In brief: A decade ago the international community, including the U.S., began formulating responses to the question of whether global warming was a real trend, and if it was caused by human activity. Deciding that it was, prolonged negotiations led to the 1997 Kyoto Treaty on Climate, which mandates that by 2012 the industrialized nations will have cut their collective output of carbon gases to 5 percent below 1990 levels. Since then, the signatories to the treaty (including the Clinton administration) have struggled, unsuccessfully, to agree on mechanisms to implement Kyoto. President Bush, however, has rejected the Kyoto Accord as unfair and likely to hurt the U.S. economy.
The fault line: Mandatory emission cuts.
Richter scale reading: 7
This is a hot-button issue on which Europeans are mostly opposed to Washington even European conservatives have been critical of the U.S. position. President Bush is unlikely to offer anything that will placate the Europeans, but they will ultimately be forced to engage with his proposals simply because the U.S. remains the world's largest polluter.
In brief: The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty remains a key legal obstacle to the Bush administration's intention to build a missile shield. In order to deploy the system, Washington would either have to persuade the Russians to renegotiate the treaty or withdraw from it. The Bush team has been trying to persuade both the Russians and European NATO members of the need to move beyond Cold War arms-control agreements in order to deal with the threats of a new century. But the Russians have refused to renegotiate the ABM treaty, and insist that it remains the cornerstone of all other arms control agreements. And both they and the Europeans believe Washington is overstating both the danger of "rogue" missile attacks, and also the abilities of an unproven system to defend against them.
The fault line: Moscow's response
Richter scale reading: 5
Despite taking a harder line, the Bush administration has actually impressed the Europeans by consulting more thoroughly with both friend and sometime foe, taking a more global and holistic approach to missile defense than its predecessor. But President Putin may hold the key to Europe's response. If he's amenable, the Europeans will follow; if he's adamantly opposed, the Europeans will back away. Of course the matter won't be settled in Bush's two-hour meet-and-greet with Putin, but the Europeans will be closely watching the signals.
In brief: The Cold War military and political alliance bound the U.S. and most of Western Europe, but tension within the group over its size, scope and purpose has mounted in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. While Washington has pushed hardest for incorporation of former Soviet satellites into the alliance, the Western Europeans are generally more wary of provoking the Russians, particularly when it comes to the Baltic states and Ukraine. Peacekeeping missions such as those in the Balkans have also caused tensions Washington in the Clinton years pushed the reluctant Europeans for more decisive action in Bosnia and Kosovo; now in the Bush years U.S. leaders have begun emphasizing the need for an exit strategy. European moves to set up a parallel defense arrangement for rapid deployment in conflict zones have also caused concern in the Pentagon.
The fault lines: Expansion of the alliance, peacekeeping missions and European defense initiatives
Richter scale reading: 2
Despite differences on a number of questions, the U.S. and Western Europe remain committed to the basic assumptions of NATO. And aside from the rhetoric, they've cooperated strongly on Macedonia and other crises. Part of the tension may be a product of the European Union beginning to realize its own collective political and diplomatic clout on the global stage, which will see it assuming an expanding role in relation to such conflicts as the Middle East. And that development will inevitably contain both advantages and challenges for Washington.
In brief: As a bloc, the European Union is Washington's largest trading partner, and together they constitute the 500-pound gorillas of world trade. That has meant that ongoing trade spats over issues ranging from bananas to airplane engines have at times bedeviled global trade talks such as those at the World Trade Organization. And the slowdown of the U.S. economy will sharpen the focus on trade issues in Washington's relations with Europe over the next few years.
The fault lines: U.S. foreign sales corporations, cheap steel being dumped on U.S. markets, hormone-laced beef, genetically modified organisms, what have you…
Richter scale reading: 1
Despite fears prompted by the slowdown in the world economy, the outlook on trade relations between the U.S. and Europe is bullish. By resolving the "banana war," Bush administration trade representative Robert Zoellick has proven his ability to overcome some of the difficulties that vexed the Clinton administration's dealings with the Europeans. Despite looming conflicts over issues ranging from U.S. companies basing themselves offshore for purposes of exports to President Bush's call for an investigation into cheap steel being dumped on U.S. markets, the outlook is bullish for the Bush team to get the Europeans to agree on a new round of global trade talks.