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Scholar Says Transatlantic Rift Can Be Repaired

By Donna Urschel
reprinted from The Gazette, July 25, 2003

Transatlantic relations between the United States and Europe started to change in the early to mid-1970s, began to unravel during the 1990s, and deteriorated further in the early years of the George W. Bush Administration, especially since September 11, 2001, according to Klaus Larres.

Larres, the Henry Alfred Kissinger Scholar in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library, discussed these developments and provided guidelines for the future in a June 23 lecture, "Downward Course: European-American Relations from the 1970s to the Present."

The author of books and articles on international affairs in the Cold War and post Cold War eras, Larres suggested that differences are not insurmountable. "It's quite possible to overcome the rift of transatlantic relations. Both sides have still an awful lot in common in regard to common cultures and shared political interests," Larres told a large audience in the Mumford Room.

Prior to the lecture, Prosser Gifford, head of Scholarly Programs at the Library, described Larres' tenure at the Library, which started in September 2002: "Klaus has not only been a great colleague, in good humor and always with ideas on what more we can do, but he has always done it with real scholarship and integrity. He has brought to the Kluge Center a very lively spirit of inquiry into topics on European-American relations."

During the year, Larres organized and moderated two well-attended roundtable discussions, in March on "The Death of Stalin: A Missed Opportunity to Overcome the Cold War?" and in June on "Reevaluating the Nixon/Ford/Kissinger Era: Transatlantic Relations and U.S. Foreign Policy in the 1970s and Beyond." Both roundtables featured scholars and "historical witnesses"--participants in the events at the time--such as Henry Kissinger, James Schlesinger, Susan Eisenhower, and Sergei Khrushchev.

He participated in various scholarly conferences and taught a number of seminars at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgetown University, George Washington University, and the State Department's Foreign Service Institute.

At the Library, he lectured on his most recent book, "Churchill's Cold War: The Politics of Personal Diplomacy," published by Yale University Press in 2002, and on developments in Northern Ireland. He also spoke to various Churchill societies in the United States.

Prior to this appointment, Larres was the Jean Monnet Professor in European Foreign and Security Policy at the School of Politics, Queen's University of Belfast. In September 2003, he will move to the Royal Holloway Chair in International Relations and Foreign Policy at the University of London.

Larres said the threat of the Soviet Union during the Cold War was the glue that held together the transatlantic alliance. Any conflicts that arose between the United States and Europe were minimized and hardly noticed in the face of a perceived common threat. After the Cold War, the power-political problems and a widening values gap between United States and Europe came into sharp focus, culminating in the dire state of today's transatlantic relationship.

To explain this development, Larres examined the events during three time frames: the immediate post World War II period, when the transatlantic relationship was good; a turning point in the late 1960s and early 1970s; and downturns from the post-Cold War era to the current crisis.

After World War II, the United States set out to stabilize and reconstruct Europe, with the help of generous U.S. economic and financial aid. "The American policy-makers fully recognized that only a united Western Europe, at peace with itself, would be able to create a concerted front against the military and ideological threat of the Soviet Union," Larres said.

Also, the thinking was, by helping rebuild the European economy, the United States would create a huge European market for American exporters and, therefore, insure America's long-term economic prosperity.

"European integration did not work as expected," explained Larres. The Europeans adopted protective and discriminatory trade practices with regard to American goods. There were increasing efforts to keep the United States from competing in Europe and to keep the dollar out of Europe.

Nonetheless, Larres said, the United States was willing to accept the economic disadvantages temporarily so long as a stronger Europe was created. But that tolerant economic attitude began to change during the course of the 1960s and 1970s.

"I believe the late '60s and early 1970s proved to be a decisive turning point as far as America's European strategy was concerned," said Larres.

"Washington resented the ever-growing competition and exclusionary trade habits of the European community, which seemed to challenge America's leadership position.

"The financial burden of the Vietnam War, with lingering costs of financing the domestic Great Society program of the 1960s, as well as the two oil crises of the 1970s, meant that the American financial position appeared to be much less secure than [in] the previous decade. The United States not only accumulated a considerable balance of payments deficit from 1971, for the first time since 1893, but also had considerable trade deficit, and that worried the Nixon administration," Larres said.

He said the country also had inflationary problems, rising unemployment, stagnant wages, and a dollar that was weakened by the reputation of many European currencies, especially the West German mark.

In August 1971, according to Larres, Nixon decided on a sudden suspension of the dollar's convertibility to gold. This resulted in the free floating of international currencies and, above all, a hectic devaluation of the dollar. Simultaneously, Nixon imposed a 10 percent protective tariff on imported goods. These decisions terminated the 1944 Bretton Woods system of a fixed exchange rate.

These economic moves by the Nixon administration, Larres said, antagonized the Europeans and ignored entirely European concerns.

Also, militarily and politically, Europe was not the focus of the Nixon administration. Global d├ętente, together with a perception that, by the mid '70s, the military threat of the Warsaw Pact was receding, led to further shifts in Washington policy toward Europe. Meanwhile, the Europeans were becoming more independent.

"The U.S. seemed to be overstretched and had more important problems to deal with. So if the Europeans wanted to have a unified Europe and a unified market, 'Let them do it themselves.' The U.S. did not become opposed to European integration, but the support was more diminished than in the past," explained Larres.

Transatlantic relations improved in 1990, when the George H. W. Bush administration signed a declaration calling for a more unified European community with stronger, more formal, links with the United States. The Clinton administration continued Bush's policy regarding Europe.

"Gradually, however, the Clinton administration became aware of America's lone super power position, and although the Clinton administration continued to think within the multilateral framework, slowly but surely, certain unilateral tendencies began to creep into its policies," Larres said.

Clinton's popularity with European leaders enabled him to hide the large and often unbridgeable power gap and values gap in transatlantic relations, Larres explained.

Of the current crisis, Larres said, "I believe there exists a deep culture clash, a vigorous conflict of fundamental political values, and a profound mutual lack of understanding between the foreign-policy approach of the United States and many European countries."

Larres said the gaps in power and values are strong in four areas: religion; pacifism and international morality; patriotism and nationalism; and the use of force in international affairs.

He outlined steps to mend the rift: First, remove personality battles from politics. Personality clashes should be conducted behind the scenes and not in public. Second, continue cooperation in practical matters, such as trade and intelligence. Third, continue military and political cooperation. The United States should ask Europeans for help in Iraq, as the Germans and Dutch are helping in Afghanistan. Fourth, work together concerning the emerging nuclear proliferation threats of Iran and North Korea, and cooperate in solving the Israel-Palestine problem.

In his final remarks, Larres said, "One thing is certain, without strong efforts from both parties, the transatlantic crisis will linger on. Yet it is quite possible to do something about it. The crisis in transatlantic relations can be overcome."

Donna Urschel is a freelance writer.

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