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Mars and Venus, Ten Years Later: Editor's Note

Friday, March 30, 2012

Editor’s note: In our June/July 2002 edition, Policy Review published Robert Kagan’s “Power and Weakness,” an assessment of the structural underpinnings of transatlantic relations. “On major strategic and international questions today,” Kagan famously wrote, “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.” As the article began to circulate in European capitals and in foreign policy circles worldwide, it created a sensation, quickly becoming the touchstone for a decade of discussion about the state of transatlantic relations.1

Kagan’s observations formed a double argument: First, that the relative power of the United States and the relative weakness of Europe frame the way Americans and Europeans approach international politics. The United States is inclined to assert its formidable power in pursuit of its objectives and to decide for itself when to do so, whereas European countries (individually or collectively, as the European Union) lack such power and prefer rule-based, multilateral international arrangements. The United States acts as strong powers do; Europe acts like a weaker power (a reversal of their 19th century positions). The second element of the Kagan argument was that ideas about the efficacy of power also shape the extent to which one pursues and uses it: Europeans promote a Kantian vision of peaceful resolution of international disputes, whereas the United States is inclined to a more Hobbesian view of a world in which some kinds of disagreement can only be settled by force.

Ten years later, how much has changed? What Timothy Garton Ash wryly dubbed “a decade without a name” was hardly uneventful. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan quickly brought down regimes the United States and its (sometimes divided) allies opposed, but turned into long and frustrating counterinsurgency campaigns only now drawing to an uncertain close. China’s impressive economic growth has continued and its influence has increased, as has the influence of such emerging-market states as Brazil, India, and Russia. Popular revolts against autocratic governments have shocked the Middle East, and the future role of Islam in politics is anything but certain. A financial crisis and Great Recession have challenged easy assumptions about an age of ever-increasing prosperity and the benevolence of globalization. Collective administration of the global commons remains extraordinarily difficult. And Europe itself has been rocked by a stubborn sovereign-debt crisis in the Eurozone that threatens to split the continent.

A decade after Kagan reframed the debate, it is time once again to take stock of the venerable but troubled transatlantic partnership. Policy Review has asked ten leading thinkers from the United States and Europe to contribute to this special edition marking the 10th anniversary of the publication of “Power and Weakness.” They were invited either to proffer a retrospective assessment of Kagan’s argument or to begin a reconsideration of the United States and Europe at a point of their own choosing. Their essays appear here in alphabetical order, followed by a comment from Kagan.

1. The German Marshall Fund of the United States deserves much credit for leading the effort to promote the article in Europe.