Europeans: From Venus?
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
Whatever the current burning issue is - trade with Iran, war with Iraq, support for Israel, building a missile defense system, accepting the International Criminal Court - Americans and West Europeans often find themselves on opposite sides of the argument.
Americans tend to dismiss the Europeans as soft-minded appeasers lacking moral fiber or strategic vision. In turn, Europeans depict Americans as cowboys under the sway of a "culture of death."
These current attitudes tend to be seen as immutable facts of life, arising out of the respective national characters. But these differences are hardly permanent. Two centuries ago, when Americans acted cautiously around the tough-guy Europeans, the roles were roughly reversed.
Europe is weak: For 500 years before 1945, Europe dominated the world. Tiny Portugal and Holland took turns ruling the seas. Mid-sized Britain and France built empires that spanned the globe. But that was then.
Today, the European Union spends far more on social problems than on arms. Despite a population and an economy roughly similar to America's, it is a "military pygmy" that lacks the ability to project force or even handle a minor problem in its own neighborhood (as the Balkan fiascos revealed).
In contrast, Americans have continued massively investing in defense, creating a true superpower no other state can challenge. "In military terms there is only one player on the field that counts," observes Yale historian Paul Kennedy. Looking at the contrast between the United States and the rest of the world, Kennedy finds that "Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power; nothing."
This huge gap in capabilities causes Europeans and Americans to approach problems very differently. In their strength, Americans predictably see it as normal and legitimate to use force against enemy states such as Iraq. In their weakness, Europeans no less predictably find this approach worrisome and even immoral.
Europe is post-modern: For the 80 years before 1945, the demon of German aggression haunted Europe, causing two world wars. Then, through a lengthy process of negotiation, multilateralism, building commercial ties and applying international law, the Europeans engineered what Kagan calls "perhaps the greatest feat of international politics ever achieved" by integrating Germany into a totally peaceable Western European state system.
As the German lion lay down with the French lamb, Europeans widely congratulated themselves on a world-historical breakthrough and concluded that their future global mission is to develop a "postmodern system" that resolves problems without even the hint of force. (Along the way, they conveniently forgot that this transformation was only made possible because U.S. forces defeated Germany.) They aspire, Kagan argues, to replicate their success on a global scale, by taming a North Korea or an Iraq as they did Germany.
From this vantage point, American use of force challenges the universal validity of Europe's soft approach. Worse: if the European methods of cajoling and paying off adversaries do not always work - as they clearly do not - this suggests that Europe's own hope for perpetual peace among states may be illusory. The European Union's highly emotional reaction to American use of force derives in large part, then, from its horror at facing war again in Europe.
The differences, in brief, are stark: Americans are from Mars; Europeans, from Venus. Europeans spend their money on social services, Americans continue to devote large sums to the military. Europeans draw lessons from their successful pacifying of post-1945 Germany; Americans draw lessons from their defeat of Nazi Germany and of the Soviet bloc. Kagan's insights have important implications:
Nov. 17, 2009 update: Who would have imagined that it would be Barack Obama, so beloved in Europe, that would implement the final one of my implications above? Yes, as John Vinocur convincingly argues in "Why Europe Feels Rejected by Obama," that is the case. Excerpts:
Reader comments (190) on this item
Comment on this item
You can help support Daniel Pipes' work by making a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes