Regardless of who is elected US president on November 4th, the change in administration provides a badly needed opportunity for rebuilding trans-Atlantic relations, so deeply undermined by Bush administration unilateralism and its single-minded focus on the “global war on terrorism.”
It is also key that the Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel governments appear eager for such renewed dialog as all parties struggle with financial system turmoil and complications of Russian assertiveness.
The collapse of the Soviet Union led both Europeans and Americans to believe that new dynamics would dominate international relations. Europeans had abided America’s Cold War leadership because Europe clearly was threatened by the Soviets. With that threat gone, Europeans could pay attention to the hard work of creating the European Union. Similarly, without that global Soviet threat, Americans could focus more narrowly on American interests ... until September 11th.
Shocked out of its initial retreat into insularity, the Bush administration cast radical Islam as the worldwide successor to the Soviet threat. Its originally limited focus on denying al-Qaeda sanctuary in Taliban-dominated Afghanistan expanded to regime change in Iraq, justified by a doctrine of preemption to prevent Iraq from using what most intelligence services believed were its weapons of mass destruction.
From there, it was not a great leap for the American administration to generalize a “global war on terror” that created a split between the US and Europe.
American scholar-analyst Robert Kagan wittily but seriously characterized this split in 2002 as Europeans being from Venus (goddess of love) and Americans from Mars (god of war). The implication was clear: Americans are still willing and able to use military power to promote their interests and protect their allies, while Europeans would rather talk, gain time, influence, mobilize international institutions, or even appease real and present sources of danger.
Early in 2003, as France and Germany were putting considerable distance between themselves and the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, then secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld defined his own Euro-taxonomy, and sought to further refine Kagan’s description.
Rumsfeld’s “Old Europe” – excluding Great Britain because it had sided with the US invasion - had been so deeply scarred by the wounds of two world wars that it had lost its instinct of self preservation.
“New Europe,” comprising the former Soviet satellites that deeply savored their newly gained freedoms, was ready to enter the global war on terrorism to defend democracy.
But there is a much better way to differentiate the “old” from the “new” in Europe, solidly based on a careful review of the continent’s 20th century history.
“Old Europe” in the 20th Century, from the Atlantic to the Urals, was a place approximating hell on earth. Its two globalized wars claimed scores of millions of victims, triggered Communist and Fascist tyrannies responsible for the death of more millions, and launched the insanity of the Holocaust. Its empires collapsed, only to be replaced by multiple corrupt authoritarian regimes, countless tribal and internal conflicts, as well as by new Soviet Russian and Chinese empires.
“New Europe,” by contrast, began developing in stages. War-weary but far-sighted leaders such as Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, and Alcide de Gasperi sowed the seeds of European cooperation, subsequently nurtured by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer who were determined that European slaughter would come no more – at least not in the West.
Institution-building followed. Internal borders were demilitarized and then dissolved, tariffs and quotas lifted, and the free movement of labor, capital, and entrepreneurship multiplied the collective economic energies of the former enemies.
Some years later, following the political and economic bankruptcy of the Soviet bloc, the reunification of Germany and the disaggregation of the former Soviet Union, the EU of the15 sought to exert its influence on the former Soviet satellites by employing what another American scholar-analyst, Joseph Nye, would term “soft power” or persuasion.
The instrument of influence was EU “enlargement.” It rested on a simple equation: Prospective EU members clearly wished to join a club of democracies with interdependent, advanced economies. In return, they had to meet political, economic and legal criteria that would make them compatible with the rest of the Union. The sanction was simply exclusion. (Perhaps here one should mobilize yet another ancient god, Hermes, the patron of trade and economic exchange.)
Kagan would have considerably enriched his original metaphor by including Minerva , who as the protector of armies but also of learning and the arts, represented a genuine synthesis between Venus and Mars, between persusasion and the use of force. Nye has grasped the need for such synthesis by adding a third ingredient to his terminology differentiating “soft power” (persuasion) from “hard power” (force). He has named the fusion simply “smart power.”
It is Minerva that must guide a renewed trans-Atlantic engagement in 2009.