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Opinion: Munich Sets New Tone for Trans-Atlantic Relations

The US sent a positive message to Europe at this year's Munich security conference. But, according to DW's Nina Werkhaeuser, Europe missed an opportunity to take a clear position on the crises affecting the world.

A pen and the word opinon

The Munich security conference is a good way to measure the mood between the United States and Europe. In the last few years, the Europeans were served a plateful of American unilateralism spiced with a pinch of cynicism.

This year, the Americans, led by Vice President Joe Biden, had a pleasantly different tone. The fact that US President Barack Obama sent the country's second-highest elected official to Munich so shortly after taking office and in the middle of an economic crisis was a mark of confidence in and of itself.

Biden's speech convinced every last doubter that the new US administration sees Europe as more than a pile of opinionated countries in which only a few qualify as loyal allies. Obama has mothballed George W. Bush's affections for being the world's sheriff and called for a dose of humility. The new US administration wants to listen, and expects advice and help from its allies, the vice president explained. America will no longer torture and won't trample over its own values out of excessive security worries.

A collective exhale can be heard among all those who doubted the trans-Atlantic relationship in recent years.

But Joe Biden also outlined the US administration's ambitious policy plans: stop climate change, cut poverty in half by 2015, and get the financial crisis under control -- all that while, of course, dealing with other international crises.

The US can't do it alone, and that's what makes the new conciliatory tones from Washington a necessity rather than a luxury. The new American government is going to look for willing partners but with the difference that, unlike Bush, it won't get offended and stop talking to critics.

Washington's expectations for Europe are clearly high. Afghanistan and Iran are just two conflicts in which Obama does not want to yield an inch -- and he expects the same of his allies. US troops in Afghanistan are going to be dramatically increased and the civilian reconstruction will be boosted and better coordinated. Obama still has not made any concrete requests from NATO in this regard, but it won't be much longer until he does. Then the German government will have to find its place in Obama's world view.

What was missing in Munich was a clear sign from the Europeans to Washington. Where will Europe participate and where won't it? The German government, sadly, also missed its chance to formulate its position publicly.

There are some difficult months ahead for the new US administration: It will have to show that it hasn't raised the bar too high. In a year's time, at the next Munich conference, it will be measured by this year's announcements. The United States' allies in Europe are going have to start thinking over the details of how they want to cooperate with the USA. The friendly new tone is certainly not a sign of timidity on any of the issues.

Nina Werkhaeuser is DW-RADIO's defense and security policy correspondent in Berlin (sms)

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