When Worldviews Collide: <I>A Survey of Recent Articles</I>

When Worldviews Collide: A Survey of Recent Articles

There seems to be an increasing divide between America and Europe over how to deal with the world's problems.

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During the past year, as
the U.S. push for war in Iraq sent Western Europeans’ favorable
opinion of the United States into free fall, there was one think piece
about the transatlantic divide that had chattering-class tongues wagging on
both sides of the ocean—and it was written by an American, Robert
Kagan. “On major strategic and international questions today,
Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus,” asserted
Kagan, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace. His lengthy essay, “Power and Weakness,” was published
first in
Policy Review "text50"> (June–July 2002), then as a book, "text67">Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order class="text50"> (2003).


“Europe is turning away from power,” preferring to dwell in “a self-contained world of laws and rules and
transnational negotiation and cooperation,” Kagan argued. “It
is entering a posthistorical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the
realization of Kant’s ‘Per­petual Peace.
"text54">’” The United States, by
contrast, continues to exercise power in “the anarchic Hobbesian
world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true
security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on
the possession and use of military might.” As Europe seeks to export
its “perpetual peace” to the rest of the world, America’s
power—which has made Europe’s “new Kantian order” possible, and now sustains it—stands in the way.


In the past, when the United States was weak and the
European great powers were strong, their strategic perspectives were
reversed, Kagan contended. Now, the United States “behaves as
powerful nations do,” while the European nations employ “the
strategies of weakness.” Europeans’ new outlook, with its
emphasis on diplomacy, commerce, international law, and multilateralism,
reflects “a conscious rejection of the European past, a rejection of
the evils of European
machtpolitik class="text50">.”


Hailing Kagan’s thesis in "text67">Commentary (June 2003), British
political analyst David Pryce-Jones asserts that it “outlines the
shape of the future. . . . Unable or unwilling to recapture greatness
through power, Europe has no choice but to resort to the tools of the
weak.”


But some strong critiques of Kagan’s provocative
thesis have begun to appear as well. Is Europe really “weak,” just because it spends less than America on defense? “Europe is not
planning to assert military hegemony over the world, nor is it expecting an
American military invasion,” observes David P. Calleo, a professor of
European studies at Johns Hopkins University’s Nitze School of
Advanced Inter­national Studies, in
The
National Interest
(Summer 2003).
Europe’s smaller military budget, he writes, may simply reflect more
limited aims and greater fiscal prudence. Even at that, Britain, France,
and Germany spent a combined total of about $90 billion on national defense
last year—more than Russia, China, or Japan. Perhaps the United
States, at $350 billion, is spending too much?


“Military clout is not the appropriate way to
measure the European contribution” to America (or to NATO), argues
Richard Rosecrance, a political scientist at the University of California,
Los Angeles, also writing in
The National
Interest
(Summer 2003). “Without the
[financial] help of Europe and Japan, the United States could not have
undertaken or sustained its frequent international military
operations.” Since the late 1960s, Europe has repeatedly come to the
financial rescue of the United States, allowing it “to maintain an
essentially unbalanced economy while acting as the world’s
gendarme.” Both Europe and America are powerful, Rosecrance
maintains, but they “act in different spheres—and they
desperately need each other.”


In The New Republic class="text59"> (June 16, 2003), meanwhile, economist Philippe Legrain
musters statistics to show that Europe is the economic equal of the United
States—and is soon likely to outpace it. And columnist Andrew
Sullivan notes, without pleasure, that the European Union’s ongoing
constitutional reform could soon make it a formidable political competitor.


The European preference for shaping the world through
“soft power” (economic influence, diplomacy, and culture) may
indeed require U.S. “hard power” to keep “the
world’s bullies and gangsters” in line, Calleo acknowledges.
But even a superpower’s military might is of limited use against an
enemy armed with nuclear weapons, and the Bush administration’s
aggressive campaign against the spread of weapons of mass destruction
“runs a high risk of being self-defeating. Relatively weak countries,
targeted as ‘rogue states’ and repeatedly threatened with
military attack, are naturally desperate to achieve the deterrence that
only weapons of mass destruction can provide.”


Writing in The New York
Review of Books
(Apr. 10, 2003), Tony Judt,
director of the Remarque Institute at New York University, challenges the
basic assumptions behind Kagan’s analysis. “Kagan repeatedly
labels ‘Hobbesian’ the international anarchy that he invokes to
justify America’s muscular unilateralism,” says Judt.
“But this is a crass misreading of [Thomas] Hobbes’s
position.” The 17th-century philosopher “argued that the
very laws of nature that threaten to make men’s lives
‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutal, and short’ require us to form a
common authority for our separate and collective protection.” By
analogy, Judt argues, states in a Hobbesian world “would come
together out of their shared interest in security, relinquishing some
autonomy and freedom in return for the benefits of a secure environment in
which to pursue their separate concerns. This was the genuinely
‘Hobbesian’ solution devised by the American statesmen of an
earlier generation, who built the international institutions that Kagan
would now tear asunder.”


As for the Europeans’ supposed “Kantian paradise,” Judt continues, “Kagan has
forgotten the very recent past, in which European infantrymen died on
peacekeeping missions in Asia, Africa, and Europe while American generals
forswore foreign ground wars lest U.S. soldiers get killed. If Americans
are from Mars, they rediscovered the martial virtues rather
recently.”


Kagan’s contention that “weaker
powers” historically seek to use international structures to
constrain stronger powers is also “misleading,” Judt maintains.
The United Nations and other contemporary international agencies
“were the work of strong powers—notably the U.S. By
universalizing and institutionalizing their own interests, great powers
have a much better chance of convincing others to do their bidding, and can
reduce the risk of provoking a ‘coalition of the unwilling’ against them.”


Since Kagan’s essay appeared a year ago, it has
been “endlessly quoted in all European capitals,” observes
British scholar Timothy Garton Ash in
The New
Statesman
(June 16, 2003). He notes the
irony: “So it’s not just that our fast food, films, fashion,
and language are American. Even our debates about Europe
itself are
American-led.”


Whatever the outcome of the debate over geopolitical
strategy, America’s influence in Europe remains immense. “To be
European today,” writes Ash, who is director of the Euro­pean
Studies Centre at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, is “to be
deeply intertwined with America—culturally, socially, economically,
intellectually, politically.” This is so, he says, “whether we
like it or not (and I do like it).”