- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pondering what he worried most about during wartime, Napoleon reportedly said “Allies.”

Our allies are making news again. Their split over the U.S. deployment of a missile defense system in Central Europe may not come as a surprise but at this crucial time of uncertainty it is deeply disconcerting.

After the EU’s 50-year success, starting when the old six-member European Coal and Steel Community turned into the European Union by signing the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957, and boosting its ranks to 27 members, representing some 450 million people, one element is still missing. Whether it suits us or not, our indispensable trans-Atlantic partner rarely speaks with one voice. The EU phone number Henry Kissinger long ago so ardently requested for consultations is still missing.

Once more the Continent is split into steadfast Atlanticists and cautious Continentalists. Once more the trans-Atlantic partnership, severely challenged by the war in Iraq yet so essential in this age of asymmetrical confrontations, faces another rupture. This time the divisiveness is over U.S. missile defense facilities, ground-based interceptor missiles and radar systems to be placed in Poland and the Czech Republic to provide a shield against an attack from Iran.

Vehemently opposed by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as a harbinger of a new arms race, the missile issue fans heated debates and new waves of anti-Americanism all over the European Union. Russia’s bluntness, culminating in threats to scrap the 1987 INF Treaty banning short- and medium-sized nuclear missiles, has an impact on energy-dependent Europeans that foreshadows long-range consequences.

While the Bush administration tries to convince Russia and its European allies that the missile defense system poses no danger to Moscow and is designed to protect the United States and most of Europe from threats emanating from outside the region, Paris reacted with its habitual French skepticism.

As expected, London talks about participation in the U.S. defense shield plan. Caught in the middle, Germany’s Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung took the position it is up to NATO to deal with this security issue. After all, arguments that Russia’s insecurities are based on NATO’s expansion and trans-Atlantic security structures are well received within the European Union.

Under the leadership of staunch Atlanticist Chancellor Angela Merkel, currently successfully presiding over the European Union, Berlin is taking the diplomatic route. Buoyed by her recent victory in climate protection, when she managed to persuade 27 EU governments to speak with one voice in favor of cutting greenhouse emissions by 20 percent and producing one-fifth of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, Mrs. Merkel uses her clout. Suggesting the missile matter casts a shadow over EU-U.S. relations, she tossed it into NATO’s domain.

Aware that her guidance in domestic politics is subject to the consent of her Social Democratic coalition partner, Mrs. Merkel has found a more responsive outlet for her ideas of improving the world in foreign politics.

No doubt, the no-nonsense chancellor whose one and great ambition is to resurrect the EU Constitution, politically integrate EU members and combat disunity weakening strategic positions internationally, also remembers the Cold War missile crisis in the early 1980s. It was a time when strategic security concerns of a different kind caused considerations of stationing ballistic missiles on German soil to counter Soviet threats, real or perceived. The vastly unpopular measure was supported by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who paid the price by losing his re-election bid.

Then and now Germany’s Social Democrats have made it clear they will not agree to the proposed missile defense project without Russia’s approval. Charging that the administration’s plans are worsening relations with Russia, they are also distancing themselves from the notion that NATO should be burdened with this issue.

Another warning about a “split” over the U.S. missile defense plan comes from NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who warned that the alliance risks a split between countries covered by the U.S. shield and those — such as Greece, Turkey and Italy — who are not.

The White House is playing it cool by saying the missile defense matter is between sovereign, independent states. In its support, Czech Prime Minister Miroslav Topolanek took the offensive by reminding critical EU members that 18 of them host U.S. military bases representing similar American commitments.

Setting her sights on passing the rejected EU Constitution and pushing energy security, energy independence, climate protection and improved trade relations to the top of her agenda of trans-Atlantic cooperation, Mrs. Merkel, by now dubbed Queen of the EU in Brussels, has been instrumental in setting up the annual EU-U.S. summit to be convened in Washington by the end of next month.

Considering Europe’s disunity over Iraq, U.S. missile defense, Turkeys’ accession to the EU, diverging energy and immigration policies and U.S. fears that old allies are recasting their roles in the battle fields, the repair of frazzled trans-Atlantic relations is long overdue. Together, at long last, we must find strategic solutions to counter the multiple challenges posed by the Middle East.

The upcoming EU-U.S. summit provides such a forum. Side lining the inconvenient missile shield, assurances are given by all that crucial international issues from the Middle East to Kosovo, Iraq, Iran and Dafur will be on the table and topped — irrespective of squabbles between Boeing and Airbus — by a “new trans-Atlantic economic partnership.”

Knowing Germany’s intrepid chancellor will preside over these proceedings, there is hope the EU-U.S. summit, though befogged by coming elections in major countries, will produce more action than paper. But then, we all know, the devil is in the details.

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

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