Casualties of War: Transatlantic Relations and the Future of NATO in the Wake of the Second Gulf War

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The Iraq War represents a turning point intransatlantic relations. Euro-American ties havebeen ruptured, and never again will be the same.But the growing estrangement between theEuropean powers and the United States is tiedprimarily to the nature of power in the internationalsystem and to America's dominant role inthe world today.

Several explanations have been put forwardfor the growing U.S.-European split. Some haveargued that the United States and Europe aredrifting apart because their respective cultures,values, and interests increasingly are diverging.But that is not a new phenomenon. The UnitedStates was created partly as an explicit rejectionof European culture and values.

Others point to a divergent view between theUnited States and its allies with respect to the purposeof NATO. Notwithstanding the accession ofseveral new NATO members, the alliance has notadapted to meet the new threats of the post-ColdWar world. The Iraq War merely points to theutter irrelevance of the "new" NATO. Althoughsome NATO member states have supported theUnited States in the War on Terrorism, NATOmade no contribution either to the campaign inAfghanistan or to the Iraq War. The Bush administrationcould easily have assembled the samelimited "coalition of the willing" even if there wasno NATO.

NATO has failed to live up to expectations in thepost-Cold War world for three main reasons. First,the military capabilities of the European NATOmembers are limited. Second, the European membersof NATO do not share Washington's enthusiasmfor confronting "out of area" threats. And,third, Washington has deliberately chosen tobypass the alliance because it regards the EuropeanNATO military capabilities as a drag on Americanpower rather than a contributor to it.

The real source of transatlantic conflict isAmerica's role as a global hegemon, and the concomitantpower imbalance between the UnitedStates and Europe. Unless and until America's foreignpolicy elites adopt a new foreign policy vision,one that does not presume that the United Stateswill retain its hegemonic position in perpetuity,relations between the United States and itsEuropean allies will only continue to worsen. Theeventual rupture arising from this long-simmeringdispute may ultimately prove damaging tosecurity on both sides of the Atlantic.

Christopher Layne

Christopher Layne is visiting fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.