Courtesy Reuters

How Europe and America Defend Themselves


After the United States was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001, its European allies were among the first nations to express sympathy and pledge their aid in the war to come. The fact that many European countries have long experienced terrorism themselves helped ensure a great deal of transatlantic empathy and cooperation -- at least at first. France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom have all suffered political violence over the past 30 years and were thus predisposed to help the United States in its new struggle against al Qaeda. But the kind of terrorism these European countries have suffered -- "old" terrorism -- differs substantially from that suddenly faced by the United States. As time passed, these differences started to erode the thoroughgoing unity that had flourished right after September 11.

Nowhere were the differences between the European and American experiences and approach more evident than in homeland security. Even as Washington scrambled to adopt new measures to defend itself, there was notably less haste among European authorities to tighten immigration policies or improve border security. This was typified by the dispute between the French and British governments over Paris' refusal to close the Sangatte refugee camp near Calais. Since the war in Kosovo, hundreds of refugees, many of Afghan origin, had sought to flee the camp for illegal entry into the United Kingdom via the nearby Channel Tunnel. After September 11, the British and others began to worry that al Qaeda or the Taliban might infiltrate these groups and blow up one of the world's engineering wonders. Yet it took well over a year of bilateral acrimony before the camp was finally closed, in December 2002.

The good news for Washington is that Europe's lethargy in cooperating on homeland security has more to do with a difference in the way it perceives threats than with any deeper political or social divide. True, Europeans and Americans have recently clashed over particular strategic matters, such as the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, regime change in Iraq,

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