Although Europe is a union now, from the American perspective, little has changed since the 1970s when, as President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger complained that he didn’t ever know whom to call when he needed to consult “Europe.” At times, it seems as though Washington would rather their allies across the Atlantic form a United States of Europe already and get it over with. But should it really want to?
Transatlantic relations have been a bit strained ever since President George W. Bush invaded Iraq without Europe and his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, dismissed France’s and Germany’s posturing as the prattling of an “Old Europe,” out-of-touch with the contemporary balance of power.
Even as the continent cheered Barack Obama’s election victory in 2008, some worry about his apparent lack of commitment to the Atlantic alliance. The latest affront came in February of this year when the president skipped a EU-USA summit in Madrid, Spain, according to P.O. Neill, because of “plain old irritation with the ‘who’s in charge’ question.” Discord over economic policy at the G20 in Toronto, Canada last June only strengthened the perception that Europe and the United States are out of sync.
Would America really enjoy a Europe that maintains a single foreign and defense policy however? While some State Department officials may rejoice to find Europe finally speaking with one voice, America’s interests would hardly be served by it.
Whereas most government leaders appreciate the value of the Atlantic alliance, the EU’s mandarins and parliamentarians are rather more anti-American. They like to think of their project as one to counterbalance the Unites States’ position as sole remaining superpower. They dream of the day when the EU will finally translate its economic weight into political influence and once responsible for drafting foreign policy, would surely rather reach out to emerging economies as China and Brazil than the US.
Egos, moreover, are a powerful force to be reckoned with, particularly when they hail from European states which formerly yielded significant international clout. Britain and France still like to think of themselves as great powers. France especially would likely seek to make a more unified Europe an instrument of its own ambitions. As long as it has to cope with two dozen or so different opinions, it may be more inclined to work with the United States directly than go through Europe.
Some Europeans are more committed to the Atlantic alliance than others. The Danish, the Dutch and the British for instance have more consistently followed America’s lead in foreign policy and are typically more willing to contribute to peacekeeping missions overseas. Their position may be overshadowed in a Europe that cares more for its own interests as a whole than the leverage of its individual member states. With the continent truly united, Washington would no longer be able to exploit differences for its own gain.
If there is to be a new Atlantic order which has Europe contributing more significantly to international security, and the United States be forced, as Robert Kaplan put it, “to yank Europe kicking and screaming into conflict zones,” it would have much greater difficulty doing so if Europe could indeed be reached with a single phone call. Better to have the continent divided and be able to scramble for support than find none at all.