Dan Fata, a former collaborator of the head of the Pentagon during George W. Bush’s first term, was asked by his ex superior, a few months ago, to inform him on the state of play of the trans-Atlantic relations. Dan Fata’s answer, published on the German Marshall Fund blog under the headline ‘Obama in Europe: Opportunity for another <reset>’, mentioned the frequent developments having an impact on mutual relations and said one very true thing: ‘Obama’s visit to Europe, and in particular Poland, comes at a critical time. Today, overall transatlantic relations are not bad, but there is a perception that they are seen as far less central to American foreign policy priorities. It is understandable to a degree: most of Europe is in NATO and the EU, NATO have declared that there is no territorial threat to the transatlantic area (…). That said, the United States and Europe recognize that both need each other in order to address today’s economic and security challenges, and one should not forget that the United States and Europe have a common security guarantee to defend one another.’
The American’s expert observation is quite fair. For some time now, a perception has been persisting in Europe that the US is looking in Asia’s direction – an expected shift, given the exponential economic growth registered in that part of the world – but that, in this natural process, Europe is ‘forgotten’ about. The perception has been highlighted more acutely than ever before during the military intervention in Libya, when the American decision seemed quite late and the move of the US to a secondary level of the military operation after playing an initially crucial role seemed too fast. That was enough for Europe to understand that, although it is the US’ closest ally, it probably no longer considers the Old Continent as being of ‘first importance’ for its own future.
It is in this particular context that the visit of US President Barack Obama to Europe took place (May 23 to 28, 2011). It was a tour that included a stop of symbolic value in Ireland, the country of origin of part of the president’s family (he paid a visit to the ancestral homeland village of Moneygall), as well as a ‘working’ visit to the UK, France (Deauville), on the occasion of the G-8 summit in Warsaw, where he met with the hosts as well as with other leaders of Central and Eastern European states.
Especially important for the international relations as a whole were the G-8 meetings he attended, as well as his visit to Warsaw. Of course, the visits to Ireland and, most of all, Great Britain, where he addressed the Parliament, are not to be minimised either. The G-8 summit agenda could have not excluded the impact of the uprisings in the Arab world on the general international situation, with the evolution of the Libyan episode occupying a prime position. Crises in volatile parts of the world such as the Middle East, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq received an equal amount of attention. Matters concerning the climate change or environmental protection (especially in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster) and, upon the request of the French hosts, the role of the Internet in the promotion of global economic growth and in the area of human rights were also addressed.
A few features of substance of the general message brought to Europe by the American president during his six-day tour were instantly evinced, with the coming few weeks being expected to bring along further clarifications. A sentence of ample meaning was uttered by Obama in his speech before the British Parliament, when he referred to the big emergent powers (China, India, Brazil): ‘Perhaps, the argument goes, these nations represent the future and the time for our leadership has passed. That argument is wrong. The time for our leadership is now.’ In other words, the US re-affirms its global commitment and its crucial contribution to systemic management, while also noting that it is not to do that on its own, but rather counting on its allies. The US considers the European Union to be its closest ally, one with which it shares the burden of ensuring the reliability of the international system of states. On the other hand, it is not to be understood that such commitment automatically entails the removal of other parties from such a huge and generally beneficial effort.
Another message quite often repeated by Obama was that Western states cannot command the developments or determine the way they manifest themselves, but can facilitate the reaching of positive objectives. The president primarily meant the Arab space, where he said that an effective international support could determine a deeply democratic evolution in those countries where the nations are now committed to a large-scale change of paradigm of the future. From that particular point of view, one noteworthy fact is that Obama gave the changing Mideast the example of Poland, a country whose evolution over the last quarter of a century demonstrates that the exit from totalitarianism and democratic pursuit combined with economic growth can be secured by massive local effort and with an extremely effective foreign support, starting from institutional building. In a press conference held in Warsaw, Obama sated: ‘Poland can play an extraordinary role precisely because they have travelled so far so rapidly over the last 25 years.’
But Obama’s visit to Poland also had another purpose. As some experts have already pointed out, it may have looked like the US had neglected especially this part of the Continent, mainly in the context of the resetting of its relations with Russia. As former US Secretary of State and reputed foreign politics expert Zbigniew Brzezinski said, ‘for Poland, relations with the US are a guarantee of independence and, we might add, Obama’s talks with the other Eastern-European leaders from now on will offer the same guarantee for the entire region.
Dan Fata is closing his feature on the situation of trans-Atlantic relations mentioned at the beginning in the following way: ‘A lot of good work has been achieved during the past four-and-a-half years, but distance has also developed in the transatlantic relationship. The threats to our collective economic and national security are real. Let’s hope Obama’s trip to Europe is the resetting or rebooting of our broad and deep relationship with Europe.’
The conclusion that can be drawn at the end of this visit by US President Barack Obama in Europe, and after assessing the messages he brought, is that the US has definitely not forgotten about the Old Continent and that it still regards it as a valuable asset for the common future.