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Mediterranean Quarterly 13.4 (2002) 49-61

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Beyond NATO:
The U.S.-European Relationship

Kenneth B. Moss

It is time for the United States to look beyond the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in its search for a framework for U.S.-European relations. The NATO alliance still has a part in transatlantic relations, but that role will diminish in the future. Furthermore, attempts to retain NATO as the keystone of the relationship will complicate relations more than sustain them. Verdicts that NATO is dead, however, are premature. Members on NATO's periphery, such as Turkey and Norway, and new and aspiring members place much stock in it for particular security concerns or political prestige, the alliance retains a role in the Balkans, and a majority in Congress continues to regard the alliance as a key component of national security policy, even while criticizing the allies for not spending enough on defense. Nevertheless, basic questions about the role of the alliance truly exist, so the solution is not to bury the alliance prematurely at a requiem summit but to place it in a more realistic position in the transatlantic relationship and then decide on its fate based on subsequent requirements. For over half a century we have focused so much on NATO that we have failed to think about what should follow.

The United States needs both a policy and official representation that treats Europe as a whole—because that is the course Europe is set on, in spite of the resistance of the European Right. Most of the European public [End Page 49] definitely sees its future as dependent much more on the European Union than on NATO. The EU is in the driver's seat; but to most Europeans NATO is a mere passenger. Of course, bilateral relations with major member states will remain important for the United States, as the EU will not consume all national identity. To deal with the increasingly complex U.S.-European agenda and all the moving parts of twenty-first-century Europe, the United States should create an ambassadorship to Europe, which will act as a representative to Europe and coordinator between Washington and Europe as well as among the many U.S. embassies and other missions, such as NATO or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

For over fifty years the United States has kept NATO paramount in its dealings with Europe. Trade disputes, bilateral disagreements, and so forth were managed in ways to minimize damage to the alliance. NATO was the means by which all members would respond to a Soviet threat. Now, NATO's strongest U.S. supporters want to move it in the direction of becoming an institution to address issues beyond Europe.

The problem with a NATO-focused policy is twofold. First, more of the decisive issues in the transatlantic agenda fall outside of the scope or responsibilities of NATO than in it. The alliance simply is not equipped to handle them, and to try to do so would arguably dilute any remaining effectiveness. Second, a European identity is emerging that the United States is reluctant to acknowledge. It is an identity as much aware of differences in values and perspectives with the United States as with similarities, and it is becoming more willing to challenge U.S. leadership. The United States and Europe are diverging in terms of how to define their fundamental international interests as well as what mechanisms will advance them.

Issues Outside the NATO Agenda and the Ideological Gap

When NATO was founded over a half century ago, its members defined the world largely in terms of formal relations among sovereign states. NATO was a traditional security alliance that statesmen two centuries earlier would have recognized. While it did see itself as a community of democracies—a vision somewhat compromised at times by martial law in Turkey and nondemocratic regimes in Portugal and Greece—its primary objective was protection [End Page 50] against an external threat and not with internal market or political structures.

The problem today for the United States is that...


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