ABC News Commentary

25 March 1974

Atlantic Relations

Dr Kissinger’s current talks in Moscow are taking place against a background of growing strains in Soviet-American relations, and a noticeable slowing down in the movement towards détente. Because of pro-Jewish pressure in the American Congress, America has not honoured its promise to give the Soviet Union most-favoured nation treatment, and has suspended several proposed loans. Moscow has also been unhappy with the success of Dr Kissinger’s diplomacy in the Middle East which has led to a revival of pro-American sentiment in Egypt and the lifting of the Arab oil embargo. The recent announcement by the American Secretary of Defence of a new nuclear strategy involving the re-targeting of U.S. missiles against Russian missile sites and the development of new strategic weapons have given Soviet leaders further cause for concern. In spite of these irritants, however, it is more likely that the Kissinger visit will see a restoration of the co-operative relationship between the two superpowers.


Ironically, it is the Atlantic alliance which now poses the greatest problem for the United States both in the short and long term. In the last few months we have seen several signs of increasing friction between the United States and Western Europe. The Middle East war of last year highlighted the divergence of views between Washington and most Western European capitals. The deterioration in relations has, of course, been most marked in the case of the United States and France. Dr Kissinger has used some rather plain language to suggest that French leadership within the EEC is directed against US interests and against the Atlantic alliance.


In actual fact, France has been trying for some time to thwart American attempts to develop a joint approach by the major oil-consuming countries towards the main oil producers. Accordingly, at last month’s Washington Conference called by the United States for precisely this purpose, France dissociated herself from the main decisions of the Conference and its follow-up plans. The French action was intended to emphasise France’s pro-Arab policy and her independence from the United States. Although she was unable to obtain the support of any other European country for her stand, she did succeed at a subsequent meeting of the EEC countries in gaining agreement for the establishment of a special European relationship with the Middle East and a distinctly pro-Arab policy. This was done without prior consultation with the United States. Predictably, the American Administration reacted angrily by threatening to reduce US troop levels in Western Europe and by cancelling plans for the Nixon visit to Bonn and Brussels.


It is important to realise that the disagreements are not merely the result of clashing personalities or of a minor conflict of interests. France’s view that the United States is opposed to the creation of an autonomous Europe is essentially correct. The United States is anxious to ensure that Europe and Japan remain the captive clients of its power.


Why then are Western European powers divided amongst themselves? Largely because of American military and economic dominance in Western Europe. The role played by US-controlled by multinational Corporations in the various European countries severely restricts the options open the European governments. Similarly, the predominant role played by US forces in Europe has created a situation of European military dependence which grows with the expansion of Soviet military power. Although the degree of dependence varies from country to country, its effect is invariably to weaken European solidarity. And it is part and parcel of American strategy to magnify and take advantage of these divisions.


Until now the strains and stresses of Atlantic relations have been no more than rear-guard skirmishes. To the extent, however, that the thaw in Soviet-American relations develops, and European unity progresses, one should expect the Atlantic rift to widen. This emerging competition for power, wealth and prestige should serve to expose further the tenuous stability and the narrow self-interest on which is based the global ‘balance of terror’ and indeed the whole world economy.