Last summer, the foreign policy communityespecially in Europewas stirred up considerably by an article on transatlantic relations that appeared in the journal Policy Review, written by Robert Kagan, a national security specialist with neoconservative or "Reaganite" views. Kagan argued that on major strategic and international questions, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: they agree on little and understand one another less and less. When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, and fashioning foreign and defense policies, Kagan wrote, the United States and Europe had irrevocably parted ways.
Kagan's analysis, unfortunately, is looking better and better with time. He has now published an extended and updated version of his argument in a short book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. It is well worth looking at; or you can read the original version online here . The style and substance reminds one of Walter Lippmann's classic U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic(1943), although Kagan reaches a very different conclusion about America's foreign policy principles and future relationship with Europe.
Kagan contends that the current and growing disparity of American and European power, especially military power, causes them to view the world (and threats such as Saddam Hussein) differently. If you have a hammer, as the saying goes, every problem looks like a nail, and the United States has a very big hammer. But at a deeper level, this disparity of power reflects very different views of international relationsand it explains why the Europeans favor "multilateralism" and accuse Americans of "unilateralism." After enduring centuries of warfare, Europeans now believe they are finally moving beyond power politics into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. Europe has entered a post-historical paradise, the realization of Immanuel Kant's "Perpetual Peace." The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in historynecessarily, according to Kagan. America must exercise power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international rules are unreliable and where security and the promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.
The transmission of the European miracle to the rest of the world has become Europe's new civilizing mission. This mission does not require power: it requires the opposition to power. America's military strength and its willingness to use forceunilaterally if necessarythus constitute a threat to Europe's new sense of mission. The Bush administration's approach to Iraq, even (and especially) if it is successful, represents an assault on the essence of post-modern Europe because it would demonstrate that force still trumps cooperative solutions. This is what Europeans means when they say George Bush is a greater threat to peace than Saddam Hussein.
From the European perspective, the United States is objectively dangerous insofar as American actions delay the arrival of a world order more conducive to the intrinsic safety of weaker powers. Kagan quotes European Union Commissioner Chris Patton, with reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "European integration shows that compromise and reconciliation is possible after generations of prejudice, war and suffering." The new European model holds that it is better to deal with the axis of evilIraq, North Korea, and Iranthrough rapprochement rather than confrontation, beginning with cooperation in the economic sphere and then moving on to peaceful integration.
For our part, Kagan writes, Americans have begun to turn away from the common solidarity with Europe that had been the central theme of the Cold War and back toward a more traditional American policy of independencetoward that uniquely American form of universalistic nationalism. American internationalism has always been a by-product of American nationalism; when Americans seek legitimacy for their actions abroad, they do so not from supranational institutions but from their own principles.
So where do we go from here? Although it is difficult to foresee a closing of the gap between American and European perceptions of the world, Kagan concludes that gap may be more manageable than it currently appears. There need be no clash of civilizations within what used to be called the West. The task for both Europeans and Americans is to acknowledge and readjust to the new reality of American hegemony and to European ambitions.
Kagan hopes that, for their part, Europeans can move beyond their fear and anger and remember again the vital necessity of having a strong, even predominant America. That is an acceptable price for paradise. Americans, in turn, should cut Europe some slack: the new, peaceful politics on the continent is a blessed miracle, to be cherished and guarded-- indeed, it is in many ways the culmination of America's own great vision for Europe for which it fought the Cold War. Kagan believes that Americans should show more understanding of the sensibilities of others, more of the generosity of spirit that characterized U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. We should pay our respects to multilateralism and the rule of law, and try to build some international political capital for those moments when multilateralism is impossible and unilateral action is unavoidable.
The obvious objection to Kagan's assessment, made both here and across the Atlantic, is that the mythical, post-modern Europe promoted by France and Germany still does not exist. Tony Blair and many of other political leadersthose from Donald Rumsfeld's "new Europe"want to maintain and improve the transatlantic marriage. One can also remark upon a considerable degree of hypocrisy by the French, among others, who pursue their own narrow national interests under the high-toned rubric of European unity; and who seem willing to use force when it suits their needs (e.g., in the Ivory Coast). Those observations are true as far as they go, but there is considerable evidence that a large majority of European publics and elites indeed believe they are living in post-modern times.
Kagan contends that Americans and Europeans have diverging views of foreign policy: I would argue they have diverging views of politics. The United States and Europe, at least from the time of the French Revolution, have had different understandings of the meaning of self-government, the nation and individual rights. The German philosophic influence during the nineteenth century widened that gap even further. During World War II and the Cold War, such differences paled because of the totalitarian threat. But no longer: the current project to achieve European unity, or solidarity, is at its heart different from the American project of Union. As friends, we wish them well. But we must wonder if their project, undertaken in the name of human rights and peace, may lead to something quite different than a post-modern utopia precisely because of its hostility to power. Machiavelli criticized Christianity because its virtueshumility, meeknessactually led to a form of politics that was both weak and cruel. However one judges this criticism, it may be that the post-modern world may reflect Machiavelli's political insights more than Kant's.
This does not let America off the hook. The United States has its own civilizing mission to influence and support the cause of liberty, rightly understood; in part by demonstrating a decent respect for the opinion of mankind. Many in Europe and elsewhere who deserve that respect, who have proven themselves our friends in the past, reject the currently fashionable anti-Americanismbut they also warn that we do not fully understand that "to lead is to heed." The argument of our friends seems to be this: during the Cold War, the United States created and supported a system of multilateral institutions and agreementse.g., the United Nations, NATO, IMF, the World Bank, even arms control treatiesthat reflected America's own civilizing mission and yet reassured other nations that U.S. aims were limited and just; that others had a place in the sun as well. The United States, they say, now seems to be turning its back on many of those institutions and agreementsperhaps wisely, in light of new threats like Iraqbut it has not yet explained convincingly how it proposes to replace or find a functional equivalent to them. Nor have we yet found our voice to explain how the American understanding of democracy still has appeal and relevance as compared to the more problematic direction of European politics (or even the tender mercies of Saddam Hussein). We may rely on our Constitutional arrangements to ensure that we will be guided by justice as we pursue our foreign policy interests. But other nations and peoples cannot expect to be assured of our benevolence because they are, necessarily, not directly part of that process.
It is incumbent upon us to discover or recover means to account for the legitimate interests of others without compromising our own principles. This is easier said than done, to be sure; and we can never expect or want to be admired by those who don't share those principles. But wisdom begins with the recognition that post-modern Europe has stolen the march on us among "enlightened" opinionin the United States itself as well as abroadand those who hate liberty have cheerfully signed on to their cause. We need to find a way to sort out the sheep from the goats and wolves.