Containing America

President Bush's trip to Europe this week only reinforced the idea among many European leaders that their collective role is to bottle up the world's only superpower.

And that role goes beyond just rejecting Mr. Bush's drive to build a missile defense or to rewrite the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

More broadly, the European Union "is one of the few institutions we can develop as a balance to US world domination," said the current EU president and Swedish prime minister, Goran Persson, just before kindly playing host to the American president.

Such a containment strategy, of course, was used against the Soviet Union. Back then, the United States and Western Europe worked together closely. They still do, on a host of issues, such as the current conflict in Macedonia. The transatlantic alliance remains essential to world peace - and to peace in Europe.

But as the EU unifies more and expands eastward, it finds it can quell disagreement among its 15 members by pointing across the Atlantic at economic, cultural, and diplomatic threats.

And it can mold a European identity by citing what the US isn't doing, - banning genetically altered food, or the death penalty - or joining humanitarian treaties, such as a ban on land mines.

On his trip, Bush was polite but undeterred by the "push back" from US friends. He listened, but also welcomed agreement from a few European leaders on the need for missile defense. His national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, rejected any talk of serious differences: "The debate over a values gap or a strategic split ignores the fact that at a very fundamental level our economic interest and our security interests - far from driving us apart - are major factors in keeping the US and Europe working together."

Seeking ties that further bind the US and Europe, rather than stoking fears of US dominance, is the way Europe can realize that the world is big enough for two giants.

A healthy rivalry can be expected - but one that recognizes that there's plenty of good for both to gain by sticking together.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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