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Informal General Affairs and External Relations Council 2-3/5/03: Contribution on the issue of EU-USA Relations by Professor Joseph Nye

"Repairing the Rift"

By Joseph Nye

The war in Iraq not only split both Europe and the Atlantic alliance. It also gave rise to dangerous myths about an “old Europe from Venus” locked in struggle against a unilateralist “America from Mars”. The first task of repair is to strip away such myths. After all, as recently as 1999, the European and American democracies agreed to fight together in Kosovo in the absence of a Security Council resolution. And what is attractive about  today’s “old Europe” is that it is so new!  The EU countries are not all in the same sovereign boat, but their national boats are lashed together into an island of stability that is sui generis and powerfully attractive to its neighbors. Witness the desire of Central Europeans and Turkey to join. And those American who say that Europeans are from Venus while Americans are from Mars, ignore recent polls by the Pew Charitable Trust that show many Europeans with “American” views on policy, and many Americans with  “European” views. In fact, the polls show that nearly two-thirds of the American public prefer multilateral rather than unilateral approaches to diplomacy. Despite the frictions, no two parts of the world are more similar in their commitment to democracy and human rights than Europe and its cultural offspring in America.

Equally important, the skeptics have a myopic view of power that focuses too heavily on the military dimension where the United States excels. They pay insufficient attention to Europe’s hard and soft power. In the 21st century, power is distributed differently on different issues, and resembles a three dimensional chess game. On the top board of military issues, where American military expenditure is equal the next two dozen countries combined, the world is uni-polar. There is only one superpower. It is likely to remain that way unless Europeans want to double the proportion  of GNP spent on defense to equal American levels. Even then, it is not clear how a military balance might work. But investment in more modest European capabilities should not be discounted. There are more European than American troops helping to keep the peace today in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and NATO remains an important institution which gives Europe influence in many such settings.

The middle board of economic issues is a sharp contrast from the military board. Here the world has a multi-polar balance of power. The United States cannot achieve a global trade agreement without the agreement of Europe and others. In the area of anti-trust, General Electric was unable to merge with Honeywell because the Commission of the European Community opposed.  And recently, Microsoft had to make significant changes to its new passport system in order to meet European privacy regulations. This is hardly the “American hegemony” that some proclaim. Moreover, despite the political popularity of the United States in Donald Rumsfeld’s “new Europe,” America is becoming less prominent in business and investment there. EU countries account for three-quarters of the “new Europe’s” trade. And two way direct foreign investment knits America more closely to Europe than to Asia.

The bottom board of the three dimensional chess game consists of transnational issues that cross borders outside the control of governments.  Examples include illegal migration, drugs, crime, the spread of infectious diseases, global climate change, and of course, transnational terrorist networks. On this board, power is chaotically organized and it makes no sense to speak of “unipolarity”, “hegemony” or American empire. While these issues are having an increasing effect on the lives of ordinary Americans, they cannot be solved by military power or by the United States acting alone. Cooperation with other countries, particularly the capable Europeans, is essential to America’s ability to solve such problems and protect its people.

Europe is not likely to become the military equal of the United States anytime soon, but it has enough sticks and carrots to produce significant hard power, the ability to get others to do what they would not otherwise do. In addition, despite internal divisions,  Europe’s culture, values and the success of the EU have produced a good deal of soft power, the ability to attract rather than merely coerce others. The EU is not as weak is it sometimes thinks. Rather than pursuing an ultimately futile strategy to create a classical balance of power against the US, it should use its considerable strengths to influence the US. Since values overlap, there is much to build upon, and the new transnational terrorism provides a very real common threat.
 It is said that the UN Security Council failed over Iraq.  That was true in the Spring of 2003, but the failure goes back to the 1990s when members were unwilling to confront Saddam Hussein’s clear defiance of both human rights and disarmament resolutions. The failure was not just of the institution but of the diplomacy among the major powers. There is enough blame to go around for both sides, but dwelling on the past will not be productive. We are at a point in history in which the law of the Charter descended from Westphalian sovereignty and international humanitarian law sometimes come into conflict. Yet recent history shows that opinion in our democracies is sometimes willing to support the use of force for humanitarian as well as classic reasons.  We need more discussion of how to identify and limit such cases where egregious human rights violators seek weapons of mass destruction and pose threats to their neighbors.  Moreover, we need more discussion of how to work together to prevent and respond to the transnational terrorism that is a common threat to our modern urban civilization. Unless we do a better job of identifying the new principles that justify multilateral interventions in response to such threats, we will remain mired in the recent disarray. What a  pity that would be, since there is so much more that unites us than divides us.

Joseph S. Nye is dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author of The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone


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