On Sunday, March 25, the European Union celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which in 1957 established a customs union, common market, and institutions of economic cooperation among six European states—which have now become twenty-seven. Earlier in the month there was another anniversary. The United States, its coalition allies, and Iraq noted the beginning of their fifth year of combined international and internecine war in Iraq, initiated by Washington to establish peace in the Middle East.

I link the two anniversaries to make the point that even though NATO kept the peace in cold war Europe, the EU made the peace. The anniversary observances celebrated the “Europe” that in little more than fifty years has transformed a political terrain ravaged by genocidal war, totalitarian politics, torture, secret police, and a devastated human generation into a zone of peaceful cooperation and rejection of war, as well as political and economic progress, social advance, and institutional altruism without precedent in the history of the nation-state system.

The influential Washington writer Robert Kagan, meaning to be condescending, called this Europe “Paradise” in his 2003 book, Of Paradise and Power. He suggested that it existed only thanks to the United States, otherwise known as “Power.” Europe was “Venus,” he said, basking in complacent peace, progress, and prosperity, while “Mars,” a vigilant and self-sacrificial United States, kept these Europeans safe from what neoconservatives like to call the Hobbesian external world, red in tooth and claw, lusting to ravish Venus.

His book was meant to make Americans feel good about themselves, a manly race protecting their lessers, and to shame post–cold war Europeans into doing more to help the United States in its invasions, wars, kidnappings, extralegal assassinations, torture, and secret imprisonments, directed against terrorist or rogue nations such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and failed nations like Afghanistan and Somalia, as well as al-Qaeda, the bearded assassins of Hamas and Hezbollah, and their fellow Islamic extremists in nations spanning the planet.

These Europeans instead were preoccupied with training and subsidizing the states formerly under Soviet control in the Baltic region and in the Warsaw Pact, many of them with particularly tormented histories of foreign or national oppression or domestic ethnic conflict, to develop the democratic institutions and progressive economies that would fit them to become members of the European Union. Today, most of them are already members of the EU of twenty-seven, and more are on the way to membership. Not all of those already inside are happy with it all.* Pan-EU polls tend to show unenthusiastic approval of membership, but approval nonetheless, even in Britain and Poland, where public opinion is the most hostile. As Charles Moore of the anti-EU Daily Telegraph acknowledged on the eve of the EU anniversary, “The queue to join has always been bigger than the number determined to stay out. As for a queue to leave, there isn’t one.”

The year 1957 was not the real start of what became the European Union. That was the Treaty of Paris in April 1951, when, following a French initiative, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, and France placed their war-making industries under common control. The purpose was to make peace in Europe permanent. When the French official Jean Monnet conveyed to German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer the French proposal to create the coal and steel community, Adenauer replied, “I have waited for twenty-five years for a move like this…. Germany knows that its fate is bound up with that of Western Europe as a whole.”

Two years before, in April 1949, NATO had been formed with the same purpose, binding the United States and Canada to the Western European democracies in mutually defensive military alliance. The two institutions succeeded far beyond what most then could have imagined. By 1990, the Soviet Union was history, the Warsaw Pact states free. What did it?

Fundamentally, the EU did it. NATO proved to have been a necessary precaution—it would have been madness not to recognize in 1949 the possibility of Soviet aggression. But what we know now of the period suggests that a deliberate Soviet attack on the West was never seriously contemplated. What destroyed the Soviet system was its moral as well as political and material decadence and decline. It was discredited politically and internationally by the European Union’s transformation of Western Europe.

The Communist Party’s leaders resisted recognizing this for a long time, even after the 1956 Polish and Hungarian events and the suppression of the 1968 Prague “Spring.” As late as June 1984, a young East German Party official said to me during an official exchange, after a certain amount had been drunk, that he acknowledged that much was wrong in the German Democratic Republic, but even though he had been in West Germany and the United States, he preferred to bring up his children in the GDR, where there was a humanist ethic, he said, rather than in West Germany or the US, both totally materialist in values. I asked why he insisted on those particular comparisons, suggesting that the GDR might model itself on Denmark or the Netherlands, or on Sweden. He exclaimed, “But those countries are even more backward than we are!”


The European Union, more than any other single factor, was responsible for the defeat of the Soviet Union in the cold war. It was not American arms that did that, necessary as they may have been both to the intimidation of the USSR and to eventual recognition that matching US arms expenditures was impossible.

It was the moral contest that finally made the difference, or so I am convinced. Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985. “Glasnost”—truth-telling—and “perestroika”—redirection—came soon after. Gorbachev believed that reform in the Soviet Union could begin by making it a society where the rule of law prevailed. Existing governmental and administrative law, nominally democratic, had always been ignored because the parallel Communist Party structure actually controlled state and society in a wholly arbitrary manner, through secret police measures and violence.

Initially received with skepticism in the West, the sincerity of Gorbachev’s program came home to me soon after it began, when I found myself on a public platform in Stockholm with a Soviet official who had spent many years at the Paris embassy and was generally assumed by Paris journalists to be a senior KGB man. He began by saying, “My nation is suffering a profound moral crisis….” That was not KGB language.

The Soviet intelligence services already knew the material realities of the competition with the West. Détente had made it possible for Moscow Party officials and others to travel casually in Europe. In late 1985 Gorbachev described to Ronald and Nancy Reagan, at a dinner at the Soviet mission in Geneva, the two private three-week vacations he and his wife Raisa had spent in Italy and France before he became general secretary.

Whether Gorbachev’s program for reform could have succeeded or not was never fully tested, since like reformist “revolutionaries” before him, he was overtaken by events—the breakup of the Warsaw Pact bloc and the coup by conservatives in 1991 that quickly was captured by Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin dissolved the Soviet Union and told the leaders of its component states to seize from the center all the power they could use. However, it could in the end be that those summer holidays spent by the two Gorbachevs as witnesses to a peaceful and progressive Western Europe were the most important events in ending the cold war, revealing to them the competition the Soviet system had already lost, which had nothing to do with the arms race.

Venus won the cold war in Europe. One is left to ask, what has happened to Mars?

This Issue

April 26, 2007