Europe and the American Empire
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM)
Europe is unsure as to how it should posture itself vis-a-vis the intimidating and powerful United States of America. Soon the EU will represent a population of 450 million and produce more than one-quarter of total world economic output. As Javier Solana recently exclaimed in what is being dubbed his security doctrine, "like it or not, Europe is a global actor".
EU member states would like to consider their Union a force to be reckoned with. These sentiments were reflected as early as the mid-1990's when the EU positioned itself as a "counterweight" to US hegemonic interests and even went so far as to suggest that Japan should join the EU in acting as a counterbalance to US unilateralism. Today, many argue that it was precisely this confrontational posture that led to the diplomatic "train wreck" over Iraq (AP, 22 June).
The feud between the US and certain European powers over the past year has led to what is now referred to as the 'Atlantic divorce'. After attempting to stand up to overwhelming US power over differing priorities, the EU is now trying to salvage what remains of the crumbling multilateral institutions, global treaties, and its trade relations with the US by calming the turbulent water of the Atlantic. Common interests and values, which formed the cornerstone of the transatlantic alliance for so long, have vanished and in their stead EU leaders are now stressing "shared views". While fundamental gaps between the two exist on issues such as universal justice, the environment, trade, agriculture, defense, health, development and human rights, European leaders have sought to brush these differences aside by emphasizing the notion that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and terrorism pose the most extreme threat to global security. By ignoring other priorities, Europeans can now claim that they share the US worldview. The question is for how long?
Within the framework of an American Empire, the EU continues to demand that it be treated as an equal partner. The EU Summit in Thessaloniki last week publicly called for "the development of the transatlantic relationship on an equal footing". It is true that 7 million Americans depend on business with the EU for their livelihood (6 million for the EU). However, as Gordon Smith of the Centre for Global Studies in Canada put it in a recent conference dealing with the transatlantic relationship*, "it is clear that the US will resist Gulliverization being tied down by the Lilliputians of the world". The notion that the EU can re-establish a multipolar world system has been ruled out by many, if not most, transatlantic specialists. In the same conference, Jim Garrison, President of the State of the World Forum, claimed that, "the US is no longer a nation among nations, it is an Empire among nations". In such a power structure, it is hard to believe that the EU can realistically expect to be treated as an equal.
What these thinkers stress is an acknowledgement that the transatlantic framework is no longer applicable. Philip Stephens of the Financial Times recently argued that, "among the most important geo-political shifts of the past two years has been the US administration's judgement that its interest now lies in dividing rather than uniting Europe" (23 May). He went on to propose that, "Europe should recognize that the past has been lost. The end of the cold war robbed the transatlantic alliance of an essential glue. America's transition from a status quo power to a revolutionary one has cut the threads of common understanding". Charles A. Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, argues the same point. He believes that Europe and America have parted ways for good and qualifies the forthcoming challenge as not the "repairing of the Western (transatlantic) alliance. That is a lost cause. Instead, it is to ensure that the end of alliance takes the form of an amicable separation rather than a nasty divorce".
The way forward, according to these people, is for Europe to reassess its strategic interests and write a security doctrine that is not in "opposition" to the US but "independent" of it. The key problem, however, relates to whether or not the US would consider an independent EU policy a threat to US primacy. In the absence of common interests beyond terrorism and WMD, an EU posture that seeks equality with the empire will inevitably be treated as a challenge to US supremacy. Maintaining US primacy remains President Bush's number one objective and treating Europeans as equals would annul the his strategic advantage. On the horizon lies a series of unavoidable conflicts, between an emerging and ambitious Europe and a dominant US. Efforts to calm the waters by stressing shared views, such as the threat of a nuclear Iran, will be taken, however, this is unlikely to distract US authorities from viewing a unified Europe as a threat and vice-versa.
* The conference was entitled "National Sovereignty and Universal Challenges: Choices for the world after Iraq", and was held between 18-20 June in Brussels sponsored by the State of the World Forum.