Tuesday, May 27, 2008

National Review on Europe

I meant to blog about this last week but it slipped my mind. Better late than never, however.

National Review was understandably pleased with the return to power of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. This means that three of the core EU states--France, Germany and Italy--are now ruled by center-right/conservative governments. (Everyone assumes that the UK won't be too far behind, either.)

I worry, however, about the effusive descriptions of their pro-American sentiment. Yes, in contrast to Chirac et al, these leaders are not instinctively inclined to oppose the U.S., certainly not in any sort of knee-jerk reaction. Each of them places high value on the continuation of strong trans-Atlantic ties. On a variety of issues, notably terror and Iran, there is much more possibility for convergence with U.S. positions. And I assume that, in turn, the next administration here in Washington will be more accommodating on climate change issues. So yes, we should be optimistic--but to a point.

But the big conservative-3 also have some clear differences with U.S. policy. If we are willing to live with them, fine. But we can't ignore them.

**First and foremost, on Russia. They believe that it is better to engage rather than isolate Russia; they feel that Putin, for all of his faults, has put Russia back on track; they see Russia's European future as inevitable. They are less interested in containing Russia and its power rather than integrating it.

**The EU has limits. All are skeptics on Turkish membership in the EU and none are big proponents of further expansion, beyond a reluctant acknowledgment that Europe has no choice but to deal with the Western Balkans.

**The problem with Iran is one of its nuclear program. Settle this issue, and you are done. Less worries or concerns about Iran as an Islamic republic; less inclination to be proponents for "regime change" or using force as the tool to get a deal.

So I'd be wary about any irrational exuberance about the trans-Atlantic relationship.

"The problem with Iran is one of its nuclear program. Settle this issue, and you are done."

This of course is the issue. Whether Europe and America take a common position on Iran may depend on who wins the US Presidential election in the fall. But I wonder if there will be two sources of trans-Atlantic tension whoever wins.

One source would be US pressure for stronger economic sanctions on Iran, which would impact Europe more than the United States. The other could be theater missile defense in Europe, which Russia opposes. I wonder if the French position, of relying on nuclear deterrence rather than missile defense, will be the preferred European alternative to US policy.
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