New president, meet Old Europe

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy pen a joint op-ed on the future they see for Europe, NATO and the global security environment. Highlights:

On Afghanistan: “In any event, we expect the Strasbourg/Kehl summit [the NATO summit in early April] to send a signal that the Alliance will remain engaged for its security and its values. Our objective remains to establish a level of security which permits the country’s reconstruction, in accordance with the will of the Afghans, so global terrorism can no longer use it as a base. We also know the reinforcement of democracy must accompany the military effort.” To me this looks like a commitment to, at least, maintaining the status quo, and maybe more: if their objective is “to establish” a level of security, that sounds like an acknowledgement that it hasn’t been established yet.

On Georgia, words that will be more welcome in Moscow than Tbilisi: “Russia remains our neighbour and a very important partner. We have not returned to the era of the Cold War. Those who claim otherwise are mistaken because the USSR no longer exists. We intend to re-establish and develop with Russia confident and fruitful relations. … Wanting to join NATO is the free choice of European countries, which are independent and free democracies. This desire demonstrates a confidence we have no right to disappoint. But we remind everyone that to become a member of the Alliance, there are criteria; this implies, first of all, an ability to handle the heavy responsibilities it entails, to make a genuine contribution to the security of one’s allies, and to share their values. As well, enlargement must contribute to the stability and security of the continent, which benefits Russia too.”

On military capability: “We need, especially in Europe, more modern, effective and interoperable military capabilities.”

On the new guy: “Two weeks ago, the 44th president of the United States took up his responsibilities. Barack Obama’s presidency is already marked by new accents with regard to foreign and security policy. Many Europeans expect much from this change; Barack Obama certainly expects as much from us. We are delighted to co-operate with him, and are persauded that the Euro-Atlantic security partnership will permit us to confront, together, the risks and dangers we face.”

This seems a relatively open attitude on the part of two leaders who know full well the Obama administration’s push for a bigger European contribution in Afghanistan will begin this weekend in Munich. The tandem that sits, for better and worse, at the heart of Europe is not issuing a pre-emptive “bugger off, we gave at the office.” If I’m sitting at the State Department reading this, I’m going to feel guarded optimism.