Living With a New Europe

Living With a New Europe

Mini Teaser: The challenge posed to the United States by the European Union is seriously exaggerated--and this is particularly true of the proposal for an all-European defense force. Daniel Vermet, Christoph Bertram and Timothy Garton Ash respond.

by Author(s): Zbigniew BrzezinskiDaniel VernetChristoph BertramTimothy Garton Ash

The transatlantic alliance is America's most important global
relationship. It is the springboard for U.S. global involvement,
enabling America to play the decisive role of arbiter in Eurasia--the
world's central arena of power--and it creates a coalition that is
globally dominant in all the key dimensions of power and influence.
America and Europe together serve as the axis of global stability,
the locomotive of the world's economy, and the nexus of global
intellectual capital as well as technological innovation. Just as
important, they are both home to the world's most successful
democracies. How the U.S.-European relationship is managed,
therefore, must be Washington's highest priority.

In the longer run, the appearance of a truly politically united
Europe would entail a basic shift in the distribution of global
power, with consequences as far-reaching as those generated by the
collapse of the Soviet empire and by the subsequent emergence of
America's global preponderance. The impact of such a Europe on
America's own position in the world and on the Eurasian power balance
would be enormous (see the table on the following page for an
indication of how a united Europe would dwarf the United States),
inevitably generating severe two-way transatlantic tensions.
Presently, neither side is well equipped to handle such potentially
significant change. Americans generally do not fully comprehend the
European desire for an upgraded status in the relationship and they
lack a clear appreciation of the diversity of European views
concerning the United States. Europeans often fail to grasp both the
spontaneity and the sincerity of America's commitment to Europe,
infusing into their perception of America's desire to sustain the
Euro-Atlantic alliance a European penchant for Machiavellian

It should be noted, however, that the operative words in the
preceding paragraph regarding the significance of a truly united
Europe are "would be." A European Union with genuine political weight
and unity is not foreordained. The emergence of such a Europe depends
on the depth of its political integration, on the scope of Europe's
external expansion, and on the degree to which Europe develops its
own military as well as political identity. The decisive steps in
these regards have yet to be taken.

Currently, Europe--despite its economic strength, significant
economic and financial integration, and the enduring authenticity of
the transatlantic friendship--is a de facto military protectorate of
the United States. This situation necessarily generates tensions and
resentments, especially since the direct threat to Europe that made
such dependence somewhat palatable has obviously waned. Nonetheless,
it is not only a fact that the alliance between America and Europe is
unequal, but it is also true that the existing asymmetry in power
between the two is likely to widen even further in America's favor.

This asymmetry is due both to the unprecedented strength of America's
economic expansion and to the technological innovation that America
pioneers in such complex and diverse fields as biotechnology and
information technology. What is more, the American-led technological
revolution in military affairs enhances not only the scope of the
military reach of the United States, but also transforms the very
nature and uses of military power itself. Regardless of any
collective action on the part of the European states, it is highly
unlikely that Europe will be able to close the military gap with
America at any point in the near future.

As a result, the United States is likely to remain the only truly
global power for at least another generation. And that in turn means
that America in all likelihood will also remain the dominant partner
in the transatlantic alliance for the first quarter of the
twenty-first century. It follows, therefore, that transatlantic
debate will not be about fundamental alterations in the nature of the
relationship, but rather about the implications of anticipated trends
and the corresponding yet somewhat more marginal adjustments. That
said, it hardly needs to be added that even incremental adaptations
can breed conflicts which should be avoided if the U.S.-European
relationship is to remain constructive and truly cooperative.

A basic historical mystification both inspires and complicates the
ongoing dialogue between America and Europe. Both sides instinctively
think of America when they dream of a united Europe. The Europeans
crave America's continental scale and global standing, and, in their
more effervescent moments, they even envisage a future Europe as a
global superpower co-equal to America. The Americans, when
welcoming--occasionally somewhat skeptically--Europe's future unity,
instinctively draw on their own historical experience. That vision
renders some U.S. foreign policymakers uneasy, for the inescapable
presumption is that Europe--when it "unites"--will become America's
peer, and potentially its rival.

The American experience is often invoked by European statesmen in
Europe's march to unity (one such figure recently declared to me that
the European Union today is somewhere between 1776 and 1789). Yet
most European political leaders realize that the European Union lacks
both the ideological passion and the civic loyalty that inspired not
only the framers of America's Constitution but--and this is the
crucial test of political commitment--those prepared to make the
ultimate sacrifice for the independence of the American colonies. As
of now, and for the foreseeable future, it is simply the case that no
"European" is willing to die for "Europe."

It follows that Europe, as it integrates, will be something
altogether novel in the history of political entities, both in form
and in substance. It will doubtless be a polity, in addition to being
globally a most significant single economy. As a polity, however, it
will lack the emotional and idealistic commitment that the United
States evoked when it took shape. That commitment was expressed in a
transcendental concept of political liberty, proclaimed to enjoy
universal validity, that provided both the philosophical foundation
and a politically attractive beacon for a new nation-state. The
commitment of those who founded that state, and of those who later
flocked to it and became assimilated by it, was almost religious. In
short, the American revolution created a new kind of nationalism, one
that was open to all, a nationalism with a universal face.

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution conveys the singular character
of that American commitment to national unity and liberty:

"We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect
Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for
the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the
blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and
establish . . . "

Nothing quite like it characterizes the drumbeat of the European
nations' march toward a common Europe. It is striking that the Treaty
of Rome, the historic 1957 pledge of six European nations "to lay the
foundations of an ever closer union", places emphasis in its very
opening on ensuring "economic and social progress", on "constant
improvements of the living and working conditions", on "the removal
of existing obstacles" to "balanced trade and competition", on "the
progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade", and so
on. It is an admirably pragmatic, but also pedestrian, document.

To emphasize this essential difference between America and Europe is
not to denigrate the historical significance of Europe's undertaking.
Nor is it to question the good faith of those Europeans engaged in
creating a new architecture. It is to note that the defining
motivation of the European enterprise has, over time, become one of
convenience and practicality. The initial impulse for European unity
was more idealistic. Europe's "founding fathers" of the late 1940s
and early 1950s were inspired by a transnational political conviction
and very much motivated by the determination to end, once and for
all, the nationalistic conflicts that twice in this century came
close to destroying European civilization. They were also fearful
that America, disenchanted by European feuds, might simply abandon
the European nations to the other great historical option--also
"unifying" in its own ugly way--the one east of the Cold War's new
dividing line "from Stettin to Trieste."

Today's Europeans are serious about Europe in a more pragmatic way,
though some--as noted earlier--do dream of an entity that will match
America. French statesmen, at times unable to conceal their
hyper-envy of America's global standing, see in Europe the recovery
of France's past grandeur. The Germans have sought in Europe their
own redemption. The British, more skeptical, have finally concluded
that there will be a Europe of sorts and that they must be in it if
they are to infuse some genuine significance into their own special
relationship with America. Other peoples on the Continent--including
the recently liberated peoples of Central Europe--also wish to be
European, because they share the view that to be part of Europe is to
be more secure, more prosperous and free. None of these motivations
are base, all are historically justified, and they deserve America's

Nonetheless, pragmatism differs in substance as well as in its
effects from patriotism. A polity construed on convenience is bound
to be different from a polity derived from conviction. The former can
still generate loyalty. It can create a shared community. But it is
also likely to be less ambitious, politically less assertive and,
above all, less inclined toward idealism and personal sacrifice.
Despite some similarities in scale, the "Europe" that is actually
emerging is thus likely to be politically quite different from
America: a hybrid of a huge transnational corporation, to which it is
prudent and convenient and even gratifying to belong, and of a
confederated state that over time may also gain the genuine loyalty
of its hitherto distinctive communities. In short, the European
polity of convenience will be less than a United States of Europe,
though more than just a European Union Incorporated.

Essay Types: Essay