Published: April 7 2005
Ahead of George W. Bush's presidential visit to Europe next month, transatlantic relations stand at a crucial point. The mood of pragmatism evident since Mr Bush's re-election last November - underscored during his European tour in February - continues to prevail on both sides of the Atlantic. But it has more of the hallmarks of a fragile ceasefire than of a new phase of strategic transatlantic engagement. And its rhetoric has yet to be translated into action.
How can the US administration and its European counterparts best build on their stated desire to place transatlantic co-ordination at the heart of their foreign policies? There are those who argue that now is the time for the US and Europe to agree a new Atlantic Charter or, at least, to update the 1995 New Transatlantic Agenda in this, its 10th anniversary year. Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, has suggested convening a wise men's group to re-assess the relative institutional responsibilities of Nato and the European Union.
We suggest a different approach. Today, trying to build new institutional structures of co-ordination to replace those that sustained the Atlantic Alliance during the cold war is premature. We should not underestimate the deep damage done to transatlantic relations during the bruising debate over Iraq two years ago. While some sort of US-EU, one-plus-one arrangement might be necessary in future, now is the time to rebuild transatlantic trust through the development of specific common solutions to specific common challenges- the nature of, and solutions to which, we should be able to agree.
There is no shortage of pressing issues on the transatlantic agenda, from supporting the Arab-Israeli peace process to reforming the United Nation's mandates and decision-making bodies. However, six areas stand out where a concentrated effort at transatlantic co-ordination could bring tangible near-term results.
The first concerns Iran's nuclear programme. Despite recent progress, the US and European governments need to recalibrate further their approaches. Europeans must be more explicit, privately if not publicly, in committing themselves to sanctions if Iran resumes its uranium enrichment programme. For its part, the US needs to engage the Iranians not just on the economic front but also on questions of regional security.
Second is Ukraine. The US, the European Commission and EU governments must move rapidly to consolidate Ukraine's future as a democratic, market-oriented country. Real progress must be made before next year's parliamentary elections. This is vital not only for the people of Ukraine, but also to discourage tendencies among Russia's leadership to try to reassert indirect control over countries on its periphery as a form of insulation from pressures for its own internal economic and political reform.
Third, the US and Europe must build on one of the bright spots of their relationship: transatlantic co-ordination in the fight against international terrorism. Three broad areas stand out for renewed effort over the coming months: counter-terrorism co-operation, where we should think practically about issues such as overcoming different national treatments of classified information in judicial cases and strengthening controls on the finances of terrorist groups; joint contingency planning, to prepare for future terrorist attacks; and improving joint understanding of the underlying drivers of terrorist recruitment.
Fourth, the US and European governments should make more of their financial resources and different areas of expertise to secure or dispose of vulnerable stocks of weapons of mass destruction in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. The scope of the task is daunting but the consequences of even a small portion of WMD stocks falling into terrorist hands make transatlantic co-operation vital.
Fifth, when both the US and Europe face profound economic challenges from China, India and other rising economies, a high-level political commitment at the US-EU summit in June to reduce regulatory and other non-tariff barriers to transatlantic trade and investment could bring long-term improvements to the competitiveness and growth of the US and European economies.
Sixth, the US and European governments must work together through forums such as Nato's Allied Command Transformation to help European governments acquire and deploy more effective national and collective military capabilities. The US needs a Europe that can operate as a credible partner in confronting international security crises, rather than one whose diplomatic stance is both hampered and distorted by its lack of military effectiveness.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. But each of these six
areas is ripe for action. Before the heavy domestic political
agendas in Washington and European capitals start to stifle the
promise of the first few months of this year, we should commit
ourselves to achieving some "quick wins" and demonstrate that the
transatlantic relationship is indeed a partnership that serves our
mutual and immediate interests.
Giuliano Amato was prime minister of Italy (1992-93 and 2000-01) and Harold Brown was US defence secretary from 1977 to 1981; they co-wrote this article with Carla Hills, US trade representative from 1989 to 1993 and George Robertson, secretary-general of Nato from 1999 to 2003. The four are co-chairs of the Initiative for a Renewed Transatlantic Partnership at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington DC