What next for the U.S. and Europe? With lingering disagreements over Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and foreign policy in general, U.S.-EU ties seem headed for increasingly shaky ground.
But largely unnoticed amid these differences, there are new signs of life to the transatlantic partnership. Slowly but surely, the Bush administration is working to tighten ties to allies in Europe through an unexpected issue — missile defense.
This summer, the White House launched a major diplomatic offensive aimed at shoring up support among NATO countries for its plans for a global missile shield. In an ambitious full-court press, twin diplomatic teams from Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon were dispatched in July to sell Europe on the need for transatlantic cooperation.
Five months on, the gamble is paying off. Throughout Europe, countries are gravitating toward Washington's plans for a layered international system to protect against missile attack. Poland, for one, has already offered to assist in ballistic-missile monitoring duties through the construction of a radar station designed to track threats from the Middle East. And officials in Warsaw are increasingly hinting at the possibility of even broader cooperation, including the deployment of terminal-phase missile defenses protecting European capitals.
The Czech Republic is following suit. In the wake of consultations this fall with Defense and State Department officials in Washington, Czech Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik has also unveiled his government's plans to join American missile-defense endeavors. Though not yet formally codified, Prague's participation could include the deployment of surveillance equipment and even antimissile defenses on Czech soil.
And the U.S. could soon add missile defense to its roster of joint initiatives with Britain, its principal EU ally. U.S. officials are reportedly wooing Downing Street to step up cooperation on sea-based defenses, including authorizing the use of Britain's six Type 45 navy destroyers, currently in production, to serve as early-warning "sentries" in Washington's planned missile shield after the ships come into service in 2007.
European governments aren't the only ones drifting toward cooperation with Washington. Against the backdrop of this July's Farnborough air show in England, the U.S.-based Boeing Company and the French- and German-dominated European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS) unveiled a landmark cooperative agreement to develop global ballistic-missile technologies. The pact, which lays the basis for European defense-industrial cooperation with both Washington and Moscow, for the first time paves the way for a serious international dialogue on cooperative missile defenses.
This gathering momentum underscores a remarkable development. Though they might differ with Washington on the specifics, European leaders are steadily coming to the realization that missile defense is a necessity. The reason is an unmistakable — and growing — convergence in threat perceptions on both sides of the Atlantic.
This April, for example, the British government released a memorandum regarding ballistic missile dangers to the United Kingdom. The white paper, drawn up by the British Ministry of Defence, pinpoints North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria as future threats to the Crown. Similarly, in June, at a high-profile Brussels meeting, NATO defense ministers reached an unprecedented consensus regarding ballistic missile and WMD dangers from the Middle East. The agenda, unveiled publicly by NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson, emphasizes the threat to "the safety and security of the people who live in the countries that are members of the alliance" posed by Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.
The similarity to American concerns is undeniable. So is the fact that this common ground will only grow in the foreseeable future. In the wake of the recent NATO Summit in Prague, the "Atlantic Alliance" faces an unprecedented challenge — securing its newly enlarged borders in the Balkans and Eastern Europe against proliferation dangers from the Persian Gulf and North Africa. Likewise, NATO officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the threat from rogues like Libya and Syria — countries which have served as sources of concern for America and its regional allies in the Middle East for years.
It remains up to the Bush administration to translate this growing convergence into a durable strategic partnership with its European allies. But, given the expanded agenda for cooperation becoming visible between the U.S. and its NATO partners, Washington could find that engaging Europe on missile defense might just be the key to bridging the current transatlantic divide.