The terrorist assault on America has revived the West's sense of solidarity. It may, I hope, mark the beginning of a fresh understanding and alliance between Europe and America. Certainly, there were misgivings among President Bush's European counterparts about some of his early actions in office. But Europe's horror at the unfolding events since 11 September has eclipsed, if not removed, the initial misgivings among the continent's leaders.
Regardless of events, I believe that the mood of pessimism that prevailed this summer about European-US relations is misplaced. A twin commitment to Europeanism and Atlanticism, which is at the root of my politics, should encourage us to stress what Europe and America have in common and the combined strength we can devote to tackling the economic inequality and denial of human rights that blights so many parts of the world.
Bush's early critics had real concerns. The new US foreign policy appeared indifferent to others' views. Bush's rejection of the Kyoto agreement was interpreted as the United States turning its back on international obligations. This unfortunate perception of America rowing back was reinforced by US reluctance to sign up to the conventions on biological weapons and small arms. At the same time Bush's commitment to missile defence meets with incomprehension in some political circles on this side of the Atlantic.
On the left, the gulf with American Republican ideas builds on a longer trend over the last decade when many in Europe have defined their politics by their reservations about globalisation (ie a US-dominated world) and defence of the European social model (ie a rejection of what they perceive America as standing for).
Were such anti-American attitudes to take hold, they would not strengthen the intelligent centre-left response needed to the anti-globalisation movement. We should not fool ourselves that we can address their demands for more balanced and environmentally sustainable economic growth without the full co-operation of America.
Nor will anti-American prejudice help us to work together to tackle the problem of terrorism and cope with the inevitable strains and pressures the UN-backed international coalition against terror will attract in coming months.
There have always been ideological differences within the European-Atlantic family but these did not prevent Franklin D Roosevelt finally joining the fight against fascism or John F Kennedy proclaiming America's willingness to "pay any price, bear any burden" to defend Europe's freedom. Times are now different. The Cold War is over. Some may have thought that after its passing, we would need America less. But crude and oversimplistic as it may sound to some, the real victor of the Cold War is a "Europe, whole and free". This triumph of democracy over Soviet tyranny we owe principally to the United States.
Since 1990 the United States has continued to play a vital role in European security. Without the eventual commitment of US military power, Europe would never on its own have halted genocide in Bosnia, allowed the Kosovars to return to their homeland or seen the Serbian people overthrow Milosevic.
Europe should have more of a capacity to handle similar crises in future on its own. The logic of European defence is compelling. We cannot for ever rely on the United States to sort out every crisis in our own backyard. Yet we should not kid ourselves that even with a more effective European capability we will be in a position to sort out such crises without US commitment and support and the security Nato provides. Now is not the time for Europe and the United States to drift apart.
The last thing that Europe should want is a return to the isolationist America of the inter-war years that turned a blind eye to the creation of hugely powerful military regimes in Germany and Japan, because these were seen as faraway regions of the world of little concern to the American continent. The United States is today the world's only global superpower. For Europe, our task is to harness that strength, motivate its use for the common good and influence its deployment to resolve conflict and stand up against threats to our security. In other words, to create a safer world more in tune with European values, more respectful of human rights, more tolerant of ethnic and religious diversity.
I want a strong Europe to see itself as an enduring strategic partner of the United States in upholding these values and taking on other challenges of social and economic inequality just as we are doing in the coalition against terrorism. For the peace and stability that American power underpins is what makes possible humanitarian interventions like Kosovo, East Timor and Sierra Leone where otherwise every crisis would become the plaything of regional power rivalry.
If we think of the world in these terms, then European reactions to missile defence should be more sober. America's theory of missile defence is that it protects the country against the blackmail with which rogue nuclear states can threaten the country if it is defenceless against such attack.
Those who think such a scenario will be of less concern to Americans given the different nature of the attack on 11 September may be mistaken. The American public are just as likely to think that anything can happen in a world which is even more unstable and threatening than they originally believed. Not surprisingly, they are demanding total protection from attack and, in principle at least, this will make missile defence more, not less attractive to them.
If we want the United States to continue to take its global responsibilities seriously, then we should engage intelligently with these arguments, rather than rejecting their case out of hand. The US is far from agreed on the form missile defence might take and a weighty objection will come (in America and Europe) from those worried about its costly distortion of defence budgets. Nonetheless, it should be treated as part of a continued US commitment to its international responsibilities, not a retreat into isolationism. I also see Europe as playing a key role in forging a new relationship with Russia both economically and strategically. Europe also can give a helpful push to the wider non-proliferation agenda, despite the correct determination on the part of Britain and France to maintain their own minimum nuclear deterrents.
Europe should continue to press issues like Kyoto and the future of Africa, where US public opinion needs to be brought along. But we can only do this by keeping close to the United States. Insults and transatlantic megaphone diplomacy don't work. We need to engage its political leaders in a civilised debate and make a case Washington cannot ignore. In the last few weeks, this approach has had some success in tempering the way that America has made its case. Most of all, Europe and America have a shared responsibility, with Japan, for the health of the world economy. The US downturn, much worsened by recent events, has undermined Europe's complacent assumptions of growth within a euro area, which many hoped would be insulated from the outside world. We have to work with the US administration to recreate confidence in the world economy. In this context a successful launch of a new World Trade Organisation round at Doha, Qatar, is essential.
In promoting free trade and openness, Europe and America not only make their own economies more dynamic. They create the conditions for releasing millions from extreme poverty. Europe and America must not shirk this shared challenge of prosperity and security. To do so would be an unforgivable rejection of what the international community can achieve when its strongest players work together to aid the weak and vulnerable.Reuse content