Continental Drift

By John Rossant


America and Europe in the New World Order

By Robert Kagan Knopf -- 103pp -- $18

In September, 2002, the Bush Administration published an extraordinary document in which it laid out its views on American power and the rest of the world. In just 48 pages, The National Security Strategy of the United States officially endorsed, for the first time, controversial ideas on preemptive warfare and the need to take unilateral military action if the national security of the country was deemed to be at risk. Almost immediately, the work was attacked as "a plan to rule the world," "a call for imperialism," and "as destructive in a revolutionary sense as Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto." And those were just from mainstream U.S. critics. The comments from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia were, not surprisingly, even more withering.

Yet, as Robert Kagan reminds us in his slender but brilliant Of Paradise and Power, U.S. foreign policy flows from a willingness to use its unmatched military power. Meanwhile, observes Kagan, a veteran of the Reagan State Dept. and an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Europeans have no real ability or desire to project military force. So they have increasingly sought to tackle global problems with "soft" solutions, such as commerce and foreign aid. This divide, Kagan says, has been growing since the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago. His central thesis is that the "power gap" between the U.S. and Europe is now so vast that there is little use in thinking of them as partners. "It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world," he writes.

There's a lot to be said for this argument. It's easy to imagine that the current friction between the U.S. and Europe over Iraq is the monkey wrench in the workings of the Atlantic alliance. But it's more than that: Already in the early '90s, there were sharp differences between the Clinton team and European allies over how to deal with the civil war in Bosnia. In the middle of the decade, there was bitter discord in the U.N. Security Council, where France, Russia, and China sought to have the sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Iraq lifted over American objections. And according to Kagan, this disharmony is rooted in power, pure and simple: Americans have it, Europeans don't.

Foreign policy mavens are treating Of Paradise and Power as the most important global analysis since George Kennan's 1947 Foreign Affairs article advocating containment of the Soviet Union. Kagan's book is a lengthened version of an essay published in mid-2002 by the Hoover Institution's Policy Review. That work immediately galvanized the foreign policy Establishments on both sides of the Atlantic. It seemed to give ammunition to a growing group of Americans who believe that Europe has entered a kind of postmodern welfare-state "paradise," in which defense is simply not on the table. For many Europeans, on the other hand, Kagan's assertions that Americans were the only ones who could and should exercise military power seemed to confirm their worst fears about the intentions of the new Bush Administration. Kagan goes even further: Because of long-term demographic trends -- the American population is growing faster and getting younger while Europe's declines and ages -- "it is reasonable to assume we have only just entered a long era of American hegemony." In a world where, as Kagan puts it, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus, he has no doubts that the Martians have the upper hand.

The U.S. and Europe are playing with very different cards. The U.S. has long spent more than Europe on the military, and the September 11 attacks mean that those efforts are now being turbocharged by President Bush. Moreover, the high-tech-driven revolution in military affairs undertaken by the Pentagon over the past 20 years has given a huge qualitative as well as quantitative advantage to American might. The "shock and awe" attacks on Iraq and the lightning assault on Baghdad in early April are stunning examples of this.

Yet Kagan's view that power alone dictates your world view is overly deterministic. What's more, Europeans are not really so dovelike. For all of the pacifistic breast-beating of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Germany is projecting military power in the Balkans and Central Asia in ways unthinkable just a half a decade ago. And the French, who regularly send troops to Africa without any permission from the U.N., have just signed off on the first real increase in defense spending in years. America, meanwhile, is still investing time and political capital in multilateralism, as its efforts to cobble together U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 showed last winter. The U.S. has also been deploying imperial amounts of European-style "soft" power. How else to define the huge increases in U.S. foreign aid outlined by Bush earlier this year? Or the neo-Wilsonian nation-building in Afghanistan and, soon, in Iraq?

Even Kagan, at the very end of this volume, suggests that Europe and America may not be at such loggerheads after all. There is still a potent core of "Western" beliefs -- democracy, individual liberty, freedom of speech -- shared by the democracies of the Atlantic alliance. And with some measure of understanding on both sides, that alliance may still have a surprising amount of life in it.

Rossant is Europe Regional Editor.

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