United States and its main European allies broadly share a common view of the problems facing the world – from Afghanistan and nuclear disarmament to the economic crisis.
Superficially the first appearance of the new American president among the world political beau monde was more than impressive: participation in three actions at the highest level at once plus five hundred of accompanying persons. Much more important, however, how efficient this opening to him Europe as well as his opening to Europe turned out to be.
Both at home and abroad it becomes a custom to consider Barack Obama as an antipode to George Bush, Jr. It was expected that his election had to change everything; at least, all laid account for it. Cooling of trans-Atlantic relations that lasted during eight years of presidency of his predecessor had to stop, as minimum.
By the first stage the popularity of new US president in the Old World was exceedingly high, not last of all because he has convicted the ‘cowboy diplomacy’. Now he must find a worth alternative to it. But the main question for Obama remains the same: in what degree he will be able to influence his European allies and, correspondingly, what their assistance he can figure on. Today two major concerns of the Western world are absolutely evident: the global economy and collective security. In both cases, the approach is to create strong international fronts to face the growing challenges.
So what preliminary findings can be made on the grounds of multiple meetings and statements of the White House head during mentioned events?
Concerning London summit, European leaders were pleased with Obama's pledge to share the responsibilities of global crisis response with other powers. Thus, Nicolas Sarkozy, who intended to abandon the summit unless concrete decisions are accepted there, has declared that the results exceeded his expectations.
It is not surprising: practically all requirements by Germany and France were taken into account in the final declaration. And in general, Europeans, acting quietly and carefully, have managed to get significant concessions from American. But on the other hand the United States has rejected any possibility of the external control over regulating national financial markets the European Union stood for. Besides, Washington has practically blocked all attempts to reform the present financial architecture.
Nevertheless, as a whole discussion on the problems in economic sphere has demonstrated the absence of common opinion on methods of confronting crisis phenomena. Strictly speaking, it did not become a great surprise since economic systems of leading participants are far from identical. Therewith it is important to emphasize the circumstance of principle that present Washington administration has shown that, in accordance with its promises, it was not intended to use both its economic weigh, and existing European difficulties in order to power punching decisions profitable to itself only. Significantly Obama did not say, whether the White House did agree any compromises, pointing out only that final communique has reflected the assent of the world leaders.
However the most interest was caused by the possible prospects of the cooperation in foreign-policy sphere. As the two subsequent events have shown, in to the positive expectations of Europeans were more or less justified – there were no signs of any arm-twisting by Washington as well.
The NATO summit ended with a warm volley of praise from all sides for the spirit of cooperation and unanimity at work. Obama's efforts to reach out to Russia for arms talks, as well as help on Iran and Afghanistan, have been welcomed in Europe although they go largely over the heads of Berlin, Paris and Brussels.
One can say that the United States and its main European allies broadly share a common view of the problems facing the world – from Afghanistan and nuclear disarmament to the economic crisis. Nevertheless shortcomings and doubts remain – perhaps most notably on how the NATO alliance should tackle what are becoming known as the 21st-century challenges.
In keeping with their multilateralist rhetoric, the European countries' predominant aim seemingly remains to achieve some sort of parity with the United States. France announced its return to NATO's military command structure after an absence of more than 40 years, and its president Nicolas Sarkozy has said he wants to build up a "European pillar" in NATO, together with Germany. However French-German axis in NATO could eventually develop into a counterweight to Washington's global ambitions for the alliance.
The summit offered up a "vision statement" of NATO future purposes and launched the writing of a new "Strategic Concept." The current one has been adopted in 1999, before the September 11, 2001, and is obviously obsolete. At the next summit in Lisbon, the allies are to bless the new concept, which is designed to provide a clear sense of purpose for the alliance.
Judging by appointing Ivo Daalder the US ambassador to NATO, today’s American administration decides that alliance has to enlarge geography of its activity. Daalder is a well-known expert in security issues, who promotes the idea of creating a “League of Democracies,” new international organization, which could substitute the UN in order to be able to conduct the military operations over the whole world without consulting the Security Council.
In his opinion the alliance can become a core of this organization: “NATO member states must think and act globally. Such non-European democracies, as Japan, Australia and South Korea, are to be invited to join the alliance as full-fledged members." In the Washington doctrine it was for the first time mentioned that NATO could act beyond its territory. The new security concept seems to recommend it to be more actively involved into the operations all over the world, for instance, somewhere in Somalia, Sudan and so on.
However there is no guarantee that the idea of ‘NATO globalization’ be supported by all members; some Europeans consider unnecessary expanding Alliance activity even in Afghanistan. Chancellor Merkel reflected the European view, arguing there can be "no global NATO."
As for Afghanistan, much of what Obama proposed is a straight-line successor to the policies of the previous administration, with some reordering of priorities. He went even further by acknowledging the war will last a long time. He also said it will be necessary to work on the future of Pakistan, including some military operations there. And the United States will take on a greater share of the overall burden. Indeed, while the US is asking the Europeans to pay more and do more in nonlethal areas, it has drawn back from exerting pressure on them to increase their military forces and to reduce limitations on what they can do.
But Americans, once they realize that the relative burden on U.S. soldiers and on the U.S. Treasury will grow, are likely to further criticize NATO and even question its value. This can be made worse if some allies, seeing U.S. willingness to take the lead, retreat from their responsibilities in Afghanistan even more.
These problems were not resolved at Strasbourg-Kehl but they hardly can be put on hold much longer. The United States probably will reinforce reasons for the allies to do more in Afghanistan and, potentially, in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. That must not be done by the president's exhortation that "we have a shared responsibility to act... because our own peace and security depends on it." To provide NATO with a useful future it will require bridging the gap in perceptions between the United States and many of the European allies about what is important for security and what to do about it. Both sides have to start seeing the other's interests and concerns.
One more contradiction in NATO is the lack of cohesion on Russia that threatens to undermine its military effectiveness. Today prospects for Georgia and Ukraine joining the alliance in the foreseeable future seem even more dim although the NATO summit declaration said the door for both countries remains open. There are deep divisions over expansion, with the United States, Britain, and most new members supporting it, while Germany, France, and Italy have become increasingly opposed. Seeking a strategic regional partnership with Moscow, they in particular have been content even to permit Russia to manipulate NATO's agenda: French Defense Minister Herve Morin has suggested that Russia must be consulted before NATO expands farther East.
At the EU-US Summit in Prague the two sides have also demonstrated unity, for example, by issuing a joint statement that said Pyongyang's development of a ballistic missile capability was "aimed at providing it with the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction." At the same time, when Obama tried to convince the Europeans in necessity to accept Turkey to the European Union, his attempt has caused the irritation of Nikola Sarkozi, who raised an objection immediately. "I work with Obama arm in arm, – declared French president. – But as for the EU concerns, the decision must be taken by the EU member states themselves." He added also that this position of France is supported by the overwhelming majority of the European countries.
Summarizing his acquaintance with the Old World, Obama said that “obviously the relationship between the United States and Europe is already strong.” But though the US president has received an adoring welcoming there, his hopes of forging a new global consensus were stymied by some European leaders who saw a chance to right the perceived wrongs they supposedly suffered during the Bush era. This reminds the behavior of senior high school students when their strict teacher was changed by softer one: they begin to show their independence and self-sufficiency, forgetting herewith, to whom they will have to run for protection in the event of necessity.
One can suppose that during the talks behind closed doors the US president gave Europeans to understand that new American authorities is much more favorable for heeding partners’ opinion. However, there are no doubts that in the event of some discords of principle the US leader will hardly sacrifice to essential American interests only for the sake of conservation of visibility of the trans-Atlantic unity. And maybe some day it will be clear that foreign policy of George Bush, Jr. was not so much wrong.
The aforementioned differences on Ukraine and Georgia joining the alliance are not the only problem in US relationship with Moscow. President Barack Obama has expressed a desire to constructively engage Russia and simultaneously expressed concerns over Russia's increasingly truculent behavior and the threat it poses to the current international system.
The main American initiative concerning bilateral cooperation is the maximal reducing nuclear arsenals of the two countries. In fact Barack Obama claimed that Washington’ final goal is to abandon completely and definitively the weapons of mass destruction.
Alas, this goal practically cannot be achieved. According to the acting military doctrine of the Russian Federation, the country can face a threat by potential enemy, noticeably exceeding it in the conventional forces. In this case only nuclear weapons can be the factor restraining aggression.
Therefore in the nuclear-free world Russia will become absolutely defenseless in front of enormous and still rising advantage of China in conventional forces as well as of the US advantage in high-tech weaponry. And no Russian government will agree with such zero variant. However it does not exclude a possibility of mutual reducing amount of warheads up to approximately 1000-1200 pieces as was proposed by American side as a first step.
Unfortunately this point seems to be the only one where consensus can be achieved. List of disagreements is much larger. First of all, Kremlin did not express its readiness to contribute to preventing Iran’s nuclear armament. Correspondingly, the United States did not give up its intention to position a part of its anti-ballistic missile defense in Poland and Czech Republic.
Obama also has pointed out clearly that USA will not acknowledge independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He categorically rejected the concept of Russia’s "spheres of privileged interest" in the former USSR, supposing that such approach in the 21st century is impossible since it reminds the Muddle Ages. American president has also expressed his worries concerning situation with democracy in Russia.
Regrettably, sides have too different approaches to many issues. Therefore it seems more likely that despite all good words said by both presidents after their personal meeting, the situation of a ‘cold peace’ that was characteristic for the American-Russian relations for the last years will not change cardinally.