Europe Challenged

Europe Challenged

Mini Teaser: Will the European Union become a peer competitor to the United States? Not likely, thinks Professor Tucker, unless U.S. policy produces self-diminishment by isolating America from others. But well it might.

by Author(s): Robert W. Tucker

By now it is apparent that a significant change has occurred in the
view taken of American power. Whereas before September 11, 2001,
there was an abundance of articles and books on the brief life of
American hegemony, in the aftermath of that event they have radically
declined in number. What the Gulf War failed to do, the war in
Afghanistan succeeded in doing. It has made converts (however
reluctant) of most of those who before were skeptics, not so much of
the fact of American hegemony today but of its durability. The
"unipolar moment", to use Charles Krauthammer's terminology, has
become the "unipolar era." Years have been replaced by decades.

Not all who once doubted have been so persuaded, however. Charles A.
Kupchan is one of a diminishing band. The End of the American Era
presents his case for believing that the days of American dominance
are limited.

Kupchan does not question that the fundamental geopolitical fact
today is American preponderance. That we live in a unipolar world is
indeed his starting point. "The fundamental, inescapable geopolitical
feature of the moment", he writes, "is American predominance." The
stability of today's global landscape, the absence of any major
geopolitical faultlines, follows directly from its unipolar
structure. Terrorism will remain a threat, but the far more dangerous
threat of great power competition is for now in abeyance. This is the
good news. But the bad news is that U.S. unipolarity will be brief:

Two unstoppable trends mean that America's unipolar moment is
unlikely to last the decade. The first is the diffusion of power. No
dominant country has ever been able to sustain power indefinitely.
Over time, other states catch up. The diffusion of economic strength
will today occur more quickly than in most periods. The near term
challenger to America is not a single country trying to play
catch-up--which takes time--but a European Union that is in the
process of aggregating the impressive resources that its member
nations already possess.

Although not a federal state today--perhaps ever--Europe nevertheless
has a collective weight that rivals the United States in trade and
finance. In defense, Europe is forging a common policy and acquiring
the means to act on its own. A new center of global power is thus in
the making and, Kupchan asserts, "America's power will shrink
accordingly." In a couple of decades, Kupchan believes that Europe
will be followed by East Asia. "By 2025, America and Europe may both
be spending much more time worrying about the rise of Asia than about
each other."

The changing character of American internationalism is the second
trend that will soon bring the unipolar moment to an end. Kupchan

Unipolarity rests on the existence of a polity that not only enjoys
preponderance, but also is prepared to expend its dominant resources
to keep everyone in line and to underwrite international order. If
the United States were to tire of being the global protector of last
resort, unipolarity would still come undone even if American
resources were to remain supreme.

Kupchan finds signs that with the end of the Cold War, America no
longer feels compelled--particularly given its favorable geographic
location--to play the role of global guardian. And while he sees the
attacks of September 11 as putting a temporary hold on America's
retreat from global hegemony, he believes that "the political center
of gravity has been quietly but steadily moving toward a more limited

How far may this waning internationalism be expected to go? For a
world still so dependent for its stability on American power and
purpose, it is a vital question. Kupchan does not attempt to answer
it. Instead, he merely notes the huge difference between reining in
our commitments, which he thinks is in any event inevitable and can
be done with minimal risk, and a withdrawal from global affairs
altogether, which would have dire consequences given the fact that
global stability remains so dependent on American power.

Finally, there is the problem of America's unilateralism, which
Kupchan finds likely to increasingly define the nation's modus
operandi, whatever the level of engagement it has in managing
international order in the years ahead. "As in the past, America's
unilateralist bent stems from fear that international institutions
will encroach on the nation's sovereignty and room for maneuver."
Unilateralism was once inseparable from isolationism, but today it is
the corollary of a policy intent on shaping an international order
responsive to American hegemony. The re-emergence of unilateralism,
Kupchan argues, may be traced to the absence of Cold War restraints,
electoral politics (the appeal of unilateralism to conservative
Republicans), and American frustration with its inability to get its
way with putative allies and others as often as in the past. The
conjoined war on terrorism and rogue states only promises to magnify
the impulse to a greater unilateralism. To all the issues that
divided the United States from allies and former adversaries prior to
September 11, issues only momentarily masked over in the immediate
response to that attack, must now be added the problems arising from
the conduct of this war.

Essay Types: Essay