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Opinion: US, Europe should mend rift

With the rise of China and Russia, the transatlantic relationship gains strategic importance.

  •  A suspicion in Europe that the U.S. administration, in spite of its own center-left sympathies, is happy to see the EU's business model come under strain due to the improvidence of some of its more socialist members (i.e., the "PIIGS"). Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on March 11 issued the clearest signal yet that Washington does not agree with EU calls for curbs on hedge funds and private equity firms which critics blame for exacerbating the EU's sovereign debt crisis;
  • Anger in Washington about European NATO members’ relatively small contribution to the Afghan war;
  • The neutralization of Britain as a “bridge” between Europe and America. This is largely because British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, an “Atlanticist” himself, has felt compelled in a political year to distance himself from Washington because of the lingering memory of the Iraq War and the risk that his political opponents will renew charges that Labour has been Washington’s “lapdog”;
  • A sense of disappointment in Europe that President Obama has not brought the sea change in global affairs and U.S.-European ties that many in Europe had expected;
  • Anger in Brussels at Obama’s decision to cut the EU out of last-minute dealings with China and other major players so that a minimalist “deal” on climate change could be salvaged at the otherwise moribund Copenhagen summit last December;
  • Similar feelings when Obama announced a series of regulatory reform proposals for the banking industry unilaterally, without coordinating with the G20’s Financial Stability Board;
  • Unhappiness in Washington at the tendency of Europe’s largest continental powers, Germany and France, to be deferential to Russia, which in large part is due to Moscow’s demonstrated willingness to use its energy resources for leverage. The sale of several large French warships to Russia earlier this year drove home poignantly the differing perspectives of Russia prevalent on the two sides of the Atlantic;
  • A host of bilateral disputes involving individual countries, including Turkish fury over a U.S. congressional resolution on the Armenian genocide, and Polish and Czech disappointment that their risky decisions to invite U.S. missile bases onto their territory have been for naught now that Obama has cancelled those programs in deference to Russia.

It would be tempting to argue the wheels are coming off the transatlantic relationship — indeed, some already have made that point. But in reality, more is right than wrong. On a day-to-day basis, it remains history’s most important ever multinational alliance, and economically, there is no more powerful combination.

Still, the thrill is gone. Indeed, the dangers here lie in both sides taking the other for granted in a world where simple equations dictate that each will be proportionately less able to call the shots as years go by. Europe may never completely come to terms with Russia and America may be destined for serious tensions with China, but there is nothing inevitable about a falling out between Europe and America, and nothing in that dire prospect for either side to relish.