As U.S.-Europe tensions grow, talk of isolationism increases

The Associated Press
Friday July 27, 2001

WASHINGTON — As the U.S.-European rift widens, from missile defense and nuclear testing to land mines and global warming, some European leaders and U.S. Democrats suggest President Bush is drawing America into a new era of isolationism. 

The Bush administration calls it “a la carte multinationalism” – joining allies when it suits U.S. interests. 

“I think when the heat is off on those (issues), people will see that we do want to participate in the larger world community,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday while traveling in Asia. 

However, two trips to Europe by Bush have failed to ease concerns on the part of top allies that the president is charting a go-it-alone course in foreign policy. 

“There is this occasional tendency toward unilateralism. There always was that. But it has now increased,” said Karsten Voigt, coordinator for German-American relations in the German Foreign Ministry. Still, Voigt added, “These things will sort themselves out.” 

“There is no doubt about it, Bush has made the Europeans feel uneasy,” said Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman for Britain’s Liberal Democrat party. 

After six months in office, the administration’s differences with European allies are stark. 

Most prominent among them: Bush’s thumbing his nose at the Kyoto climate-change treaty, which has wide support throughout the rest of the world. A United Nations commission last week approved rules for implementing the pact, designed to combat global warming. The United States was the only holdout. 

Bush’s determination to proceed with a missile-defense shield continues to alarm European allies – a concern only mildly eased by his agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to link talks about such a system to arms cuts. 

The system would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. Bush would like to see that pact ditched; Putin and many European leaders see it as a bedrock arms agreement. 

And just Wednesday, the Bush administration abandoned talks on enforcing a 1972 treaty against germ warfare, further fueling criticism. 

The administration also opposes treaties to ban land mines and nuclear-weapons tests, and one for an international criminal court. And it balked at a proposed 189-nation pact against small-arms trafficking, supporting only a watered-down version. 

The trans-Atlantic relationship bristles with trade disputes, ranging from duties on bananas to tax rates. The U.S. death penalty, strongly supported by Bush, is scorned in Europe. And the hard-line American policy toward both Iran and Iraq has been dropped by all European allies save Britain. 

European governments underestimated Bush’s tenacity, suggests Petra Holtrup, senior researcher at the German Council of Foreign Relations in Berlin. “This massive retreat on all multilateral issues (is) nothing new, but Bush is the one who is articulating it most directly,” she said. 

Richard Haass, the State Department’s director of policy planning, argues that the administration is working alongside allies on many issues, including efforts to start a new round of World Trade Organization talks. But he said the United States would oppose measures deemed to work against its interests. 

“What you’re going to get from this administration is a la carte multilateralism,” Haass said. 

Criticism of Bush from abroad is echoed by congressional Democrats at home. 

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle accused him of fostering isolationism. Administration officials were quick to jump on the South Dakota Democrat for criticizing the president while he was overseas. Bush himself fired back, “We’re not retreating within our border.” 

Daschle apologized for his timing but stuck to the criticism, which he repeated this week, accusing Bush of a “dictatorial approach” in foreign relations. 

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who directs the Woodrow Wilson Center, a foreign policy think tank, said he does not believe Bush is an isolationist but “I see strong elements of unilateralism.” 

Defenders suggest that many of the treaties that Bush opposes could never be ratified by the U.S. Senate anyway. Some, in fact, appear deliberately designed to tweak or embarrass the United States, administration allies suggest. 

Furthermore, many European countries, including France and Germany, have left-of-center governments at odds with Bush’s conservatism. 

Philippe Morau Defarges, an analyst at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, said he expects Bush and his team to moderate over time. “If they are negative about everything, they cannot expect cooperation from their allies,” he said. 

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown advises against reading too much into frayed relations. The disputes, he says, should not “obscure the scale of two-way trade and investment across the Atlantic that amounts to more than $2 billion every day.”