- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 20, 2005

When German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder downplayed the importance of NATO as a vehicle for trans-Atlantic cooperation recently, he was in effect trying to bolster the role of a future European superstate which he and France’s Jacques Chirac are striving to erect. Of course, that dream entails Germany and France at the helm of such a Brussels-based European superstate. Other nations in the European Union, meanwhile, are concerned about German-French domination. As President Bush visits Europe this week, he will be dealing with a European Union that is still struggling to define how it will relate to the United States.

Speaking on behalf of Mr. Schroeder, German Defense Minister Peter Struck said at a security conference in Munich that, given post-Cold War realities, NATO was “no longer the primary venue where transatlantic partners discuss and coordinate strategies.” Therefore, “independent figures” should meet to discuss ways to reform the alliance and make recommendations to NATO and EU leaders early next year. The comments took many, including NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, by surprise.

NATO, after all, has been a point of rare convergence between the United States and Europe. It is leading international peacekeeping in Afghanistan, and the United States has even agreed in principle to eventually put U.S. troops in that country under NATO command. NATO has also agreed to take on a training role for Iraqi security officials. At a time when U.S. and EU officials are struggling to identify areas of trans-Atlantic agreement, NATO has provided a reliable vehicle for joint efforts.

So, why would Mr. Schroeder be so eager to downgrade NATO’s relevance? The alliance represents cooperation on a multilateral, sovereign level, while the EU Mr. Schroeder is trying to create would subordinate European sovereignty to the authority of unelected bodies in Brussels. If a new EU constitution is ever ratified, Germany and France would wield considerable power there.

When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in the midst of her charm offensive on the continent, she said the Bush administration welcomed an integrated Europe. But a German-and-French-heavy Europe may be so intent on trying to establish a so-called multipolar world that it neglects to see areas where America’s and Europe’s interests meet.

For the foreseeable future, the emergence of such a world remains less likely than the rise of the European superstate Messrs. Schroeder and Chirac are trying to build. The German and French leaders should keep in mind that America’s military might continues to bolster European security — and at a bargain rate. Also, if a multipolar world were ever to arise, it is doubtful Europe would be the victor. Repressive regimes that have much less in common with Europe than America would probably benefit.

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