A FORK IN THE ROAD: Is the Transatlantic Alliance Dead?

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Over the past year, the clashes between the Bush administration and European leaders over the best way to handle Saddam Hussein have led many observers to suggest that the half-century-long alliance between Western Europe and the United States is dead. How serious is the rift between Europe and America, and why has it emerged? Is it still in the strategic interest of the United States to maintain tens of thousands of troops in Europe, or should we pull out of NATO altogether?

Recorded on Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge: Europe and the United States--lovers' spat or irreconcilable differences?

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, the future of the Transatlantic Alliance. Clashes over the last year between the Bush Administration and European leaders over how to handle Saddam Hussein have led some observers to suggest that the half-century-long alliance between the United States and Western Europe is dead. Is that true? If it's not quite true, how serious is the rift between the United States and Europe and what should we do about it? Is it still in American interest to maintain tens of thousands of troops in Europe or should we bring the troops home?

Joining us today, two guests. Victor Davis Hanson is currently visiting professor of military history at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. Charles Kupchan is professor of international relations at Georgetown University and the author of The End of the American Era.

Title: A Fork in the Road

Peter Robinson: Author Robert Kagan: "It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world or that they even occupy the same world." Overstatement, understatement or just right? Charles?

Charles Kupchan: Partly right. I think Kagan gets at a difference between the U.S. and the Europeans. We have more power. They have less therefore we tend to use the power. But I think he overestimates the extent to which Europe has written off geopolitics. Europe is rising, reacquiring traditional geopolitical ambition?

Peter Robinson: Victor?

Victor Davis Hanson: I agree somewhat. I think Europe has just as much desire for power but they want to find it--they want to rule the world in a different way. They want to do it insidiously through global institutions, multilateral institutions but the goal is the same.

Peter Robinson: Insidiously--that's not what we would call a value free word.

Victor Davis Hanson: They just have different ways of getting to the same goal I suppose.

Peter Robinson: Okay, Charles, I'm going to quote you to yourself. "The split that we're now seeing between Europe and America reminds me of the split between Rome and Constantinople. The same thing is happening between Washington and Brussels." Explain yourself.

Charles Kupchan: In the later half of the 200s, Diocletian, the emperor came along, he said this empire's too big. We're going to have to split it up, administer separate halves. And by 324, a second capital was founded in Constantinople. And from that time on, the Roman Empire was essentially split between the Western and the Eastern realms, Rome versus Constantinople. A unitary realm became a divided realm and the two sides went after each other. I think what we're seeing happen today is a unitary West with a coherent political logic is splitting into two.

Peter Robinson: Can I ask on the parallel, as I recall, there was not open warfare between Constantinople and Rome. The tensions were--there was sniping, infighting, one side needed help from the other. The other wouldn't give it, that kind of thing. That's--isn't that right?

Charles Kupchan: No, they actually engaged in direct military conflict.

Peter Robinson: Oh, they did?

Charles Kupchan: And that's because once Diocletian died, his sons…

Peter Robinson: Oh, they fought--there were succession battles.

Charles Kupchan: …began to fight with each other over who's going to get what?

Peter Robinson: Okay.

Charles Kupchan: It wasn't after that open warfare in the sense that they had other enemies that they went after but they basically competed on just about every front, including religion. It was a common religion but the Patriarch in Constantinople and the Pope in Rome began to go after each other and there were murders and all kinds of intrigue going on there. But I think I use this as an analogy simply to say, let's not assume that the West is going to last forever. Once Europe becomes a more self-possessed entity, there will be competition between a European and an American power center.

Peter Robinson: You buy the analogy?

Victor Davis Hanson: No. I think there were dynastic succession wars but they don't fall out evenly between East and West. There was--Constantine was having support in Britain and his rivals were having support in the Eastern provinces. I do agree though that after the fifth century--fourth, fifth, sixth century, there became a…

Peter Robinson: It became different worlds.

Victor Davis Hanson: It became different worlds and one was traditional and one was fluid.

Peter Robinson: Let's take a look at Robert Kagan's arguments on why Europe and America are each going their own way.

Title: Conscientious Objectors

Peter Robinson: Kagan's argument number one, we're strong and they're weak. I'll quote him: "Europe's military weakness has produced a perfectly understandable aversion to the exercise of military power. They hope to constrain American power without wielding power themselves. They want to control the behemoth by appealing to its conscience." Sound right to you?

Charles Kupchan: Half right. Yes, Europe is weak compared to the United States but we dismiss Europe at our own peril. I think we overestimate the strength that comes with our military predominance. And that's because Europe can make trouble for us. If the Europeans set their diplomatic strength against us, the Western alliance is split asunder. And that's what's been happening.

Peter Robinson: That's exactly an--but that's a perfect example of the point Kagan is making right? Because the Europeans are not increasing their defense budgets. They're just using these global institutions to try to tie us down. Right?

Charles Kupchan: But that's significant.

Peter Robinson: It's certainly significant.

Charles Kupchan: That changes the world.

Peter Robinson: Right, right. Okay. Do you buy the Kagan argument?

Victor Davis Hanson: I do.

Peter Robinson: We're strong and they're weak?

Victor Davis Hanson: And I buy both--Charles has a good point. They're trying to use their--not just their political machinery but their cultural influence, the dynamic culture in Paris and Germany to appeal to people who are on the sidelines in different ways than we do. And we--they see that our sort of crass globalization culture that appeals because it has no prerequisites for participation is flooding the third world and they're offering a different alternative. And it's--and one of the problems with it is that they don't have the military power--I would only--wrinkle I would suggest is that ultimately throughout history, military power is very, very significant.

Charles Kupchan: I also think that Kagan is too quick to dismiss Europe's culture in that it's anti-military. I mean, the French, the British and others have been using military quite frequently and Africa and the Balkans…

Peter Robinson: Okay, but let me get to Kagan's second argument here, that the European experience over the last fifty years is just profoundly different from our own. I quote him again very briefly. "European life since World War II has been shaped not by 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 transmission of the European miracle," that is sorting out differences peacefully through institutions, dialogue, negotiation and so forth," the transmission of the European miracle to the rest of the world has become Europe's new mission." Do you buy that?

Victor Davis Hanson: I do. In some ways but I got to think that that might be an aberration of fifty years, of four hundred Soviet divisions on the border of Europe and a quarter million American troops. Because as soon as that threat vanished and we're down to eighty thousand troops in Germany, we're starting to see some of the old tensions in Europe, old, new, Germany, France, so…

Peter Robinson: Tensions within Europe:

Victor Davis Hanson: Yeah, I think the problem is that Europe thinks that they came to the end of history and they have all the solutions for man's innate aggressiveness and they forgot one component and that was the Americans kept them free from the Soviets and they had a common enemy.

Peter Robinson: Isn't that not only--not simply a point but in a way the point, that the Europeans have fallen into the illusion of illusions. They think they created a new world in which violence no longer mattered. But the fact is, we were the ones--our troops were holding violence at bay. It was within this fear that we created for them that they were able to go about the business of thinking they invented a new way of living.

Charles Kupchan: I'm not comfortable with that interpretation in the sense that the Europeans have been engaged in the geopolitical revolution in their own home. That is to say, getting rid of the nation state because they don't want to have World War I and World War II again. Does that mean that they have forever sworn off the use of military force? Does that mean that they will never reacquire the desire to project their voice on the global stage? I think not and I think what we're seeing now is a Europe that is gradually reacquiring a more traditional geopolitical vocation and I see that rising in the years ahead.

Peter Robinson: Let me challenge Charles' notion that Europe is becoming a unified, federal state.

Title: Come Together?

Peter Robinson: British historian Paul Johnson, writing recently in The Wall Street Journal, says in effect, nonsense. There's not one Europe, it's not a collective entity. You've got four. Let's go through his other three. One is the Europe that you talk about which Johnson identifies: France, Germany, Belgium, you could toss in the Netherlands, you could toss in Luxembourg, you could toss Luxembourg anywhere you wanted and it wouldn't make much difference. But basically France and Germany. Britain. Paul Johnson, "Britain is European only geographically. The British do not regard Americans as foreigners but as family. American and British armed forces are increasingly integrated and in intelligence already operate almost as a single organization." What do you make of that?

Charles Kupchan: I think that the current picture in Europe is a divided Europe because there are people all over the place, some back in the U.S., some not. But I think the trajectory is toward a more unitary Europe. Why? Because I see this crisis over Iraq as really bringing to an end the Atlantic alliance. America is going to decamp from the continent, even countries like Britain, Poland, Hungary, that want NATO, that want America, are going to find that they're not going to get that. And so I think ultimately this crisis is going to say to the Europeans the traditional European reliance on America is over. You guys have to start investing in a unitary Europe because that's your ticket to prosperity and security.

Peter Robinson: You see Britain throwing in its lot with that of France and Germany?

Victor Davis Hanson: No, I don't. I thing they're going to have to triangulate as they always--they have to because I agree with Charles absolutely, we're seeing NATO as dead and buried. So I think that we're going to see a fragmentation in Europe and they're going to have to make a decision whether they want to spend…

Peter Robinson: The Brits are?

Victor Davis Hanson: The Brits are and I think they're going to gravitate toward us with economic and political associations with Europe. But Europe's going to decide do they want a thirty-five hour workweek, do they want half of one percentage on GNP, do they want a maniac like Milosevic killing 200,000 Europeans in the heart of Europe or do they want to be muscular and take care of their own affairs? And that's going to be the dividing line.

Peter Robinson: Paul Johnson's second--another of his alternative Europes: the Eastern tier led by Poland but including Austria, Hungary, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Slovenes and former Soviet satellites such as Romania and Bulgaria. They look to the U.S. for help, protection and guidance. Whereas John O'Sullivan, I'm sure known to both of you, once said, France and Germany are afraid of us but this entire Eastern tier is still afraid of Russia. So isn't there something that American foreign policy can work with there? They're not floating away from us.

Charles Kupchan: The question is, is Russia sufficiently threatening that American politicians are going to say this remains a strategic priority? We need bases in the center of Europe. I think we're going to be focusing on Al Qaeda, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, China and it's simply going to be hard for any serious American to say we need a hundred thousand troops in Europe. To do what? So in that sense, the Central Europeans want NATO, they want America but I think they're going to end up with their second choice, which is France, Germany and a European Union that assumes responsibility from NATO.

Peter Robinson: And these nations along the Eastern tier, Poland down to Czech Republic, Slovakia, this--Slovenia and so on, they're going to be forced into bed with France and Germany because we won't have the interest in them to retain a close alliance with them? Is that what you're effectively saying?

Charles Kupchan: Essentially, yes, because we are not going to remain Europe's protector. I think Victor and I are in agreement here. That period of history has come to an end.

Peter Robinson: Last of Johnson's alternative Europes here. It's the Southern tier, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Balkans, who repudiate French leadership and prefer Britain. And also my own gloss on this is that Southern tier, Berlusconi in Italy, Aznar in Spain, these are people who are very interested in economic growth and not at all interested in the kind of decade--couple of decades now of lack of growth that you see in France and Germany. This is my last go at this but it just seems to me that you've got a very much more complicated picture in Europe than the collective entity you describe or predict.

Charles Kupchan: I think you have to say what type of collective identity. I would locate Europe today in a position similar to America in the middle of the nineteenth century. That is something in between a confederation or state's union and a unitary federation. And we're probably never going to make it to a unitary federation but nonetheless, what are they debating now? Should we have a constitution? Should we have a single foreign minister? Should we have a directly elected chief executive? There's a constitutional convention going on this year. Will all those proposals be adopted? Probably not. Will some of them? Yes. And will that give Europe a collective character that we need to take seriously? I think so.

Peter Robinson: So Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic, Spain, Italy, the Italy of Berlusconi, these people they're fed up with the French and the Germans at the moment but the long-term trends still militate toward the unification of Europe?

Victor Davis Hanson: Not sure about that. The Poles have expressed real reservations and there's people even in a country like Greece, which I try to go to each summer, that they're starting to see that the nature of the EU is very anti-democratic at the local level. What EU can dictate how a beach in Greece is cleaned so you're starting to see…

Peter Robinson: Rules are made in Brussels that…

Victor Davis Hanson: Rules are made in Brussels--I mean, the European culture of radical freedom and capitalism is not spreading through the globe at the same degree of the United States. I see the United States in the next five years of getting--I agree absolutely with Charles, there's no support for putting troops in Germany but I see a series of bilateral relationships because there is going to be value to have American troops in Europe both for the Middle East or the Mediterranean or North Africa are important. So I think that we're going to cherry-pick our allies and we're going to look at people in Eastern Europe, Britain and it's going to be a radical change, biggest change I think in American foreign policy in fifty years.

Peter Robinson: Next topic, how should the United States respond to this growing rift with Europe?

Title: Making Room at the Top

Peter Robinson: Okay, now Charles, we'll go to your solution. Let me quote you to yourself and then ask you to elaborate: "The world I envisage is one where the U.S. enters a period of transition in which it helps other actors build up the capability to do what we've been doing. We ought to say Europe is rising, Europe wants influence and we're going to make room."

Charles Kupchan: I think history is to some extent, repeating itself. Over the nineteenth century, we came online as a great power. We had geopolitical ambition outside our own neighborhood after the 1890's and we said to Europe, move over. And the Brits and others had the good sense to pull back and to make room and strike a new bargain with us. I think Europe qua Europe could be a potential partner, could help the U.S. do its bidding around the world but we need to build a different kind of relationship with them. I think the question is, is this going to be an amicable separation in which we can work together here on after or is this going to be a nasty divorce, in which case we're going to go after each other? And right now I think the U.S. is behaving in a way that makes is likely that it will be a nasty divorce particularly because of this to'ing and fro'ing, this dismissive attitude toward Europe. But I think we can do much better at building this more…

Peter Robinson: When you say--you said we're behaving in a way that makes it harder and then a moment later you said, dismissive attitude. So what I want to jump on right there is, do you see substantive aspects of American policy that are needlessly offensive or provocative to the Europeans or is it purely a matter of tone?

Charles Kupchan: It's both. And here I think I probably part company with Victor in the sense that I think institutions are key. They're not insidious. They are the mechanisms through which cooperation takes place, through which bargains are struck. There's also a tone problem.

Peter Robinson: You're a pro-United Nations man?

Charles Kupchan: I'm pro-UN; I'm pro institutions that put countries in a playing field where the rules of the road are out there. And I also think though that you touched on a key issue, tone, that the body language of the Bush administration has been needlessly provocative. We've been thumbing our noses at the Europeans. Rumsfeld has been dismissing France and Germany as old Europe. And that's just created a great deal of ill will that we don't need.

Peter Robinson: Well, not to be too childish about it, France and Germany went first. I mean, when Rumsfeld dismissed them as Old Europe, they had been engaging in provocation after provocation toward us both in the United Nations--Gerhardt Schroeder owed his reelection as Chancellor to an unspeakable campaign of insulting the United States. You're suggesting that we have to be magnanimous and let them behave badly but ignore it.

Charles Kupchan: No, I think that I would agree with you that blame can be apportioned to both sides. Chirac, for example, has said things to the U.S., to the Central Europeans, that are simply inappropriate. On the other hand, if you look at Bush's statements about the international criminal court, about the Kyoto Protocol, about the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, in his State-of-the Union he says things like, America's behavior does not depend upon the decisions of any other nations. That sort of thing just sticks in the craws of Europeans. So it taps into an American populist tradition but it does create…

Peter Robinson: But your central point is it's not in our self-interest? Right?

Charles Kupchan: Exactly.

Peter Robinson: Okay. What do you think of the Charles…

Victor Davis Hanson: Look, Bill Clinton intervened for 77 days in the heart of Europe against German and French objectives. Russia--it didn't go to the UN because Russia would veto it. Most unilateral action we've had in fifty years, didn't ask approval of the U.S. Congress.

Peter Robinson: This is the bombing of Serbia and the intervention in Kosovo?

Victor Davis Hanson: Absolutely, very necessary wonderful thing he did because it stopped thousands being killed. What was the difference? Because he sounded like--his Southern accent sounded like the Joads and not Sam Houston. He didn't--he felt everybody's pain. That's the problem with Mr. Bush is he's honest and direct and it grates wrong with Europeans. As far as the UN, I don't know whether to laugh or cry when we look at the Security Council talking about things like occupation or intervention. Here's Syria who's gobbled up Lebanon. Here's Russia who flattened the biggest Muslim city in Asia, Grozny. Here's China killed fifty million of its own people, threatened Taiwan, has invaded Vietnam, threatened South Korea. And then you have France who just intervened probably with U.S. air support into the Ivory Coast. So the idea that this collective body would have wisdom that we should take into consideration, we should be nice, we shouldn't--I agree we should not be provocative but ultimately I trust the U.S. Congress, which is democratic. Can't we have a rule that says if you want to be in the Security Council, you have to have a democracy?

Peter Robinson: I vote for it.

Peter Robinson: Onto Victor Davis Hanson's solution to the European problem.

Title: A League of Their Own

Peter Robinson: Victor, you've written that lots of Americans have begun to question our military affiliation with Europeans for a couple of very good reasons. One--excuse me, let me actually quote you. "First there is teenager disease, the notion that through our predominant military strength in Europe we have become resented and parental." It's just unhealthy for us to have troops over there protecting them. They ought to protect themselves. "Second our bases are creating a weird sort of hostage syndrome. Germany finds it can turn on its traditional patron," us, "precisely because we have so many Americans within its borders. They're saying we merely use their bases as transit centers to facilitate mischief abroad. Personally," we come to his solution, "I'd rather spend 20 billion dollars to have an additional ten to fifteen acres of floating American runways," carriers, "than pour billions annually into countries that do not like us." Now Hanson's solution is, bring the troops home and cut Europe loose.

Victor Davis Hanson: Muscular independence, not isolationism.

Peter Robinson: Muscular independence?

Charles Kupchan: Yes.

Peter Robinson: Now in substance, you want to bring the troops home too? You just want to talk nice as we do it? He wants to thumb his nose.

Charles Kupchan: I think we're probably headed in this direction in the sense that look beneath the surface at this muscular engagement that we see around the world. Even conservative papers like the Wall Street Journal or Richard Allen, Reagan's National Security Advisor, have begun talking about pulling troops out of South Korea. We're talking about…

Peter Robinson: Rumsfeld has talked about it.

Charles Kupchan: Right. And so…

Victor Davis Hanson: Oh absolutely.

Charles Kupchan: So I think we really are moving back to a situation where Americans are going to be questioning some of our overseas commitments in part because we see ourselves as doing good in the world and I think generally we do but if people are going to be saying go home Yankee, then we're probably going to take our marbles and go home.

Peter Robinson: Well now--okay, hang on. But the Hanson solution isn't just to bring the troops home. It's to bring the troops home and double up on the carriers. He's not withdrawing from the world. He's just saying let's make ourselves less dependent on allies. Right?

Victor Davis Hanson: Well, I mean, you have a choice. If North Korea's threatening South Korea and South Korea says America's a problem, why put 38,000 Americans in the middle of them? Why not either circle the Korean peninsula and just be quiet with ABM submarines, which we could do in ten years and have carriers and say if you guys want our help, we're able to work on a bilateral relationship but we're not going to get in the middle of this where North Korea wants us there because they can kill us in the first hour and South Korea wants us there so they can hide behind us. We could say to China I think we already are, look you have a patron, it's nuclear--we have three patrons, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, they can make nuclear weapons like they can Toyotas. And it's not our business to go in there and try to make North Korea and South--South Korea stand up to North Korea. So I think that we agree, that my only point is I think if we go back to where we were in the Thirties, we're going to be back in like we were in the Forties. That's just know-nothing isolationism.

Peter Robinson: Now some final policy prescriptions for our relationship with Europe.

Title: These Troops Are Made For Walking

Peter Robinson: 70,000 troops in Germany as we speak. Get them out of Germany? You're in favor, right?

Charles Kupchan: I would say we're going to cycle down to a very small token presence and we'll keep bases that we'll use as launch pads to the Middle East.

Peter Robinson: And you'd go for that?

Victor Davis Hanson: Absolutely.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so we take the troops out of Germany, we leave a few bases there that we can reactivate if necessary. Do we bring the troops home or do we re-deploy them east? Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic?

Victor Davis Hanson: I would say re-deploy about half of them, small little bases like we have in Germany, keep our options open but try to avoid that same situation because we'll have the same pernicious developments. We put 80,000 in Hungary and we'll be--they'll be like Germany in thirty years.

Peter Robinson: Re-deploy east?

Charles Kupchan: No, not really because we don't want to spend a lot of money building up their airports and bases. So I think what we're going to see is much more mobility, probably on carriers, air mobile units, some based here in the U.S. because our whole global situation has changed and we're not fixed on strategic commitments anymore.

Peter Robinson: All right, NATO. Withdraw, just let it wither slowly? What do you want to do with NATO?

Victor Davis Hanson: Well, I think what we're going to do is let NATO find its own course. We want--I think it would be precipitous just to withdraw especially with our commitments to Eastern Europe but we should not try to force NATO to follow us or force a vote or force them to protect Turkey. We can act bilaterally with particular NATO members without trying to gratuitously ruin it but I think we should keep in mind that it's dead and it will be dead in ten years.

Peter Robinson: You'd go for that?

Charles Kupchan: Crisis over Iraq makes clear that European and American security are no longer indivisible. And that was NATO's foundation. So I see NATO is going to stick around, institutions have a lot of staying power, but I don't think it'll be here by the end of the decade.

Peter Robinson: Last question gentlemen, alas. Within the next quarter century, will Europe come to rival the United States in economic and military power, that is substantive power, or will it remain much weaker, slower growth economically, spending much less on defense and go on attempting to tie us down in international agreements? This is a kind of Kagan argument, which will--will they--will Europe genuinely come together and become a power or come together and talk? Victor?

Victor Davis Hanson: I don't think they will be a power. I think they'll try to do it but I'm very worried about it because I think it'll be their failure and their frustration at trying to rival us that's going to cause us the most problems. If they would be confident and they would succeed, I think we would have more in common. But I see a shrillness, a whininess, an unpredictability about them that's very dangerous. Click of the fingers, Germany goes from socialist to nationalist and we don't know if it's national socialist. I mean it's a very volatile situation.

Peter Robinson: Charles, we'll give you the last word. What's going to happen over the next quarter century?

Charles Kupchan? Military rival to the United States, no way. Economic and political rival, for sure. And I think what we'll probably see is a uni plus half polar world, a full service super power, America, a half service super power, Europe. And we don't quite know what to make of it. We haven't seen that in the world but my guess is we'll see the U.S. decamp from Europe, take care of the Middle East and Northeast Asia, Europe will take care of Europe and hopefully that division of labor will keep the two sides of the Atlantic at peace but I think we've got to figure out how to get there.

Peter Robinson: Charles Kupchan, victor Davis Hanson, thank you.

Charles Kupchan: Thank you.

Victor Davis Hanson: Thank you.

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