Breaking up with Europe
By MARGO HAMMOND, Times Books Editor
"Europeans are from Venus," says foreign affairs analyst Robert Kagan, "and Americans are from Mars."
This is pop-culture shorthand for Kagan's controversial thesis that the current rift between the United States and Western Europe is not a simple dispute over war in Iraq but something larger: a natural and ongoing drifting apart of allies whose interests no longer coincide.
When Kagan, a neoconservative scholar who worked in the Reagan State Department, put forth the theory in a Policy Review article last summer, he ignited debate on both sides of the Atlantic.
Now he has expanded the article into a book -- Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order -- which arrived recently on the bestseller lists, just in time for what Philip Gordon, another former State Department hand, calls "one of the worst transatlantic crises of the entire post-World War II period."
On the surface, signs are everywhere: American shop owners pour French wine into gutters. Antiwar protesters vandalize British war cemeteries in France. NATO officials desperately try to patch over serious cracks in the alliance.
But there is more here than meets the eye, foreign experts agree, more than France and Germany opposing America's decision to wage war in Iraq. More than, as Brookings Institution analyst Ivo H. Daalder puts it, "President Bush's gratuitous unilateralism, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's pacifism or French President Jacques Chirac's anti-Americanism." In this view, the feud is deep and has been developing for a long time.
What the experts don't agree on is the underlying cause of the European-American clash -- or its implications. Here Kagan is glad to help out.
He maintains that the conflict boils down to a fundamental disagreement over the use of military power. Europeans, he says, embrace the ideal of a "perpetual peace" in which international law and cooperation triumph over power politics, while the United States clings to a darker vision: an anarchic universe where "the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might."
It's the idealism of Immanuel Kant versus the pessimism of Thomas Hobbes. Venus versus Mars. A weak Europe versus a strong America.
Europe's wariness of the United States' increasing tendency to go it alone is not surprising, says Kagan. Weaker states always have had a greater interest in building a world "where all nations, regardless of their strength, have equal rights and are equally protected by commonly agreed-upon international rules of behavior."
Strong and weak nations also measure risks and threats differently. When you have a hammer all problems seem like nails, says Kagan; when you don't, "you don't want anything to look like a nail."
Kagan's characterization of a strong America and weak Europe has won praise from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, but other foreign policy experts say Kagan is just plain wrong.
The clash between Europe and America, argues Charles Kupchan, who served on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration and now teaches at Georgetown, is occurring not because Europe is weak but because it is an emerging strength -- a potential counterbalance to America. Moreover, he says, America may need that strength, having neither the unlimited means nor the unlimited will to police the world on its own.
"If it was all about Europe's weakness, no one would care," Kupchan said in an interview last week. "If there was a rift opening up between Guatemala and the U.S. no one would care -- because Guatemala is weak."
Given the devastation of two World Wars on their continent and the resulting need for former enemies to cooperate as trading partners, Europeans have relied heavily on transnational negotiation and cooperation to solve, among other things, the problem of German aggression, a question that still haunts many in Europe. (George Bush, my Europeans friends are quick to point out, is surely the first Western leader who's been upset that Germany did not want to go to war.) The success of the European Union -- at least in economic terms -- has bolstered the European case for such cooperation.
"The conflict that ravaged Europe ever since the violent birth of Germany in the 19th century has been put to rest," agrees Kagan. "The means by which this miracle has been achieved have understandably acquired something of a sacred mystique for Europeans, especially since the end of the Cold War. Diplomacy, negotiations, patience, the forging of economic ties, political engagement, the use of inducements rather than sanctions, compromise rather than confrontation, the taking of small steps and tempering ambitions for success -- these were the tools of Franco-German rapprochement and hence the tools that made European integration possible."
They are also the tools that Europeans believe will make world integration possible, says Kagan. "The general European critique of the American approach to rogue regimes is based on this special European insight," he says. "Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya -- these state may be dangerous and unpleasant, and even, if simplistic Americans insist, evil. But Germany was evil once, too."
Kagan urges the United States to be more understanding of the Europeans' need to believe in multilateralism and more sensitive to those who are not reassured but threatened by America's might. But he nonetheless maintains that it falls to the United States to man the ramparts against an anarchic world. Pointing out that the European paradise is only possible because of America's military protection, Kagan concludes that the United States "must sometimes play by the rules of a Hobbesian world, even though in doing so it violates Europe's postmodern norms. It must refuse to abide by certain international conventions that may constrain its ability to fight effectively. . . . It must support arms control, but not always for itself. It must live by a double standard."
As the debate about the fate of the European-American alliance plays itself out, it also looms large in the discussions of how to deal with postwar Iraq. The United States has paid for its victory over Saddam Hussein in blood and treasure and not surprisingly opposes a purely multilateral approach to the country's reconstruction. Already the Bush administration is rejecting suggestions that the United Nations and World Court be allowed a prominent role. The Europeans, this time joined by Britain's Tony Blair, are arguing, on the other hand, that to rebuild the nation -- or, more precisely, to create a nation that has never known a true cohesion -- a coalition of nations must be called on to provide true legitimacy.
Venus could win over Mars this time. Maintaining peace does not take the same skill as waging war. It's a lesson that all overreaching empires eventually have to learn. Iraq, unlike Japan and its emperor after World War II, has no unifying figure and plenty of warring factions. It is also surrounded by anti-American countries and groups, poised for sabotage. Any leader backed only by the United States would have great difficulty being seen as a legitimate ruler. As an avenging angel America is an awesome power, but as the occupying force it would be the least effective arbitrator of peace.
"When Washington walks away from international institutions, the rest of the world runs for cover," says Kupchan. All the weapons in the world cannot force people to get along with each other.
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