August 14, 2008 2:05PM

Is There a “New Trans‐​Atlantic Consensus”?

John McCain, in his WSJ op-ed today, says there are at least the "stirrings" of a consensus "about the way we should approach Russia and its neighbors."  For evidence, he provides the following:

The leaders of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Latvia flew to Tbilisi to demonstrate their support for Georgia, and to condemn Russian aggression. The French president traveled to Moscow in an attempt to end the fighting. The British foreign minister hinted of a G-8 without Russia, and the British opposition leader explicitly called for Russia to be suspended from the grouping.

I'm dubious that there's any reason to hope for such "unity" between the major powers in Europe and the United States, as opposed to between us and the Baltic states, Poland, or Ukraine, each of which has its own, perfectly understandable reasons for supporting robust U.S. interventionism.  The point regarding England and the G-8 is somewhat more plausible, but it's easier to take this position if you expect strongly that it's not going to result in any action because six of the eight G-8 countries are likely to oppose such a view, scuttling the initiative.

Here are a few data points that should further call into question the idea that there will be such unity:

  • Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini argued earlier this week that "We cannot create an anti-Russia coalition in Europe, and on this point we are close to Putin's position.  This war has pushed Georgia further away . . . from Europe."
  • An unnamed EU official tells US News and World Report's Anna Mulrine that "I think the current conflict has moved us away from the MAP plan [for Georgia]. Moving forward wouldn't be a great idea.  When you look at it, we feel validated."  The official added that the conflict "makes you ask about Georgia's motives for joining NATO."  According to the official, NATO isn't looking to fight wars with Russia, stating to Mulrine that "this is an alliance of responsibility."
  • As mentioned below, the Sarkozy cease-fire deal is miles from the U.S. position, as is explained in more detail here.  So France is a question mark, at best.
  • The German foreign ministry is calling for a "balanced approach," and is noting that it has condemned the Russian affronts it has perceived, including "the presence of Russian troops in Georgia-proper."  Distinguishing between Russian troops in South Ossetia or Abkhazia versus "Georgia-proper" seems to imply that the Germans are not necessarily in line with the U.S. on attempting to ensure that all additional Russian troops inserted into those regions leave and go home.
  • President Bush announced yesterday that the U.S. humanitarian mission would be spearheaded by the U.S. military.  Although Defense Secretary Robert Gates is trying to cool down the rhetoric and make clear that he does not foresee the U.S. military using any force in Georgia, where are the European contributions?  It's been a deafening silence thus far from the most important European capitals.  A European contribution would help show some unity on the matter--and invest Europeans more seriously in the mission.

In any event, McCain's article is titled "We Are All Georgians."  It's tough to imagine anything even in that ballpark emerging from Paris or Berlin.  So let's at least not kid ourselves about the prospect for serious burden-sharing.