06 November 1990 - 08 November 1992

The US and the European Community: The Common European Foreign Policy and the Place of Bi-Lateral Relationships Within it

Chair: HE Herr Günther van Well

We met, with timing illustrating once more the serendipity of Ditchley’s programming, close in the wake of the election of a new United States President from the Democratic Party; of Britain’s uncomfortable and close-run Parliamentary debate on Maastricht; and of a serious hiccough in what we all still hoped was the end-game of the GATT negotiations. Events like these underscored the conference’s sense of a shifting world, with an agenda more complex and in some ways more awkward than in the days when the dominant significance of Cold-War security issues had simplified analysis and priority-setting in Transatlantic business.

There was naturally much to say about Maastricht, and particularly the CFSP (Common Foreign and Security Policy) aspect. It seemed clear that the enterprise had not yet reached flying speed in public understanding and acceptance and so in basic political will; was this because it was fundamentally the wrong machine, or did it just need more time, and stronger leadership to generate the enthusiasm to fuel it? Different views were voiced, though most wanted to believe that Maastricht was on the right heading. There were risks in the fact that Governments were mostly out in front of their peoples, with rhetoric apt in both Europe and America to generate hopes (or fears) reaching beyond reality. There was real merit in European unity for international action, and without a sense of identity in that dimension European union would remain at best stunted; but Europe still felt like an amalgam of national actors, caring very differently (and sometimes not at all) about particular issues, and finding it very hard - especially in face of a diverse and overloaded agenda - to define and prioritise issues and tasks cohesively. Prospective enlargement, for example to the EFTA countries, could aggravate the problem.

Alongside this difficult process of development, the United States remained inevitably, as well as by its own positive national interest, the key global actor despite its heightened domestic preoccupations. No other political entity could yet approach its ability to act powerfully, decisively and world-wide, and its perceived influence was accordingly pervasive; efforts to tackle international problems without US engagement, whether the attempted exclusion was the choice of the US itself or of others, simply lacked realism. There was some discussion about whether some more systematic division of roles would be advantageous, with (for example) some tasks left specifically to common European effort. The view was vigorously expressed, though not everywhere accepted, that this risked unhelpfully artificial divisions of interest and of perspective. That view converged with unease about the perceived risks, as the procedures of European coordination took firmer shape, that “caucusing” could increasingly damage Transatlantic working, with the US having to confront European positions made rigid by the difficulties of prior internal consensus. The key factors here were confidence and flexibility; rigid anti-caucus doctrine, which would carry its own problems, could best be obviated by trust which would have to be earned.

One of the strongest themes was that the international system should not allow the complex and beguiling intricacies of institution-shaping to distract it from clamant issues of a much more concrete kind. We recognised that the new world’s uncertainties were setting unfamiliar puzzles, often cutting across the normal framework of inter-state dealings; we should not over-castigate ourselves if our learning was laborious, and if pragmatic solving of problems - or even just accepting that we must live with them - had to manage piece-meal without the conceptual tidiness of the old bipolarity. More particularly, Yugoslavia might well be an impossibly severe test; it was scarcely useful to criticise institutions for failure to act effectively unless we had some clearer notion of what effective action could be. The former Soviet Union (FSU), for all its huge scale, was a different case, and it was vehemently argued that the established free world was falling far short there of what its true interests and responsibilities demanded - that far more needed to be done, by collective planning and action, both to improve the chances of good outcomes amid massive difficulty and to guard against the repercussions of bad ones. At a lesser but still important order of magnitude some believed that the West was in danger of alienating Turkey by misconstruing its role and underrating its value; even if EC membership could not be in easy prospect, Europe must not appear exclusive towards Turkey.

There was general acknowledgement that the awkward agenda fell to be tackled by a Western world weakened and distracted by widespread recession. Besides turning political attention inward, this made it harder to release resources on anything like the scale needed for major impact on FSU problems; even if resurgent nationalisms (understandable as peoples looked around for guide-posts in a disorienting environment) were of a mind to respond to material incentives, carrots on a scale to satisfy the FSU flock were not easily provided from a thin economic harvest. We noted that this aspect of concern underscored still more deeply the imperative of a successful conclusion to GATT’s Uruguay Round.

We surveyed available institutions rather eclectically. No-one questioned the utility of maintaining NATO as a pillar (now keenly valued also in the old East) amid uncertain events; but its strengths and capacities were simply not relevant to many elements of the new agenda. We paused briefly on, and were mostly disposed in theory to like, the idea of its possible extension (perhaps in line with EC extension) to the Visegrad three/four; a view was expressed that US Congressional attitudes would be an insuperable obstacle to that, but the discussion was too brief to test this judgment. We were all clear about the value of continued US force stationing in Europe (and would welcome a reconsideration of Canadian withdrawal); in Germany, we heard, there was now no weighty constituency for a general removal of stationed forces. The case, both as earnest of commitment and as insurance, was powerful in the US interest and not as a favour to Europe. No-one had a neat conceptual solution to the problem of just how many was enough - figures mentioned were mostly below rather than above 100,000; but there was a strong desire that the new US Administration should anyway settle quickly on a level and remove the issue from continuing neuralgic debate. We noted that defence burden-sharing might nevertheless re-emerge as a recurrent theme, perhaps among Europeans as well as across the Atlantic.

There was no challenge to the continuing importance of the web of Transatlantic relationships, whether in collective settings or through long-established bilateral links like the Anglo-American (these being complementary, not rival). But one of the most emphatic strands of the discussion was a powerful recognition that many of the global issues needed a wider framework, which must crucially include Japan. For all that, as we were reminded, Japan is not yet ready - in terms of domestic political psychology as well as of external perception - to assume an unrestricted span of international responsibility, the increasingly politico-economic character of the key issues made Japanese participation essential. The UN mechanism was gathering strength, but there were still serious limitations (including shortages of skills and resources) upon its capacity for decisive action; and possible changes in Security Council membership - for which, perhaps surprisingly, no-one argued as a priority issue - would not correct this even if they could be carried through without divisiveness or overdilation.

This left the Group of Seven (G7) in the spotlight. Participants from non-member countries suggested that concerns about perceived exclusivity or lack of formal legitimacy should not be overplayed; the test was practical effectiveness. In that regard the record so far was not good - few clear achievements, and an over-concentration upon communiques and photo opportunities. Fresh procedures, more pragmatic and less showy, were needed if the G7 was to become a real problem-solver; more solid systems of preparation would nevertheless have to beware the Charybdis of bureaucratisation. A higher hurdle, however, was French reluctance to see the G7 move from the economic into the political field (though several comments stressed the mounting artificiality of that distinction). French approaches in this and in other institutional contexts, though ably defended, came under some fire on the ground that despite some important real shifts - for example in NATO - specific behaviour often still seemed a closer reflection of “gut” Gaulliste inheritance than of more accommodating general professions.

These impressions may convey an air of handwringing or pessimism; and at times that did seem the mood of the discussion. But there remained an underlying recognition that the world’s enormous movements, for all the stresses they were generating, were mostly away from a worse condition than today’s in the key terms of shared Western values. Those values remained the essential unifying force for free-world cooperation; they should remain the prime motive power, and the goal-setter, for cooperative action.

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

Chairman: HE Herr Günther van Well
German diplomat (retd); Executive Vice President, German Society for Foreign Affairs, Bonn


Mr Nigel Broomfield
Deputy Under Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Mr Robert Cooper MVO
Head, Policy Planning Staff, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Mr Ian Davidson
Leader and Feature Writer, The Financial Times, London
Admiral Sir James Eberle GCB
Director, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House (1984-90)

The Hon James Elles MEP
Member (Conservative), Oxford and Buckinghamshire, European Parliament

Ms Diana Geddes
Paris correspondent, The Economist

Sir David Gillmore KCMG
Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and Head, HM Diplomatic Service

Dr Michael Hodges
Senior Lecturer, Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science

Mr Martin O’Neill MP
Member of Parliament (Labour) Clackmannan

Dr William Wallace
Walter F Hallstein Fellowship in European Studies and Senior Research Fellow in European Studies, St Antony’s College, Oxford

Mr John P Fisher
President and CEO, Director and member, Executive Committee, SOUTHAM Inc., Toronto, (1985-92)

Mr William I Turner Jr CM
Chairman and CEO, Exsultate Inc

Mr Peter White
President, Canadian Institute for International Affairs (CIIA), Toronto

The Rt Hon Sir Leon Brittan QC
Vice-President and Commissioner for Competition Policy and Financial Institutions, Commission of the European Communities

Ambassador Ove Juul Jørgensen
Director, Directorate IB (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa), Directorate-General for External Relations, Commission of the European Communities

M Jean-Marie Guéhenno
Director, Centre d’Analyse et de Provision, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, Paris.

Herr Klaus Becher
Research Fellow, German Society for Foreign Affairs, Bonn

Ambassador Frank Elbe
Director General for Policy Planning, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bonn

Ambassador Karl-Günther von Hase
President, Anglo-German Association

Ambassador Karl Th. Paschke
Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bonn

HE Baron Hermann von Richthofen
Ambassador of Germany to the Court of St James’s

Professor Dr Michael Stürmer
Director, Institute for International Politics and Security, Ebenhausen

Sr Roberto Toscano
Head, Policy Planning Staff and Speechwriter to Foreign Minister Signor Emilio Colombo

HE Mr Kazuo Chiba
Adviser to Mitsui & Co; previously Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, London (1988-91)

Mr Hajime Ohta
Director, International Economic Affairs Department, Keidanren, Tokyo

The Hon Robert D Blackwill
Lecturer in Public Policy, John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

The Hon Richard R Burt
McKinsey & Company Inc, Washington DC

Mr Geryld B Christianson
Staff Director, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Mr Eric G Friberg
A Director, McKinsey & Company, Atlanta: mainly Europe-based with companies working on questions of strategy, organisation and operational effectiveness in the steel, textiles and glass industries; Director, then President, American Chamber of Commerce, Belgium; Vice Chairman, European Council of American Chambers of Commerce

Mr Frank E Loy
President, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, Washington DC

Dr J F O McAllister
State Department Correspondent, TIME

HE The Hon Raymond Seitz
Ambassador of US A to the Court of St James’s

The Hon Helmut Sonnenfeldt
Guest Scholar, Brookings Institution

The Hon William H Taft IV
Partner, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson, Lawyers

Dr Gregory F Treverton
Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, New York (directing Europe-America Project)

Professor Richard Ullman
David K E Bruce Professor of International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

Mr Michael H Van Dusen
Staff Director, Subcommittee on Europe and Middle East, Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Washington DC

The Hon Paul D Wolfowitz
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Pentagon

Mr John Roper
Director, Western European Union Institute for Security Studies, Paris