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

Note for EU Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

Tom Bentley, Director, Demos

The second half of the 20th century played out a competition between forms of the modern state as well as between ideologies: it was won by liberal-capitalist parliamentary democracies, acting together through the NATO alliance.

Ironically, the underlying logic of openness, pluralism and individual freedom which helped to win the cold war by making command economies unsustainable, has now created a crisis of legitimacy for the forms of strategy needed to make peaceful, 21st century societies safe.  

Meanwhile, globalisation has created new forms of interdependence and vulnerability so that even the most powerful nations cannot escape economic recessions, environmental damage or networked violence originating elsewhere.  We are locked together in a century when the globe’s own sustainability as a human habitat will be fully tested.

International legitimacy is a defining problem for the 21st century.  Europe can make common cause with the US, and achieve positive strategic influence, by embodying and projecting new forms of democratic legitimacy rather than preaching about them.

Why have Europe and America diverged?

One reason for the insecurity is that the US is applying the rational, self interested logic of a single modern nation onto an unstable world.  Since a balance of power is not possible, the doctrine has become one of aggressive pre-emption.  This will not change until Americans can see respect for others’ perspectives and rights, even beyond US borders, as part of what it means to be American.  In turn, this will not happen  while the US sees itself as shouldering the burden of policing the world.

The fuzzy threat of rogue states and terrorism is being used to reinforce domestic American identity; the Republicans currently have little else in the way of a domestic agenda that could unite a critical majority.

Given that this sense of full-blooded sovereignty is manifested by asserting American interests unencumbered by the claims of others – “We really don’t need anyone’s permission” – simply appealing to them to respect international rules will achieve little; it actually provides an opportunity for the US to show that it is different.

And some aspects of the threat are real and serious; the influence of domestic politics does not discount the need for a strategic response to WMD, failed states, or new forms of terror.

Is there an alternative?  Should Europeans cluster under the wing of this strategy? 

Ironically, America’s cold war strategy of ‘extended deterrence’ and containment created the conditions under which Western Europe could develop a unique innovation in governance – the EU - which goes beyond the security provided by the nation state, however dominant.   This now represents an irreversible form of positive interdependence between nations. European powers have made themselves safe from each other by allowing far higher levels of transparency and mutual domestic interference than classical military strategy would ever allow. 

Many European citizens, cushioned by the modern welfare state and rising living standards, have developed new priorities; for quality of life, diverse ethical commitments, and social pluralism, as long as their basic security and living standards are maintained. This makes them increasingly sensitive to issues of international legitimacy.

But this historical achievement rests on two compromises: an EU of ‘hybrid’ status whose legitimacy rests on the sovereignty and democratic mandate of member states; and dependence via NATO on American military force to counter any direct threat.  The result is that on issues of international strategy, collective action is incredibly difficult.  Both need reshaping.

Enlargement should provide a new sense of regional identity, and make all Europeans more conscious of their place in a wider world.  The question is whether that place can be developed into a role which projects positive influence in legitimate ways.  Unless Europe makes a concerted effort to do this, it has little chance of influencing US worldview or behaviour.

What should be done?

In the end, strategic influence reflects the distribution of power.  But power is more multifaceted than the US doctrine implies.

Europe cannot realistically compete with US military dominance.  So it must find ways to project ‘soft’ power; making its wealth, population and norms count strategically by aligning its political positions with other forms of leverage.

The most effective way to do this is to put a finger on issues that Americans cannot ignore, but do not know how to solve unilaterally. 

There is a ‘western’ community of interest; the way to rebuild it is to engage Americans in ways which encourage a more nuanced understanding of their place in the world.  Engagement with civil society and citizens as well as governments, could reinforce the pluralist and outward looking strands of American identity.  But this will not happen if Europeans are making their own sense of identity by opposing American force.

The overarching question which a European strategy addresses should be:

How can we create security through interdependence? 

The challenge is to show how security could be strengthened by a strategy of prevention, not pre-emption. Europe must lead the development of a position based on responsiveness, mutual respect and the evolution of democratic legitimacy, rather than hegemonic domination and thin, monocultural politics. 

But to make this credible, Europeans must avoid being dewy-eyed about the legitimate use of violence.  Europe’s vast economic power does not count as it should because it is not properly backed with the capacity for military intervention. The EU’s current commitments in Macedonia and the Balkans, while they arguably came too late, point to the kind of role that Europe will need to sustain more widely.

This means a hard-nosed commitment to ending, limiting and preventing conflicts, and to international economic development.  It means connecting areas of European domestic concern far more strongly with transnational solutions in areas like crime and people movement. 

Probably most important, Europe needs a ‘near abroad’ policy which commits wholeheartedly to extending the zone of peace, prosperity and interdependence, if it wants strategic influence further afield.

This could mean:

• Founding a European Commonwealth, a new intergovernmental network with members invited from the far North of Europe to North Africa, Eire to Russia and Ukraine.  Encompassing and transcending the activities of the OSCE and Council of Europe, a Commonwealth could focus on projects strengthening democracy, trade and intercultural understanding, whether through infrastructure investment, education networks or grass roots civic development.  Strengthening a much older sense of broad European identity would help, not hinder, the enlargement process.

• Making new shared investments in extending cross-border collaboration on policing, transnational crime, counter-terrorism, and preventive security

• Making the non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction a fresh, EU-wide priority but linking it to a broader agenda for conflict prevention and resolution, rather than just states arguing over treaties.

• Creating a ‘European Volunteer Reconstruction Corps’ to assist in humanitarian relief efforts and strengthen civilian and civic roles in peacekeeping efforts.

• Using the accession of new member states to create a European ‘democracy process’, committed to understanding and investing in civic and institutional innovation across the European region, encouraging citizen engagement, and creating a non-governmental transatlantic dialogue on routes to democratic renewal. 

• Promoting transatlantic exchange on how to govern cities and regions well; exploiting America’s federal system to build new networks of mutual understanding and knowledge exchange.

What role for international institutions?

This note has deliberately avoided discussing the UN.  While it matters hugely, focusing too much effort on validation via highly imperfect institutional processes is a recipe for paralysis.  The behaviour which creates norms of interdependence and cooperation should run ahead of incremental institutional reform and formal rules.  European partners should be pursuing informal, network based collaboration to forge a new agenda.  If they establish enough momentum, the institutional map will  follow.

 /ends TB 23.4.03

This note draws on 3 Demos publications:

The postmodern state and the world order, by Robert Cooper
People Flow: managing mass migration in a new European Commonwealth, by Theo Veenkamp, Tom Bentley, Alessandra Buonfino
The Moral Universe, ed Tom Bentley

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