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Monday, April 29, 2013

The United Kingdom and U.S.-UK Relations

Derek E. Mix
Analyst in European Affairs

Many U.S. officials and Members of Congress view the United Kingdom (UK) as the United States’ closest and most reliable ally. This perception stems from a combination of factors, including a sense of shared history, values, and culture, as well as extensive and long-established cooperation on a wide range of foreign policy and security issues. In the minds of many Americans, the UK’s strong role in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade reinforced an impression of closeness and solidarity.

The 2010 UK election resulted in the country’s first coalition government since the Second World War. The Conservative Party won the most votes in the election, and Conservative leader David Cameron became prime minister. To command a parliamentary majority, however, the Conservatives were compelled to partner with the Liberal Democrats, who came in third place, and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg became deputy prime minister. The Labour Party, now led by Ed Miliband, moved into opposition after leading the UK government since 1997.

Economic and fiscal issues have been the central domestic challenge facing the coalition thus far. Seeking to reduce the country’s budget deficit and national debt, the coalition adopted a five-year austerity program early in its tenure. With a double-dip recession in 2012 and low growth forecasts, the government has been maintaining its austerity strategy under considerable pressure and criticism. Austerity has also heightened social tensions and contributed to rising political friction between the coalition partners. Although the coalition arrangement went smoothly during its first year, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have subsequently disagreed about a series of domestic issues, including a number of proposed changes to the country’s political system.

Europe has been another source of tension. The UK has long been one of the most skeptical and ambivalent members of the 27-country European Union (EU). While the Conservative Party remains a stronghold of “euro-skeptics,” the Liberal Democrats are the UK’s most pro-EU political party. The Eurozone crisis has deepened British antipathy toward the EU, fueling calls to reclaim national sovereignty over issues where decision-making has been pooled and integrated in Brussels. Some analysts believe that a British departure from the EU is a growing possibility; Prime Minister Cameron intends to renegotiate some of the terms of membership and put the UK’s relationship with the EU to a national referendum in 2017. Adding another note of uncertainty to the British political landscape, Scotland plans to hold a referendum in September 2014 on whether to separate from the UK and become an independent country.

In recent years, some observers have suggested that the U.S.-UK relationship is losing relevance due to changing U.S. foreign policy priorities and shifting global dynamics. An imbalance of power in favor of the United States has occasionally led some British observers to call for a reassessment of their country’s approach to the relationship. Despite such anxieties, most analysts believe that the two countries will remain close allies that choose to cooperate on many important global issues such as counterterrorism, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, and global economic challenges.

Given its role as a close U.S. ally and partner, developments in the UK and its relations with the United States are of continuing interest to the U.S. Congress. This report provides an overview and assessment of some of the main dimensions of these topics. For a broader analysis of transatlantic relations, see CRS Report RS22163, The United States and Europe: Current Issues, by Derek E. Mix.

Date of Report: April 15, 2013
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL33105
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

The European Union: Foreign and Security Policy

Derek E. Mix
Analyst in European Affairs

The United States often looks to Europe as its partner of choice in addressing important global challenges. Given the extent of the transatlantic relationship, congressional foreign policy activities and interests frequently involve Europe. The relationship between the United States and the European Union (EU) has become increasingly significant in recent years, and it is likely to grow even more important. In this context, Members of Congress often have an interest in understanding the complexities of EU policy making, assessing the compatibility and effectiveness of U.S. and EU policy approaches, or exploring the long-term implications of changing transatlantic dynamics. 

The EU As a Global Actor 

Seeking to play a more active role in global affairs, the EU has developed a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and a Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). On many foreign policy and security issues, the 27 EU member states exert a powerful collective influence. On the other hand, some critics assert that on the whole the EU remains an economic power only, and that its foreign and security policies have little global impact. Some of the shortcomings in the EU’s external policies stem from the inherent difficulties of reaching a complete consensus among the member state governments. Moreover, past institutional arrangements have often failed to coordinate the EU’s full range of resources. 

Elements of EU External Policy 

The Common Foreign and Security Policy is based on unanimous consensus among the member states. CFSP is a mechanism for adopting common principles and guidelines on political and security issues, committing to common diplomatic approaches, and undertaking joint actions. Many analysts argue that Europe’s relevance in world affairs increasingly depends on its ability to speak and act as one.

The EU is currently conducting 16 operations under its Common Security and Defense Policy. To establish a more robust CSDP, EU member states have been exploring ways to increase their military capabilities and promote greater defense integration. These efforts have met with limited success thus far. Civilian missions and capabilities, however, are also central components of CSDP; the majority of CSDP missions have been civilian operations in areas such as police training and rule of law.

External policies in technical areas such as trade, humanitarian aid, development assistance, enlargement, and neighborhood policy are formulated and managed through a “community” process at the level of the EU institutions. (The European Neighborhood Policy seeks to deepen the EU’s relations with its southern and eastern neighbors while encouraging them to pursue governance and economic reforms.) These are the EU’s most deeply integrated external policies. Given events in North Africa, the Middle East, and some of the former Soviet states, EU policymakers have been rethinking how such external policy tools might be used to better effect. 

The United States, the EU, and NATO 

Although some observers remain concerned that a strong EU might act as a counterweight to U.S. power, others maintain that an assertive and capable EU is very much in the interest of the United 
States. The focus of the transatlantic relationship has changed since the end of the Cold War: it is now largely about the United States and Europe working together to manage a range of global problems. According to some experts, U.S.-EU cooperation holds the greatest potential for successfully tackling many of today’s emergent threats and concerns.

Nevertheless, NATO remains the dominant institutional foundation for transatlantic security affairs. U.S. policymakers have supported efforts to develop EU security policies on the condition that they do not weaken NATO, where the United States has a strong voice on European security issues. Despite their overlapping membership, the EU and NATO have struggled to work out an effective cooperative relationship. Analysts suggest that sorting out the dynamics of the U.S.-EUNATO relationship to allow for a comprehensive and effective use of Euro-Atlantic resources and capabilities will be a key challenge for U.S. and European policymakers in the years ahead.

Date of Report: April 8, 2013
Number of Pages: 29
Order Number: R41959
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The United States and Europe: Current Issues

Derek E. Mix
Analyst in European Affairs

Due to extensive cooperation on a wide range of issues, the relationship between the United States and Europe is often called the transatlantic partnership. The two sides have many common values and concerns, and have grown increasingly interdependent in terms of security and prosperity. The transatlantic relationship and the main areas of U.S.-European cooperation and shared interest are likely to have continuing implications for U.S. policy during the 113th Congress. Members of Congress may have an interest in considering the dimensions and dynamics of current issues in U.S.-European relations in the course of oversight or legislative activities, or in the context of direct interactions with European legislators and officials.

According to most observers, the overall tone of transatlantic relations during the Obama Administration has been largely positive. At the same time, a constructive tone does not necessarily translate into tangible results with regard to foreign policy objectives or other goals. With respect to certain issues, such as terrorist detainee policy or climate change, U.S. and European policies have often been at odds and have generated frictions in the relationship from time to time.

This report selects a number of issues that both illustrate the nature of U.S.-European cooperation based on shared interests and present challenges in terms of the efficacy of such cooperation:

  • The United States and the European Union (EU) have the largest trade and investment relationship in the world. Over the past several years, the Eurozone crisis has posed a danger to economic recovery and financial stability worldwide. Members of Congress and Administration officials have been concerned about the potential effects of the crisis, but avenues for U.S. involvement in resolving it have remained limited. In early 2013, the United States and the EU announced their intention to begin negotiations on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership aimed at boosting jobs and growth on both sides. 
  • The United States and Europe continue to cooperate closely on a wide range of foreign policy and international security issues. Many of these challenges are in the wider Middle East region: countering Iran’s nuclear ambitions, seeking to halt the violence in Syria, adjusting to the regional transitions of the so-called “Arab Spring,” and managing the transfer and withdrawal of U.S. and European troops in Afghanistan. Managing difficult relations with Russia also remains a priority and common interest of both the United States and Europe. Additionally, in the context of the pending conclusion of operations in Afghanistan and low defense spending in many European countries, officials and analysts continue to debate a number of on-going questions about the future role and capabilities of NATO. 
  • Europe remains both a primary target of radical Islamist terrorists and a potential base for those seeking to carry out attacks against the United States. Transatlantic counterterrorism cooperation has been strong since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, although U.S.-EU differences regarding data privacy have posed some key information-sharing challenges. 
  • Cybersecurity issues have received growing attention and emphasis on both sides of the Atlantic. Although some differences exist regarding regulation of the Internet, the United States and the EU have pursued initiatives to deepen cybersecurity cooperation and counter cybercrime.
  • In 2012, the U.S. Congress passed legislation prohibiting U.S. aircraft operators from participating in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). Airlines participating in the ETS must purchase carbon allowances in order to offset CO2 emissions. The EU has delayed implementing the international application of the ETS for aviation pending negotiations on a broader multilateral agreement. 
  • Concerned by Europe’s reliance on Russian energy, many U.S. officials and analysts regard European energy security as a U.S. interest. With its energy import needs expected to rise, Europe has had mixed success in seeking ways to diversify its energy supplies and consolidate its internal energy market. 

As the United States and Europe face a changing geopolitical environment, some observers assert that the global influence of the Euro-Atlantic partnership is in decline. In addition, the Obama Administration’s announced “re-balancing” toward Asia has caused some anxiety among Europeans. Overall, however, most analysts maintain that the United States and Europe are likely to remain one another’s closest partner, and that U.S.- European cooperation is likely to remain the foundation of international action on a wide range of critical issues.

Date of Report: March 20, 2013
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RS22163
Price: $29.95

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The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Luisa Blanchfield
Specialist in International Relations

U.S. ratification of the United Nations (U.N.) Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereinafter referred to as CRC or the Convention) may be a key area of focus during the 113th Congress, particularly if President Barack Obama seeks the advice and consent of the Senate. 

Background and Current Status 

CRC is an international treaty that aims to protect the rights of children worldwide. It defines a child as any human being under the age of 18, and calls on States Parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure that children’s rights are protected—including the right to a name and nationality; freedom of speech and thought; access to healthcare and education; and freedom from exploitation, torture, and abuse. CRC entered into force in September 1990, and has been ratified by 193 countries, making it the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. Two countries, the United States and Somalia, have not ratified the Convention. The President has not transmitted CRC to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification. 

U.S. Actions 

Despite widespread U.S. support for the overall objectives of the Convention, policymakers have raised concerns as to whether it is an effective mechanism for protecting children’s rights. The Clinton Administration signed the Convention in February 1995, but did not submit it to the Senate primarily because of strong opposition from several Members of Congress. The George W. Bush Administration opposed CRC and expressed serious political and legal concerns with the treaty, arguing that it conflicted with U.S. laws regarding privacy and family rights. The election of President Obama in 2008 focused renewed attention on the possibility of U.S. ratification. The Administration has stated that it supports the goals of the Convention and that the decision to pursue ratification of CRC is being determined through an interagency policy review. 

Issues for Congress 

The question of U.S. ratification of CRC has generated contentious debate. Opponents argue that ratification would undermine U.S. sovereignty by giving the United Nations authority to determine the best interests of U.S. children. Some are also concerned that CRC could interfere in the private lives of families, particularly the rights of parents to educate or discipline their children. Moreover, some contend that CRC is an ineffective mechanism for protecting children’s rights. They emphasize that countries widely regarded as abusers of children’s rights, such as China and Sudan, are party to the Convention. On the other hand, supporters of U.S. ratification hold that CRC’s intention is not to circumvent the role of parents but to protect children against government intrusion and abuse. Proponents emphasize what they view as CRC’s strong support for the role of parents and the family structure. They also hold that U.S. federal and state laws generally meet the requirements of CRC, and that U.S. ratification would strengthen the United States’ credibility when advocating children’s rights abroad.

Perhaps more than other human rights treaties, CRC addresses areas that are usually considered to be primarily or exclusively under the jurisdiction of state or local governments, including education, juvenile justice, and access to healthcare. Some of these conflicting areas will likely need to be resolved by the executive branch and the Senate before the United States ratifies the Convention.

Date of Report: April 1, 2013
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R40484
Price: $29.95

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