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The Power Gap

It is no surprise that President Bush's tour of Europe has been greeted by protests from Berlin to Rome. What is surprising is that, given the differences now arising between the US and its allies - the word schism might not be inappropriate - Mr. Bush's meetings with Europe's leaders proceeded so smoothly. Those disagreements are not only about Israel, or US tariffs on steel imports from the EU, or the possibility of American courts imposing the death penalty on suspected terrorists who carry European passports; they increasingly embody a fundamentally different vision about how the world should work.

During the Cold War, when the West feared attack by the Soviet bloc, the US and Europe were united through NATO in standing up to that threat. Today, when the central fear in Western countries is of international instability and terrorism, the NATO allies are far less united in how to respond.

This is partly a question of trans-Atlantic differences in the levels of defense spending, and therefore of military capability. The US spends far more on defense than its European allies, and as a result its military capability is different in quality as well as in quantity.

We saw the consequences of that gap in Afghanistan. Article 5 of the NATO Treaty was invoked as if the Twin Towers attack was an attack on the whole alliance. Many expected that America would call for a collective NATO response. Instead the Bush administration decided to wage the war essentially on its own; for this kind of small war, it really did not need its European allies, although in the latter stages of the fighting, French Mirage jets, and British, German, Danish, and Norwegian special forces troops were active in battles in the mountains along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.