America and Europe: The Vision of John McCain


Since this is a European based website, I imagine many are particularly interested in what a victory for either side will mean for America’s foreign policies.

With the Republican nomination now virtually sealed by the sweeping results of the “crabcake” primaries (Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC), and while the Democrats are still tied up in a bitter battle between Obama and Hillary, it is an opportune time to take a look at what a presidential victory for John McCain will mean for America and the World.  In this installment I will look at McCain’s views concerning Euro-American relations.

 In later installment I may analyze his approaches to other key aspects of American foreign policy including Russia, Eastern and Southern Asia, and the Middle East. McCain unlike his presidential opponents has a deep interest, knowledge and experience of foreign policy. He has spent decades on congressional committees which work closely on foreign affairs, and has received a large number of strong endorsements from key figures in the American foreign policy establishment including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, and Laurence Eagleburger; former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, former CIA directors James Woolsey, and former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. So what kind of foreign policy could be expected from a McCain administration? In a recent speech to the Hoover institute (a prominent American think tank), Senator McCain laid out the principles which would guide his foreign policy. Much of debate on foreign policy has been conducted between the two schools of thought – idealists emphasize the moral dimension of foreign policy and see America’s role in the world as one of spreading its ideas of democracy and freedom through the world.

Realists on the other hand see idealists as tending to take a naïve and dangerous approach to foreign policy, and instead emphasize security and the national interest as the guiding principle of foreign policy. McCain believes that American values (emphasized by the idealists) and American interests (emphasized by the realists) are in harmony rather than conflict: “We must reaffirm our faith in the principles that our founders declared to be universal, that all people are created equal and possess inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…this is not idealism my friends. It is the trust kind of realism.

The vision of a new era based on peace is not a Republican vision. It is not a Democratic vision. It is an American vision. The American people have known for two centuries that we are safer when the world is more democratic.”For McCain then  democratic political systems tend to be more peaceful and prosperous than despotic regimes. Consequently, strengthening and enlarging the community of democratic nations both accords with America’s values and with the America’s interest in peace and security. In this regard McCain gives a special importance to the American relationship with Europe – of which NATO is a central expression.

Powerful forces bind to the US and Europe together in the Atlantic community. Culturally, Europe and America share the common heritage of Western civilization largely shaped by the rich historical legacy of Greco-Roman culture and Christianity. Economically Europe and America are bound together by the enormous trade  and commerce which takes place between the two leading economic zones. Politically, Europe and America share common democratic systems and beliefs about the importance of individual liberty and the rule of law. And militarily America and Europe are united in the NATO alliance which for McCain is an expression of the depth of the relationship.  

In 2006 McCain said:“For our alliance exists not solely to defend members from outside threats. It is the very embodiment of the transatlantic community, a partnership built on shared values, bountiful resources, and democratic legitimacy. It transformed the world, and limited only by the imagination and will of its leaders, can continue to do so.”But there are also strains in the alliance that must be addressed if the alliance is to remain strong and vibrant in the 21st century. 

The European side often feels as though it is ignored by the Americans and that its advice treated as irrelevant by American policy makers. Thus McCain stated that: “…we must revive that vital democratic solidarity…we Americans must be willing to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies. Like all other nations we reserve the sovereign right to defend our vital national security when and how we deem necessary. But out great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want.

When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic, or diplomatic we must work to persuade our democratic allies that we are right. But in return we must be willing to be persuaded by them. To be a good leader, America must be a good ally.” At the same time Europe also has important responsibilities if we are to preserve and strengthen  the Atlantic alliance.

Some elements within Europe particularly on the left and the extreme right evince a strident and sometimes hateful anti-Americanism.  Americans also complain about the unequal sharing of burdens for Transatlantic Security. For example during the 1999 Kosovo campaign although the wars in the Balkans took place in Europe, former deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott noted that it was the US that conducted about 90% of the sorties. A more recent example is Afghanistan where there are Al-Qaeda terrorists who plot strikes on both Europe and the United States.  But American requests for more troops in combat roles from European nations have gone largely unanswered. 

While the US has spent billions of dollars for the defense of Europe during and after the Cold War, European nations have been free to allow their own militaries to decline while focusing on lavish social spending for their own populations. McCain envisions a partnership in which Europe commits itself to take on a more equitable share of responsibility to keep the peace and confronting the pressing threats to international security. Thus McCain said that:“Our partners must be good allies also. 

They must have the will and ability to act in the common defense of freedom, democracy, and economic prosperity. They must spend the money to build effective militaries that can train and fight alongside ours. They must help us deliver aid to those in need and encourage good governance in fragile states. They must the the threats of the world squarely and not evade their global responsibilities. And they must put an end to the mindless anti-Americanism that today mars international discourse. No alliance can work unless all its members share a basic faith in one an another to build a peace based on freedom.”

The European complaints about America, and the American complaints about Europe are in fact both expressions of the same underlying problem. In the Euro-American partnership America has a disproportionate share of responsibility for the military component of the alliance. As a result of this Europe is largely dependent on the US for its own security and limited in its capacity to contribute effectively to international peacekeeping or to confront aggressors who threaten international peace and security.

In general terms the over-dependency of Europe on the United States for security and defense– like all forms of dependency – breeds resentment in Europe, nourishes dangerous illusions about the nature of international relations, and strengthens the hand of those in America who think that as long as Americans pay the majority of the price in blood and treasure for resolving international problems, European opinions do not need to be taken seriously.

The basic problem in American/European relations can be succinctly stated: Europe wishes to be respected by the United States as an equal partner in international decision making, and America wants Europe to behave as one. This is the problem McCain will work to address as he works to strengthen the bonds of friendship shaped by common interests and common values between the United States of America and the great cultures and peoples of Europe. 

Alex 

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