Karpchuk N.P. Historical retrospection of the USA & Europe relations

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Karpchuk N.P.

Today, the strategic goal of the White House is to control the mechanisms of global governance including the European one. However, its main strategy has not always been like this. The beginning of the U.S. and European relations was characterized by the U.S. policy of isolationism which is outlined in the Monroe Doctrine. Further international challenges forced the U.S. government, despite some disapproval of the Americans, to join the European affairs. This shift eventually led to military, economic and security assistance to the countries of Europe. Modern global problems also require close U.S.-European cooperation, which is not always straightforward.

Keywords: Monroe Doctrine, policy of isolationism, intervention, the U.S., Europe, the EU.




Карпчук Н.П.

Сегодня стратегической целью Белого дома является стремление контролировать механизмы глобального управления, в том числе и в Европе. Однако так было не всегда. Начало отношений США и Европы характеризовалось политикой изоляционизма США, которая очерчена в Доктрине Монро. Дальнейшие международные вызовы заставляют руководство США, несмотря порой на неодобрение своих граждан, приобщиться к европейским делам. Такая переориентация впоследствии приводит к помощи в военной, экономической сфере и сфере безопасности стран Европы. Современные глобальные проблемы также требуют тесного американо-европейского сотрудничества, которое не всегда безоблачно.

Ключевые слова: доктрина Монро, политика изоляционизма, интервенция, США, Европа, ЕС.


The relations between the United States and Europe have a long history and mixed character. Since the establishment of the United States after the American Revolution until the Spanish-American war the foreign policy of the U.S. had been directed at the creation of the “Empire of Liberty” in Americas, so it reflected a regional, not global, focus. In the period of the French Revolution the U.S. chose the policy of neutrality as France was an ally and Britain was a leading trading partner. The U.S. foreign policy priorities were represented in a “Farewell Address” by G. Washington where he underlined that the interests of Europe had none, or a very remote relation to the U.S.; Europe was likely be engaged in frequent controversies, so it would be unwise to get involved in any ties with it. The U.S. detached and distant situation invited and enabled it to pursue a different course [15].

This foreign policy direction was fixed in 1823 in the Monroe Doctrine, which appeared to be the response to the new independence of Spanish colonies in Latin America in the early 19th century.  The Doctrine warned European nations that the United States would not tolerate further colonization or puppet monarchs. It would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring U.S. intervention. At the same time, the Doctrine noted that the United States would neither interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries [6]. The doctrine asserted that the New World and the Old World were to remain distinctly separate spheres of influence, since they were composed of entirely separate and independent nations. In fact, at that time the Doctrine had no international influence as the U.S. lacked both a credible navy and army. However, soon the Monroe Doctrine became a motto of U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere. Later the Doctrine would be invoked by many U.S. statesmen and several U.S. presidents, including U. S. Grant, T. Roosevelt, J. F. Kennedy, R. Reagan.

 At the outbreak of the WWI, the majority of the Americans favoured the policy of non-intervention and President W. Wilson pledged the neutrality for the U.S. in order to avoid conflict. However, the U.S. was forced to become a party to the WWI after German attacks on passenger ships and after Germany’s “invitation” to Mexico to join the war as Germany’s ally against the United States. In 1915 W. Wilson insisted that “America is too proud to fight” but in early 1917 he called for war on Germany [14]. 

The U.S. involvement meant the intervention in the European affairs and W. Wilson appeared to be preoccupied with the creation of a post-war Europe and any war prevention. The Fourteen Points speech (January 1918) outlined the Wilson’s priorities for Europe. The Speech was delivered to establish moral goals for America’s participation in WWI and had to encourage the Central Powers to end the hostilities. He stressed on freedom of the seas, an end to secret treaties and negotiations, establishing equal and free trade, arms reduction. Territorial issues included Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Austro-Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Russia and the Ottoman Empire [2]. However, the speech was made without prior coordination or consultation with his counterparts in Europe, which led to further frictions. As a result, the Treaty of Versailles had little to do with the Fourteen Points and was never ratified by the U.S. Senate. However, Wilson’s peace-making efforts were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919.

 W. Wilson promoted the idea of establishing an international organization, the League of Nations, aimed at mitigating any inequities in the peace terms. This idea was popular with Europeans exhausted by four years of total war, and with many in the United States optimistic that a new organization would be able to solve the international disputes that had led to war in 1914 [10]. However, the President was unable to convince the American public into supporting the League. One of the reasons was the high public support of the policy of isolationism. Most Americans felt it would be best to avoid European and British affairs completely, not to get involved in European affairs and not to risk more American lives.

The next step to preserve peace in the world and in Europe as well was made at the Washington Naval Conference (1921–1922) called by the U.S. to limit the naval arms race and to work out security agreements in the Pacific area. Its primary objective was to prevent Japan from further naval expansion into the western Pacific waters and its other objective was to eradicate Anglo-American tension. This conference led to a successful end to construction of new battleship fleets and the few ships that were constructed were limited in terms of armaments and size. Under the signed Treaties the U.S., states of Europe (Great Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands), Japan and China recognized existing interests in the Pacific and did not make fundamental changes to them [16].

A financial issue made the U.S. interfere into European affairs in 1920-s. The U.S. was determined to secure repayment of the more than $10 billion it had loaned to the Allies over the course of the war. Washington rejected calls to cancel these debts in the name of the common wartime cause; it also resisted efforts to link reparations to inter-allied war debts. The victorious European powers demanded that Germany compensate them for the devastation wrought by the four-year conflict, for which they held Germany and its allies responsible [9]. Germany was unable to pay the war reparations, France and Belgium occupied the Ruhr industrial area. An interim measure was offered, i.e. the Dawes Plan (1924) that relied on capital lent to Germany by a consortium of American investment banks under supervision by the U.S. State Department. By stabilizing the currency, the Plan brought increased foreign investments and loans to the German market, but made the German economy dependent on foreign markets and economies. As the U.S. economy developed problems under the Great Depression, Germany and other countries involved economically with it also suffered.

The next U.S. assistance to Germany was carried out by the Young Plan (1929) that reduced further Germany’s reparation payments by about 20 percent. The Dawes and Young Plans were important U.S. efforts that had lasting consequences, as they were significant instances of U.S. reengagement with European affairs.

During the 1930s the Great Depression and the memory of tragic losses in WWI (many Americans resented the U.S.’s involvement in it) contributed to pushing American public opinion and policy toward isolationism which meant non-involvement in European and Asian conflicts and non-entanglement in international politics.

When the WWII broke out in Europe, U.S. President F. D. Roosevelt recognized that the conflict threatened US security, and looked for ways to help the European democracies without direct involvement in the war. In November 1939, the Fourth Neutrality Act authorized the US to trade arms with belligerents provided that the countries paid in cash and collected them [11]. In March 1941, Roosevelt moved further towards making the U.S. the “arsenal of democracy” with the Lend-Lease Act, which permitted the lending, leasing, selling, or bartering of arms, ammunition and food to “any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the US” [4]. Hitler’s declaring war on the USA in December 1941 enabled Roosevelt to legitimately pursue a “Germany first” strategy.

However, the first involvement of the United States in settling European affairs occurred in August 1941 (before the nation formally entered WWII), when the U.S. President F. D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister W. Churchill met secretly and elaborated an eight-point statement of war aims known as the Atlantic Charter, which included a pledge that the Allies would not accept territorial changes resulting from the war in Europe [8].  

The next U.S. involvements included 1) Tehran conference (between November 28 and December 1, 1943) when Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin secured confirmation on the launching of the cross-channel invasion; 2) conferences at Bretton Woods and Dumbarton Oaks (summer 1944) that created the framework for international cooperation in the postwar world; 3) Yalta conference (February 1945) where Churchill and Roosevelt recognized the strong position of the Soviet Army on the ground and agreed to a number of compromises with Stalin that allowed Soviet hegemony to remain in Poland and other Eastern European countries, granted territorial concessions to the Soviet Union, and outlined retributive measures against Germany, including an occupation and reparations in principle; 4) Potsdam conference (July 1945) which showed that despite the end of the war in Europe and the revelation of the existence of the atomic bomb to the Allies, neither U.S. President H. Truman nor British Prime Minister C. Atlee could come to agreement with Stalin on any but the most minor issues.  

After the devastating WWII Europe was in ruin. On June 5, 1947 the U.S. Secretary of State G. C. Marshal issued a call for a comprehensive program to rebuild Europe. Fearing Communist expansion and the rapid deterioration of European economies in the winter of 1946–1947, Congress passed the Economic Cooperation Act in March 1948 and approved funding that would eventually rise to over $12 billion for the rebuilding of Western Europe [3].

Having brought extensive investment into Europe, the Marshall Plan stimulated the U.S. economy as well by establishing markets for American goods. However, the Marshall Plan as a great humanitarian effort was applied solely to Western Europe, precluding any measure of Soviet Bloc cooperation. The Marshall Plan also institutionalized and legitimized the concept of U.S. foreign aid programs, which have become a integral part of U.S. foreign policy. This European Recovery Program not only facilitated European economic integration but promoted the idea of shared interests and cooperation between the United States and Europe.

After the destruction of the WWII, the nations of Europe struggled not only to rebuild their economies but to ensure their security. The latter required assurances against a resurgent Germany or incursions from the Soviet Union. The United States viewed an economically strong, rearmed, and integrated Europe as vital to the prevention of communist expansion across the continent. In 1947–1948, a series of events caused the nations of Western Europe to become concerned about their physical and political security and the United States to become more closely involved with European affairs. The ongoing civil war in Greece, along with tensions in Turkey, led President Harry S. Truman to assert that the U.S. would provide economic and military aid to both countries, as well as to any other nation struggling against an attempt at subjugation. After the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949, a number of the signatories made requests to the U.S. for military aid. Later in 1949, President Truman proposed a military assistance program, and the Mutual Defense Assistance Program passed the U.S. Congress in October, appropriating some $1.4 billion dollars for the purpose of building Western European defenses. NATO was the first peacetime military alliance the United States entered into outside of the Western Hemisphere [7]. The basis of U.S. policy in Europe after 1945 was to support the collective self-defense of the Atlantic democracies through NATO and to promote free trade and economic freedom as a way to enrich and stabilize Europe and ensure that its security would not be undermined from within.  

In order to prevent further war between France and Germany, to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”, the European Coal and Steel Community was formally established in 1951 by the Treaty of Paris signed by Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The ECSC and the United States of America established diplomatic relations as early as 1953, but it was only in November 1990 that the cooperation was formalized for the first time with the Transatlantic Declaration. A regular political dialogue between the U.S. and the EC was thereby initiated at various levels, including regular summit meetings. The cooperation focused on the areas of economy, education, science and culture. The New Transatlantic Agenda (NTA), which was launched at the Madrid summit in 1995, carried the cooperation forward. The NTA contains four broad objectives for U.S.-EU collaboration: 1) promoting peace and stability, democracy and development around the world; 2) responding to global challenges; 3) contributing to the expansion of world trade and closer economic relations; 4) building bridges Across the Atlantic [12].

In connection with the adoption of the New Transatlantic Agenda a Joint EU-U.S. Action Plan was drawn up committing the EU and the U.S. to a large number of measures within the overall areas of cooperation. As an extension of the NTA efforts, agreement was reached at the 1998 London summit to intensify cooperation in the area of trade, which resulted in the Transatlantic Economic Partnership (TEP). The TEP covers both bilateral (addresses various types of obstacles to trade and strives to establish agreements on mutual recognition in the areas of goods and services; cooperation in the areas of public procurement and intellectual property law) and multilateral (further liberalization of trade within the WTO in order to strengthen world trade) trade [13].  

In building bridges across the Atlantic, a number of people-to-people dialogues have been set up. The goal is to enable individual actors to give their opinion. In connection with each summit meeting time is set aside for meetings with representatives of one or more of these dialogues, which include the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD); the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD); the Transatlantic Policy Network (TPN), a non-governmental grouping of members of the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament, business leaders and think tanks; the Transatlantic Environmental Dialogue (TAED); and the Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue (TALD) [12].

The U.S.-European cooperation is based on shared interests and present challenges in terms of the efficacy of such cooperation, namely: 1) U.S. and European relations with Russia have become more adversarial in the context of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its actions destabilizing Ukraine. The U.S. and the EU have imposed sanctions that, combined with low oil prices, have harmed the Russian economy; 2) the U.S. and European countries have been cooperating in efforts to counter the Islamic State and seek a political solution to the conflict in Syria; 3) the U.S. and Europe remain central actors in negotiations seeking to reach an agreement that ensures that Iran’s nuclear program can be used solely for peaceful purposes; 4) the U.S. and EU share broad objectives with regard to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; 5) the U.S. and the EU have the largest trade and investment relationship in the world; 6) allegations of U.S. spying and surveillance programs in Europe have caused a sharp backlash and damaged transatlantic trust. Although tensions appear to have proven manageable and U.S. intelligence cooperation with European governments continues, data privacy concerns could complicate future talks on U.S.-EU information-sharing agreements [5].

T. Bromund and D. Kochis argue that the U.S. should defend European security, sovereignty, and prosperity, not support supranational institutions that undermine all these values. The researchers determine the top five policy priorities in the European region for the Administration and Congress in 2016 [1]: 

1. Rethink Support for U.K. Membership of the European Union: the U.S. should state that the many links between the U.S. and the U.K. will remain strong no matter what the outcome is of the EU referendum. 

2. Ensure Trade Deals with European Nations Advance Economic Freedom:  any Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and the EU should be based on free trade, an essential condition for economic growth and prosperity. The U.S. should seek to negotiate free trade agreements based on mutual recognition of rules with willing and democratic partners, including nations not in the EU (such as Norway and Switzerland) and nations that may leave it (most important, the UK). 

3. NATO Summit in Warsaw 2016: the Warsaw Declaration should make it clear that collective security and territorial defense will underpin everything NATO does. The U.S. should find more innovative and emphatic ways to press European NATO members to increase defense spending. NATO should establish a permanent base presence, and preposition equipment in both Central and Eastern Europe.  

4. Increase Support for Ukraine: U.S. policymakers should continue to publicly press Russia on its backing and direct support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. should also provide defense weaponry to Ukraine as authorized in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, including anti-armor, anti-aircraft, and small arms of a defensive nature. The U.S. should also continue training programs for the Ukrainian military and promote political and economic reform. Finally, the U.S. should not seek to buy Russia’s cooperation in Syria by dropping its sanctions.  

5. Directly Confront the Islamist Threat: Europe needs to confront Islamist terrorism by disrupting terrorist networks, closing foreign fighter pipelines, and improving Europe’s record of assimilating immigrants, especially second-generation and third-generation immigrants. Clamping down on foreign-fighter transit and making radical Islamist messages less attractive to immigrant youth should remain a high priority for Europe in 2016. 

So, the U.S–Europe relations have got a long and diversified history ranging from the U.S. policy of isolationism to the policy of interference and support. Having a number of political controversies, the U.S. and the EU remain strategic reliable partners. The U.S. became a power in Europe after 1945 because it realized the need to defend the security of democratic Europe against the Soviet threat. Returning to this policy of 1945 could be a top priority for the White House for, at least, the next decade. 



1. Bromund T., Kochis D. Top Five Priorities for U.S. Policy Toward Europe in 2016 [Web resource] // The Heritage Foundation [site]. 08.01.2016. URL: http://goo.gl/K22lVy (reference date: 10.06.2016).

2. 8 January, 1918: President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points [Web resource] // Lillian Goldman Law Library [site]. 2008. URL: http://goo.gl/Y9Etj8 (reference date: 10.06.2016).

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5. Mix D. E. The United States and Europe: Current Issues [Web resource] // The Federation of American Scientists [site]. 03.02.2015. URL: https://goo.gl/UdiVpm (reference date: 10.06.2016).

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9. The Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, German Reparations, and Inter-allied War Debts [Web resource] // The Office of the Historian [site]. 2016. URL: https://goo.gl/g78aHx (reference date: 10.06.2016).

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15. Washington's Farewell Address 1796 [Web resource] // Lillian Goldman Law Library [site]. 2008. URL: http://goo.gl/AJZIRW (reference date: 10.06.2016)

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Data about the author:

Karpchuk Natalia Petrivna – Candidate of Philological Sciences, Associate Professor of International Information Department, Faculty of International Relations, Lesya Ukrainka Eastern European National University (Lutsk, Ukraine).

Сведения об авторе:

Карпчук Наталия Петровна – кандидат филологических наук, доцент кафедры международной информации факультета международных отношений Восточноевропейского национального университета имени Леси Украинки (Луцк, Украина).

E-mail: karpchuknata@gmail.com.