- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Trans-Atlantic relations are always making headlines. They are up and they are down. The only thing steady about them are the public mood swings caused by incalculable events on both sides of the Atlantic. Over the years, crucial conflict issues, from the threat of Soviet communism to the Vietnam War, have been shifted into different geostrategic gears.

Triggered by Germany’s reunification on October 3, 1990, which in effect gave momentum to Europe’s full integration, and the horror of September 11, 2001, forcing Washington and the world to focus on the Middle East and the war on terrorism, makes necessary a reorienting of trans-Atlantic relations on both sides.

The international community is fascinated by economic developments in China and nuclear arrangements with India. Meanwhile, the European Union struggles with a constant balancing act to integrate its 25 EU member states and adjust trans-Atlantic ties, upheld by NATO, to the new realities. The United States, occupied with advancing democracy in Iraq and elsewhere, is looking for strategic partners to combat an enemy without an address or phone number that nevertheless threatens Western civilization militarily. In contrast to Washington, Europeans are searching for a consensus to determine when and under what circumstances they are prepared to use the military option to protect their own security interests and values.

Pushed into the background by such developments, the Atlantic Council has gone into hibernation and the Atlantic partnership withers.

Nobody was prepared for these events and their strategic consequences. With the end of the cold war and the Soviet threat removed, Europe no longer needs the American nuclear shield and superpower.

Of course, some who anticipate a new EU superpower as a counterweight to the United States in a postmodern world contend that the American dream will be replaced by the European dream: by its civilized societal attitudes, multilateralism, universal health care, rejection of capital punishment, protection of the environment and its reliance on consultations, compromise and consensus to resolve disputes instead of arm twisting methods and military force.

A distorted picture. Not all is well in Euroland. With its skyrocketing two-digit unemployment figures, its lack of economic growth, unintegrated immigrants and Muslim riots, the EU hardly resembles the dream of a perfect postmodern society.

In other words, the perception of America and Europe as opposites on the social caretaker scale relates to wishful thinking rather than reality.

However, beneath the scarred surface of trans-Atlantic relations, one finds few differences on basic issues. We may not necessarily agree on how to resolve conflicts in civil society, the role of government, combating unemployment and the constructs to sustain economic growth. And while some may not condone the means to deal with militant Islam, all think the world is better off without Saddam.

Notwithstanding differences about the merits of an International Court, the death penalty,pre-emptive warfare or ad hoc alliances striking Europeans as a throwback to previous centuries’ coalition wars, we continue to share fundamental values, democracy and the rule of law.

Sharing an inherited culture, history and religion, we listen to the same music, cherish the same authors and Nobel Prize winners and, like it or not, depend on each other during natural disasters and common threats.

It is not easy to overlook the contrasting attitudes toward security issues when the U.S. conceptualizes grand strategies for immediate military action expecting approval and support, while militarily ill-equipped Europeans allies argue over accommodations that appear to skirt responsibilities and air their resentment about U.S. unilateralism.

Attitudes are changing. As the EU’s biggest country in population and strongest economically, Germany is becoming a linchpin in the trans-Atlantic equation. Berlin’s expansion of foreign relations may indicate Europeans are trying to shoulder some of the global responsibilities as equal partners instead of looking the other way.

Berlin’s exploration of natural gas and oil resources in the Caucasus, in apprehension of the extent of Russia’s reliability about the North Sea pipeline, bears watching. Intent on accepting more international political responsibilities, Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken the lead. Not only does she intend to send German troops, already engaged in Afghanistan and Kosovo, as part of a EU force to the Congo, she also ponied up some 3.1 million euros for humanitarian assistance in Sudan.

Already involved in the Tehran negotiations along with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and convinced the battle with militant Islam must include the cultural arena, Mrs. Merkel has invited artists, scholars and scientists to address the problem. In showing the way to cooperation, reform of policies and institutions, including NATO, our strongest link, Germany’s chancellor revitalizes the Atlantic partnership.

Most likely, one of the profoundest differences in attitudes within the alliance is the contrast between the concept of American ” national interest” vis-a-vis the European “common interest” as guiding principles. The definition of interests needs a debate within the framework of a New Atlanticism.

Fresh faces and fresh ideas are needed to develop a sense of common destiny. The time has come to study the means of adjustment, the political will and understanding between peoples and nations across political lines of separation across the Atlantic. We need each other.

Viola Herms Drath is a member of the executive committee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and the recipient of the 2005 William J. Flynn Initiative for Peace Award for her seminal work promoting German unification.

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