John Kerry's first trip overseas started in Europe. He visited United Kingdom and Germany yesterday and expected to visit France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.
Alliances take hard work and require attention from all parties involved. Regrettably, the Obama Administration attaches little importance to the transatlantic alliance, and Europe has barely figured in the Administration’s foreign policy. This was recently demonstrated during President Obama’s hour-long State of the Union address, in which the word Europe was mentioned once and the word NATO not at all.
Europe should still matter to the U.S. Many of America’s closest allies are in Europe. The transatlantic relationship has vitally important defense, intelligence, and economic dimensions. For more than 63 years, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been the bedrock of transatlantic security. The economies of Europe, along with the U.S., account for approximately half of the global economy.
NATO has been the premier security alliance since the beginning of the Cold War. It has done more to promote democracy, peace, and security in Europe than any other multilateral organization, including the EU. Continued active U.S. participation is essential to the alliance’s future health. The U.S. should lead NATO, help it prepare for its future after Afghanistan, and not neglect the alliance.
The Administration has removed two U.S. Army Brigade Combat Teams from Germany and a U.S. Air Force A-10 squadron from Italy. These cuts will only weaken NATO and America’s leadership in Europe. Furthermore, continued reductions in the size of the U.S. military presence in Europe would reduce the flexibility of American military responses in the region, result in no financial savings, and send a message of U.S. indifference toward Europe and NATO.
Obama's support for a planned free-trade agreement between Washington and the European Union is so half-hearted that he only added a sentence about it to his recent State of the Union address at the very last minute -- and even then, it only came after statements about the implementation of a trans-Pacific trade agreement.
Above all, though, Obama is the ultimate pragmatist when it comes to diplomacy.
The desire of the American people is clear. They would rather rebuild their country's economy than focus on the rest of the world. Right now America is looking inside rather than outside, and moving forward it wants to act in the background rather than march at the front, as evidenced by its positions on Mali and Syria. In Washington these days, the usefulness of each diplomatic transaction trumps past priorities.
A politically unified Europe is not in the interest of the U.S., and the U.S. should not back an “ever closer union” within the EU, including the critical areas of foreign policy and defense integration. U.S. policymakers need to start seeing Europe for what it really is: a collection of sovereign nation-states. A Europe of cooperating, friendly, and independent nation-states would advance both democracy inside Europe and the U.S. interest in a robust and enduring transatlantic alliance.
From Obama's perspective, there is no alternative to America's new foreign-policy restraint. The United States no longer wants to be the "irreplaceable nation" that Madeleine Albright once touted. And even if the country wanted that role again, it is unlikely that it would suddenly increase its focus and pay more attention to Europe. When the Americans actually do look to Europe, it will only be when working together actually pays dividends, as with the planned free-trade agreement.
It is fitting of the current state of the US that the most divisive trans-Atlantic debates during Obama's second term could surround poultry processing or medicine standards rather than the future of the West. Indeed, the role of America's top diplomat today is more that of a trade commissioner than a global strategist à la Kissinger or Marshall. Someone now just has to explain that to Kerry.
Still, the transatlantic alliance needs stronger leadership from Washington. Kerry needs to make a firm commitment to advancing ties with America’s key allies in Europe while supporting economic freedom and national sovereignty in Europe.
By Guylain Gustave Moke