• Email
  • Single Page
  • Print

Europe vs. America

That agenda, in Garton Ash’s account, is to set aside recent quarrels and “reinvent” the post–cold war West as an example and advocate of freedom: freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom from human and ecological oppression (the chapter on global poverty and environmental risk is revealingly titled “The New Red Armies”). The Rooseveltian echoes are no coincidence—what Garton Ash has in mind really is a new Atlantic Alliance and it is not by chance that Winston Churchill occupies a prominent place in his argument. For this is a very British book. The choice between Europe and America is presented as one that the British understand better than anyone else (because they have lived it for sixty years); Atlantic reconciliation is thus something that London—perched uncomfortably on the edge of continental Europe and with half an eye cast permanently on Washington—is best placed to help bring about.

But is Britain really, as Garton Ash writes, a “seismograph” or “thermometer” of European–American relations? It is true that the UK today manages both to be part of the European Union and to manifest some of the trashier aspects of American commercial culture, but I doubt that this is what Garton Ash has in mind. He appears, rather, to see London’s role as mitigating the damage done by American unilateralism on the one hand and “Euro-Gaullism” on the other (“the Chiracian version of Euro-Gaullism leads nowhere”). An internationally minded “Euroatlanticism” is his ideal and Tony Blair incarnates it: “Tony Blair has grasped and articulated this British national interest, role, and chance better than any of his predecessors.” Of course, Garton Ash can hardly deny that Blair has so far ducked the challenge of selling the European Constitution to a skeptical British public. And I don’t think he harbors any illusions about the “special relationship.” Yet he still insists that Great Britain has this vital role to play in bridging the Atlantic gap.

I find that a very odd claim. Tony Blair is a political tactician with a lucrative little sideline in made-to-measure moralizing.15 But his international adventures have alienated Britain from many of its fellow EU members without gaining any influence over Washington, where the British prime minister’s visits are exercises in futility and humiliation. Yes, in certain respects the UK today has real affinities with America: the scale of poverty in Britain, and the income gap between rich and poor, has grown steadily since the 1970s and is closer to that of the US than anything found in Western Europe. British hourly productivity is well below most West European rates. However, New Labour was supposed to combine the best of the European social model and American entrepreneurship: Garton Ash himself concedes it has not quite managed this.16

Free World understates the challenge facing Brits—or other Europeans—seeking to draw the US back into any common international project beyond the GWOT. Timothy Garton Ash is right to insist that there is more to America than neocons and Republican know-nothings and that their present dominance will pass. But his book is about the here and now. So we can’t ignore that the people making policy in Washington aren’t interested in reading Timothy Garton Ash’s “Declaration of Interdependence.” The very last thing they want is some “common initiative” in the Middle East. And they couldn’t care less about his “New Red Armies.” Yes: in its own interest “America should want Europe to be a benign check and balance on its own solitary hyperpower.” That is good advice. But no one in power is listening.

Conservative think tanks in Washington are lobbying against any consolidated European international presence—in the words of David Frum, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former Bush speechwriter, it “raises important strategic questions” (i.e., we don’t like it).17 The new US secretary of state was widely quoted in 2003 to the effect that the United States intends to “forgive Russia, ignore Germany, and punish France.” According to the authors of a recent Atlantic Council report, the Bush administration regards Europe as being “on probation,” its future standing with Washington dependent on better behavior.18 For the first time since World War II, influential voices are suggesting that a united Europe would be a threat to American interests and that the US should block its emergence.

Moreover, the common European-American values upon which Timothy Garton Ash’s argument rests may not be quite as common as he suggests. In its widespread religiosity and the place of God in its public affairs, its suspicion of dissent, its fear of foreign influence, its unfamiliarity with alien lands, and its reliance upon military strength when dealing with them, the US does indeed have much in common with other countries: but none of them is in Europe. When the international treaty to ban land mines was passed by the UN in 1997 by a vote of 142–0, the US abstained; in company with Russia and a handful of other countries we have still not ratified it. The US is one of only two states (the other is Somalia) that have failed to ratify the 1989 Convention on Children’s Rights. Our opposition to the international Biological Weapons Convention is shared by China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Cuba, and Iran.

Abolition of the death penalty is a condition for EU membership, whereas the US currently executes prisoners on a scale matched only in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Congo. American opposition to an International Criminal Court has been supported in the UN and elsewhere by Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, Israel, and Egypt. The American doctrine of “preventive war” now finds its fraternal counterpart in Muscovite talk of “preventive counterrevolution.”19 And as for the United Nations itself, the jewel in the crown of international agencies set in place after World War II by an earlier generation of American leaders: as I write, a scurrilous, high-decibel campaign is being mounted from Washington to bring down Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, and cripple his institution.

So what can Europe do? In the first place, resist the temptation to make a virtue of the present tensions. It is pointless to deny their existence. In past eras the role of Europe’s “other”—the close neighbor against whom Europeans measure their own distinctive identity—was variously occupied by Turkey and Russia; today that role is being filled by the United States. But like Garton Ash, I think it would be a mistake to follow Jürgen Habermas’s advice and try to build European unity around “transatlantic value differences.” Europeans certainly need to find a purpose and define their common role, but there are better ways to do it.

One would be to get on with ratifying their proposed constitution. This document arouses paranoia and anxiety in Washington (and London); but it is actually quite dull and anodyne. Much of it consists of practical prescriptions for decision-making procedures in a cumbersome body of twenty-five-plus separate sovereign states. The constitution also strengthens the role of European courts and extends the EU’s cross-border competence in criminal law and policing (a wholly laudable objective for anyone serious about fighting terrorists). But otherwise it just gives substance and application to the EU’s claim to “coordinate the economic and employment policies of the member states.” It is not a very inspiring document—its leading drafter, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, is no Thomas Jefferson—but it will do much practical good.

Above all, it will enable Europe to continue playing to its international strengths in spite of American obstruction20 and the Bush administration’s efforts to pick off or otherwise pressure individual EU member states. For the EU today isn’t just an interesting blueprint for interstate governance without the drawbacks of supranational sovereignty. Europe experienced the twentieth century—invasion, occupation, civil war, anarchy, massacres, gen- ocide, and the descent into barbarism—to a degree unmatched anywhere else. The risks inherent in a “war of choice” (Iraq), or the abandonment of international agencies in favor of unilateral initiative, or an excessive reliance on military power, are thus clearer to Europeans than to most other peoples: “Europeans want to be sure that there is no adventure in the future. They have had too much of that.”21 The United States, by contrast, had no direct experience of the worst of the twentieth century—and is thus regrettably immune to its lessons.

American-style belligerent patriotism, as Garton Ash notes, is rare in contemporary Europe. This dislike of bellicosity goes well beyond traditional pacifism: Europeans no longer even think about interstate relations in martial terms. But pace American critics, this makes Europeans and their model more rather than less effective when it comes to addressing international crises. The US is still rather good at the old-fashioned art of making war. But war-making is the exception in modern international affairs. The real challenge is preventing war, making peace—and keeping it. And this is something at which Europe is going to be increasingly adept.

The countries of the EU already provide the largest share of the world’s peacekeepers and international policemen. Europeans have a real, if limited, military capacity—though they will need to commit more resources to the planned 60,000-man “Euro-force” if it is to be effective. The best European troops—for example, the British army—have been trained for decades to work with occupied and warring civil populations, a skill with which the US Army is shockingly unfamiliar. It will be a long time before the EU develops and implements a common foreign policy—though the new constitution would facilitate that, if only by creating a European foreign minister authorized to speak for the whole union. But when it does at last speak with a single voice in international affairs, the EU will wield a lot of power.

The reason is not that the EU will be rich or big—though it already is both. The US is rich and big. And one day China may be richer and bigger. Europe will matter because of the cross-border template upon which contemporary Europe is being constructed. “Globalization” isn’t primarily about trade or communications, economic monopolies or even empire. If it were it would hardly be new: those aspects of life were already “globalizing” a hundred years ago.22 Globalization is about the disappearance of boundaries—cultural and economic boundaries, physical boundaries, linguistic boundaries—and the challenge of organizing our world in their absence. In the words of Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the UN’s director of peacekeeping operations: “Having lost the comfort of our geographical boundaries, we must in effect rediscover what creates the bond between humans that constitute a community.”23

To their own surprise and occasional consternation, Europeans have begun to do this: to create a bond between human beings that transcends older boundaries and to make out of these new institutional forms something that really is a community. They don’t always do it very well and there is still considerable nostalgia in certain quarters for those old frontier posts. But something is better than nothing: and nothing is just what we shall be left with if the fragile international accords, treaties, agencies, laws, and institutions that we have erected since 1945 are allowed to rot and decline—or, worse, are deliberately brought low. As things now stand, boundary-breaking and community-making is something that Europeans are doing better than anyone else. The United States, trapped once again in what Tocqueville called its “perpetual utterance of self-applause,” isn’t even trying.

—January 12, 2005


How Bush Scuttled the Bioweapons Protocol February 24, 2005

  1. 15

    At the last Labour Party conference, rather than try to defend his reasons for going to war in Iraq, Blair simply informed the audience that he “believes,” that they must share his “faith,” and that in any case (like Martin Luther: “Here I stand, I can do no other”) he would not budge.

  2. 16

    Indeed he cites a popular joke: Britain was promised that Blair’s Third Way would bring it American universities and German prisons—what it is actually getting are American prisons and German universities.

  3. 17

    Frederick Studemann, “US Conservatives Cast Wary Eye at EU Treaty,” Financial Times, November 5, 2004. The new tone of anxiety about a renascent Europe can even be found in august journals of mainstream foreign policy debate. See, for example, Jeffrey L. Cimbalo, “Saving NATO from Europe,” in Foreign Affairs, November/December 2004.

  4. 18

    See Bowman Cutter, Peter Rashish, and Paula Stern, “Washington Wants Economic Reform in Europe,” Financial Times, November 22, 2004.

  5. 19

    The phrase is used by Kremlin adviser Gleb Pavlovski to describe President Putin’s emerging strategy for addressing “containment” challenges at Russia’s edges. I am indebted to Ivan Krastev of the Central European University in Budapest for this reference, in his unpublished essay on “Europe’s Fatal Attraction.”

  6. 20

    The US continues to impede European efforts to reach a nuclear settlement with Iran. Even on such a volatile issue, Washington has been more concerned about the risks of a successful European initiative than the benefits of a regional settlement.

  7. 21

    Alfons Verplaetse (governor of the National Bank of Belgium).

  8. 22

    On this, see the magisterial opening paragraphs of John Maynard Keynes’s essay The Economic Consequences of the Peace (Penguin, 1995).

  9. 23

    Jean-Marie Guéhenno, The End of the Nation-State, translated by Victoria Elliott (University of Minnesota Press, 1995), p. 139.

  • Email
  • Single Page
  • Print