why not reshape the American connection to Europe? Take Yugoslavia as a starting point. There is something sad, obscene almost, in the sight of America taking a walk when bloodshed rages in Yugoslavia, the focal point of so much Cold War hand-wringing. An ultimatum to stop the fighting seems likely to have worked better in Yugoslavia than it did against Saddam Hussein, especially if backed by the U.S. Sixth Fleet and made vivid by a few air strikes on those bombarding Dubrovnik.
Yugoslavia might induce Americans, and frighten Europeans, into rethinking the role of NATO. Suppose the Alliance said it would not permit eastern Europe’s borders to be changed by military force. Slovakia could secede but only through negotiation. This task for NATO would imply some risk, including for Americans. But it would also provide the reassurance eastern Europeans crave as they work through their political and economic transformations.
Americans may decide the risk is too great, the gain too small, when measured against hard U.S. interests. If they do, though, they are deciding to play less of a part in Europe’s future than they have in its past forty years. On that point they should be clear.