The Future of the Transatlantic Alliance. The Viewpoint of a European Realist

The Future of the Transatlantic Alliance. The Viewpoint of a European Realist

Mini Teaser: Vittorio Emanuele Parsi.

by Author(s): J. Peter Pham

Vittorio Emanuele Parsi. L'alleanza inevitabile. Europa e Stati Uniti oltre l'Iraq (The Inevitable Alliance: Europe and the United States Beyond Iraq). Milan: Università Bocconi Editore, 2003. 196 pp. €14.00.

In the often rancorous debate over the future of the transatlantic alliance in the wake of the fissures opened between the United States and some of its European allies by America's global war on terror-especially the conflict in Iraq that many Americans (but not quite so many Europeans) saw as another front in that war-even a learned and balanced work like Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order[1] affirmed in its very first sentence that: "It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world." Kagan concluded that "on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less."

Kagan's characterization is, of course, rhetorical: reality is more nuanced. In addition to Great Britain, which once more honored the obligations of its "special relationship" with the United States, and the nations characterized by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as the "new Europe" (notably Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and other former Soviet bloc states) that endorsed the American stand against Saddam Hussein, several of the nations of "old Europe" also supported the American-led coalition. Among these latter, Italy deserves special recognition for its contribution both to the Western alliance in general and to the war on terror in particular. Not only has the current Italian government led by Silvio Berlusconi braved domestic opposition and sent troops to join the Coalition in Iraq, but, even as currents of anti-Semitism rise and swirl across the old continent and European elites openly flirt with terrorists, it was under Italy's presidency that the European Union recently declared the entirety of the militant Palestinian group Hamas a terrorist organization.

Unfortunately, the intellectual foundations of Italian foreign policy positions are not generally well known in the U.S., in large part because American political scholars, to the extent that they are fluent in modern European languages or follow European intellectual debates, generally tend to focus on French and possibly Russian and German discussions on international affairs: the Italian idiom has, by and large, become the almost exclusive preserve, at least on this side of the Atlantic, of scholars of the humanities. This is regrettable, because one Italian author, Vittorio Emanuele Parsi, an influential professor of international politics at the Catholic University of Milan and at the Graduate School of Economics and International Relations, has just published an important contribution to the ongoing dialogue on the new world order and the future of the transatlantic alliance entitled The Inevitable Alliance: Europe and the United States Beyond Iraq.

Parsi's starting point is the recognition that the system that governed international relations from the Peace of Westphalia through to the Cold War is no more. Rather, the world has entered into an "age of uncertainty" where "it makes more sense to speak of a balance of terror than a balance of power," as the international order is broken down into subsystems, each responding to different geopolitical and historical dynamics. Complicating things further is the emergence of failed and other rogue states as well as the menace of non-state terrorism-the latter being essentially a return to the privatized violence that marred pre-modern times. Parsi posits that the latter factor is a watershed in international relations, whose full import has yet to be appreciated by many European policymakers:

The problem is that as political-military threats slowly take on forms different from the classical conflict between territorial states, and security is gradually challenged by non-state actors, there is risk that the effectiveness of international law is reduced to the dimension of private or commercial law either in its area of practical applicability or to the "internal relations" of the Western subsystem. With the loss of the state's relevance and sovereignty, with the reduction of its effective monopoly as the politically legitimate titular of the instruments of coercion, the entire juridical and formal edifice founded on state sovereignty goes up in smoke…If a "state" is no longer the only or principal agent capable of threatening the security of the citizens of another country, the entire structure meant to guarantee individual sovereignty and collective security unravels.

In this context, Parsi defends current American foreign policy for its avant-garde grasp of the "new world disorder," despite expressing disapproval for the excesses of unilateralism "in substance and form" by the present U.S. administration. And while he does not fully subscribe to Kagan's broad characterization of Europe's governing elites, Parsi nonetheless subjects the policymakers of the "old Europe" to harsh criticism for their lack of vision as well as the inconsistency of their newly discovered pacifism in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, finding little to admire in advocates of pacifism who offer no credible alternative solutions to the armed intervention. In contrast, Parsi applauds both British Prime Minister Tony Blair for being "ethically responsible" and the stand taken by Poland which, on the eve of both wars in Iraq, found itself "in the dilemma of having to choose between the Vatican and the United States (that is, the two powers to which it chiefly owes its freedom)" and twice chose America. 

In his critique, Parsi ridicules a favorite mantra of Vatican diplomacy ("force of law, not law of force") as a "Manichean distinction," and takes to task various religious leaders who, being "susceptible to the mass hypnosis of protesting crowds, launch unlikely anathemas," naively consecrate the United Nations as the exclusive source of moral and legal legitimacy in world affairs. In fact, the author reserves some rather critical pages to the world body and its "now untenable legalistic fiction of the equality of all states," citing the election of Libya to the presidency of the UN Human Rights Commission as a case in point. Parsi characterizes proposals to use the United Nations to contain American power as "pure fantasy" more likely to provoke additional American hostility than accomplish anything constructive for world order. While historically the United Nations may have failed repeatedly in its "mission impossible" of maintaining peace in the world, its specialized agencies nonetheless quietly (and greater success) carry out an immense task of providing relief to some of the hapless victims of life's and nature's misfortunes. To safeguard this legacy against those who would declare the total bankruptcy of the world body, Parsi advocates a reform of UN institutions to "introduce mechanisms that recognize the hierarchies of power and responsibility" as well as taking into account other factors including GDP, population, participation in peacekeeping missions and humanitarian assistance given.

Parsi makes much of the distinction between the "peace of equilibrium" (pace d'equilibrio) and the "hegemonic peace" (pace egemonica). The former presupposes that, in the absence of an overarching power in the international arena, the security of nation-states-in fact, their very survival-depends on their relative strengths, the balance between which becomes the condition sine qua non for peace and stability. The latter is the case when "respect for order, stability, and peace are guaranteed by the resources of the hegemon, resources that go beyond military power to encompass access to markets, technological sophistication, and financial means"-pretty much the role that Jean-François Revel, among others, has ascribed to the U.S.[2] With the end of the Cold War and the emergence of America as the only truly global power-Parsi cites data from William Wohlfort[3] and others to conclude that the most any other nation can aspire to is the role of a regional challenger to the U.S.-there no longer exists the possibility of the peace of equilibrium among roughly equal powers, only that of a hegemonic peace. If such is the case, Parsi argues, then it is prohibitively expensive-if not entirely futile and counter-productive-to try to counterbalance the American hyperpuissance. The author, in fact, argues that the current state of affairs ought to be accepted "not merely as a given fact, but as the scenario that over the long term is preferable to the balance of nuclear terror that preceded it." On the other hand, the manifold political and economic concerns associated with the eastward expansion of the European Union will tempt some European policymakers to turn inward in much the same way the westward expansion of the United States in the nineteenth century led to a certain insularity in the American national consciousness well into the twentieth century.

According to Parsi, the twin objectives of a realist European international policy should be to avoid the temptation for the Union to slip into isolationism as well as to bind the U.S. to Europe in an "inevitable alliance." Parsi sees a special role in this process to America's three principal continental allies during the recent Iraq conflict: Spain, Poland, and, above all, his native Italy. Italy has emerged, among the six founding members of the European Community, as the country that has maintained the most solid bonds with U.S. interests and policy even after the end of the Cold War, through governments both of the center-left (Romano Prodi, Massimo D'Alema) and center-right (the two Berlusconi ministries). In addition, Italy's interests in the Mediterranean-the product both of its long history and its geographic position-will, according to Parsi, assure that the E.U.'s expansion will not cause Europe to lose sight of the importance of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern security concerns.

Essay Types: Essay