Book Review:

April 1, 2004

Transatlantic Rift: How to Bring the Two Sides Together

By Charles Grant

Published By: Center for European Reform

On: July 31, 2003

Buy Here $7.0

Reviewed By: Frederick Hood

In this concise, eminently pragmatic pamphlet1, Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform (CER) argues that the present transatlantic rift has come about due to long-standing performance gaps between the United States and the European Union in the fields of economics, politics and military capabili­ties. In consequence, the recent diplomatic wrangle over Iraq was not so much the cause of the rift as the catalyst. Having identified these causes of the malaise, he proceeds to offer policy recommendations to the two opposing camps on how they might best resolve their differences, both through the exercise of national foreign policies and through a series of bilateral compromises. Finally, he focuses on the 'entente glaciale' between London and Paris, proposing that an agreement by these two capitals on how best to deal with the United States will provide the key to establishing a cooperative relationship between the two blocs that will best serve the common interest.

Grant succeeds in his endeavour, when making policy recommenda­tions towards the further integration of European Union member states and explaining the benefits that such integration would garner to them as a result. Though some of his recommendations face steep odds of ever being implemented (such as his assertion that Qualified Majority Voting should be applied to EU Common Foreign and Defence Policy,) most are feasible. This is not surprising considering Grant's deep understanding of the European Union and its processes, gleaned from his directorship of the CER-a think-tank that proclaims itself to be 'pro-European but not uncritical.' He therefore succeeds where other commentators have failed - too often scholars write about transatlantic relations without understanding that from a European perspective there are many compet­ing visions of what these relations should be, without a centralised system for uniting them. Yet, at the same time, it is this beneficial focus on the process of European integration that reveals the essential flaw in Grant's argument. For though European integration must seem sensible to European policy makers wishing to receive more respect from the United States, Grant fails to sufficiently explain why a unified European foreign policy would be beneficial to the United States.

He certainly tries. In his introduction, Grant states that:

For all their evident flaws, the Europeans still have considerable international clout and are the most like­minded countries that the US is going to be able to work with. (p.14)

Later, in his policy recommendations to the Americans, he similarly states that:

Americans should reflect on the history of the past half century, and consider why a whole series of US lead­ers -from Dean Acheson, to John Foster Dulles, to JFK, to George Bush Senior to Bill Clinton -have contributed so much to European integration. (p.57)

Yet such a reliance on history as the justification for American support for further European integration rings hollow, especially in the light of Grant's concluding remarks. An entente cordiale between Lon­don and Paris would, according to Grant, end the rift between 'New' and 'Old Europe' and create a 'Europe which can act autonomously, and which, on matters of vital importance, is capable of opposing the US.' (p. 106) Does, or has the US ever desired this? One could perhaps argue that certain elements of the Kennedy Administration did, notably Undersecretary of State George Ball, but even he predominantly desired British entry to the European Communities merely as a counterbalance to de Gaulle's France.2 As for George Bush Senior, at the '2+4 talks' over re-uniting Germany, he explicitly rejected French calls for a more au­tonomous and coordinated European defence. Clinton may have taken a more indulgent view, but he was neither unopposed in Congress, nor totally uncritical. Finally, in the post 9/11 world, it is unlikely that even a Democratic President would allow any European opposition to the execution of the 'war on terror.' To recommend that the US cease ex­ploiting the rift between 'new' and 'old' Europe is, therefore, to recom­mend that the US knowingly go against its own national interests. In light of his assertion that an EU CFSP should develop 'not out of ideal­ism, but from a cool analysis of ... respective national interests,' (p.73) Grant's logic comes across as inconsistent.

In a similar manner, Grant's recommendations for bilateral compro­mises are not entirely coherent. Though his suggestions are eminently sensible, he does not state how they might be achieved. For example, he recommends that US and EU states meet to discuss the 'principles of intervention,' and 'though they might not agree, they would at least understand each other better.' Well, that has already occurred in the Security Council debates prior to the Second Iraq War, and surely this would further splinter inter EU opinion in a manner Grant deems inimi­cal to further political integration. Similarly, the recommendation that the management of the global economy should be insulated from security issues is immensely reasonable, but unlikely given that economics is a key diplomatic tool for the US and the diplomatic tool of the EU. Finally, Grant fails to realistically address the lack of forums in which these issues might be discussed. He is mentions the annual EU /US bilateral meetings as a potential forum, but given the usual lack of a coherent EU policy position for the Commission to present on behalf of the member states, it is unlikely that these summits would serve Grant's purposes.

In conclusion, Grant's pamphlet fails to provide any concrete solu­tions for extracting the Atlantic community from the present quagmire. That is not to say that the exercise of writing the pamphlet was a futile one. For though failing to provide a realistic strategy through which compromises might be reached, Grant does lay out with exceptional clarity the complexities of each side's position. Were his book required reading of all policy makers involved in implementing transatlantic relations, there would at least be better understanding between the two sides and some of the awful diplomatic gaffes committed during the run up to the invasion of Iraq might have been avoided.