188. Address by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Eagleburger)1

The Transatlantic Relationship: A Long-Term Perspective

A few weeks ago I made what some would describe as the mistake of thinking aloud before an audience about some of the challenges the transatlantic relationship will face through the rest of the 20th century.2 Press reports then characterized my extemporaneous remarks as critical of our West European allies, which in turn led to a host of adverse [Page 778] comments on my intelligence, judgment, and paternity by any number of high-ranking European officials and even an opposition leader or two. In one of the kinder comments, Le Monde remarked that I didn’t “even have the excuse of being one of the Californians. . . .”

So I am here today to try again. My purpose is to examine the challenges—and I believe there are some—to the continuance of a strong transatlantic relationship over the course of the remainder of the 20th century. It is not my thesis that the North Atlantic alliance is now in crisis. It is my contention that the final 15 years of the 20th century will be years of substantial—perhaps profound—change, and that it is time, now, for those who believe as I do that a strong transatlantic partnership will remain essential to the maintenance of peace and stability, to begin to examine together what is likely to change and how best to adjust to those changes.

The problem as I see it is this: the Atlantic alliance is and will remain our most important political and security interest. Yet in the course of the next decades, our global foreign policy imperatives will increasingly demand our attention, our time, and our imagination. We can, I believe, assume the continuance of an unwavering American commitment to the defense of Europe. We can, as well, assume a continuation of a European commitment to our alliance partnership. But what we cannot—or at least should not—assume is that governments on either side of the Atlantic will always readily adjust to changing circumstances. An adjustment will be made, but its adequacy and the ease of the transition will depend heavily on how soon the West understands—collectively—that we face new times.

Major Changes

Let me start by describing a few of the major changes I see taking place in the coming years. Some are simply and readily apparent, others neither so simple nor so clearly perceived. Demographic changes in the United States, for example, are easily understood. We have had a Pacific coast since 1819, and since our first census our demographic center has been shifting westward—a process that will continue and carry with it a continuing shift in our political center of gravity as well. Yet even this fact does not fully illustrate the importance of our west coast. California, for example, would have one of the world’s largest gross national products were it an independent nation. Growing, dynamic cities such [Page 779] as Los Angeles and San Diego, the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle, and Portland challenge or surpass the east coast cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore as commercial centers.

Equally clearly, it is logical that our west coast’s economic and commercial growth would increase the importance to us of a part of the world that, with today’s communications, lies virtually at our doorstep. Yet the recent history of Pacific economic dynamism is by no means simply an American phenomenon. Asia’s economies are today among the world’s most prosperous. Japan’s automobiles, steel, and electronic goods are sold throughout the world. Dynamic market economies in the ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] countries, in South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong produce quality products at prices that assure their ability to compete in world markets. China offers a vast potential as it opens its economy to the world.

It is little remarked, but nonetheless a remarkable fact, that since 1978 we have traded more with the Pacific Basin than with Europe; in 1982 the difference amounted to about $13 billion. The American and Japanese economies account for about one-third of the world’s total gross national product. Last year, Japan was the second largest buyer of American products (after Canada)—and yet only one of several increasingly important Asian trading partners.

Moreover, the United States and Japan are emerging—for the immediate future, at least—as the two most significant players in the field of high-technology development—a field that is likely to define fast-paced economic development and prosperity in the years ahead. As we enter the 21st century, the United States and Japan are likely to be either the world’s major economic competitors or important economic partners.

We will face in the coming years the challenge of creating and maintaining institutional links with Asian friends appropriate to their needs and to ours. Those links will not be identical to those we forged with our European friends, as they will reflect the differences in the relationships. Closer ties with Asia, for example, cannot duplicate our broad, historical relationship with Europe. But our increasingly shared economic, political, and security concerns in Asia will almost certainly bring with them the creation of new institutional arrangements for dealing more effectively with those concerns.

I remarked earlier that some changes, such as the demography of the United States, are easily seen and their consequences readily understood. Others are not so readily apparent. The nature of the transatlantic relationship over the next 15 years, for example, can, at this point, be only dimly perceived.

The NATO alliance, which next month celebrates its 35th birthday, has assured more than a generation of peace in Europe—itself a rare [Page 780] occurrence in Europe’s 20th century history—by reminding friends and adversaries alike that we will consider an attack on them as an attack on ourselves. President Reagan has recently reaffirmed our commitment by deploying—in concert with our allies—a new generation of intermediate nuclear missiles that will complete the chain of deterrence and ensure that Western Europe’s security will remain coupled to our own.

I need, here, to underline that American recognition that defending Western Europe is also the defense of our own country marked a revolutionary change in our foreign policy. It was not, at first, a premise with which Americans were entirely comfortable. For many, like myself, growing up in the Middle West,3 it irrevocably extended our destinies and our sense of personal and national security far beyond our natural frontiers. This premise has proved to be the fundamental link between the United States and Europe.

There have been periodic crises in the history of the alliance over how to enhance our mutual security; there will assuredly be more in the future. We may disagree with some of our European allies on precisely how to couple or reinforce this bond—but the essential premise that peace in the Western world is indivisible has never come into question. And no installation of any weapons system can be a substitute for that fundamental assumption.

Yet Europe’s importance to us goes beyond our security needs alone. We also share a culture, a history, and several of their languages. Ideas cross the Atlantic so quickly in both directions that it is difficult to fathom from which side they originated.

Finally, there is the political aspect of our transatlantic culture. Our systems of government may vary, but we join the nations of Western Europe in dedication to liberal democratic principles that ensure the freedom and dignity of the individual and government on the basis of popular consent. We inherited these values from Western Europe, and we have contributed heavily to their survival and viability in an often hostile world.

Europe and Europeans have had, and still have, a major impact on our political thinking. Here were return to the importance of the transatlantic dialogue. Although our diplomacy will never completely satisfy our European friends any more than it will ever satisfy ourselves, European influence on our foreign policy has been far more important than is commonly perceived. It has, on the whole, led over the years to a far more nuanced, far more sophisticated approach on our part than would have been the case were we left strictly to our own devices. It is an influence that has been most effectively exercised behind closed doors—in [Page 781] the NATO Council, at the annual seven-nation summits, in the constant meetings between American presidents and European leaders, and in the host of meetings between American and European officials that take place on almost a daily basis. It is a process that has worked because we have operated from a basis of shared values and objectives, common interests and hopes, and mutual danger and sacrifice.

This is precious capital—an unprecedented resource of the transatlantic partnership which Americans and Europeans alike must seek to preserve for the generations yet to come. And since I believe we may run the risk, in the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, of losing some of that intimacy, now is the time to look to preserving it. I say “now,” since the alliance, as I indicated earlier, is not today in a state of crisis. Indeed, the contrary is true; we have survived, overcome, and resolved most of the difficult issues between us during the past year, and the climate of relations today is warm and workmanlike.

Need To Address Problems

So let me take this time of relative calm in the alliance to tell you of the problems I see ahead: problems which if left to evolve, unperceived and untended, may grow in complexity and consequence.

Thirty years ago Atlanticists foresaw a united Europe overcoming its age-old divisions to play a global role near if not equal to that of the superpowers. Western Europe’s combined population exceeded ours and that of the Soviet Union. Its rebuilt industrial base would underwrite its prosperity; its politicians and intellectuals approached their problems with confidence and in a spirit of building a new and different Europe. Americans, although a bit wary perhaps of this emerging giant, welcomed renewed West European prosperity and the prospect of its larger involvement in world affairs, because we knew we held no monopoly on wisdom and because we shared with West Europeans common values and objectives. Much more joined than divided us.

Today, however, we see a Europe that has become less certain of its future, more uncertain about the wisdom of postwar policies, more focused on its own problems and, therefore, less prepared to look at the world whole. In addition, a goodly portion of Europe’s younger generation apparently increasingly questions the utility of many of the institutions and instrumentalities that have been so fundamental to the Atlantic alliance.

The United States has been, for more than a generation of Europeans, the land of dreams, of achieving the impossible. It remains so today, for many. But it is probably also true that there is a level of disillusionment and bitterness—most clearly evident amongst the young—because neither America, in particular, nor Western institutions in general, have been able to fulfill all those hopes and dreams. And perhaps most unfortunate, this disillusionment sometimes goes [Page 782] beyond the young—to not so young leaders with enough experience to know better.

This bitterness and disillusion is, to some degree, true on both sides of the Atlantic. Too often political parties out of office tend to take political stances on foreign policy that throw into the perennial debate the question of consistency on one side of the Atlantic or the other. It is, however, some consolation to realize that when political “outs” become the political “ins,” they have tended to come to grips with reality and reaffirm the overriding imperatives of the Atlantic alliance.

While it can, therefore, be argued that my concerns about the attitudes of European youth and the vagaries of opposition political leaders can be overdone—since the process of aging and the responsibilities of power tend to change perspectives—it is less easy to put aside concerns about what I see as changing transatlantic perceptions of the world scene.

I have often discussed with European friends the different requirements for a nation with global responsibilities to those with more regional concerns. And the use of the word global is not meant in any arrogant fashion. Nor is it to deny the interests that several European nations retain in areas of the world beyond their continent. But the sheer scope of American interests engages us in a different set of perspectives and imperatives. I am persuaded that despite periodic inconsistencies (mainly on our part) and even more frequent crises of policy disagreement (emanating frequently from the European side), members of the alliance can still forge a strong consensus on most issues of importance. As the Warsaw Pact so clearly demonstrates, partnership without visible differences is not a partnership of equals; nor is it a partnership that possesses the dynamic qualities so necessary to making the required adjustments to changing circumstances. But an alliance in which there is an erosion of understanding of the reasons for those differences—including most particularly a tolerance of the necessities of geography and responsibility—cannot be counted upon to retain today’s vigor in the face of tomorrow’s challenges.

U.S. Policy Framework

Europeans often argue—and their point is well taken—that detente has been largely successful in its European context. And it is certainly clear to Americans that tensions in the heart of Europe—with Berlin as but one example—have lessened significantly. Nor can we lightly ignore European efforts to bridge the economic, political, and cultural division of Europe—and how crucial they believe these efforts to be to their long-term vision of the security of Western Europe.

But these considerations are, and must be, only some of the elements in the American policy framework. We see East-West rivalry in a broader context. Even a cursory study of recent events in Afghanistan, [Page 783] the Middle East, southern Africa, or Latin America persuades us that detente has not been a success in areas outside of Europe. From our perspective, the Soviet role in these areas has not, to put it mildly, contributed to stability.

From the many conversations I have had with Europeans discussing our respective views of, and relations with, the Soviet Union, I have not found them to be ignorant of, or prepared to ignore, the nature of the Soviet system. There is often, however, a broad gap in our evaluation of the Soviet threat. There is basic agreement within the alliance on the avoidance of war; there are different and differing voices in and within the European members of the alliance, on precisely how to reduce the level of tensions. These disagreements can serve either to polarize our positions or as an example of how alliance differences can be contained within a unified policy. If they are to serve the latter purpose it will be necessary for both Europeans and Americans to recognize that there are legitimate reasons of geography and responsibility that will often require nuanced differences of approach toward the same general goals.

Other kinds of transatlantic difference, unfortunately, leave more bruised feelings—and perhaps demonstrate the degree to which we and our European allies have begun to diverge on basic issues. Two years ago the British effort to regain the Falkland Islands posed for the United States a more difficult choice than most Europeans yet recognize.4 Yet we made our choice. A few months ago I had reason to remember that decision when we learned, with profound regret, that as our Marines landed in Grenada, our European friends moved swiftly and publicly to condemn the action.5 That Europeans view the liberation of Grenada with less enthusiasm than Americans or Grenadians do, is, I admit, fully within the normal and acceptable range of alliance differences. But where, at that moment, was the alliance solidarity that had meant so much to us a year earlier? Where was the recognition that the United States might be justified in moving to protect what it believed to be its national interests? At the very least, could not our friends have suspended judgment until the emerging situation became clearer?

In the case of Grenada we moved in concert with Caribbean nations who recognized the threat to their own security that the regime in Grenada posed. The United States has, since the close of World War II, grown increasingly conscious of that curse of all great powers—unilateralism—and has sought to resist its temptations. We long ago discovered that there is a very fine line between unilateralism on the [Page 784] one hand and leadership on the other and have tried very hard to avoid the one and embrace the other. But the distinction becomes increasingly hard to maintain when our principal friends and allies do not recognize that the breadth of our interests sometimes leads us to a different evaluation of threats to those interests than is held by others.

The Prime Minister of the youngest democracy in Europe, Felipe Gonzalez of Spain, recently touched upon another, related, problem that has come to concern some Americans of late. “Sometimes,” he said, “we, the Spanish, have the feeling that we trust more in the destiny of Europe than other countries already integrated into the group of European institutions.” “The fact is,” he added, “that to a large extent Europe today remains obsessed with its own problems. This is something that needs to be overcome.”

The danger with this growing tendency to look inward is that it may reinforce the potential negative consequences that can result from the changing transatlantic perceptions of the world that I have earlier described. Either tendency, by itself, can be difficult enough to counter; both, moving together, each exacerbating the other, could prove to be a wicked brew indeed.

This absorption with its internal concerns is in great measure a consequence of current economic conditions in Europe and therefore hopefully will diminish as prosperity returns. But the tendency to lay the blame for recession largely at the door of the United States and our high interest rates presents another kind of problem. What must be avoided in this transatlantic dialogue over economic issues is a too facile resort to the “blame America first” syndrome. For to do so is to obscure more fundamental failings that stand in the way of economic recovery. In the end, Europeans, possessing collectively a gross national product larger than that of the United States, need to ask themselves whether it can really be true that their economic recovery depends, in the main, on the prime rate in the United States.

I have cited these problems because I deeply believe they need to be discussed between friends while they are still manageable issues. I do not believe they demonstrate a fundamental rift between the two sides of the Atlantic. Nor do I believe they are insurmountable. In fact, the manner in which we were able, together, to put our disagreement over pipeline sanctions behind us demonstrates the contrary. Rather, I cite them because I fear that left unchecked, these trends, plus our own increasing concern with our affairs in other parts of the world—Central America, the Pacific, the Middle East, to name but a few—can, over time, diminish the character of the transatlantic relationship. And that would be a tragedy, for a strong alliance is now, and will continue to be for decades to come, the keystone of our own—and the West’s—security and stability.

[Page 785]

Thus, now may well be the appropriate moment for all of us, Europeans and Americans, to take a new look at where we should be going together and how we should get there. Perhaps, as was recently indicated in the Wall Street Journal, we might forego the traditional choices between less and more involvement and direct ourselves instead to a “smarter” involvement.6 The two pillars of a “smarter” relationship, in my opinion, are: increasing respect for the differences in our alliance, and a more coordinated approach—across the board—to all political, economic, and security issues with our European allies.

Alliance Agenda

I will be the first to admit that I have no magic formula for resolving the strains that will surely bear down on all of us in the coming decades. But I do believe that beginning the dialogue is the key to the eventual discovery of answers. The agenda must be broad: the fora in which that agenda could be discussed are many. And if I were asked to suggest some of the subjects that might be considered I would propose:

First. How can we enhance transatlantic cooperation in the development of high technology? Painful and costly as it may be, we must recognize that if any part of our alliance lags seriously behind another in this field for any period of time, it will seriously diminish our overall effectiveness.

Second. The importance of moving now to the broadening of alliance defense procurement policies. The United States—particularly the Congress—has, for too long, asked its allies to share more of the burden of the common defense without, at the same time, recognizing that European industry must, if this is to be the case, participate fully in the manufacture of defense items.

Third. How can the developed world cope more effectively with the large, urgent, and as yet unmanageable questions of development in the less developed countries?

Fourth. How can we overcome the increasing pressures toward protectionism on both sides of the Atlantic and in Japan? More constructively, how can the world’s major trading nations reduce the barriers to a freer trade between us?

[Page 786]

These are but a few of the many questions that we should be working on jointly. But whatever our agenda, its purpose ought to be to bring the two sides of the partnership together to resolve problems, reverse trends that left unchecked will pull us apart, and—in the last analysis—move both sides of the Atlantic toward greater equality of effort, outlook, and strength. To quote again from the Wall Street Journal: “A genuine superpower doesn’t need hegemonic influence with a weak set of client states, but a true alliance with other great nations.”

The greatness is there, on both sides of the Atlantic. It is our job to find the means, together, to let it flourish.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, April 1984, pp. 39–42. All brackets are in the original. Eagleburger spoke before the National Newspaper Association.
  2. Reference is to Eagleburger’s remarks before the John Davis Lodge Conference of the National Center for Legislative Research on January 31. Eagleburger stated in his on-the-record, impromptu remarks that “Western Europe ‘is more and more concerned with its own problems’ and ‘less and less in tune with the United States as we talk about our international security interests’.” (Walter Pincus, “Europeans’ Self-Centered Concerns To Alter U.S. Policy, Eagleburger Says,” Washington Post, February 1, 1984, p. A16)
  3. Eagleburger grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and earned degrees from the University of Wisconsin.
  4. See footnote 7, Document 104.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 176.
  6. Reference is to a February 29 editorial entitled “NATO’s Future,” which read, in part: “What’s needed is not ‘more’ or ‘less’ American involvement in Western Europe, but smarter involvement, perhaps similar to Britain’s classic role as a naval balancer. A transition of the sort described here will involve problems, because great nations have to run their own foreign policy. But the goal of a healthier NATO structure is very much worth the effort. A genuine superpower doesn’t need hegemonic influence with a weak set of client states, but a true alliance with other great nations.” (“NATO’s Future,” Wall Street Journal, February 29, 1984, p. 28)