The Balancing Act: America and Europe

July 2, 2003

The Balancing Act: America and Europe

 Forty years later, the United States and Europe still are playing the same game.

 Forty years later, the United States and Europe still are playing the same game. America still asserts its hegemony, and France and Germany still seek (so far without much success) to create a European counterweight. Washington is employing a number of strategies to keep Europe apart. 

First, the United States has actively discouraged Europe from either collective, or national, efforts to acquire the full-spectrum of advanced military capabilities. Specifically, the United States has opposed the eu's Rapid Reaction Force (the nucleus of a future eu army), insisting that any European efforts must not duplicate nato capabilities and must be part of an effort to strengthen the Alliance's "European pillar." The United States is also encouraging European nato members to concentrate individually on carving-out "niche" capabilities that will complement U.S. power rather than potentially challenge it. 

Second, Washington is engaged in a game of divide and rule in a bid to thwart the eu's political unification process. The United States is pushing hard for the enlargement of the eu-and especially the admission of Turkey-in the expectation that a bigger eu will prove unmanageable and hence unable to emerge as a politically unified actor in international politics. The United States also has encouraged nato expansion in a similar vein, in the hope that the "new Europe" (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania)-which, with the exception of Romania, will join the eu in 2004-will side with Washington against France and Germany on most issues of significance. For the United States, a Europe that speaks with many voices is optimal, which is why the United States is trying to ensure that the eu's "state-building" process fails-thereby heading off the emergence of a united Europe that could become an independent pole of power in the international system. 

Finally, the United States has continued to remind the rest of Europe, sometimes delicately, sometimes in a heavy-handed fashion, that they still need an American presence to "keep the Germans down."  

Washington's aim of keeping Europe apart paid apparent dividends when, at the end of January, the leaders of Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic signed a letter urging Europe and the international community to unite behind Washington's Iraq policy. This letter was notable especially because it illustrated that indeed the United States is having some success in using the "New Europe" (the east central European members of nato) to balance against the Franco-German core. Clearly, Washington hopes that states such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania will not only line-up behind the United States within nato, but will also represent Atlanticist interests over European ones within the eu itself. In other words, U.S. policy seeks to encourage an intra-European counterweight that will block French and German aspirations to create a united Europe counterweight to American hegemony. Indeed, in the wake of the Iraq War, Transatlantic relations are characterized by a new form of "double containment" in Europe: the hard core of Old Europe (centered around France and Germany, and possibly supported by Russia) seeks to brake America's aspirations for global hegemony, while the United States and its "New European" allies in Central and Eastern Europe seeks to contain Franco-German power on the Continent. 


Christopher Layne is Visiting Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute.