July 16, 2002
Power & Weakness: US diverges from Europe
I strongly recommend reading this provocative and insightful essay by Robert Kagan in the Hoover Institution's Policy Review called “Power and Weakness.” It explores how the perspectives of Europe and America are diverging dramatically and primarily because of the dramatic shift in their relative power in the world.
Europeans love to criticize Americans for being self-interested and inward looking, while trumpeting the European Union as the model for the world. But the European attitude is one derived not from ideology but from realpolitik--their ever-weakening position in the world compels them now (in stark contrast to their imperialist past) to seek international collaboration and consensus. And while the Europeans may feel enlightened while the Americans lack the sophistication to appreciate the importance of international cooperation and fraternity, their harmonious European Union (to the extent that is really is harmonious) depends on the power of the Americans—who solved the “German Problem,” protected Europe from the Soviet Empire during the Cold War, and protects Europe from international threats today. Far from being isolationists, America is the only cop on the beat around the world and the US’s machtpolitik, while scorned by the Europeans, is the only thing that protects Europe from itself and others and gives it the luxury of creating utopian unions. It is the European who live in a bubble—and the Americans who have to deal with the real world.
Here is the opening paragraph from Kagan’s essay:
It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power — the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power — American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant’s “Perpetual Peace.” The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might. That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less. And this state of affairs is not transitory — the product of one American election or one catastrophic event. The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep, long in development, and likely to endure. When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways.