Center for Strategic Decision Research


President Bush in Europe:
What He Should Do; What We Should Expect

Ambassador Robert E. Hunter
Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO
Senior Advisor, Rand Corporation


For his first overseas trip, President Bush will be visiting Europe, not Asia, even though there has been a lot of speculation about the downgrading of Europe by his administration and the upgrading of Asia. He will be visiting Spain, a recent full member of European institutions; going to Brussels to meet with the heads of state and government of NATO Allies; then to Gothenburg, for the first-ever meeting of a U.S. president with all the leaders of the European Union; then to Warsaw, in a new NATO member-country; and finally to Ljubljana for his first meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin-which will virtually guarantee, with such a Russian endorsement, that Slovenia will be invited to join NATO at the November 2002 Summit in Prague. This trip to Europe, coming so soon in Mr. Bush's presidency, is likely to be more symbolic than substantive. However, it can be substantive if it signals an end to the break-in period faced by all new U.S. presidents, when each usually begins to embrace the bulk of foreign policies pursued by his predecessor, especially in regard to Europe. Assuming that President Bush does so-and I have considerable confidence he will-that will be very good news.

But we would like to see more; indeed, we would like to see the President seize the moment-Carpe diem!-and set an agenda for transatlantic relations that will catch the attention of European allies and partners in both NATO and the European Union. There is precedent. The Clinton administration also got off to a rocky start: this is not uncommon, since our European allies, concerned about consistency and continuity in U.S. policy, always seem to regret the passing of the "old order." Perhaps President Bush has had a rougher foreign policy start than many of his predecessors but, as I say, I hope that period is now coming to an end.

The precedent can be found in the informal meeting of NATO Defense Ministers that was held in Travemunde in October 1993. The Allies were worried about some of the steps taken or not taken by the new Clinton administration-not only regarding Bosnia, but also because these steps gave the appearance of a lack of direction. At Travemunde, almost immediately after the presentation made by Secretary of Defense Les Aspin (and after parallel presentations made in European capitals on behalf of Secretary of State Warren Christopher), the mood within the Alliance changed, and confidence in the U.S. was restored.

Indeed, this change was virtually instantaneous. Why? Because Aspin enunciated a clear agenda for NATO's future: it was coherent and it demonstrated U.S. leadership. The ideas he set forth became the basic framework for the NATO Summit held in Brussels three months later. In fact, the enthusiasm for this burst of U.S. agenda-setting was so great that one idea that Aspin had advanced only in passing-the importance of beginning to account for the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction-was placed on the Summit agenda at the behest of the Allies.

I suggest that this is a similar moment: a similar time of questioning, a similar opportunity for a U.S. president to turn around attitudes regarding his stewardship of the Alliance and to present a vision of where the transatlantic nations should go. If President Bush does this, then I expect to see increased European confidence in U.S. strategic engagement on the Continent-something that most of us in the U.S. take for granted, but that still may not be self-evident on the other side of the Atlantic.

Such a step will advance the effort to develop security in Europe in the broadest sense of the 21st century, and work toward what the first President Bush called a "Europe whole and free." It will also clearly establish continuity in U.S. European policy, from the first President Bush through President Clinton to the second President Bush. If the President presents a vision and an agenda and demonstrates American leadership, the United States will be in a good position to ask more of the Allies, including increased contributions to common defense and to NATO's Defense Capabilities Initiative (DCI). The President will also be able to continue the long-term process begun by his immediate predecessor: the effort to turn America's vast and almost unprecedented power into lasting influence-the principal challenge to the nation in the years ahead, and one in which relations with Allies and the Alliance as a whole will be key. Thus it is important for the President to present an overall security perspective, both challenges and commitments. I hope he presents it more in terms of possibilities than problems.


In addition to telling the Allies that transatlantic relations are strong and that NATO is certainly not in crisis, I hope that the President will focus on six other topics.

The Balkans. It is critical that both the NATO Alliance and the European Union see the tasks in the Balkans to completion. Doing so will prove that the principle of creating a European Civil Space-the unprecedented abolition of war as a means of regulating relations that has been achieved by the 15 European Union nations and some others-can be extended to this area of such historic instabilities. Some of the remaining tasks are military, and it is critical that all Allies share similar risks. It is also critical that we follow one of NATO's cardinal principles for success: "We came in together and we will leave together." There are also political, economic, and social challenges for which responsibility rests mostly in Europe's hands, though the North American Allies are also involved. Meeting these challenges is in part a question of resources and in part a question of ensuring that the Southeast European Stability Pact achieves its goals. On both counts, we are short of what is needed, for our own interests as well as the interests of the regional states and peoples.

New Threats and Challenges. Threats and challenges to NATO include the rise in cross-border crime; the stresses of migration, both legal and illegal; terrorism; and the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the means of delivering them. Meeting the last challenge requires that a critical process be embedded within NATO. We need a comprehensive, not a piecemeal, approach. This must include a common and thorough assessment of threats and a joint development of responses, including denial, deterrence, and defense-ranging from the defense of troops in the theater to the defense of nations. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty should be either reformed or replaced; it should not simply be renounced, in part because of the grave impact that situation could have on the continuation of other critical treaties and on efforts to build confidence in limiting potential conflict. We need integrated WMD policies; indeed, we need an integrated overall strategic policy in the Alliance. President Bush should propose this.

NATO Enlargement. As it has been before, U.S. leadership is likely to be decisive, and it needs to begin now. On his trip to Europe, President Bush should make clear that the door to NATO membership remains open, and he should pledge U.S. support to inviting more countries to join at the Prague Summit. Eligibility should not be based on geography-there can be no red lines. Instead there should be strong emphasis on what candidates are doing to demonstrate their fitness to become NATO Allies and be "producers and not just consumers of security." Among other things, demonstration of this fitness will be critical to convince the U.S. Senate that further NATO enlargement will strengthen rather than weaken the Alliance.

As there was in 1997, an overall package needs to be put together now. This package must account for the needs of those countries that will not be selected at Prague, and include strengthening the Partnership for Peace and increasing economic investment in all candidate countries. Such a package will help to create lasting security and make the candidates responsible for creating an attractive and productive investment climate to which the West can be expected to respond. We must also continue to reach out to Russia-not give it veto power over any country's admission to NATO but increase the opportunities for Moscow to play a larger role in European security. In addition, NATO must build the capabilities it needs to meet the military security requirements of an enlarged Alliance in this new century.

The European Security and Defense Policy. We need to get this issue behind us: to strike a final bargain, in 2001, between the European Union and NATO-including, of course, the United States, which has expressed the most important reservations about what the EU is doing in the defense field. Since about 1993, the United States has supported and welcomed what has come to be known as ESDP (NATO still calls it ESDI-for "Identity" rather than "Policy"). This support exists because, properly done, ESDP can strengthen defense and security and can spur European countries to spend added defense money and create capabilities that they might not do just for NATO.

At Helsinki in December 1999, the EU member-states agreed on the most important formulation since they agreed to build ESDI within NATO "separable but not separate" from the Alliance. This new agreement was that the Headline Goal Task Force (HTF), popularly known as the Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) and slated to be prepared by 2003 to undertake so-called Petersberg Tasks, would be used only "where NATO as a whole is not engaged." This is key, and implies that NATO has the right of first refusal, which makes military and, indeed, political, sense. This formula was blessed by Prime Minister Blair and President Bush during the former's visit to Washington in the spring of 2001.

But what does NATO-and the United States-really need from ESDP and the HTF?

  • Transparency on planning. Ideally, planning should be done for both NATO and ESDP by NATO's Combined Joint Planning Staff, and this has been the case. But at the very least, SHAPE officers should be "in the room" with ESDP planning officers, just as ESDP has "assured access" to NATO planning. Anything else is military nonsense, and could put the Alliance in difficulty if, at some point in a Rapid Reaction Force operation, the EU needed to hand responsibility over to NATO.
  • An adequate role in ESDP for non-EU NATO countries. The principle of institutional autonomy has been accepted. But that is different from arguing that members of NATO should be excluded from participation in ESDP activities or only permitted to take part after decisions to conduct an operation have been made. There may seem to be political logic, but not military logic, to this. Even politically, with a body (the RRF) that is not likely to be employed very much if at all, does it make sense to create two separate European security communities, each with its own ethos and lore? I do not think so; little purpose would be served.
  • Limits on any European Union caucus within NATO. The Maastricht and Amsterdam Treaties call for coordination of EU positions in international forums, which could include NATO. But there is major risk here. The North Atlantic Council (NAC) is a unique body that operates by consensus-it never takes a vote. Most of the time, it does not deliberate on the basis of national positions that are brought in and then bargained out. Mostly, the 19 Allies confront a problem together and try to work out a solution together. Then all sell it to their respective governments. To be sure, permanent representatives come with instructions from their governments; but if 10 or 11 or 15 or more of them came to the Council with identical instructions, which could not be changed without recourse to a meeting downtown at the EU, the character of the NAC would change. I think you would find that the United States, in particular, would start looking for some other means of developing agreement on Alliance policy. This would be a major loss.
  • A complementary, not competitive, relationship between the two institutions. This point should be obvious-but it does not mean a formal "division of labor." One key to NATO's success has been a sharing of risks and of tasks. To be sure, NATO might not want to undertake some low-end tasks-spanning most of the Petersberg list-but having both institutions vying for the same work is likely to limit the ability of either to be effective. There could certainly be competition in resources and, in time, competition for attention, effort, and political support. We may already be seeing this.
  • ESDP capabilities, in particular those that relate to the DCI. It is important that the two institutions create modernized military capabilities that are compatible and interoperable. Though this is obvious, it is at the heart of some concerns expressed about "unnecessary duplication" of capabilities within ESDP. I can cite Hamlet on this subject: "The readiness is all." That should also have a sub-text in terms of performance. I can also cite Claudius on performance: "And where the offense is, let the great axe fall!"
  • A Transatlantic Defense Industry Relations Charter. President Bush should propose in Europe the creation of a Charter on Transatlantic Defense Industry Relations. Such a charter would help to ensure that the European defense markets remain open. It would also ensure that, as necessary consolidation proceeds, ESDP does not lead to a Fortress Europe in defense production and procurement. In addition to the creation of such a charter, the U.S. must be more forthcoming about the transfer of high technology, and do more than it is now prepared to do just with the United Kingdom. The objective should be to create a NATO code of conduct that all can live by. This objective must be taken seriously. With the great differential in the application of high technologies between the U.S. and most other Allied militaries, NATO faces a serious risk of being "hollowed out," of finding that its militaries cannot function and fight together effectively.
  • Development of a New U.S.-European Strategic Dialogue and Partnership. When he visits Europe, President Bush should propose a major political initiative, a great leap in the development of transatlantic relations that stretches back to the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO. The time for such a new partnership is right. NATO's restructuring is essentially done. The EU is developing ESDP and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The euro will become the common currency at the beginning of 2002. Now is a good time for a burst of transatlantic activity that looks to the future.

Such a strategic dialogue and partnership-not at all competitive with NATO or with transatlantic defense relationships-could have the advantage of helping to lift the debate about trade issues to a higher plane and, perhaps, lead to an easier resolution of economic disputes. As Clemenceau might have said, these relations are too important to be left to the trade negotiators. More important, it would also help the discussion of the common set of challenges the United States and the European Union find they increasingly confront. These challenges include such issues as cross-border crime, migration, pandemics, the environment, and the problems of "left out" regions such as southern Africa, which are still important to our common future. Because, collectively, the U.S. and the EU possess most of the world's resources, organizational talent, skill at solving problems, and capacity for political leadership, a U.S.-EU strategic partnership would also have great potential and provide mutual incentives: sometimes the U.S. would pull along its European partners, and sometimes the reverse would occur. The opportunities are endless, and so it is time for the U.S. president to make such an historic proposal and for the EU leaders to respond.


Taken together, these proposals for President Bush's visit to the Continent can become a transforming agenda. Such an agenda would challenge his leadership as well as European and Canadian heads of state and government. Such work is worthy of a great alliance. As Polonius said: "Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel." That is good advice, not just for Laertes, but for our transatlantic future.




Top of page | Home | ©2003 Center for Strategic Decision Research