Sunday, January 08, 2006

Misoverestimating Europe

Katerina Apostolides, over at my old haunts, the Yale Free Press blog, writes up an interesting review of Robert Kagan's book Of Paradise And Power. I haven't read the book, so I cannot comment on Kagan's work, but I have some serious issues with Katerina's analysis of the relationship between European and American conceptions of power.

First, there are several problems with her facts. Among them, she writes:

Of course, during the Cold War, America had reasons for wanting Europe to arm herself (and take responsibility for self-protection), but in the aftermath of the Cold War, it has been to America's advantage to be able to establish world hegemony.

Umm, if that's true, then America has not been very succesful at it. Before the expansion of NATO in recent years, the ratio of North American defense expenditures (US and Canada) to those of Europe, has been essentially constant. You can go here to see the figures (I'm using the 1988 and the 2001 charts) for yourselves. So either, America was not particularly succesful at getting Europe to fund its own defense back during the Cold War, or it is not succesful now at supressing their military expenditures. And remember, that Germany, one of Europe's largest economies has a neutered military and so can not arm itself too much, even if it wanted to, or was asked by the US. So, I find it hard to believe that the US was attempting to drive up the European military industrial complex back in the 1980's.

Second, she seems to misrepresent the Bartholomew Telegram from 1991 in response to European desires to create a European defense alliance within NATO. I am no expert on the matter, but my cursory studying of the issue seems to indicate that Europe was sort of confused itself as to what role it wanted to take and the US, likewise, had a confused response. For example, later, President Bush the Elder said that if Western Europe wanted to take a more assertive role in its defense, it better make that decision soon. Again, I am not an expert on this, but my understanding of the issue is that it was a time of general confusion on both sides and that both sides sent rather mixed signals about European identity.

Later, she writes:
Among other things, Europe succeeded in getting Iran's support for the invasion of Afghanistan.

I can't imagine that it would have required much arm-twisting on the Europeans' part since Iran's ruling Shiite crypto-fascists hated Afghanistan's ruling Wahhabi crypto-fascists. In fact, the Iranian mullahs endorsed George Bush for president over John Kerry, among other things, thanking him for getting rid of its two sworn enemies, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.

But the problems about the facts are the least of them, in my opinion. She can not provide one iota of evidence how the "soft" approach of the Europeans can achieve anything. After the Iran zinger, she writes:
This may be true, and yet it denies that there is a place for diplomacy, soft power, and negotiation that Europe--uniquely--offers. For example, when Pres. Bush identified the 'axis of evil', including Iraq, Iran and North Korea, Europe understandably reacted to this language.

Does she have any insight or ideas as to why it is "understandable" that Europe would react to such language? Just because it's mean to say someone is evil?

She writes that "There needs to be an alternative to 'confrontational, coercive politics' and Europe embodies precisely that." But confrontational, coercive politics achieves results. I agree that starting random wars for no reason is a bad idea (and reasonable people can disagree about the wisdom of the Iraq War), but confrontational, coercive politics involves using both the carrot, and the stick. Because if there is no stick to back up warnings to rogue regimes to change their behavior, then these regimes will have no interest to change.

Finally, I think that part of her argument is somewhat incoherent. She first argues, as above, that the US wants Europe to be weak militarily now, because it's in our interest to become a global hegemon. But she then writes:
While it may benefit America in the long run for Europe to become stronger, it will not benefit her for Europe to embrace the full implications of the 'ideology of power.'

So which is it? Do we want a powerful Europe or don't we? Which will benefit us more, a powerful Europe or a weak Europe?

I am not saying that the Europeans are worthless and that we should not be partners with them. To the contrary, our partnership is important. It will only work, however, if both Europe and the US are in agreement as to the consequences to be faced by rogue states and actors who do not abide by civilized norms of behavior. There is a longer post waiting to be written here somewhere, but that will have to wait for another time.


Blogger Rigmarole said...

I just saw this, so I will try to make a brief response regarding some points.
1) Although this was not the crux of my argument, it is true that America wanted to help militarize Europe during the Cold War (mostly so that it would not have to continue expending its own resources there). For one thing, the US tried to create a Volunteer Freedom Corps which would be constituted by various displaced ethnic European forces under American command, and would be stationed in Germany and Austria. Because of European opposition, this plan was not realized, although the US certainly passed the Lodge Act in 1950 which would allow foreigners to be included in the US Army.
2) You are right that American attitudes towards a common European system of defense have been somewhat confused since the end of the Cold War, but they have been characterized by suspicion and fear that (for obvious reasons) were previously absent. This is obvious in the explicit wording of the B. Telegram: “No European caucus inside NATO; no marginalisation of non-EC members of NATO; no alternative defence organisation for Europeans."
3) As to the question of hard power vs. soft power. You mentioned that random wars were obviously bad, but my claim would be that when too much of an emphasis is placed on the virtues of hard power, wars are waged (or damage inflicted) when soft power could have been implemented instead. Iraq is a good example, although we could argue about that. The second nuclear bombing of Japan is another good example (why didn't the US try to negotiate at that point instead?) In this sense, soft power can sometimes not only be more practical, but more moral.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Rigmarole said...

Oh right, and I forgot to clarify the inconsistency you saw. I said on the one hand that it has benefited Europe in the aftermath of the Cold War to be able to be a global hegemon, unchallenged by Europe. However, I mentioned that European hard power might benefit the US in the long run, because it the latter is increasingly threatened by decentralized, non-state actors who are motivated by anti-American sentiment. But I venture this point tentatively because I'm not sure that such a "war" will be best fought using hard power.

9:49 PM  

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