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

All these points are indisputable. However, the future of the European Union does not look quite as bleak as described by Brzezinski. Up to now, Europe has not reached a point of no return, which could make the original vision impossible. Furthermore, every measure taken in the last decade--single market, euro, free circulation of people inside Europe (the so-called "Schengenland"), nomination of a High Representative for External Relations and Common Security, a modest but realistic step toward a European defense--leaves open the possibility of future improvements, even if they would not be spectacular ones. All options are still on the table.

Take the projection forces. Brzezinski rightly notes that the European reaction will not be independent if the crisis is serious. For the time being, that is certainly so. But an independent reaction in a less than vital conflict would be a major step forward compared with the inability and unwillingness of the Europeans to act in some low-intensity crises of recent years. Let us take the first step before the second.

Europe will not be a military power, but it will not set limits to its ambition and be a soft power, the kind of larger Switzerland Brzezinski refers to.

Since the end of World War II the American attitude regarding European integration has always been ambiguous: unify but not too much. The end of the Cold War has not altered this ambivalence: poor Europe that is incapable of going beyond a limited integration; happy America that has such an ally.

Daniel Vernet is director for international relations at Le Monde.

Christoph Bertram:

FOR all its many good points, Brzezinski's prescription for the future U.S.-European relationship is, in the final analysis, a complacent and hence a flawed one. It can be summed up in one sentence: Europe, far from turning into a rival for the United States, will remain a dependent variable, a useful tool for U.S. strategy to spread stability to as many countries outside Russia as possible by incorporating them; it should be humored but not regarded as an equal partner by the United States.

On one issue Brzezinski is right: there is no need for Americans to panic as the EU tries to speed up defense integration. The angry fluster in some Washington corridors caused by plans for modest if urgent improvements in European capabilities for "out of area" military intervention has no justification: whatever comes of the plan, in the event European forces will have to draw on U.S. assets and hence to gain prior U.S. agreement.

But to make military power the litmus test of European integration is to repeat Stalin's mistake of judging the Catholic Church by the number of its divisions. Even Brzezinski, that most European of American realpolitikers, does not understand what this emerging Europe is really about. For him, it is "a polity construed on convenience", not "conviction", a pragmatic device for shared prosperity and stability. But pragmatism fails to explain the extent to which proud states, steeped in their respective histories, have sacrificed national autonomy for European interdependence. What drove them to submit to the authority of common laws and a common supreme court, to create a common currency, to unite the western part of the Continent, to invite the new democracies of the rest of Europe into their midst, and now to try and develop the means for autonomous military action was never merely convenience. It was, and is, a certain idea of what Europe should be.

The power of this idea should not be underrated. Americans used to recognize this, patiently but persistently encouraging efforts at European integration during all the decades of the Cold War. Now, perhaps out of irritation over Europe's newfound confidence, coupled with a one-track fascination with their own military and technological prowess and the dizziness of grandeur that has descended upon the world's only and probably last superpower, Americans seem to have lost both the patience and the vision. Sadly, Brzezinski here provides a strategic rationale for this loss.

It is shortsighted nevertheless, and for the very reasons the author himself states so eloquently at the beginning of his article: "America and Europe together serve as the axis of global stability." There is no other similar partner for an America that cares about international order, prosperity and democratic progress. And Europe, whatever its shortcomings, is a much stronger partner today than during the Cold War. It will be stronger still in the future.

Therefore it should be America's prime interest to lay the foundations today for a partnership with the Europe of tomorrow. U.S. supremacy may last for a generation but it will not last forever. What better use to make of this temporary advantage than to establish now the institutional framework for a partnership in which a Europe that will be stronger than it is today and an America that will be weaker can work together for order, prosperity and democracy in tomorrow's world? That, Dr. Brzezinski, would be imaginative realpolitik!

Christoph Bertram is a contributing editor of Foreign Policy. He is head of the Foundation for Science and Policy, a research center on international affairs that advises the German government and parliament.

Timothy Garton Ash:

AS I would always expect from Zbigniew Brzezinski, this essay is lucid, incisive, far-reaching and stimulating. I have the problem of agreeing with most of its analysis and policy recommendations, especially those on NATO and EU enlargement. Let me nonetheless, as an English European, tease out five points, partly in disagreement, partly in necessary elaboration.

First, I am always in favor of saying things that are true, even if they are politically unhelpful. The statement that Europe is a "de facto military protectoratexof the United States" seems to me neither true nor helpful. If I say "Xanadu is a French protectorate", this is generally understood to mean that the French run Xanadu. The Americans do not run Europe. Even in the weaker sense of "being dependent for military protection" this statement is scarcely true since, chaotic though Europe's defense arrangements are, there are no major current threats to our security against which the major European powers could not defend themselves and their EU partners.

Second, it is, however, true that even the strongest EU countries are still pathetically reliant on the United States in the case of any actual military action beyond the frontiers of the EU, even in a small patch of our own backyard such as Kosovo. I think one could usefully spell out that one major reason for this is that the leaders of Western Europe set the wrong priorities at the end of the Cold War, putting the creation of a common currency before that of a common army. With the present initiatives for improved foreign policy and defense coordination, the EU is doing in 2000 what it should have done in 1990. (I make the argument in more detail in my new book, History of the Present.)

Third, Brzezinski is absolutely right about the urgent need for the United States to be seen to be supporting, rather than carping at, these belated initiatives, especially in the defense field. The top-level political message from the new administration in Washington should be entirely and emphatically positive: "We want Europe to have a stronger defense identity and effective rapid reaction force." The supplementary stick might usefully be: "and we now expect you to look after Kosovo yourselves." Justified reservations about NATO compatibility can all be explored at lower, more technical levels.

Fourth, yes, Europe will never be a country. But (partly by means of introspection) I am not so pessimistic as Brzezinski is about the possibilities of positive emotional identification with Europe. Indeed, I think we have mutual friends in Central Europe who could well imagine "dying for Europe." Malgrétout, Europe has a soul. There is a struggle going on for this soul. Crudely stated, this is a new version of the old argument between the Atlanticist, liberal, global free-trading orientation, and the Gaullist, étatist, protectionist one. Historically, the balance of advantage has been moving from the latter to the former.

Fifth, by what it does and says, the United States will significantly affect this struggle, for better or for worse. Neither expecting a United States of Europe, nor accepting a Europe as Greater Switzerland, it should work toward two goals best defined by one George Bush (Sr.): "partners in leadership" and "Europe whole and free."

Timothy Garton Ash is author of History of the Present: Essays, Sketches and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s (Random House, forthcoming). He wrote this comment while a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution Stanford, CA.

Essay Types: Essay