The ramifications of the EU’s disastrous choice of Catherine Ashton for its first full-time Foreign Minister are going from bad to worse. Following a less-than-stellar performance during a question-and-answer session with the European Parliament, America’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, embarrassingly struggled to remember her name at dinner with European bureaucrats this week.
While EU elites have been worryingly obsessed with Brussels’ internal reorganization for the past eight years, Washington and London have been leading the bloody campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. From Washington’s perspective, the organization of the EU is less important than what it can offer for global security and stability. And judging by EU efforts at training the Afghan National Police, the answer is “not a lot”; The EU mission has been too small, underfunded, slow to deploy, inflexible, and largely restricted to Kabul. And judging by France and Germany’s reluctance to support President Obama’s new counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan this week, there is little reason to believe that they will beef up the support offered by the EU either.
Under the pushy leadership of President Sarkozy and former EU Foreign Policy chief, Javier Solana, the European Union has taken the reigns of leadership on the international stage in several disputes, most notably when Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008. Since then, Moscow has illegally annexed a third of Georgia’s territory and placed itself in permanent violation of the EU-negotiated ceasefire; and without a hint of embarrassment the EU has returned to business as usual with Moscow.
Although Catherine Ashton remains a non-entity on the international stage for the time being, the appointment of any single EU Foreign Minister is a bad thing for Washington. The United States has long benefited from its long-standing bilateral relationships with the countries of Europe and will inevitably lose out in the creation of a supranational EU foreign policy which will inevitably consume scarce NATO resources. As Henry Kissinger states: “When the United States deals with the nations of Europe individually, it has the possibility of consulting at many levels and to have its view heard well before a decision is taken. In dealing with the European Union, by contrast, the United States is excluded from the decision-making process and interacts only after the event…. Growing estrangement between America and Europe is thus being institutionally fostered.”