American Might, European Money

The most appropriate metaphor for comparing Europe and America, for those who insist on them, has nothing to do with planets.

 The most appropriate metaphor for comparing Europe and America, for those who insist on them, has nothing to do with planets. It rather compares Europe's "Croesus" to America's "Rome." Croesus, King of Lydia in the 6th century b.c.e., accumulated vast wealth, and so does Europe today. America is a new "Rome" that bestrides the world politically and militarily, but rests on shaky financial foundations. Power requires wealth, and wealth cannot protect itself without power. In Washington, Americans berate Europeans for failing to share the burdens of military spending and for free-riding on American largesse. The Bush Administration vilifies most of its nato allies for lacking military might and having to rely on American air and sea power to get their slender forces to the theater of operations. The so-called European "rapid reaction force" is not rapid, nor will it ever be much of a force. American pundits declare that only European rearmament will remedy this deficiency and restore equality to the link with the United States.  

This view is as mistaken as it is common. Military clout is not the appropriate way to measure the European contribution to nato or to America. With little fanfare, the Europeans (and their Japanese cohorts) have shored up American power against the force of financial tides, enhancing Washington's strength and resiliency. Without the help of Europe and Japan the United States could not have undertaken or sustained its frequent international military operations. Lacking this financial shield, American foreign and security policy would have been checked and doomed to failure. So it has been for decades. 

Such past services from Europe were, of course, self-interested in the larger sense, but that takes nothing away from their importance. Nonetheless, these services pale beside the tasks the European Croesus will have to undertake in the future. The United States is now running unparalleled trade and fiscal deficits. The trade deficit alone stands at more than $500 billion a year, almost 5 percent of gdp. America is now borrowing 5 percent of world savings, sucking $1.5 billion a day into the United States. The budget deficit, fanned by President Bush's tax cuts, may rise to $500 billion a year, reaching $2 trillion in the next several years. If foreign capital does not enter the United States in huge amounts, the dollar could go into free fall, resulting in renewed inflation. The Fed would then have to raise interest rates, and the American economy would likely plunge into a double-dip recession.  

This dangerous crisis could occur well before 2004, and President Bush's re-election would then be up for grabs. The political outcome in the United States could thus depend upon what politicians and politically influential bankers in Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, London and Tokyo decide to do to help-or not help, as the case may be. 

It is true that investing in America is still in Europe's own economic interest. Investments yield more in New York than they do in Paris. These favorable returns may be more questionable after Brussels further integrates and expands the enlarged European market. It is also true that European willingness to finance the United States previously rested on the Soviet threat during the Cold War, which threat has ceased. Also, some Europeans would like a strong euro as an antidote to reliance on the recently weaker dollar. Still, if one takes even a casual glance at the size of equity investments across the Atlantic, one sees immediately that their value dwarfs that of trade. This is not going to change radically or soon. Europe will still place large funds in the American economy. 

But as a "peaceful power", Europe does not want, or at any rate should not want, to separate from the United States and rebuild its own major military capabilities. It needs American defense protection while integrating with a still unstable region in east-central Europe and beyond to Central Asia. Robert Mundell, the father of the euro, believes that as many as fifty countries will eventually join the eu-even some from North Africa-and adopt the euro as their national currency. America, not Europe, will defend these expanded borders-and Europeans recognize that they must play their financial part to receive help in protecting their growing perimeter.


Richard Rosecrance is professor of political science at ucla and project director of the ucla-Carnegie study on the effect of globalization on national self-determination.