- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Europe's passion for treaties is matched only by America's wariness toward them. So goes an overplayed foreign policy rumor. The Kyoto Protocol and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty are a few of the most recent examples in which arguments over the effects of an international agreement prevented action on fundamental policies agreed upon by different parties. The problem is, success in foreign policy has too often been defined by the number of treaties existing between countries or organizations, rather than the strength of the treaties to effect change and the amount of trust those parties have built beyond the agreement.
The relationship between the European community and the United States is thus considered to be jeopardized when the United States decides it cannot, in good conscience, ratify Kyoto. The relationship between the United States and Russia, or the United States and Germany, is said to move closer to the edge of the abyss when the Bush administration announces it will move forward with missile defense and pull out of the ABM treaty. But is the decision to pull out of an outdated treaty, or not to sign onto an incomplete one, the sign of a rocky bilateral relationship?
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice answered that question in a recent meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times. There were a number of myths out there about the Bush administration, she said. "One is that we never met a treaty we liked, that in fact, we are in the process of getting out of every treaty. The fact of the matter is, that this is a very internationalist president, but he does not define internationalism as signing on to bad treaties."
The Europeans would disagree. "While some treaties may be imperfect, it is better to have an imperfect treaty than no treaty at all," German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger said at a recent editorial board meeting at The Times. International agreements, he argued, are a means to cooperative political and moral leadership.
The United States, in fact, would not argue with this. As of Jan. 1, 2000, the United States was party to bilateral treaties and other agreements with 274 countries and international organizations and had multilateral treaties and other agreements on 204 subjects from arms control to atomic energy to hijacking, according to the Treaty Affairs Staff of the State Department. And those were just the ones the agency was willing to list publicly.
The question, then, has to do less with how willing a country is to sign a piece of paper than how trust between countries is built when the medium of treaty-making as an end to cooperation is not feasible at one point in time. When the Bush administration announced there would be no movement on Kyoto, Europeans, and Germans in particular, took this as a rejection of the very essence of the relationship between the two parties that had been nurtured through the German Marshall Plan and strengthened through economic, political and military partnership in NATO. It was, in fact, no rejection. Americans are concerned about the environment. They just don't think they should be forced to wait in line for an hour every year for a vehicle emissions inspection, look for the number of endangered species laws, or go to a kindergarten recycling class to confirm their concern.
Europe had the same reaction over ABM policy. The Europeans viewed the U.S. desire to come up with a new contract with the Russians, one that would allow for a new U.S. missile defense system, as the Bush administration's lack of trust in other countries' promises not to build offensive nuclear capacities. This fear was understandably based on the concern that the national security of countries such as Germany would also be compromised.
"Security depends on U.S. protection based on NATO's Article Five," Mr. Ischinger said about the clause, which calls for member-states to defend allies under attack. "We don't want the current framework to be abandoned without certainty that the new strategic framework will work."
The Bush administration should work hard to assure its allies that they are not being "abandoned" in the wake of moves to build a new missile defense system. On the contrary, the administration's goal should be to continue to build trust with Europe that will last beyond any agreement this administration will or will not sign. Both the United States and Europe are the power generators of a global economy. Both are working toward NATO expansion, cooperation in the Balkans and making a place for Russia in the post-Cold War era.
Both are supporting the democratic revitalization of Eastern Europe and the former republics of the Soviet Union. They have worked together to make a European common currency possible, to eliminate the abuses of Soviet communism, to break down trade barriers and to bring war criminals to justice at the International War Crimes Tribunal for Yugoslavia at The Hague.
It would be a shame if misconceptions over international agreements would drive a wedge in such a solid and important partnership between Europe and the United States.
E-mail: [email protected]

Sarah Means is an editorial writer for The Washington Times.

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