(This is an excerpt from my latest Boston Globe column on Friday, March 30. See that piece for a longer assessment of these challenges.)
At a recent conference in Brussels sponsored by the German Marshall Fund, I heard from countless European officials how simplistic, shallow, and plain wrong the pundits are in forecasting the declining importance of Europe for Americans. Europe still matters greatly to the United States, these officials say, and we should be skeptical about predictions of its imminent demise.
Consider these simple facts. The European Union remains the largest trading partner of the United States and our leading investor. Its 500 million consumers make Europe an economic superpower with which we often compete but more often do business vital to Wall Street as well as Main Street.
Europe also matters on defense. Europe’s 26 NATO members and Canada are the largest group of American allies in the world. They rose to our defense after 9/11. Most have been fighting with us in Afghanistan and Iraq and are still keeping the peace we won with them in Bosnia and Kosovo. They led the way in overthrowing Moammar Khadafy in Libya and are our strongest partners in opposing Iran’s nuclear plans. We are united by trust and a common democratic bond.
In some ways, Europe may be critical for America on the great transnational challenges – from climate change to drug and crime cartels, from terrorism to weapons of mass destruction. On these issues that require close international collaboration, Europe is nearly always our best and most important partner. In this sense, we will need to accelerate our ties with Europe, rather than diminish them, to meet these difficult global challenges.
But Europe and the Unites States need to overcome some important obstacles to do so. Europe is consumed by the euro debt crisis and a growing loss of confidence about its role in the world. Europeans are justifiably proud of the extraordinary achievement of the European Union in bringing an end to hundreds of years of division and war. But Europeans are sometimes too inward looking and preoccupied with building that union. They have let defense spending fall to dangerously low levels. Europe needs a greater global view and a strategy to match it.