James Dobbins Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Nation Building: Conversation with Ambassador James Dobbins; Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, Rand Corporation; February 28, 2005
by Harry Kreisler

Page 2 of 8

U.S. and Europe

Many of your postings in the [State] Department after Vietnam and after serving in the embassy were in Europe and primarily in France.

I alternated between postings in Washington and postings abroad, but fortuitously -- at least, I think so -- all of my postings abroad, at least for the first twenty-five years or so, were in Europe. In fact, I can say that I never served more than 300 miles from Paris, so, very pleasant places to be.

I see. Real rough duty, as we say.


During the time you were serving in these capacities, our relations with Europe were evolving, and very much so with the end of the Cold War.

When I went to Paris it was just at the point where de Gaulle had withdrawn Paris from the military elements of NATO headquarters, which had been in Paris and which were in Paris when I arrived. [NATO military headquarters] left and went to Brussels. So, there was definitely a difficulty in relations with France at the time. But in general, and even including France, the Cold War acted as a form of consolidation. It tended to keep the alliance together. The main focus was on relations with the Soviet Union, how to manage those relationships. I spent those twenty-five years working on East/West relations, arms control, political/military relations with Europe.

I'm intrigued by Europe, before we get into our nation-building and democracy discussion, because our relations after the fall of the Soviet Union began changing. It seems after 9/11 we're seeing the [deterioration] of what was a very strong and tight partnership as we navigate into this new era. How bad do you think the split is? Will it become worse?

The relationship certainly had its ups and downs, and it's always a little dangerous to characterize the latest crisis as one of an irreversible nature. During the Cold War we had the Suez crisis, where France and Britain invaded Egypt. The United States threatened economic sanctions, they had to back down, a very difficult time in the relations. There were differences over East/West relations throughout the period I've already mentioned, France pulling out of the military aspects of NATO in the early sixties.

In the aftermath of the Cold War there was a feeling that the alliance would become irrelevant, that transatlantic relationships would become less central because the Soviet Union had disappeared, there wasn't a unifying threat. And yet, by the end of the nineties, with the civil war in Yugoslavia and NATO action first in Bosnia and then in Kosovo, the alliance was as solid and as active and as relevant as ever.

Then in the aftermath of 9/11, the immediate alliance response was quite good. The allies invoked Chapter 5 of the NATO Charter and considered the attack on the United States to have been attack on all of them.

But Iraq became an issue between us and our continental allies, an issue which we still haven't gotten over and which became a serious obstacle to transatlantic cooperation. I think it's premature to say the alliance is finished, it's no longer relevant. We do have to acknowledge this has been one of the most difficult chapters. It does appear to be healing, however.

Do you think that we will regret or re-affirm the important role that we have played in the uniting of Europe and the building of the European Community?

One of the important aspects of President Bush's most recent trip to Europe was his explicit endorsement of the process of European unification and his explicit statement that the United States continues to believe that a strong united Europe is in American interests. This has been our traditional policy. The United States was very instrumental in the original establishment of the European community, and it supported each of its progressive steps toward unifying the continent. It was very important that the president, despite the difficulties of the last couple of years, re-affirm that position.

In the enlargement process it seems that the Europeans have chosen not only to increase membership and build a larger and stronger community but also to work at the problem of democratization. By that I mean not that they intervene militarily, but that they [establish] a set of rules, a set of standards, that have to be met before new members can join the community. Is that an alternative process for the things we're going to be talking about in a minute [vis-à-vis U.S. policy]?

It's only an alternative to the extent you're prepared to welcome other societies into your most intimate home. By and large, it's not a way that's open to the United States. We're not likely to address failed states by inviting them to become the fifty-first state in the American union. It is open to Europe, at least on its own periphery.

The process of both NATO and European Union expansion has definitely been an important stabilizing element, and it has channeled the energies of these countries toward both market economies and democratic systems in a remarkably effective way. I think we're reaching near the end. There are a few countries that are still eligible and with whom the community is still negotiating, mostly in the Balkans. Ukraine is a possibility but it's so big and so different that it'll be very difficult for the European Union to swallow. The European Union has invited Turkey to begin negotiating for membership. That'll probably take a decade or more, but that will be a major step for the European Union, to welcome a Muslim country of 80 million people into its councils. But it is a remarkably successful way of building democratic, market-oriented nations.

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