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The U.S. and Europe. These days, they bicker almost like a couple whose long marriage is in danger of unraveling. The litany of misunderstandings and mutual resentment seems to be growing. From the death penalty to steel tariffs, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to military spending, there is an abyss between American and European positions on innumerable issues.
Each side feels the other isn't shouldering enough of the burdens facing both. The Europeans see an unbending posture, from the Bush Administration's protecting inefficient U.S. steel companies to its threats to take out Iraq's Saddam Hussein--alone, if necessary. U.S. policymakers, for their part, are losing patience with Europeans' inability to get serious about defense spending. The war in Afghanistan has brought home the reality that much of Europe has fallen behind in military technology. And Washington is annoyed at Europe's feckless attempts at economic reforms. As a result, Europe couldn't play the role of economic locomotive to help pull the U.S. out of its downturn in 2001. This year, Europe is set to grow less than the U.S. once again.
Relationships in trouble can be fixed, and this one had better be. In a world increasingly fraught with danger, European leaders must commit themselves to bigger military budgets or risk being marginalized by the U.S. military machine. The $45.1 billion hike in military spending the Bush Administration is pushing for next year is $12.1 billion more than the entire defense budget of France. The U.S. could help by opening up more of its vast military market to European partners. And Washington should realize that in many global challenges a smart multilateral approach can be much more effective than unilateralism.
A world in which the U.S. and Europe go off on their own, in which the Atlantic alliance is reduced to mere lip service to ideals long since abandoned, is a frightening one.