Barack Obama’s foreign policy document setting forth his strategy towards Europe (PDF) outlines an approach that is supportive of NATO, engaged economically with European economies and mindful of the threat of rogue states.
For an organisation dedicated to American engagement with the world and opposed to anti-Americanism, none of the documents available at BarackObama.com could be more relevant than ‘A stronger partnership with Europe for a Safer America’. As is typical of any political statements, there are a number of sentences with which almost no one would disagree – and so not especially telling as any indicator of policy. But in places the document goes further. Without outlining many specific policies, it provides some guide to the policy approach the presumptive Democratic candidate would aim to follow if elected President.
NATO and Afghanistan
Straightforwardly positive statements on NATO’s role - “Barack Obama believes that a strong NATO brings peace and security to Europe and helps the United States meet security challenges around the world” – are mixed with pledges that “Barack Obama will ask more of our European friends”. This will be applied to Afghanistan specifically (a “critically important mission”):
“Obama will expect allies to commit more resources to this common mission and to remove some of the limits on what their troops in country can do. Barack Obama has called for the deployment of at least two additional brigades of U.S. troops to Afghanistan and would expect that to be matched by enhanced contributions from our NATO allies.”
This expectation that strong and continuing American support for NATO be twinned with greater European support is fair and welcome. Such positive language is a sign that Obama's response to the often justified feeling that Europe is not pulling its weight will be diplomatic pressure on Europe to do more, rather than America reducing her own commitment. Left unanswered is how America will react if, having made this request, many NATO allies persist with low levels of military commitment and spending.
Perhaps more controversial is Obama’s vision of the sort of NATO he supports:
“As a U.S. senator, he has consistently supported the ongoing transformation of the Alliance from a Cold War security structure to a global partnership for peace and security. Barack Obama believes the process of NATO enlargement – which has helped countries throughout Central and Eastern Europe become more stable and democratic – should continue so long as new candidates for membership are democratic, peaceful, and willing to contribute to our common security."
This idea of NATO as an extremely inclusive – ‘global’ – “partnership for peace and security” has its potential pitfalls. As the wording above appears to acknowledge, the vision of a very broad and general commitment to peace and security can come at the expense of the more traditional notion of an alliance – the specific commitment to defend allies who come under attack. Does “willing to contribute to [NATO’s] collective security” mean a willingness to fight for any other member at a moment of crisis? Or does it mean something less? America and her NATO allies should guard against the danger that a broader NATO will be less deep.
Europe and Turkey
Barack Obama’s campaign has been criticised for alleged protectionism – a policy approach with plenty of support within America, but hardly one congruent with Obama’s goal of restoring American popularity and respect in Europe to its highest levels. The pledge to “maintain an open economic relationship with the European Union, thus preserving the largest trade and investment partnership in the world and creating millions of American jobs and export opportunities” is an encouraging response and an accurate assessment of the global economic benefits of transatlantic trade.
Strong words of support for Turkey similarly represent a welcome level of American engagement with European affairs.
Support for a “strong, united and peaceful” Europe sounds uncontroversial, but the emphasis on unity is dubious. Attributing disagreements between European countries to a deliberate “divide and rule” strategy by the current President and presupposing that uniformity is the norm overlooks the reality that very different countries will naturally have different policies. Internal politics within these countries and the regrettable influence of popular anti-Americanism on European leaders are forces partly beyond the control of American leaders. It is also worth asking if a united Europe would mean a pro-American Europe.
Iran and NMD
Obama states that America and her European partners should “isolate Iran politically and economically” if uranium enrichment and support for terrorism continue. As well as his known support for the notion of direct talks between Washington and Tehran, Obama advocates the public naming and shaming of companies that make big investments in Iran’s energy sector. Military action and the threat of force are neither ruled out nor mentioned as an option in relation to Iran.
Obama cautiously supports the deployment of missile defence systems in Europe – “it would be irresponsible not to explore the possibility”. His scepticism is expressed in practical terms of whether the systems can work, rather than a theoretical objection to expressing this level of commitment to European allies, or to the political and diplomatic consequences of an effective missile defence system.