By Paolo von Schirach
July 28, 2012
WASHINGTON – Former Secretary of State and before that National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice laid out her vision of US foreign policy in a The Financial Times 0p-ed. (America must remember it is not just any other country, July 27, 2012).
America should be more engaged
Ms. Rice argues for a more engaged foreign policy that would promote the principles of free trade that are conducive to the growth of free societies. China is signing free trade agreements everywhere in Asia, while America is not. She makes other important points regarding the need to support the beginnings of the Arab democratic process, the need to welcome more skilled immigrants into the US, the importance of focusing on US domestic energy sources and finally the need to strengthen the US economy and public education.
No mention about Europe
Practically absent in her otherwise thoughtful piece is any significant mention of relations with Europe. She says, in passing, that “our engagement with Europe has been sporadic and sometimes dismissive”. She also writes that it was a mistake “to abandon missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic”. And this is about it. No mention of NATO, of the Atlantic Community or NATO-led operations, such as Afghanistan. No mention of the European Union and of its relations with Washington. No mention of the key European countries: Germany, France and the UK. Not a word.
This is rather extraordinary. In an opinion piece discussing America’s role in the world, a former senior foreign policy-maker in two Republican administrations does not devote even one paragraph to European-American relations, the pillar of US post-war foreign policy. The Europeans were (and are) our Allies, and NATO was (and is) the instrument through which the Alliance was managed.
Cold War is over
Of course, much of the focus on Europe throughout the post war period was due to the Cold War. But that era is over. The Soviet Union imploded more than 20 years ago. Russia is a diminished country. It lost its Empire. It no longer has the ability to project power in the middle of Europe. The Wall is long gone. Berlin is the capital of a reunified Germany.
Still, North America and Europe are the core of “The West”
However, even though the strategic relevance of Europe has diminished, Europe and North America could still be the core of a vibrant West. Whatever one can say about the rise of Asia, and of China within Asia, Europe and North America combined would represent by far the strongest economic grouping of nations in the world. The 27 member strong European Union has a GDP bigger than the United States.
If Europe, Canada and the United States could work effectively together to promote the liberal democratic agenda Secretary Rice discussed in her piece, it would be hard to match their combined resources, power and global influence.
End of the Atlantic Community
But Europe is not even mentioned in a piece about US foreign policy priorities by a former US Secretary of State. Implicitly this means that, even though we still have the NATO Alliance and we still fight in Afghanistan with some European NATO Allies, the real thing is over. There is no common foe (the old Soviet Union) and the Atlantic Community died with it even though no formal announcement has been made. Absent that, there is no new agenda.
No real partnership with a weak Europe
Of course, there are other reasons for failing to mention Europe. Beyond the changed geo-political scenario due to the end of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, it is difficult today to reshape a new productive relationship with a politically fragmented, militarily insignificant and altogether weaker Europe. While Europe still retains great economic strength, the Old Continent as a whole is in slow but steady decline. Its ability to speak with one voice on any subject is limited or non existent. This Europe is not an ideal partner for America, still a superpower, although not exactly at its peak performance these days.
End of an era
While acknowledging the vastly changed circumstances, it is sad to notice that the death of the Atlantic Community is real, while (as in the case of this op-ed piece) it is announced implicitly, by omission, just as we might not want to advertise the death of a distant, poor relative. Too embarrassing.
That said, by reading Secretary Rice’s piece you would never guess that America’s relationship with Europe was the dominant issue of US foreign policy when Ms. Rice was born and throughout most of her professional life. But not anymore.