Dominique Moisi is Deputy Director of the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales and Editor-in-Chief of Politique etrangere.

Antony J. Blinken has denounced with talent and conviction what he calls "the false crisis over the Atlantic" (May/June 2001). Although he is correct in saying that a continued transatlantic alliance would be "good for the United States, good for Europe -- and good for the world," he misses the fundamental sea change at work. Most important, he fails to recognize the interaction among three international developments: the end of the Cold War, the changing nature of Europe, and globalization.

The United States and Europe are still united by democratic values and deep common interests. They make up a privileged, peaceful, and prosperous part of the world. To preserve what they enjoy, they need to enlarge their zone of lasting peace to their immediate neighborhood and beyond. They also need to reassess the fundamentals of their relationship.

The Cold War ended more than ten years ago, but it has taken that long to understand what its demise implied for transatlantic relations. With the exception of its chaotic first months, the Clinton administration oversaw a generally smooth but somewhat artificial transition period. The reflexes of the Cold War still dominated in the early 1990s. Most Europeans wanted more, not less, of America in Europe, especially after war returned to their continent in the Balkans. In addition, American benevolent indifference toward European efforts at autonomy in foreign policy, coupled with a relatively modest tone in U.S. diplomacy, contributed to an impression of reassuring continuity. But today, the combination of American moralizing at home and cynicism abroad could severely harm relations between Europe and the United States. It is highly significant that no one in Europe seriously considers George W. Bush's America a political model in the way that Ronald Reagan's conservative revolution inspired many European intellectuals and politicians. And the recent U.S. presidential election chaos did not encourage European confidence in American democracy.

President Bush's foreign policy to date sounds inexplicably anachronistic and arrogant to Europeans. Europe's gut reaction is a feeling that Americans have changed their global ambition. Under Bill Clinton, Americans wanted to save the world from itself, albeit with reluctance. Under Bush, they intend to protect themselves from the world or even withdraw from it. European misgivings were further encouraged by Bush's suggestions during the election campaign that the United States could reduce its military presence in the Balkans.

To its credit, the Bush administration has tried to dispel most of these apprehensions, and it has nearly stopped making disparaging remarks about the credibility of European security efforts. Washington has also started framing the missile-defense debate with greater sensitivity to allied concerns. The amoral strategy based on mutual assured destruction has given way to a more defensive vision. In addition, the White House has reassured its allies of its commitment to Balkan stability. Yet there remains a dangerous American propensity to believe that the only way to be heard in the world is to "act tough," with the attendant risk of neglecting the cultural dimension of international relations. China is not the Soviet Union, and the Cold War is over.

The central problem lies in the divergence of U.S. and European agendas. Whereas Washington remains obsessed with rogue states and weapons of mass destruction, Europeans are more concerned with the future of the planet and of their food. This dichotomy explains not only the gap between a "responsible" global power and "selfish" regional players but the shift from the Cold War to the global age.

Traditional state-centered concerns are no longer as relevant in this age of interdependence. Instead, domestic issues such as the death penalty and abortion have emerged on the foreign policy agenda. Blinken is right in saying that many countries other than the United States, including some major democracies, still allow the death penalty. But he misses an essential point: When Europeans look to America, they see themselves. As individuals, Europeans may be as divided on the issue of death penalty as Americans are, but as a group they cannot accept that the self-proclaimed leader of the civilized world considers the death penalty a normal procedure, left to the sovereign decision of its individual states.


It would be wrong to say that the new administration knows little about Europe. In fact, it is probably more interested and knowledgeable than the early Clinton administration was. But the Europe that the new Bush team knows is the one of the old Bush administration. Largely prisoners of past experience and prejudice, its members have so far failed to recognize the realities of the new Europe.

Americans are confronted with a Europe that still has difficulty reconciling goals and means. It speaks ambitiously about its future security forces yet remains incapable of increasing national defense budgets or forging a common foreign policy. Europe is still caught between the dual challenges of globalization and European Union (EU) enlargement, and it cannot define its identity in strictly geographic or institutional terms. Those who have power in Brussels have not yet acquired legitimacy, and those who have legitimacy in the national capitals now have less power. But another Europe is emerging that is much more self-confident, more real, and more successful than the bureaucracy of Brussels. It is a Europe of firms and civil society -- alive, dynamic, and strong. This Europe -- exemplified by the French chairman of Vivendi Universal, Jean-Marie Messier, or the German chief of Bertelsmann, Thomas Middelhoff -- challenges America on its own turf. The two symbolic heroes of modern France, Messier and the antiglobalization activist Jose Bove, neatly portray French ambivalence toward the United States -- a combination of fascination and rejection. This mixture describes not only French feelings but European sensitivities.

Yet the United States has failed to acknowledge this new Europe, just as it failed to forecast (to its detriment) such resounding European successes as Airbus planes. In a world of multiple identities and multiple cultures, Europeans are increasingly aware of their "European-ness." And one way for them to define their identity is to distinguish themselves from the United States. There is a European way to be Western -- a product of history, geography, and culture -- that is based on the weight of memory. By contrast, America is a culture of will. You are an American because you want to be so. Europeans ask themselves how to regenerate their past; Americans still perceive themselves in terms of the future. Even if the "Third Way" sounds artificial in Europe, something real may lurk behind it: a less ideological and more cultural "European" model. Europe's modern form of capitalism is combining flexibility, dynamism, and a humanistic tradition. Europeans are discovering their own "soft power," which comprises a certain quality of life with a natural diversity and creativity. In fact, globalization has accelerated Europe's growing awareness of its unique cards in an interdependent world.

In the early 1970s, European anti-Americanism was a reaction to what the United States did, such as bombing Vietnam or Cambodia. Today's anti-Americanism is a reaction to what the United States is -- a much more perverse form of hostility. Of course, not all Europeans perceive America the way some French do. But the differences between individual European states are only matters of style and nuance. France has moved closer to its European partners in security matters and NATO, while the rest of Europe has moved closer toward French positions on ecological, cultural, and ethical issues. The real differences today exist among western, central, and eastern Europeans.

Enlargement of the EU is also significant for the future of transatlantic relations. Most applicant countries, Poland in particular, understandably feel at least as Western as they do European. NATO reassures them as they face Vladimir Putin's Russia, whereas the EU challenges their recently restored sovereignty. In fact, instead of being considered a Trojan horse, Poles should be welcomed as an ideal bridge to Russia, just as the United Kingdom is Europe's bridge to the United States. (That said, this vision is not yet accepted by either the French or the Poles.)

Today, Americans understand that the long-term stability of the transatlantic relationship requires a more relaxed attitude toward NATO. Washington should allow the Europeans to prove themselves in security matters and wait to see whether their deeds meet their intentions. And Americans should match their words with their actions rather than preaching partnership but acting as a distant and lonely leader.

A strong and confident Europe is the foremost condition for the survival of an Atlantic partnership -- which will be all the more necessary in the complex and difficult years ahead. Working toward a more balanced alliance in a more balanced world should be a common ambition. The more secure Europeans are, the less they will be tempted to assert their differences in an immature, aggressive way. A stronger Europe will mean a stronger NATO, a reality that too many Americans fail to accept. Washington's Europe-watchers tend too often to distrust or underestimate Europe. Too many in Washington still believe that an independent Europe will prove incompetent, paralyzed, and divided, if not ultimately suicidal. By getting their act together, Europeans have to persuade Americans that trust and respect are a two-way street.

Given that the new Europe is still a mystery for Europeans, it is not surprising that Americans also fail to understand it. In the same vein, the new Bush administration is alien to a majority of Europeans, not to mention to many Americans themselves. Americans should understand the cost of their unique centrality but not retreat defiantly. Enlarging the frontiers of democracy, stability, and peace to eastern Europe and ensuring that Russia does not follow a more dangerous path are tasks that only the United States and Europe together can achieve. The same is true for global problems. Europe and the United States have to place in perspective their quarrels and the dramas of the world. The global age has not changed the fact that nothing in the world can be done without the United States. And the multiplicity of new actors means that there is very little that the United States can achieve alone. The world has to accept the United States as it is, without hesitating to nudge it in the right direction. And the United States has to recognize that there is a lot to learn from the complex and often messy reality beyond its borders.

Finally, both sides should remember that today's troubled partnership is in fact far healthier than it was in the early 1960s, when France chose to leave NATO, or during the 1982 Pershing missile crisis, when the Soviet Union was manipulating the pacifist instincts of many Europeans. But today both sides are less familiar and more competitive in economic, social, and cultural terms, if not on more fundamental ethical grounds. For the first time since 1947, a mutual decoupling of the United States from Europe is truly possible -- and not only because the glue of the Soviet threat has disappeared. Washington cannot use yesterday's stereotypes and prejudices to deal with the more mature and complex Europe of today. And Europe should not stoop to demonize and caricature the United States, which it still badly needs as an indispensable but more equal partner.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now