By Paolo von Schirach
February 9, 2014
WASHINGTON – There was a time in which Europe was –with cause– at the very top of Washington’s priorities. Now the NSA taps the phones of supposedly friendly European leaders (Germany’s Angela Merkel), while Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, in a telephone conversation with Geoff Pyatt, the US Ambassador to the Ukraine, dismissed the European Union, ostensibly a large group of friendly countries, with a disparaging comment, most likely intercepted by Russian intelligence, (“f…k the EU”). She said this in the context of the simmering crisis in the Ukraine. Ms. Nuland clearly believes that the EU is pretty close to useless in any effort aimed at preventing Moscow’s objectives to entice the Ukraine into a much closer association with Russia.
European-American relations: not what they used to be
Much has changed in European-American relations, and not for the better. During the lengthy Cold War Europe was the potential battleground of an East-West military confrontation. NATO was the tangible instrument of America’s strong committment to European security. Whatever happened in Europe was of great concern among key policy-makers in Washington.
After the Soviets and the East Germans erected the Berlin Wall, (June 15, 1961), president John Kennedy went to West Berlin where he gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech”, (June 26, 1963), right outside of the Rathaus Schoneberg. “I am a Berliner” Kennedy said to his German hosts. Of course, he meant to say that the Americans stand together with the embattled Germans. America and Germany are united in this great fight for the defense of freedom against Soviet tyranny. Indeed.
Marriage of convenience
But this unity between the two sides of the Atlantic was not real. Deep down, the marriage between America and Europe was a marriage of convenience, and not of real conviction. It all boiled down to this: Europe needed American military protection; Washington did not want to see Soviet domination extended to Western Europe. Hence the creation of NATO in 1949, lots of US troops in West Germany and elsewhere, later on the deployment of US nuclear weapons in Europe, and so forth.
Of course, at the time many hoped that the Atlantic Alliance would develop into a more meaningful “Atlantic Community”, that is a group of Western countries united by shared values and a common purpose: the promotion of political and economic freedom.
No “Atlantic Community”
But this evolution into a real “Community” never took place. And this is because the degree of commitment to the values that supposedly constitute the glue that unites Europe and America was and is unequal. America acts on their behalf. Europe is usually satisfied with talking about them.
In the end, the vanishing of the Soviet Union took away the rationale for close European-American ties. Sure enough, the NATO Alliance is still there. In fact it has been enlarged. It now includes most of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. But it is clear to all that this Alliance is an almost meaningless shadow, as it has fewer and fewer military means and an ill-defined mission.
At the same time, it is clear that there is no deeply shared common purpose uniting America and Europe. Europe is slowly declining. Its economy does not grow. Its societies are concerned mostly with social safety nets: pensions and care for the larger numbers of senior citizens. America, is also getting older and slower. But it has a bit more energy. While Europe talks, America is more prone to act.
Hence the dismissive comments made by Ms. Nuland about the EU and it slow-moving diplomacy on an urgent matter like the crisis in the Ukraine. America wants to act to prevent the Ukraine from falling back into Russia’s orbit, while Europe is hesitant.
Be that as it may, sadly Ms. Nuland’s (private but now public) disparaging comment most likely captures what the Washington elites really think about Europe: a slow-moving, indecisive blob that can be assertive only when defending its core economic and trade interests.
Forget about the “Atlantic Community”. Forget about shared values and ideals. And –most of all– forget about shared policy agendas.