Why Europe Is Rolling Up The Red Carpet For Clinton

Having returned from Asia with a promising free-trade agreement, Bill Clinton will try to show that he can do a respectable job of managing Europe, too. With the Bosnian conflict in danger of escalating and NATO jets launching the biggest air strikes yet, Clinton is preparing to fly to Budapest for a European security summit on Dec. 5.

Clinton may get a lot less cooperation in Europe than he did in Asia. The ties that have bound the U.S. and Europe since World War II are fraying--as the current outcry on the Continent over America's approach to Bosnia shows. U.S. relations with Russia are also under pressure. If Clinton can't stop the unraveling, he could find it almost impossible to forge a consensus on such issues as expanding NATO's membership to eastern Europe and the future of Haiti/Iraq-style police actions. Existing arrangements such as the U.N. sanctions on Iraq could be scrapped.

RISKING LIVES? Relations between Europe and the U.S. were sure to drift after the cold war's end, but the Bosnian conflict has accelerated the process. The Europeans feel threatened by the war and are searching for a realpolitik way to end the fighting. By contrast, the U.S. has been inconsistent at best, oscillating between ignoring the war and calling for unachievable solutions such as forcing the Serbs to give back territory to the Muslim-led Bosnian government.

The Europeans charge that this approach has encouraged the Bosnian government to step up the fighting, widening the conflict and putting thousands of European peacekeepers in Bosnia at risk. They also say it will alienate the Russians, who are sympathetic to the Serbs. But following their big November victories, the Republicans in Congress are likely to become even more hawkish on supporting Bosnia--increasing the risks.

Congress has already caused a serious row with Europe by forcing Clinton to order U.S. Navy ships in the Adriatic Sea to cease enforcing the U.N.-mandated embargo of arms for Bosnia. While having little practical effect, this move had enormous symbolic value in Europe. European commentators and politicians condemned the U.S. for breaking its commitments to the U.N. and NATO. "We are worried and disappointed by the decision," said British Defense Minister Malcolm Rifkind.

The U.S. move at least temporarily drove the Europeans and the Russians into the same camp. In Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, and their Russian counterpart, Andrey V. Kozyrev, voiced concern about U.S. policy on Bosnia. In Moscow, Russian analysts were amazed at American behavior. "It surprises me, negatively, that the U.S. could move unilaterally against its own allies," says Vladimir P. Lukin, former Russian ambassador to the U.S.

This reaction means the U.S. may find itself isolated when pressure builds next year to lift the trade embargo on Iraq. The Russians very much want to get Iraq, a former close ally, back in the oil market--if only so Baghdad can pay the huge debts it owes Moscow. The French also favor such a course. "Why should the the Russians abide by U.N. sanctions on Iraq, if the U.S. won't abide by the U.N. resolutions on Bosnia?" asks a senior European diplomat.

The contretemps over Bosnia could be a foretaste of things to come. The Republican Congress is likely to take tough cold-war lines on a number of foreign policy issues. All of which means that U.S. relations with Europe and Russia could face some rough going.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.