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Are transatlantic ties sound?

Should the current developments in Kosovo and Serbia bring peace to the Balkans, the result will be a vindication of NATO strategy and a strengthening, temporarily at least, of transatlantic relations. But security issues do not represent the whole fabric of such relations.

A recent Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) task force on "The Future of Transatlantic Relations" concluded that "relations are on an even keel.... There are currently no serious disputes across the Atlantic and none on the horizon."

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After talking with friends and reading the press during a visit to the United Kingdom and Switzerland last month, I have doubts about these rosy conclusions. At least three potential areas of difference are visible on the horizon.

Kosovo is but the tip of a larger iceberg - NATO's future.

Europeans show little enthusiasm for a US concept of the alliance that will, in the language of the CFR report, "draw Europe over time much further into a global strategic partnership to help shape the international system in the new era." What this means to members of the CFR task force, and to at least some in the US government, is that NATO will assume greater burdens "toward those regions where vital American interests are threatened - most particularly in the greater Middle East and, to a lesser and more potential degree, in the Asia-Pacific region." Yet this objective will not be easy to achieve with European nations that differ from Washington on how to deal with "rogue" states such as Iran and Libya. And Kosovo, after all, is in Europe, even if outside the original borders of NATO.

The survival of NATO, as the one institution that maintains the US link to Europe, is important, but that survival could be in jeopardy if Washington presses to assume responsibilities far beyond the agreed NATO boundaries - however Kosovo turns out.

The United Nations is another point of contention. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher, on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer on May 26, emphasized that Germany could not intervene in an "out of area" conflict without the endorsement of the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter. Most Europeans still regard UN approval as important, in contrast to the US which, because of anticipated Russian and Chinese opposition to American objectives, has written off the international organization as a player in global disputes.

But security issues are not the only ones where differences lie. The quarrel over subsidies for bananas, to the French in particular, is more than a commodity trade dispute. It is at the heart of arrangements made in the immediate post-imperial years to help poorer colonies such as Martinique and Guadeloupe survive economically. The French resent what they see as a US initiative under the political pressure of powerful Central American banana producers.

Charges of subsidies are also a factor in the growing aircraft sales competition. Boeing complains that Airbus, with the French government as a partner, is partially subsidized. Europeans say heavy US defense contracts awarded to Boeing balances the scale.

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High-tech developments in the US trouble Europeans sensitive to the growing technological gap between Europe and America. Today European protests center on products of genetic engineering. The London Daily Telegraph on May 21 prominently displayed news of the impact of pollen from genetically engineered corn on the monarch butterfly and reported demands for the banning of the commercial release of such crops. Given the major investment and widespread development of such products in the US, efforts to restrict their export could be another ripple on transatlantic waters.

Trade issues may seem marginal to the life-and-death security issues. If not resolved, however, they affect public attitudes in European democracies and make more difficult the cooperation essential to a firm Atlantic relationship, even with successes in the security field.

*David D. Newsom, a former US ambassador and undersecretary of state for political affairs, lives in Charlottesville, Va.

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