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P o s i t i o n

Washington´s Direction Remains Unclear

Has September 11th Put an End to American Unilateralism? Doubts Are Permitted.

ByWerner Weidenfeld - February 2002

The American reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11th poses serious questions for Euro-American relations. From a German perspective possible lines of conflict or cooperation become particularly obvious. Germany demonstrates unlimited solidarity vis-à-vis the United States. Soldiers of the "Bundeswehr" fight alongside American forces. For many observers this indicates the dawn of a new era in German-American cooperation. A new Atlantic community may emerge. The common fight against terrorism will open up the possibility to establish a future transatlantic architecture of cooperation. However, we are faced with the question: Is this vision in accordance with the facts? There are two stories to be told about the German-American relationship, which is in some respects special, but nevertheless tells us something about Euro-American relations in a wider sense: On the one hand, there is the old traditional line of the post-war era. A reliable relationship has emerged, not least because the Americans guaranteed freedom and security to the Federal Republic of Germany. Flourishing trade relations, a high level of direct investment, extensive cultural exchange including thousands of scholarships and economic conferences – this is all part of a story of success, the core of which could not be damaged by factors like single conflicts over trade or different opinions on matters of security policy. On the other hand, however, there are signs of an erosion as well: The old generation of Atlanticists has disappeared from the top positions.

After the end of the existential threat posed by the Soviet Union, the interest in the partner is declining. As the state of affairs has relaxed, indifference has grown. Logically, different opinions became more important. The Kyoto agreement, death sentence, National Missile Defence – they all cast a remarkable shadow over the relationship. No nostalgic emotionalism could make it disappear.

It might be true that September 11th has changed all of this. The new big common challenge is still unmistakably concrete. The realization that even the most powerful state in the world cannot guarantee the security of its citizens any more should be sufficient to rethink American politics. The answer should be a farewell to unilateralism and a return to multilateralism.

The new kind of terrorism with its professional global networks cannot be overcome by one single power. Therefore, the logic of American unilateralism has lost its foundation. Though, the question remains whether the political culture of Americans on the one hand and Europeans on the other is about to turn around in such a way. On a closer look, to date Washington has formulated its answer to terrorism unilaterally – only afterwards it demanded international support. The Americans declared Afghanistan the target to be bombed – and only afterwards asked NATO for assistance. This symbolic procedure can also be found in other facets of the fight against terror.

Actually, this would be the time to build up a transatlantic strategic community: a common strategy to fight terrorism by means of security policy, a common plan to fight poverty by means of development policy and a common project to help transform those regions that are threatened by fundamentalism. The future of Afghanistan after the war is a test for both Americans and Europeans. The Western World still has to prove whether it is able to define the goals, the criteria and the steps towards a reasonable transformation not just for Afghanistan, but for many other states, too.

Thus, historical necessities speak in favour of transatlantic cooperation. The chances are ultimately concrete – by the same token, however, the doubts are immense, whether these opportunities can really be seized.

Dieser Beitrag wurde auch auf der Website der spanischen EU-Präsidentschaft veröffentlicht.

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Sechs Monate nach dem Terror
Die Europäische Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik nach dem 11. September
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