CONTINENTAL DIVIDES: Are Europe and America Parting Ways?

Monday, July 29, 2002

Throughout the latter half of the Twentieth Century, the United States and Western Europe seemed the staunchest of allies, united in NATO in defense against the common threat of the Soviet Union. With the end of the cold war and the loss of that common enemy, however, signs of emerging tensions have appeared in the friendship between America and Europe. How serious are the spats between Europe and the United States over issues such as the International Criminal Court, the conflict in the Middle East, and the U.S. conduct of the war on terrorism? With the formation of the European Union, Europe has become an economic rival to the United States. Will it become a political and military rival as well?

Recorded on Monday, July 29, 2002

Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge, the United States and Europe--more than just an ocean apart?

Announcer: Funding for this program is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation and the Starr Foundation.


Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today: America versus Europe. Throughout the second half of the Twentieth Century, the United States and Europe seemed the staunchest of allies, united in NATO to defend themselves against the Soviet Union. But with the end of the Cold War, and the loss of that common enemy, tensions between the United States and Europe have emerged. Just how serious are those tensions? How deeply do the United States and Europe disagree over, for example, the International Criminal Court, the Middle East, and the War on Terror? Is Europe, once our friend, becoming a rival instead?

Joining us, three guests. John O'Sullivan is editor-in-chief of United Press International. Coit Blacker is deputy director of the Institute for International Studies and Richard Falk is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University.

Title: Americans Are From Mars, Europeans Are From Venus

Peter Robinson: Robert Kagan, I quote: "The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep, long in development and likely to endure. When it comes to settling national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways." Overstatement? Understatement? Or just about right? Chip?

Coit Blacker: Overstatement, but I think, essentially on target.

Peter Robinson: Richard?

Richard Falk: Yes, I think overstatement but it needs to be qualified.

Peter Robinson: John?

John O'Sullivan: Overstatement, but needs to be qualified by the fact that there are Americans in Europe, and Europeans in America when it comes to these ideas.

Peter Robinson: We'll take as our text today the article by Robert Kagan, from which I just quoted, appeared recently in Policy Review, discussed everywhere. Kagan has a couple of basic arguments about the relationship between the United States and Europe. Here's argument number one: "Europeans oppose unilateralism in part because they have no capacity for unilateralism. Europe's military weakness has produced a perfectly understandable aversion to the exercise of military power. Indeed it has produced a powerful European interest in inhabiting a world where strength doesn't matter; where international law and international institutions predominate; where unilateral action by powerful nations is forbidden. It is what weaker powers have wanted from time in memorial." Chip, Europe has distinctive views in foreign policy because Europe is weak.

Coit Blacker: I profoundly agree with that observation. Weak in a relative sense. Weak relative to the power deployed by the United States and the international system. Not objectively weak, because of course economically, Europe is quite strong. And even militarily, Europe has significant capabilities. But relative to the United States, they don't. What happens in that context? You play a weak hand as well as you can, and that means you look to other mechanisms to advance your interest.

Peter Robinson: John, you have written that Europe poses a potential threat to the United States, because if it chose to do so, it could transform itself into a superpower within half a decade. Yet Kagan argues that what's distinctive about Europe for the last period of decades is precisely that it has chosen not to deploy, even as much power as it quite easily could.

John O'Sullivan: My prediction was first--was of course about the very long term.

Peter Robinson: Right.

John O'Sullivan: And secondly, I think it fair to say that the factor that plays a big part here is Europe's assumption that America will be there to protect it. Now, in all sorts of ways, it is making that assumption less likely over the long term. And if it succeeds…

Peter Robinson: Europe is itself making it…

John O'Sullivan: … that Europe's actions--its continual arguments with the United States, are making it less likely that America will be a perpetually reliable partner. And if that happens, if America ceases to be there to protect Europe, then in the long term, the Europeans will have to look to their own resources. I think that's a great mistake. I think they should continue to be a close partner with the United States. But if they decide otherwise, in the long term, they're going to have to build up the military hardware, to look after their own interests in the Persian Gulf, in Central Asia and elsewhere.

Peter Robinson: Richard, what do you make of John's prediction, there?

Richard Falk: Well, I feel a little bit differently about this issue, because I think that Kagan's argument about weakness overlooks the substantive issues. It treats international politics as though it's determined by strength and weakness, and not by the merits of particular questions. And I think Kagan, in a very clever article, brackets the substantive issues. Says Europe has no choice but to do what it's doing because it's weak, and the U.S. does what it's doing because it's strong. But I think that misses a very serious set of questions.

Peter Robinson: Can I ask all three of you, what's puzzling to me about Europe, sort of the prior question that Kagan doesn't seem to me to address, is why is Europe weak? Europe is weak because it chooses to be weak. It could easily spend far more on defense than it does. It could deploy larger armies.

John O'Sullivan: But why need it when it has the United States to provide it with the defense it needs?

Peter Robinson: Let's address Robert Kagan's second large point: Europe's distinctive post war experience.

Title: Hothouse Flowers

Peter Robinson: Again, a longish quotation from Kagan, but to put it on the table for us to discuss: "Why shouldn't Europeans be idealistic about international affairs? European life during the more than five decades since the end of World War II, has been shaped, not by the brutal laws of power politics, but by the unfolding of a miracle of world historical importance. The German lion has lain down with the French lamb. The means by which this miracle has been achieved, diplomacy, negotiations, patience, the forging of economic ties, political engagement, the use of inducements rather than sanctions, the transmission of the European miracle to the rest of the world has become Europe's new mission. America's power represents a threat to Europe's new sense of mission." Okay, they can now teach the rest of the world how to live in peace and harmony. No?

Coit Blacker: No.

Peter Robinson: Kagan is wrong about that, or the Europeans are wrong in assuming that?

Coit Blacker: I think Kagan's wrong on that point. I think John is correct on that point. Europe has developed the way it has, over the last fifty years because of American power. It created the political space for the Great Experiment, the Grand Experiment, which has become the European Union. If the external conditions change, if fundamentally, the relationship between the United States and Europe as powers changes then the European Union, the Europeans will have no alternative but to begin to provide themselves with the military means to match their economic power. I think it would be unfortunate if that were to happen for exactly the reason John said. But unless the United States thinks very carefully and acts in a very responsible way vis-à-vis the use of its own power, it will activate a series of processes around the world, including in Europe, in which I think the West will be divided.

Peter Robinson: Richard, you look at it a different way or--go ahead.

Richard Falk: Yeah, a little bit differently in the sense that I think that it's true that Europe has evolved because of being protected over this period. But I think also Europe has experienced a learning process that the United States has not experienced partly because of its strength. It hasn't had to learn that the world is changing in very fundamental ways. If we're living in a world that's dominated by economic globalization and other factors, there's a different kind of diplomacy that is needed to establish security in such a world. And I think Europe is more onto that than America is, which has overly come to depend on its military ways of conducting its foreign policy.

Peter Robinson: There's something here I just don't get. If the United States has made the European miracle possible, why the resentment?

Title: French Kiss Off

Peter Robinson: We provide the power, we provide the overarching, the nuclear defense of Europe. To this day, we have tens of thousands of American troops stationed in Europe, and everybody at this table says we create the bubble within which the European experiment can go forward. Why then, this feeling that the Europeans are somehow resentful? Where's the gratitude, why do they wish to pull away? I don't understand the psychology.

John O'Sullivan: Well, there's even less gratitude in international politics than there is in every politics. And of course, the French in particular, have resented the fact that their leading role in western civilization has been replaced by the Anglo-Americans. The Germans are coming for the first time to a realization that they can now begin to act like a power on their own, rather than having to continually apologize for the past. And the East Europeans have only just returned to European history from a long period in the gulag. So you must expect all sorts of different attitudes. In general, I think the Europeans, at a popular level, are grateful to the Americans. But of course, with gratitude comes resentment.

Richard Falk: But don't you think, John, that's also a question of real disagreement? That there is this sense that the United States is endangering what might be a more desirable development of international politics by the way in which it's pursuing its foreign policy? And that its post September 11th strategy has exaggerated the security threat posed by the attacks?

Peter Robinson: One last point on this question of psychology. Irving Kristol has written--wrote--began writing in the late Eighties and wrote through the early Nineties pieces saying roughly this notion of no good deed goes unpunished. Europe is big and it's rich and it is very much in Europe's interest to defend itself. And if we continue to maintain--to pick up the bill, so to speak, for all of European defense, to have tens of thousands of Americans stationed in Europe, what we're going to get is resentment and envy and friction. So start bringing them home. Let me just ask you, would things have been better today, would relationships have been better between the United States and Europe, if we'd started doing that in 1984 and 1985?

Coit Blacker: No.

Peter Robinson: No, you don't buy it for a moment.

Coit Blacker: I think that's profoundly wrong.

Peter Robinson: Why?

Coit Blacker: Would we be better off? Would the West be better off if Europe had the capability to defend itself on its own? And the answer is no. Because it is the presence of American power in Europe which anchors the two continents and allows everyone in a position of leadership in Europe, with the possible exception of the French to wake up every morning with a high degree of confidence that tomorrow's going to look pretty much like today. If you remove that, if you bring the troops home, if you break the bond, yes Europe, in that sense, will have to find its own way.

John O'Sullivan: What's neglected so far in the discussion is that there are some people engaged in what you might call nation building in Europe. They want to build a European nation. And in an attempt to do so, against widespread popular opposition, which you see now in electoral politics, they are attempting to use the United States as a sort of quote, "the Other." The potential enemy. The force against we must measure ourselves. In order to justify our building up a power equal to the United States, so that we can play the same kind of role in world politics, and don't have to follow the American line, and so on. And, in the sense that is a fair degree of anti-Americanism generated quite consciously as part of that nation building exercise by those who want to build a European nation.

Peter Robinson: And what should we do about it?

John O'Sullivan: We should not encourage that nation building, which at the moment, is, as it has been, American policy to encourage, since nineteen--certainly since the early Fifties, what we should now do is it seems to me take a much more critical, skeptical, and instrumental view, and encourage closer bilateral relations with people in Europe. Encourage those European countries which tend to be on our side, and try to place obstacles in the way of ideas like a European defense force.

Peter Robinson: Richard?

Richard Falk: If we believe in democracy for others…

Peter Robinson: Right.

Richard Falk: …then we should respect what Europe at the grass root level seeks. And if they seek more unity, I don't think it's up to the United States, or up to Washington to try to obstruct that process.

Peter Robinson: But we ought to be in favor of more referenda then, more voting…

Coit Blacker: At the grass roots level, I don't think Europe is moving toward a collective--more collective consciousness as a European state.

Peter Robinson: All three of you agree that the populace of Europe…

Coit Blacker: At the moment, at the moment, at the moment.

Peter Robinson: … is French and German and Spanish and not European?

Coit Blacker: Right, and to the extent there is a model for Europe's future. There is a French model, if you will, and there is a German model, and they're not the same model…

Peter Robinson: Tell me which I should prefer.

John O'Sullivan: Absolutely. And there is an English model…

Coit Blacker: There is an English model, of course

John O'Sullivan: …and the problem is that the--far from obstructing, the United States consistently encourages European integration without ever defining what that means, whereas as you just said…

Peter Robinson: Let's move on to specific agenda points on which Europe and America disagree.

Title: A Court of Their Own

Peter Robinson: The International Criminal Court. Europeans have all joined up, the United States refuses to do so. European Commissioner Chris Patten: "The United States demanded elaborate safeguards to make sure the ICC, International Criminal Court, wouldn't be used for political anti-American show trials, and it got them. But in a pattern that has become wearily familiar it [the United States] then revoked its intention to sign. Why should people make concessions if the United State is going to walk away?" Chip?

Coit Blacker: I understand why there is considerable reluctance in the United States to enter the ICC as it stands, I understand that. I'm sympathetic to parts of the argument. It's a consequence of the power that this country has, and the fact that international peacekeeping operations, or peace-making operations couldn't take place without the direct intervention and use of American power. So our heads are on the block, if you will. I would have stayed inside, and I would have played an inside game, rather than an outside game.

Peter Robinson: The United States is wrong?

Coit Blacker: In my judgment, yes.

Peter Robinson: Richard?

Richard Falk: Yeah, I agree. I mean, to the extent that the United States traditionally has believed in the extension of the rule of law internationally, this was a major step. And we're really obstructing that, and seen as obstructing it, not only substantively, but it's also a matter of style. The style that has been associated with the Bush Administration, particularly, is one of not only repudiating cooperative law-oriented initiatives, but doing so in such a blatant way, as to almost force a European response.

John O'Sullivan: On style, I agree. I see no point in wrapping up objections with insults, and so on. You're marginally against the U.S. on this one, I'm in favor, because it seems to me that in addition to the point you--the sympathetic point you make, namely, it's a practical matter, it's our boys who are going to be on trial. There's the fact that the ICC is inconsistent, really, with democracy as understood under the American Constitution. This is a court that has no roots in democratic accountability, and until we establish some form of international law that is democratically accountable to the voters in all countries, I don't see that we should proceed rapidly ahead with it.

Peter Robinson: All right, the Middle East. The United States sees itself as even-handed between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The European Union sees us as consistently pro-Israeli. After President Bush's speech this past spring, calling for the creation of an interim Palestinian state, if the Palestinians elected new leaders, Yasser Arafat leave the stage, the French daily Le Monde called the proposals "extraordinary, unjust and arrogant". And you should hear how it sounds in French. So we have this little problem in the Middle East. Richard?

Richard Falk: I completely agree with Le Monde.

Peter Robinson: You do?

Richard Falk: Yes, no question. I think it was an outrageous speech. I think it interferes with whatever is happening in Pal--among the Palestinians. I think it's more likely to lead to the retention of Arafat, or to a more radical Palestinian leader. It's absolutely absurd to think that if the Palestinians had free elections, they wouldn't come up with a leader that was more objectionable to the United States than Arafat.

John O'Sullivan: Then what I would say about the President's speech is this, if you actually read the speech, he never mentions Arafat. He says fundamentally, America cannot have a treaty with a Palestinian leadership unless it gets one that is prepared to keep its side of the bargain and not support terrorism. That could even include Arafat, if Arafat were going to take the necessary steps to confirm to America that he'd done those things. But, I frankly don't think that is going to happen. And I think the American position best be laid clearly out.

Peter Robinson: Pushing a little bit to the side, the actual merits of the case, what should the Administration do, about Europeans who seem only able to carp--have the Europeans ever put forward a good policy, serious policy proposal?

Coit Blacker: What President Bush is saying and what President Clinton before him said, is informed by one central fact: there will be no settlement in the Middle East, absent the willingness of this country to garrison the peace. That will be our role, that's not Europe's role.

Peter Robinson: One more point on which the United States and Europe seem to disagree: Iraq.

Title: Tigris and Bears, Oh My!

Peter Robinson: Robert Kagan writes--this is quite good Kagan, all right: "A man armed only with a knife may decide that a bear prowling a forest is a tolerable danger inasmuch as the alternative, hunting the bear armed only with a knife is actually riskier than lying low and hoping the bear never attacks. The same man armed with a rifle, however, will likely make a different calculation. Americans can imagine successfully invading Iraq and toppling Saddam and therefore, more than seventy percent of Americans favor such an action. Europeans, not surprisingly, find the prospect both unimaginable and frightening." John?

John O'Sullivan: I will bet everyone at this table that in the event that America does wage military action against Iraq, the British will be part of it, the French will be part of it, and it's highly possible that the Germans and Italians and others will be part of it. The reasons why the Europeans…

Peter Robinson: The French, and the Germans and the Italians will put troops on the ground?

John O'Sullivan: I think the French certainly will. The Germans may, and the Italians may. And the British certainly will. And the only reason why we're hear--not the only reason, but one of the reasons why we're hearing doubts, hesitations, is because they want to justify to their own public opinion, that they have established, beyond all doubt, that this action is necessary and justified.

Peter Robinson: But you're not saying that Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac actually want to get Saddam Hussein out of Iraq as badly as we do. And they're only playing games for their own public opinion? Chip, go ahead.

Coit Blacker: No, I think John's right.

Peter Robinson: You do?

Coit Blacker: If you've ever been to a session of the G7, okay? These guys sit around the table; they all understand what the game is. The United States indicates which way it's going, they talk privately and say, okay, you know, basically we can live that, or we fundamentally agree with that. And then they go out and talk to their respective publics and say something that is different from what they say when they're all in the room at the same time. I think John's absolutely right. What hasn't happened yet, is this country has not made a compelling case, as to the urgency of the action, assuming that that takes place, and I assume that it will take place in the months leading up to the attack…

Peter Robinson: What kind of case do we have to make?

Coit Blacker: Not everyone understands, or buys off, on the argument that Saddam Hussein has at his command, weapons of mass destruction, that he's both capable of using and likely to use. That case has to be made. It has to be made over and over and over again, so that you do two things: you underscore the fact that there is no alternative to his removal, in the first place; and then you explain why anything short of the application of military force is likely to fail. That hasn't been done yet.

Richard Falk: And I think it can't be done. I mean, I don't think there is a commanding--a persuasive case that can be made. I think if you look at Saddam Hussein's past, ugly and horrible as it is, internally and in his region, he has always acted as a normal state. That is, he's taken risks when they've seemed like prudent risks. For instance, the United States supported the attack on Iran in 1980. It certainly gave ambiguous signals about Kuwait in 1990. Saddam has always responded to international pressures. There's no reason whatsoever that Iraq could not be deterred as other adversaries of the United States and the West have been deterred.

Coit Black: The problem is not how he acts as the embodiment of the state. It's what happens to those capabilities. Will they spread into the system? And I think the answer is yes, they're going to end up in hands we don't want them to end up in.

John O'Sullivan: Exactly.

Peter Robinson: Last question. Wouldn't it be trouble to try to stand in the way of Europe's desire for greater autonomy?

Title: Transnational Psychology

Peter Robinson: Isn't Kagan right in at least this much? It is somehow basic to human psychology that every person and people aggregated, every nation, has some desire fundamentally to stand on its own two feet. And therefore, long now after the Cold War is over, ought we not, while working very closely with the Europeans, welcome and work along with them as they build up a somewhat greater force of their own?

John O'Sullivan: Are there not other possibilities? Should we not, for example, create political institutions across the Atlantic, coterminous with NATO, and possibly a trans-Atlantic free trade area, which would bring the Europeans into discussions of policy at an earlier stage? Should we not encourage them indeed more than we've been doing even to build up their own forces within NATO? Should we not ensure that when they play a role, as they have done in the War on Terror, that we make full acknowledgement of that role, rather than as too many people do, suggest that the Europeans have done nothing in Afghanistan, whereas the fact is, the Europeans are there in great numbers. They're there in great number in the Balkans. We really, as a matter of alliance diplomacy, ought to bring the Europeans in more, and to give them more credit for what they do.

Peter Robinson: You'll go with that?

Coit Blacker: Yes, I will.

Peter Robinson: Richard?

Richard Falk: Yes, but I think you have to look at the Washington side, too. And the Washington unilateralism is what leads to this European response. And as long as Washington pursues such a unilateralist in your face diplomacy, Europe is going to go--at least substantial numbers of influential Europeans will want a more independent Europe.

Peter Robinson: You wish, you wish…

John O'Sullivan: I can agree completely with that and say that there are a large number of conservative commentators…

Peter Robinson: John, no you can't agree completely with that, you simply cannot…

John O'Sullivan: …there are a large number of conservative commentators who've gone on--who are denouncing Europeans in the most extravagant and foolish terms, and treating them as people who are if not yet our enemies, are bound to become so. And I think that is…

Peter Robinson: Gentlemen, gentlemen, let the record show, this is the first time I've been aware that John O'Sullivan has called for the American Gulliver to permit itself to be tied down by the threads of the European Union.

John O'Sullivan: In return for getting…

Peter Robinson: Let them in more?

John O'Sullivan: …in return for getting greater support for the actions when we deem them to be necessary. It's a two-way street.

Peter Robinson: All right, last question, it's television, alas. Give me some notion that in the next twenty years Europe will become as powerful as the United States? Remain much less powerful? What do you see in that kind of historical teeter-totter of the power relationship between the United States and Europe? Richard?

Richard Falk: Well, I see if the United States continues to overreach in its own foreign policy, a gradual strengthening, relatively of Europe. And unless we…

Peter Robinson: Europe, up?

Richard Falk: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: Chip?

Coit Blacker: I suspect that if you look out over the next twenty years, the urge to broaden the European Union, rather to deepen it, will get the preference, and that means…

Peter Robinson: Bring more countries in?

Coit Blacker: Yeah. And…

Peter Robinson: But not spend more on defense?

Coit Blacker: Marginally more, but I think actually the discrepancy in measurable, useable power between the United States and an expanding Europe, not a deepening Europe, but an expanding Europe, the discrepancy in power will go up. That is to say, we will be more powerful relative, in terms of a kind of useable military.

Peter Robinson: All right, John? Europe up? Europe down? You get to cast the deciding vote.

John O'Sullivan: Well, I agree with Chip, provided that American policy switches from its present mindless support for all European integration, and then begins to encourage the kind of tendencies in Europe that would make that solution possible.

Peter Robinson: John O'Sullivan, Chip Blacker, Richard Falk, thank you very much.

Peter Robinson: I'm Peter Robinson for Uncommon Knowledge. Thanks for joining us.

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