Some Realities for Europe

© European Union 2013 - European Parliament
Some Realities for Europe - David C. Acheson

It has become a settled article of U.S. foreign policy toward Europe, and hence part of the trans-Atlantic relationship, to encourage the integration of Europe. This was first manifested in the economic sphere back. In the 1940s and '50s. More recently we see it in the security sphere in the form of U.S. cooperation with the Western European Union (WEU) and NATO's enlargement and Partnership for Peace. Such cooperation will surely continue as the European Union works toward a European Defense Identity and toward enlargement of EU membership. These are goals on which North Americans and Europeans generally agreed, though some differences remain about certain specifics. It is important not to let secondary differences obscure the common view of goals. NATO enlargement is a prime trans-Atlantic relationship. It should continue to move forward. Owing in part to the hesitancy of the EU, NATO enlargement has become the primary mode of integrating the trans-Atlantic community with central Europe. It does not matter as much what country is next to join as it matters that the process should recognize in a timely fashion the modernization and growing maturity of the nascent democracies. Some people say that we must never permit the Baltic republics to join NATO for fear of strengthening the reactionary forces in Russia. But is it not simply intolerable that we should carve out a sphere of influence for Russia that will be held back from the normal and desired relationships with the West? Are we really going to countenance the spirit of Yalta rising from its grave at the full moon?

In the future of the trans-Atlantic relationship there are several specific cases that will test our commitment to the consolidation of that relationship along the lines of democratic values. I will mention only two: former Yugoslavia and Turkey. The question of pacifying Bosnia and of civilizing Serbia and Croatia, when looked at from the near end, is heavily loaded with difficulties of history, religion, culture, logistics, resources and political will. Perhaps the military difficulties are the least difficult. The problems are far larger than Bosnia, of course, extending to the anti-democratic tradition in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia itself, the political cynicism of the region and the low value it places upon human life. But when looked at from the far end, or the long run, it seems obvious that Europe cannot afford nor can it tolerate a sub-region of barbarism on its South-Eastern flank. As Europe becomes more unified, more prosperous, more sophisticated, the bloodstained, corrupt and backward slum comprising Tito's legacy will be increasingly intolerable to Europe and to the trans-Atlantic tradition. This is primarily a European problem. North America should and will help, but the challenge is primarily to Europe. If the EU and its Defense Identity should turn away from this challenge, it will be in the position of a posh part of town that tries to ignore the high crime area on the other side of the avenue. Will western values be defied successfully by the new Visigoths? Is democracy going to prove too effete to deal with the South Slavs?

My other specific case is the question of Turkey. That country's evolution as a modern secular state is under attack both domestically and internationally. True enough, Turkey has a perverse way of making its problems worse and acting on bad public relations advice. But Turkey needs help. It needs help in resolving its Kurdish civil war, in adjusting to the democratic standards of a free press, and in achieving economic and political stability. That help must come from the west, that is, from Europe and North America. It is not constructive to deny Turkey the links with the EU that it so badly needs, or to decry Turkey's authoritarian lapses, or to exercise religious and ethnic prejudice toward Turkey. Trans-Atlantic values mean nothing if outreach is not a part of that tradition. Would the EU rather see a resentful and deteriorating situation next door in Turkey, or would it rather be part of the solution by engaging Turkey? If the aim is to have Turkey act more European, will that be made more or less likely by freezing Turkey out of Europe? Again, looking at this question from the far end it seems to me the clearly better course is to move toward integration.

In the few years just past, we have seen the economic and political goals of the trans-Atlantic community overshadow the perceived need for a common defense. This produces centrifugal forces that are becoming stronger and more obvious. Differences over trade, over economic sanctions and embargoes, and over styles of diplomacy are becoming more divisive than they were when a common threat pushed such differences into the background. It is unlikely that these divisive issues will diminish. Therefore, it seems to me imperative that the governments of the expanded Atlantic community develop ways of preventing our secondary and tertiary interests from obstructing the pursuit of our common primary interests. Let me mention a few specifics, and these must apply to all of us, my own country not least.

First, among allies prior consultation and consensus must be the rule. While it is tempting to go unilaterally for the preemptive press release, and while it is true that in some quarters - Washington not excluded - consultation is often viewed as a risk of leaks to the press, the larger risk is that failure of consultation will produce distrust and resentment. There is no repairing a loss of trust.

Second, after decades of observing efforts to apply economic sanctions to bad actors on the world scene, I have lost all faith in such sanctions. They do not punish governments or ruling elites. They are effective chiefly in three respects: sowing distrust and opposition among allies, punishing the poor and unprivileged in the population of the target country, and giving its rulers an external enemy to blame for the hard lot of the country. In dividing allies, sanctions in effect bet one's white chips against one's blue chips, to use poker terminology. They devalue allied cohesion and overvalue the symbolic gesture for domestic consumption. Only domestic politics provides any reason for this, but an important test of leadership is to resist such temptations and put the larger interest first.

Third, an appropriate prayer for statesmen and women might be, "Dear God, give me the strength to put my country's primary interests ahead of lesser interests and give me the intelligence to know the difference." National or allied security is clearly a primary interest. However, when a danger to national or allied security recedes, it can be difficult to assign priorities. Ultimately, G-8 foreign and finance ministers are tasked to review their respective policies and try to agree on what major interests they share, or on what lesser interests they differ, or at least that they might agree not to pursue mutually conflicting actions. Summits do not serve such a purpose for they are attended by too much publicity and necessarily produce lowest common denominator results.

Fourth, and this is closely related to my third point, foreign ministers, heads of government and parliaments, for that matter, must learn to accord greater tolerance toward differing views of friendly governments. In particular they must not meddle in the domestic affairs of other countries unless those actions pose external threats and they must not meddle in the relations of friendly governments with other states. My own country is gradually learning this lesson in its relations with China and I believe those relations are settling down to a more stable state of affairs. This has been brought about by the abandonment of shrill finger-pointing and the adoption of more mature conduct by both sides. I hope we may soon see our Congress retreat from its bullying intrusion into the relations of our allies with Cuba, but I am not able to predict when. The wise words of Disraeli come to mind, when he was pressed by certain parliamentarians to challenge Turkey over what, today, we would call human rights violations. He said, and this is only my recollection for I cannot trace the source: "I do not believe in a policy of scold." Do not misunderstand me, I am not disavowing a policy of supporting human rights. We all want the world to be a better place. But in spite of much talk about globalism, we still live in a world of nation-states, and people live under the domestic laws and customs of their own country. Any national government that perceives its social order under criticism by foreign public opinion or governments is going to put its back up. If Castro and Jiang Zemin share any characteristic beside communist ideology, it is this.

What I have called the nascent European democracies have been the subject of much purple rhetoric in the past couple of years, rhetoric that depicts a new sunrise of democracy suffusing Europe and ushering in an historic age of enlightenment, peace and progress. I believe the reality is that some of those countries will face difficulties that will give us concern. We have seen Poland and Romania, and more recently the Czech Republic, suffer a backlash from reform, and we have probably not seen the end of this phenomenon. Democracy is hard, for it is commitment to a process, not to a result. If the result is unsatisfactory at a given time, it takes discipline and a deeply rooted democratic culture to say: "Well, I don't like the outcome, but that's democracy," or to truly believe, as did Winston Churchill, that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others. When an entire generation has grown up in a command economy and a party oligarchy, the whole notion that in a democracy there will be winners and losers is hard to swallow, and for some intolerable. There is an understandable tentativeness on the part of the nascent democracies about total and irreversible immersion in the chilly waters of reform. Elections will inevitably reflect the shocks of this immersion. In your country and mine we are used to seeing the electorate punish governments that have fallen short of their undertakings, but that only involves party shifts within a democratic system, not a retreat from an entire political system. The West took fright when former communists took control of the Polish government two or three years ago. Before Constantinescu's election we worried that Romania was waffling in its democratic course. There will be more of this, in all likelihood, and the press will overplay its significance. The role of the established democracies is to be understanding, patient and helpful about the bumps in the road travelled by their emulators. Academics and journalists like to see things happen by the book, for they deal in words, and they tend to be critical of the constraints of real life, if you will excuse a rather broad generalization.

You have surely read a lot of rot in the press in the last six months about America being the only surviving superpower. The term, “superpower," a classic press cliché, brushes off the ambiguous realities, so we must be skeptical of it as we should be of other thought-stoppers. The reality is that international interdependence in the economic and security spheres is far too complex to be controlled by any nation. A quick look at the international terrain will quickly confirm that superpower status does not bestow immunities or the power to command. Look at some examples: American markets have been badly rattled by the poor management of lending practices, monetary policy and financial institutions in a number of countries in Asia and there may be more to come. American forces in Bosnia, even in cooperation with allies, have not been able to ensure the safe return of civilian refugees to their homes. The bussing to the polls of voters in the last elections there under armed guard - because their residences could not be protected by NATO forces - was a sobering reminder of the limits of power. The stalemate of the UN weapons inspection team in Iraq is another reminder. The common lesson is that power is limited by the will to use it and by the cost of using it. Judged by these pragmatic limits, America is not a superpower. I have long believed that the best definition of power in international relations is the ability and the will to influence the conduct of other states. When you think about the concrete cases - Bosnia, Israel and PLO, China, Iraq, all cases in which the United States and other friendly nations have significant national interests - you can readily see that pride in the appellation of "superpower" is not justified.

If we - and now I mean all of us - wish to influence the conduct of other states, those other states must be of like mind with ourselves. That presupposes common purpose, agreement on aims. In diplomacy this can only be achieved by consultation, persuasion, trade-offs, compromise, and mutual respect. All this must start with the recognition that your national interest and mine do not necessarily proceed from the same premises. Power, therefore, is a paradox. It can flow from humility and compromise. It is not likely to flow from unilateral demarche or dictation. One is reminded of the Aesop fable about the wager between the sun and the North wind as to which of them could force the traveler to remove his cloak. The sun won the wager, of course, because the harder the North wind blew, the more closely the traveler wrapped his cloak around his body. The sun, however, warmed the traveler to the point that his cloak became uncomfortable and he took it off voluntarily. The North wind is what we might call the Helms-Burton approach, and we can see that it is working no better in real life than it did in the fable.

With these reflections in mind let us consider a few simple rules for governments that seek to influence other states toward concrete action on whatever issue you please:

1. Identify the major goal or goals around which concert is sought. Make these aims as few and as cardinal as possible, since multiplicity of goals will multiply differences.

2. Identify secondary interests that will be divergent among the parties and plan the trade-offs for maximum leverage.

3. Do not go public with a position until allies and other states one wishes to co-opt arc consulted and prepared to go public with their respective statements.

4. If there is any holy writ in seeking concerted action, it is "no surprises among friends." Surprises are taken in diplomacy as efforts to pre-empt actions of other parties, the very opposite of consultation, and mutual trust is damaged thereby. In Harold Macmillan's memoirs he leveled this criticism at John Foster Dulles.

5. Act upon opportunities to compliment your opposite numbers in office and to emphasize the positive aspects of your relationships, making your differences as small a target as possible for troublemakers in the press or the opposition. The great leaders are those who by generosity of spirit and far-sightedness command the respect of all those with whom they deal.

David C. Acheson is the President of the Atlantic Council of the United States, a position he has held since his appointment in 1993.