Friday, June 01, 2007

Trans-Atlantic Tremors

Some of the comments I've heard at the 7th Annual Trans-Atlantic Editors' Roundtable (this year held at Chatham House in London)...

There is a surprising amount of agreement between European and American interlocutors on a variety of issues, ranging from the direction Russia is taking to the nature of the problems we face in the Middle East. This does not lead, however, to the same policy conclusions as to what is to be done.

Further to my observation from Wednesday, in another form, about the difficulties "Europeans face in following behind the American banner."

Concerns about the window of opportunity leadership change in Europe brings in the here and now versus the natural tendency to wait for the final demise of a lame-duck administration. Will Sarkozy, Merkel and Brown put forward their best foot now, with a Bush Administration that has less than 2 years to go; or wait to see who the next president is; but will they still have that momentum come January 2009 (assuming, of course, that the next president can hit the ground running; realistically, though, would a new president be ready to engage any time before late spring 2009).

A debate: when the U.S. and Europe work together, do they have overwhelming leverage (e.g. China and Russia will find it much more difficult to oppose a united trans-Atlantic front) or is the world shifting so that even when America and the Europeans are on the same page, we can only influence the situation? (In the context of discussions over what to do about Iran, Darfur and Kosovo).

A second debate: can and should the U.S. and Europe even seek "common" positions--are this not going to be little more than watered down, lowest common denominator approaches? Should instead the model be "complementary" policies where each side of the trans-Atlantic relationship (and here I would group the Canadians with Europe) focuses on specific areas and there is coordination in terms of meeting shared objectives?

Well, to start the discussion on your question for debate, I would say that its tough for me to see how US-EU cooperation would produce leverage on either Russia or China.

The Russians are long past the point of expecting either the US or the EU being any real help to them, and this is the one beneficial thing for them produced by their experiences in the 1990s. They no longer compromise their interests in return for vague assurances of future Western goodwill. And this is the entire cause of the tensions between Russia and the West right now.

And China is even more impervious to Western pressure.

Now neither of these things is at all bad for the West. All it means is that if we want something from either Russia or China, we're going to have to put something of real substance on the table. But its going to take a while for us to get used to that.
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