Death Knell for NATO? The Bush Administration Confronts the European Security and Defense Policy

April 4, 2001 • Policy Analysis No. 394

One of the first foreign policy challenges President George W. Bush and his foreign policy team must face is the changing nature of the transatlantic relationship. For several years, U.S. policymakers have been increasingly concerned that the European Union’s goal of acquiring the capability to pursue an autonomous foreign and security policy–the European Security and Defence Policy–will undermine NATO’s role as the primary guarantor of European security.

U.S.-European tension over ESDP and NATO came sharply into focus during the Clinton administration’s closing months. Washington and its European allies became locked in an increasingly bitter dispute about the relationship between the EU’s proposed Rapid Reaction Force and NATO, specifically about whether the RRF should be embedded within the NATO framework or constitute an autonomous European military capability separate from NATO.

The U.S.-EU controversy about ESDP and the RRF is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Underlying the current discord are fundamental questions about the nature of the U.S.-European relationship, about American grand strategy, and about NATO itself. Inevitably, the new administration will have to come to grips with the question of whether the alliance–in its current form–has a future.

It is unclear what course the Bush administration will chart for transatlantic relations. Some top administration officials, notably Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, are extremely wary of U.S. involvement in Balkan‐​style peace‐​keeping missions. Logically, they should welcome ESDP and the RRF, because those EU initiatives offer the most realistic hope for the United States to extricate itself from Kosovo and to avoid such commitments in the future.

The Bush administration should not be dissuaded from rethinking the U.S. role in Europe by fears that it will be charged with “isolationism.” American internationalism can exist without an ongoing U.S. military presence in Europe. Here, the Bush administration should revisit the views of Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles, leading Republican internationalists who welcomed the prospect of a truly independent Europe rather than feared it, and who regarded the U.S. role in NATO as temporary, not permanent.

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