Friday, November 05, 2010

Change, Mutual Respect, and Russian-EU Relations: When the Obama administration stamps its foot, no one any longer snaps to attention

…“the Russians now have far more leverage in the U.S. relationship [with Europe] than they should”
John Vinocur quotes a former senior State Department official with responsibility for Russia (David J. Kramer) as saying in the conclusion of his International Herald Tribune article.
The United States used to call wayward members of NATO back to the reservation with a whistle or a shout. It decided what was deviation from doctrine, and that decision was pretty much law.

When the Obama administration stamped its foot this time, no one snapped to attention.

Rather, Germany and France, meeting with Russia in Deauville, northern France, last week, signaled that they planned to make such three-cornered get-togethers on international foreign policy and security matters routine, and even extend them to inviting other “partners” — pointing, according to diplomats from two countries, to Turkey becoming a future participant.

That can look like an effort to deal with European security concerns in a manner that keeps NATO, at least in part, at a distance. And it could seem a formula making it easier for Russia to play off — absolutely no novelty here — the European allies against the United States, or NATO and the European Union, against one another.

… As for the Obama administration stamping its foot, what it came down to was a senior U.S. official saying: “Since when, I wonder, is European security no longer an issue of American concern, but something for Europe and Russia to resolve? After being at the center of European security for 70 years, it’s strange to hear that it’s no longer a matter of U.S. concern.”

So, a follow-on burst of European contrition? I asked a German official about it. He spoke of German and French loyalty to NATO. And he said, “I understand there are American suspicions.”

“But,” he added, “the United States must accept that the times are changing. There are examples of it having done this. Why wouldn’t it accept our view in this respect?”

The official did not list them, but there are obvious factors explaining the French and German initiatives.

A major one is President Barack Obama’s perceived lack of interest and engagement in Europe. His failure to attend a Berlin ceremony commemorating the end of the Cold War and his cancellation of a meeting involving the E.U.’s new president has had symbolic weight.

… Consider this irony: the more Russia makes entry into the E.U.’s decision-making processes on security issues a seeming condition for deals the French and/or Germans want (think, for example, of France’s proposed sale to Moscow of Mistral attack vessels), the more the impression takes hold that the administration’s focus for complaint about the situation has been off-loaded onto the Europeans.

… When Mr. Medvedev bestowed Russia’s highest honors at a Kremlin ceremony on a group of sleeper spies who were expelled from the United States last July, a State Department spokesman turned away a reporter’s question with a “no comment.” Washington chooses not to say anything either about Mr. Medvedev’s support, repeated in Deauville, for Mr. Sarkozy’s plan, as next year’s president of the G-20 consultative grouping, to focus its attention on limiting the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency.

Prior to John Vinocur's article appeared an IHT editorial page column in which Roger Cohen appraised us that

France is in a quiet sulk. Nicolas Sarkozy is the most pro-American president of the Fifth Republic. He brought France back into NATO’s military command, rejected the de rigueur cynicism of French political discourse on the United States, and reached out to Obama. For all of which he got nothing. He must hear de Gaulle’s ghost at night whispering, “I told you so.”

In London, the British are shaking their heads. … “Beside the E.U., is there another bunch of countries anywhere willing to work as closely and permanently with the U.S. on almost all issues of global and regional concern?” asked Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador in Washington. “I wish Obama would say just that.”
Somewhat related is Virginie Malingre's interview in Le Monde with Alastair Cameron, who "est chargé des questions européennes au Royal United Services Institute, un think tank londonien spécialisé dans les questions de défense et de sécurité. Ce Franco-Britannique a fait ses études à Londres et à Paris, où il a travaillé quelque temps pour le ministère de la défense."
on peut penser que la guerre en Irak a mis en évidence le déséquilibre de la relation. On a parlé de la Grande-Bretagne comme du "caniche de Washington"...

William Hague, le ministre des affaires étrangères britannique, et David Cameron, le premier ministre, ont tous deux dit qu'ils étaient les alliés des Etats-Unis mais qu'ils ne seraient pas "son esclave ". C'est une manière d'admettre que les Britanniques, ces dix dernières années, ont eu le sentiment qu'ils étaient trop souvent à la botte de Washington. De ce point de vue-là, la coopération avec la France sera la bienvenue. Mais, sur le fond, rien n'a changé.