- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

Given the consensus that the Norwegians gave the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama to coax him into a new multilateralist U.S. foreign policy, it is perhaps useful to compare select U.S. and European Union policy positions to see what the actual differences are.

This may be a case where, after putting aside the usual political correctness and hypocrisy that occasionally afflicts both sides of the Atlantic, the Norwegians may regret suggesting more rather than less divergence between the U.S. and EU.

Take missile defense, for starters. Do Europeans applaud the unilateral nature of the abrupt change in the U.S. intention to deploy missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, whatever the ultimate merits of the new position? Speaking of Russia, do the Europeans want the U.S. to abandon its support for diversification of gas sources for Europe to reduce the leverage Russia has by reason of its virtual gas monopoly in the EU? This energy policy of diversification has been consistent across U.S. administrations beginning with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline - do the Norwegians want this changed? Mr. Obama has made a special point about Turkey’s membership in the EU, which may be a key to Turkey’s cooperation on gas transit from the Caspian into Europe - where do the Norwegians stand on this?

Do the Europeans want to see a change in what has been a common EU-U.S. policy toward Iran, especially since it is far from clear that the missile change has resulted in Russia’s embrace of tougher sanctions? Or does the Norwegian Committee disapprove of the tough views on Iran expressed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently at the United Nations in New York?

Do the Europeans really want the U.S. to back off its counterterrorism programs, even taking into account the closing of Guantanamo Bay, which hasn’t actually occurred yet? One of Europe’s top counterterrorism officials recently asked one of his U.S. counterparts after receiving a briefing on one of the most important counterterrorism intelligence tools available to the U.S. (and thus to the EU as well) - “So, you are not changing the policy from the last White House?” “No,” the American replied, “this is continuity you can believe in.”

Indeed, there were, at least in the second George W. Bush term, virtually no significant foreign policy differences between the U.S. and the EU, except perhaps on climate change. As the Economist recently observed, it is a “secret” that “Europeans bigwigs found the second-term Bush lot congenial to deal with.”

There are now differences, to be sure, on the availability of NATO troop deployments in Afghanistan, just as there are unresolved differences in the U.S. debate over future U.S. deployments there. But do the Europeans really want the U.S. to abandon Afghanistan any more than the efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

To go one step further, do the Europeans want the U.S. generally to abandon its military spending, which provides protection for Europe? One U.S. diplomat had a meeting with the European Council’s top foreign policy staff just after the market collapse in September 2008 - and the main discussion was concern over whether the U.S. could maintain its defense spending.

The United States, of course, has obviously had a longtime commitment to both security and economic independence for Europe - as indicated by the Marshall Plan and NATO. The Marshall Plan put Europe back on its feet economically after World War II, and the U.S. has more recently responded to European - especially German - requests to forge even closer economic ties across the Atlantic on regulatory matters, including climate change. The U.S. has agreed to this policy, hoping to raise its own growth and to help Europe raise its productivity from the 0.9 percent growth annually over the past decade and a half closer to the U.S. rate of 1.7 percent over the same period. Do the Norwegians not want the U.S. and the EU to abandon this regulatory cooperation?

In this context, do the Europeans approve of the cooperation between the two continents on the response to the financial crisis, given the initial differences over regulatory reform versus stimulus? There remain concerns over the level of state aid and the handling of the sale of Opel, for example, but should the U.S. and the EU go separate ways on financial issues?

On climate change, the rhetoric of difference may not reflect the reality. On Europe’s side, the EU has recently signaled a formal abandonment of Kyoto as part of negotiating a new treaty, coming closer to the U.S. position on the need for India and China to have targets.

On the U.S. side, as the New York Times recently editorialized, Mr. Obama “has made an excellent start on climate change with new regulations that finally begin to grapple with carbon emissions.” But even here, note that the new regulations implement the mileage legislation sought and achieved by Mr. Obama’s predecessor in 2008.

How would the Nobel Committee refashion this U.S.-EU relationship?

C. Boyden Gray is a former U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

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