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Monday, August 07, 2000

Common Foreign and Security Policy


…as American politicians of both persuasions again look to the troops of their allies, notably Britain and France, to undertake the more dangerous ground missions. After all, a British or French body bag is far more acceptable than an American. Indeed, this makes American calls for greater burden-sharing often appear so galling to Europeans, particularly the British and French, and suggests an almost ‘self-pitying’ aspect of American power—America the victim of its power, America alone in a world of fools and enemies—that frustrates Europeans.[34] Indeed, this problem cannot be overstated, because so many of the tensions in transatlantic security relations stem from the essential hypocrisy of the US position. The next Administration would do well to avoid too many lectures on burden-sharing whilst European forces do the lion’s share of the peacekeeping in East Timor, Sierra Leone and Kosovo. America is the status quo power and, however it justifies its actions to itself, acts first and foremost out of its own concept of interests, complicated though that may be. One reason for this self-pity is that many Americans do not like to admit that they are as much constrained by their power (both domestically and internationally) as they are liberated by it, i.e., they are the most powerful, not all-powerful. Until a ‘New World Order’ is created that reflects America’s ‘Manifest Destiny’, Americans will still tend to regard themselves as an isolated beacon of hope surrounded by a sea of despotic despair. As a result, US political and popular sentiment will always tend to oscillate between calls for assertive leadership and expressions of frustration…
…Three contradictions make American policy vulnerable. Traditionally, Americans have feared not the loss of political or territorial integrity but rather the loss of a self-proclaimed, self-justifying sense of moral superiority that can bind Americans into a sense of themselves. For this reason, isolationism, and to some extent unilateralism, are political chimeras because America will never kick the habit of foreign interventionism nor the need for the affirmation it brings. However, as they perceive new threats on the horizon, real or imagined, it will be interesting (and a little worrying) for Europeans to see how this impacts upon policy.

…As Richard Cohen points out: ‘Throughout Europe, the United States is perceived as a gutless superpower. There is some justification for that. During the Kosovo operation, US bombers flew so high to avoid missile fire that they endangered the civilian population below. Senator John McCain, once a fighter pilot himself, called this policy “immoral” . . . It’s different in Britain. The Brits recently rescued six of their soldiers and one Sierra Leonean soldier who were being held hostage by a Sierra Leone rebel group called the West Side Boys . . . The West Side Boys, and other such outfits, are much less likely to mess with Britain again.’[59]
The political leadership of the West is not just a question of military capability but political legitimacy and political will. No basis for a reinvigorated transatlantic security relationship can be established without a common strategic perception of threats and opportunities.