NATO Chief: Europe Must Adapt to U.S. View on Terror

Europe Must Adapt to U.S. View on Terror, NATO Chief Says [RSS] (NYT)

The head of NATO said today that there was a critical “perception gap” between Europe and the United States on the subject of global terror and that Europeans must move closer to the American view of the seriousness of the threat. “Your country focused very much on the fight against terror while in Europe we focused to a lesser extent on the consequences for the world,” Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary general, said in an interview. “We looked at it from different angles, and that for me is one of the reasons you saw such frictions in the trans-Atlantic relationship.”

As a result, he said, Europe was lagging behind the United States in merging external and internal security to combat terrorism, and Europe had to catch up. “If the gap is to be bridged, it has to be done from the European side and not from the United States,” he said, adding that the conflict in Iraq, the issue that helped divide the alliance, now provided an opportunity for uniting it. “Where allies very much agree and must agree is the fact that whatever ways they have looked at the war in Iraq and the run-up to it and the split we saw, we cannot afford to see Iraq go up in flames,” he said. “It is everyone’s obligation that we get Iraq right.”

Quite right. For cultural, geographical, and historical reasons, the United States and Europe will have different perceptions of the world and the best policy prescriptions for dealing with events. This was the case, for example, with both World Wars and, to a lesser extent, the Cold War. At some point, however, it really doesn’t matter whether the engagement was a good idea; it simply is. The U.S. stayed out of WWI and WWII as long as we could, perhaps correctly in the first case. Eventually, though, there was a huge mess that needed cleaning up and we had to pick sides.

Regardless of whether the Iraq intervention was a good idea, the situation is now at a crossroads. The European governments who opposed the war now have to decide whether to lend their support to ending the insurgency and helping establish a democratic, stable Iraq or continue sitting on the sidelines carping. My guess is that France will choose the latter. There’s a reasonable chance, however, that the rest of NATO will choose the former.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.