Transatlantic Thaw Can Help Taiwan

Leading up to Taiwan's presidential election last month, China was hoping to make the most of out the apparent rift between the US and Europe. According to David Huang, a researcher at Taiwan's most influential think tank, China had attempted to exploit the transatlantic disagreement over war in Iraq in order to bolster its designs on Taiwan. Engaging in a joint naval exercise with France and encouraging the EU to lift its embargo on arms sales to China were just two examples of how Beijing tried to insert itself between the two great Atlantic powers. For Taiwan, says Huang, a deepening of the division would be dangerous, as it could lead to a split international response in the event of a cross-strait military conflict. On the other hand, he argues, "a US-Europe rapprochement based not on a new balance of power but on a new community of law is good for world peace." It would also be good for Taiwan, he says, "because a multilateral institutional order enforced by a military super-power in a trans-atlantic alliance not only deters aggressive regional powers, but also constrains them to play by the rules." – YaleGlobal

Transatlantic Thaw Can Help Taiwan

David Huang
Wednesday, April 21, 2004

With the re-election of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), China will doubtlessly upgrade its diplomatic onslaught against Taiwan. It already has persuaded Dominica to abandon Taiwan. This squeezing of Taiwan's diplomatic space was obviously aimed at embarrassing Chen.

But if Taiwan continues to lose diplomatic allies, then it will lose its sovereignty in the international community. In addition, China has consistently sought to corner Taiwan through indirect pressure exerted by the US and European powers. Although China complained that the US broke its promise by congratulating Chen on his re-election prematurely, China was happy to have a joint navy exercise with France just before Taiwan's presidential election.

Indeed, China seemed to be trying to exploit the recent transatlantic rift on the Iraq war by pitting Europe (especially France and Germany) against the US. For example, despite the strong US opposition, Beijing encouraged the EU to lift its arms embargo to China. While the EU has not lifted its arms embargo, it has sought to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership with China.

In other words, it seems in the long run that a rising China in alliance with European powers will inevitably challenge US hegemony. As for Taiwan, some are quick to suggest that the government should take sides either with the US or with the China-Europe alliance. However, this view is essentially myopic, based on the assumption that recent transatlantic rifts on the Iraq war cannot be repaired, and that long-term strategic interests between the US and Europe will diverge. If one better understood the source of recent transatlantic tensions, then one would seek to exploit the advantage of transatlantic rapprochement, rather than its rifts.

The recent transatlantic rift may owe as much to ill-conceived rhetoric as to structural differences between the US and Europe. With respect to structural differences, the US has become the world's only military superpower since the end of the Cold War. To some extent, US military supremacy begets an ideological tendency to use it. The Bush administration's emphases on unilateralism, pre-emption and military supremacy are only logical extensions of US supremacy.

However, Bush's national security strategy is hardly a new idea in the history of US foreign policy. For example, while the defining features of US Cold War policies were containment and deterrence, the US' real strategy, as George Kennan contemplated, was to pursue military superiority. In 1904 president Theodore Roosevelt unilaterally asserted the right of the US to intervene militarily in the western hemisphere to preserve order. In 1995, then-president Bill Clinton put forward a policy to "deter and pre-empt, apprehend and prosecute individuals who perpetrate or plan to perpetrate terrorist attacks."

Moreover, given the US' pre-emptive strategy to combat terrorism, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice warns that pre-emption "does not give a green light -- to the United States or other nations -- to act first without exhausting other means." Nor do Rice or Secretary of State Colin Powell assert that US pursuit of military supremacy should prevent allies and friends from enhancing their own military capabilities.

In Europe, by contrast, weaker military power nurtures a tendency to avoid war. Affected by the legacy of two world wars and the post-war integration experience, Europeans prefer to deal with problems through economic integration, foreign aid and multilateral institutions. But it would be wrong to portray Europe as an unconditional pacifist, and the US as a relentless warmonger. In Bosnia and Kosovo, for example, there were times when both France and Britain were more ready than the US to threaten or use force.

However, most European governments have made it clear that not all terrorists share the same grievances, or aim at the same targets. By declaring a global war on terrorism, the US in fact risks fomenting more terrorists. European countries would like to deal with terrorism case by case, and preferably using diplomacy, foreign aid and economic development to rescue failed states, while employing institutional pressure backed by military threat to coerce rogue states.

The structural differences between the US and Europe may give them different world views. As a result, Europe regularly accuses the US of trying to reduce everything in the war on terror to military goals. On the other hand, the US responded with resentment over Europe's reluctance to support its attack on Iraq. The administration's rhetoric went further to suggest that if one was not with the US, then one sided with the terrorists.

Worse still, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's ill-conceived remark on "new" and "old" Europe did nothing but undermine Europe's solidarity. But even in the heyday of recent transatlantic animosity, it would be misleading to portray Europe, especially France and Germany, as having attempted to balance American power. Neither France nor Germany took action against the US military campaign in Iraq, nor did they propose multilateral condemnation of the US invasion. Germany and France simply withheld multilateral legitimacy and bilateral assistance for what they considered to be a rushed war in Iraq. To some extent, transatlantic political dialogue continued, despite serious disputes over the Iraq war.

The EU and the US began sharing foreign policy information as early as 1973 and began bilateral policy consultations regularly in the 1980s. Contrary to the widely accepted assumption that the EU has no influence at all on US foreign policy, the EU exerted significant political impact on the US in many important incidents in the 1990s. In addition to frequent high-level dialogue, US and European citizens' values and interests in the world remain highly similar.

In September 2002, for example, one comprehensive poll of American and European attitudes toward foreign policy showed that Europeans (80 percent) were in principle as ready as Americans (76 percent) to use force to uphold international law, help fight famine (88 percent and 81 percent), or destroy terrorists' camps (75 percent and 92 percent). As Stanley Hoffmann contends, "Europe remained, for the United States, the most crucial diplomatic and strategic theater, one with which the US was linked not only by vital economic and security interests, but also by common culture and common values."

But it would be unwise to pretend that the recent trans-atlantic rift was spurious. Rhetoric and temper may come and go, but structural differences between the US and Europe remain. To repair the Atlantic alliance, both Europe and the US must recognize each other's comparative advantages. The Iraq war has made it clear that winning the peace is much harder than winning a war. The US may not need Europe's military contribution, but it certainly needs Europe's valuable experience and expertise to maintain order in Iraq. EU members contribute 10 times as many soldiers to international peacekeeping and policing as the US.

Furthermore, Europe can help by offering humanitarian aid, technical expertise, or support for nation-building in Iraq. As a civilian superpower, the EU (and its members) is dispensing 70 percent of global foreign aid, spreading its goodwill far more widely than the US. It is time to give a greater role to Europe in Iraq's reconstruction, for European involvement is crucial in gathering international legitimacy for a new Iraq.

Just as the US needs Europe's civilian power, so Europe needs American military might. The US outspends Europe by a ratio of five to one on military research and development. It is doubtful whether European citizens would tolerate the massive increases in military spending that would be needed to match US spending. For this reason, the best way for Europe to play a world role is to play with, not against, the US.

If Europe and the US can exploit each other's comparative advantages, then the current transatlantic dispute can be reconciled. A US-Europe rapprochement based not on a new balance of power but on a new community of law is good for world peace. It is also good for Taiwan, because a multilateral institutional order enforced by a military super-power in a trans-atlantic alliance not only deters aggressive regional powers, but also constrains them to play by the rules.

David Huang is a researcher at Academia Sinica.

Copyright © 1999-2004 The Taipei Times.

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