America's Allied Relations

July 18, 1980

Report Outline
Division in the West
Three Decades of NATO
Outlook for Cooperation
Special Focus

Division in the West

Recent Strains on the Atlantic Alliance

There is an axiom in diplomacy that friendships among nations last until they are tested. So far, 1980 has been a year full of tests for both the United States and its allies. Seven months after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and nine months after the seizure of American hostages in Iran, U.S. foreign policy faces a host of challenges. The gravest of these, many experts say, is mending the Western alliance. The often uneasy cooperation among Europe, Canada and the United States has been shaken further by political and economic crises around the world. There have been crises before in the Atlantic partnership, especially in the Sixties and mid-Seventies, but America's leadership role was then much stronger. A weaker role today, it is feared, may mean permanent disarray.

Causes for bitterness and recrimination exist on both sides of the Atlantic. After first hinting they might favor a U.S.-led Olympic boycott as a means of punishing Russia for the invasion of Afghanistan, eight of the nine countries in the European Economic Community (Common Market) have teams competing in Moscow. And 10 of America's 14 partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are represented there. Similarly, tempers in Washington rose when the Europeans did not go as far as the United States wanted in imposing trade sanctions against Iran. Adding to the bickering are the complaints from friendly governments abroad that the Carter administration has shown a marked lack of competence in handling foreign affairs. Europeans, especially, accuse Carter of missing an opportunity to secure peace in the Middle East and overreacting to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan.

At the summit meeting in Venice, June 22–23, leaders of the Big Seven industrial democracies, demonstrated unexpected cordiality, if not solidarity. On the matter of the world's economic problems, they agreed in principle on the necessity of developing new ways to save oil and reduce dependency on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). On political matters, they affirmed their opposition to Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. However, no proposals were agreed on that might pressure the Russians to pull their troops out. In fact, at the closing news conference, only President Carter among the seven national leaders directly mentioned the Soviet invasion.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Alliances and Security Agreements
Regional Political Affairs: Europe
Regional Political Affairs: Middle East and South Asia