Posted: August 29, 2005
n summer 2002, Robert Kagan sparked a vast trans-Atlantic discussion by publishing "Power and Weakness" in Policy Review, a journal edited by Tod Lindberg. Kagan subsequently developed and updated his argument in a widely reviewed little book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. Now Lindberg has brought together a set of essays that aim in various ways to shed more light on Kagan's subject: American-European relations after the Cold War.
Kagan argued that differences in their relative levels of power are leading Europeans and Americans to develop very different ideas about how the world works and what their policies in it ought to be. Militarily well-endowed Americans are comfortable with unilateralism and the use of force, and uncomfortable with the constraints of international institutions. Militarily weaker Europeans are the opposite. From the start, there was something wrong with this argument. Military "weakness" may be attributed to the European Union's member states individually, but not to the E.U. collectively. As several authors in this volume point out, Europe has more than enough technology, money, and soldiers to compete with America militarily. It chooses not to. So instead of military weakness causing what Kagan calls "Kantian" norms, such norms seem to precede and cause the military weakness.
But this leaves standing his true contribution, which is to raise the twin issues of whether the tensions between Europe and America are being caused by structural factors beyond the control of any one government, and depending on the answer to that, whether and how U.S. foreign policy after 9/11 should be adjusted in the face of those tensions. Kagan's answers are clear: tensions are the natural result of the power differentials. Thus U.S. foreign policy need not be bent to relieving them, though it might surely be more polite and address some European sensibilities with more care. Divergence, rather than being shameful, is merely tragic.
Structural arguments of this kind are well represented in Lindberg's book, though not Kagan's particular brand of them. Many of the contributors agree that a key source of the tensions between the two regions is, paradoxically, their joint victory in the Cold War. With the demise of the Soviet Union, Europe and the U.S. each felt freer to air the disagreements that are natural to such diverse industrialized nations. Francis Fukuyama offers another possible reason for thinking that the rift "is not just a transitory problem": the essentially cultural disagreement over whether it is nation-states (as most Americans believe) or international entities (as most Europeans think) that confer legitimacy on international policies. All such structuralist perspectives insist that there is no reason why the United States and at least some of the major European powers should not return to the on-and-off friendships that characterized them, say, before 1914, even if they cannot return to the tight alliance of the Cold War days.
Such structuralism is rejected especially by those who blame the trans-Atlantic breach on the Bush Administration and its so-called unilateralism, whether in spurning the Kyoto treaty or invading Iraq. Some critics predict, therefore, that other countries will eventually form "balancing" coalitions against America. In this volume, Gilles AndrÃ©ani, a French Foreign Ministry official, calls U.S. policy after 9/11 "neo-imperialist" and tars neocons as "the extreme Right." Far more politely, Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany's Ambassador to the United States, laments needless provocation on all sides.
* * *
But Walter Russell Mead and Lindberg himself offer the book's most ambitious challenge to the thesis of a structural divergence between Europe and America. Each argues, broadly speaking, that the most powerful structural factors at work will continue to pull America and Europe together rather than apart. Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues in effect that though Kagan may not be right about power balances now, he will be in the future, albeit for different reasons. Mead bases his argument on one of the most underappreciated long-term trends in today's world: America's growth in population and productivity is outpacing Europe's, so much so that we can foresee a massive resources gap opening between the two regions. So if the U.S. does not overshadow Europe financially and militarily now, it will increasingly in coming decades. But even so, this superiority will still not permit the U.S. to have its way on every issue likely to arise in a world pressured by economic globalization, ethnic rivalry, and much else. The result, Mead says, is that both regions will continue to need each other more than they like or currently realize. A relatively diminished Europe will need the U.S. for obvious reasons, and Mead suggests with somewhat fewer details (and thus less persuasively) that the U.S. will need Europe to help deal with nettlesome regional problems.
Lindberg turns away from all this talk of money and power—toward culture. Is there any plausible chance of armed conflict within the Atlantic community in the foreseeable future? No, says Lindberg, and we must not lose sight of this remarkable fact. "[T]here is no point in human history prior to the end of the Second World War at which one could offer the same answer about any such group of countries." This is the case, he says, because these countries are constitutive members of an "ethical community" whose fundamental point of agreement is that disagreements with one another are transacted peacefully. Thus in "no serious case do we think of each other as entirely 'other'." Our partially shared culture, in turn, constitutes a structural basis for good relations and cooperation, transcending occasional tensions over secondary issues. And the secondary issue at stake today concerns the circumstances under which force will be used against countries and regimes outside the Atlantic community.
This turns out to be a highly contentious issue. Moreover, what is at stake extends beyond European-American relations to the very future of these two regions in global politics. Several authors in this volume argue that the apparent European preference for international institutions, negotiation, and persuasion provides a model for conflict-avoidance and conflict-resolution for the rest of the world. Traditional realists and neoconservatives dismiss this assumption as distressingly naïve. Mead nicely captures the predominant American skepticism: addressing troublemakers with polite talk might work well among rich democracies, but the "rest of the world is not there yet and unlikely to get there quickly." Fukuyama puts his own kind of spin on the issue: "The Europeans are certainly right that they are living at the end of history; the question is, where is the rest of the world? Of course, much of the world is indeed mired in history, having neither economic growth nor stable democracy nor peace."
In sum, many countries cannot be dealt with effectively if one's policy of "force as a last resort" is, in reality, a policy of avoiding force at all costs, or agreeing to use force only in ridiculously implausible circumstances. Europeans acknowledge this de facto, but never doctrinally, when they limit membership in their own Union to countries that meet strict criteria, including stable democracy and much else besides. After all, since countries that fail to meet those criteria typically do so for deep-seated and not merely superficial reasons, this filtering mechanism recognizes—again, de facto—that countries are characterized by structural differences and that Europe's modern methods work much better with some than with others. As Turkey knows only too well, the European Union's list of important structural differences includes some that dare not speak their names. But Europeans are hesitant to declare all of this openly and in principle. The Bush Administration, by contrast, has been willing to admit that what works in certain contexts may not work in others. Europeans run the risk that their discretion will advantage them in the short term, because they are perceived as polite and sensitive, but disadvantage them in the long run, because American realism is more accurate and American methods more likely to be effective.
* * *
Of course, the door can swing both ways, with far less sanguine implications for America's future. In her chapter, Kalypso Nicolaidis, a University Lecturer at Oxford University, accepts the distinction between more civil and rougher parts of the world, as well as the notion that the softer European approach may not be suitable for dealing with the latter. But that very distinction implies that the European approach may be more appropriate—and U.S. roughness unsuitable—to the more civil regions. Given the gradual spread of democracy and the ongoing economic development of states, Nicolaidis warns that America is tooling its foreign policy to deal with the diminishing number of admittedly dangerous rogue states while the E.U. plays better to the larger and growing number of countries that want to abide by the rules of international trade, conflict resolution, and positive-sum cooperation. This makes the current U.S. strategy ultimately anachronistic. If this is right, then while the U.S. bears the costs of dealing with backwater trouble-spots, Europe will reap profits and status at the center of the world. Thus the different foreign policies of Europe and America may determine which region emerges, over the next 50 years, as the dominant liberal democratic force in the world.
But this vision of ultimate European advantage is premature, because it is based on a badly misinformed conception of current U.S. grand strategy. Kagan's provocative remark that "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus" was widely criticized for unfairly stereotyping Europeans, and some of the criticism became overly defensive. In this volume, for example, Timothy Garton Ash bridles at the implication that Europeans are feminine, and Ischinger has Kagan referring to "Euro-weenies," an epithet which, to my knowledge, Kagan has never used. Still the overall point is well-taken: Europeans do not pursue a uniformly "soft" approach to the world, as anyone knows who has watched French guns cut down scores of Ivory Coast citizens demonstrating in their own capital city. But critics rarely insist that Kagan's phrase also unfairly stereotypes Americans as militaristic and unilateralist.
Martial imagery usefully describes U.S. policy only toward a small number of countries. The war on terror is only one part of a larger foreign policy that predominantly focuses on such cooperation-heavy issues as trade and investment, international technical standards, immigration, and routine security matters. And even the war on terror is mainly being carried out through peaceful bilateral and multilateral cooperation on money-tracing, police surveillance, and intelligence-sharing. If anything, as Fukuyama points out, America is more consistently multilateralist on international economic matters than are the E.U. states. The notion that the United States is systematically martial is simply false. Which means the theory that the United States is ill-prepared to navigate the more civilized regions of the world is a delusion, which may give comfort to some people for the moment, but will ultimately discredit its votaries.