BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Americas
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

General Sir John Akehurst
"It's military nonsense"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Analysis: Bridging Nato's divisions
US President George W Bush waves to sports crowd in Nebraska
US Missile defence plans are causing unease among Europeans
By Defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

For all the talk of "a common heritage" and of "common values" that bind the United States to Europe, it is clear that transatlantic tensions are growing.

How Nato manages these tensions will say much about the future vitality of the organisation in the months and years ahead.

K-for troops in the Balkans
Nato strain: European plans for a rapid reaction force
The immediate issues of disagreement are obvious - European unease at American missile defence plans and US unease at European Union efforts to develop a clearer defence policy backed up by a military rapid reaction force.

US President George W Bush has set out an expansive vision of a multi-layered missile defence system, albeit one that, in the words of the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, can cope with "handfuls rather than hundreds" of incoming missiles.

Europe is still not convinced by the gravity of the threat. And many Nato countries remain sceptical that defensive technology in itself can provide an answer to the proliferation of long-range missile technology around the world.

Nonetheless the Europeans are well aware that missile defence is high on the Bush administration's agenda. They are probably capable of being won round, providing the new missile defence scheme does not over-turn the whole existing strategic order.

Possible compromise

But most of the Europeans' concerns have an echo in the US Congress, where the Democrats now control the Senate. They of course had backed missile defence under former President Bill Clinton, so are unlikely to offer outright opposition to any system.

With the Cold War over there is no obvious military threat to Europe

But the greater Congressional scrutiny of Team Bush's plans will probably reassure Nato allies and collectively act as a brake on the implementation of any scheme. In this sense missile defence is a manageable problem.

So too is the question of European defence. The Americans do not much like the idea. But if this is the price that has to be paid for European governments to bolster their defence capabilities, then Washington is willing to downplay its opposition.

However the Europeans have to deliver on better capabilities, which will of course bolster not just the nascent European force but also Nato. So far things are not going well. And a short-fall in resources could well cue more vocal US concerns.

But it is not so much these issues in themselves that are the problem but the changing context within which the US and its European partners are operating.

Nato expansion

With the Cold War over there is no obvious military threat to Europe. Nato's military operations in the Balkans, which for many have become a justification for the Alliance's continuing usefulness, have also in a sense postponed the debate on what Nato is for. One can think of few alliances in history that have not been directed against some other country or political force.

US President George W Bush
President Bush needs to reassure his European allies
Nato expansion too could throw up some additional tensions, though these are as likely to be between its European members as between the Europeans and Washington.

But the fundamental problem facing transatlantic ties is that increasingly Europe and America see the world in different ways.

The US as the sole military superpower insists on a "can do" approach. If there is a problem then it is up to the US to fix it.

This trend - what some have called a "unilateralism" in American foreign policy - began in the Clinton years. The US, for example, increasingly sees little utility in a whole series of arms control regimes, from land mines to the test ban treaty, which are backed by the Europeans.

President Bush's chief task is to begin to show America's allies that they are still all reading from the same script; that America is indeed ready to lead (there have been criticisms about recent failures in the Balkans) but that it is also ready to listen to its friends and partners.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

24 May 01 | Americas
America's future firepower
14 Feb 01 | Americas
Bush calls for Nato unity
11 May 01 | Europe
Nato hopefuls knock on door
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories