13 November 2006

US-European communication: is the gap widening?

Chair: Sir Jeremy Greenstock and Ambassador Richard Haass

(Conference held in New York)

Ditchley brought a touch of rural Oxfordshire to autumn in New York City with an afternoon debate on this topical issue.  We gathered, in the Ditchley manner of quiet, discreet and effective discussion, to take the temperature on the current state and quality of the trans-Atlantic relationship.  There was a strong mix of old and new friends of Ditchley who, despite their natural inclination to see enduring value in dialogue between the United States and Europe, stressed that it was equally important not to take this relationship for granted. Had the institutions and structures of the Alliance, devised for the cold war, adapted to the realities of life in the sixteen years since the fall of the Berlin Wall?  Were current arrangements for consultation and cooperation relevant or effective?  The glue that had held the alliance together had largely gone.  We were no longer simply defending our borders from an existential Soviet threat.  Today’s geopolitical reality meant that the biggest security challenges were the multiple threats from outside the European arena.

If dealing with the reality of modern threats meant venturing outside European borders, as in Afghanistan, serious questions arose which could not be solved by nostalgic recollections of a bygone era.  Americans pointed out that they were happy for their troops to be put under NATO command, but European governments, with some exceptions, had placed their troops under the constraint of too many caveats to be useful in dealing with the real threats there. Was there agreement within the Atlantic alliance about the nature of the threats and was it strong enough to keep the both sides of the Atlantic standing shoulder to shoulder?  What more could each side in the relationship now do to accommodate each other’s evolving interests and to meet the challenges of a post-9/11, globalised world in which new power-centres were emerging?  What were the chances of success, if we could not agree on the challenges? Did the focus of the trans-Atlantic relationship need to shift? 

This was a big canvass to paint on and the discussion touched on some of the more sensitive areas of debate.  There was a danger, some felt, that the USA did not see itself any longer as a European power.  How divergent were our perceptions of the scale of the challenges and their trans-national character?  If we were faced with differing sets of analysis, how could both sides of the Atlantic agree on priorities, let alone tools and institutions?  Were these indications that we really had drifted apart?  If so, how had this situation come to pass?  Or perhaps both sides had mis-analysed each other and the world around them. 

Both Europeans and Americans came in for some criticism, and not only from the other side.  Attitudes towards international legality and legitimacy were seen as divergent.  The American view of the international system and of legitimacy was held to be out of sync with that of the rest of the world.  Americans, we were told, saw treaties and obligations in a different way from Europeans.  This went to the core of how the single superpower saw itself and how Europe expected to deal with it.  Tensions were still apparent on the big issues and needed a mechanism for resolution.  Personalities mattered, but so did institutions.  The chemistry at the top would always be important, but there was a worry that cooperation only through personalities and which ignored institutions would distort how the two sides of the Atlantic did business.  We should not neglect the institutions nor the need to look for new collective instruments.  Did this mean that, for instance, NATO ought to be re-shaped, for all its great value in the past?  A particular mention was given to public diplomacy programmes and exchanges that promoted shared values, which were seen to be under threat.

The Europeans, for their part, were regarded as too disconnected from the world within which they wanted to place their unified vision.  The European project had been a success, but the European mindset had grown sclerotic, parochial and process-driven.  Sixteen years on from the end of the cold war, Europe had yet to wake itself from its post-historical torpor.  The EU was seen as too soft for real action and too resentful of American power, especially when that power was used for ends which Europeans did not agree with.  Getting the EU to see the need to reinvest in hard security was highlighted as a priority for most Americans. 

The Americans were frustrated with the Europeans for having created a political climate in which they did not seem to want to look at tough problems that might require a muscular response.  There was even some European sympathy for this view.  And, whilst some Americans accepted the European criticism that this American administration was too quick to use force, there was no escaping the conclusion that Europe itself was too slow.

This discussion revealed that the prime value Americans saw in the EU was as the basis for democracy and peace in Europe.  How the issues surrounding Turkey’s accession to the EU were handled would be a test of Europe’s capacity to deliver.  Iran, however, was an example of a hard case where the United States and Europe had cooperated reasonably well so far and might continue to do so. 

We asked ourselves whether the current American attitude was an aberration and whether European antagonism to the US was driven by policies pursued by the current Administration.  Had the recent mid-term elections tempered the differences and might a transition to a new administration in 2009 start a new direction?  We were reminded that differences were not just between Europeans and Americans, but amongst Americans themselves.  A brief look at what the world might look like in 2009 suggested an agenda on which the two sides might well continue to differ:  trade;  North Korea;  Iran;  Afghanistan;  the search for peace in the Middle East;  the consequences of Iraq.  Perhaps the reality of the situation was that the current period was not such an aberration. 

The question of terrorism and the likelihood of further, more damaging attacks was raised.  This kind of terrorism had not peaked yet.  Assuming that another 9/11 might take place, we remained divided on whether this might create greater transatlantic sympathies.  Governments in both Europe and the United states were not, despite the ‘silent successes’ of transatlantic cooperation on counter-terrorism, managing to address all the factors in the growth of asymmetric threats.  A greater effort in this area seemed to be required.

If the two continents were drifting apart to such an extent we were urged to examine ways in which the relationship might be repaired.  To what extent was it essential to close the gap?  Although we espoused and shared many of the same values, we were also competitors for influence elsewhere.  We were bound to react in different ways to emerging powers such as China, Russia and India.  For many Americans the reality was that Europe was not going to be central.  Partnership on issues such as Iran might be useful, but Europe had to realise that the partnership was an unequal one.  Predictability as the precondition for the alliance was gone;  and it was likely that the coming era would be more about cooperation and less about alliances.

We concluded on a series of notes that ranged from the sombre to the sober. The intellectual and political challenge for Europe was to figure out its global strategic compass.  The transatlantic relationship would be an important part.  Europe could opt out, maintain a strategic distance or develop a new strategic partnership.  Big questions remained for the USA, too, notably on the role of force, the power of diplomacy and what weight and priority to give to multi-lateral cooperation.  None of this was going to be easy. Differences existed and strategic patience was needed on both sides. 

The wide range of issues confronting us and the changing distribution of power in the world meant that the European-US relationship would probably play a less central role into the future.  We thought that there might be value in examining the possibility of an à la carte relationship, where US and European partners were selective about the areas in which they agreed to work together.  This was not to question fundamentals, but to recognise that this was the 21st century reality.  The challenge was for leadership and institutions to adapt and come up with mechanisms of European/US cooperation for such selective cooperation to be meaningful.

This brief examination of such a broad issue was always unlikely to lead to firm conclusions.  But the Chairmen drew out some interesting lines of thought;  and New York’s welcome for an infusion of the Ditchley spirit was warmly appreciated.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.



Sir Jeremy Greenstock
Director, The Ditchley Foundation.
Ambassador Richard Haass
President, Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr Jon Benjamin

Acting UK Consul-General, New York.
Mr Ashish Bhatt
Deputy Director, The Ditchley Foundation.
Sir Harold Evans
Contributing Editor, US News and World Report.
Sir Emyr Jones Parry
UK Ambassador to The United Nations.
Mr Andrew Neil 
Broadcaster and Writer.
Mr David Richmond
Director General, Defence and Intelligence, Foreign Office.
Dr Catherine Wills
A Trustee, The Ditchley Foundation.

Mr Richard Aborn

Managing Director, Constantine and Aborn Advisory Services.
Count Riprand von Arco
President, American Asset Organisation.
Ambassador Donald Blinken
Warburg Pincus LLC.
Dr Karen Burke
A Governor, New York Academy of Sciences.
Ms Tina Brown
Author and journalist.
Ambassador Robin Chandler Duke
Former US Ambassador to Norway.
Mr Edward Cox
Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler LLP.
Vice Admiral John Craine Jr USN (ret)
State University of New York.
Mr Richard Debs
Advisory Director, Morgan Stanley.
Mr Jack Devine
President, The Arkin Group LLC.
Mrs June Felix
General Manager, Global Banking Solutions, IBM.
Mr Francis Finlay
Chairman and CEO, Clay Finlay Inc.
The Hon Dick Gardner
Counsel, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.
Mr Matthew Gould
British Embassy, Washington.
Mrs April Gow
Executive Vice-President, Gow & Partners.
Mr Roddy Gow
Chairman, Gow & Partners.
Dr Rita Hauser
Chair, International Peace Academy;  President, The Hauser Foundation.
Mr John Heimann
Senior Adviser, Merrill Lynch & Co.
Mr James Hoge Jr
Editor, Foreign Affairs, The Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr Warren Hoge
UN correspondent, The New York Times.
Mr Cary A Koplin
Managing Director, Neuberger Berman LLC.
The Hon Rick Lazio
Executive Vice-President, JP Morgan Chase & Co.
Mr Lance Lindblom
President and CEO, The Nathan Cummings Foundation.
Mr Bevis Longstreth
Partner, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.
Mrs Wendy Luers
President, The Foundation for a Civil Society.
The Hon William H Luers
Chairman, United Nations Association of the United States of America.
Professor Ted Marmor
Professor of Public Policy, Yale University.
Mr William Miller
Formerly, President, St George’s Society.
Ms Jami Miscik
Global Head, Sovereign Risk, Lehman Brothers.
Ms Joanne Myers
Director, Carnegie Council.
Mr Win Neuger
Chairman and CEO, AIG Global Investment Group.
The Hon Matthew Nimetz
Partner, General Atlantic LLC.
Mr John O’Connor
Executive Director, American Ditchley.
Mr Timothy Phillips
Senior Adviser, The Clinton Foundation.
Mr Arthur Ross
Vice-Chairman, Central National-Gottesman Inc.
Professor Arthur Schlesinger Jr
Emeritus Professor, City University of New York.
Mr Robert B Silvers
Editor, The New York Review of Books.
Mr James Sitrick
Baker & McKenzie LLP.
Ambassador Nancy Soderberg
Visiting Scholar, University of North Florida.
Mr Stephen Spahn
Chancellor, The Dwight School.
Mrs Constance Spahn
Board Member, Off-the-Record Forum.
The Hon Paul Volcker
Formerly, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank.
Mr Frank Weil
Chairman and CEO, Abacus & Associates.