The myth of unipolarity in a post- cold war world: lessons about power from the us and europe

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China and Global Institutions Project

Princeton University

December 2006


Andrew Moravcsik1
Professor of Politics and

Director, European Union Program

Princeton University
Over the past five years, the unilateralist policies of the Bush administration policy—particularly the war in Iraq—have triggered some of the most severe international tensions in a generation, dividing Americans from most of their global allies. Pundits proclaim daily the irrelevance or imminent collapse of the major institutional pillars of contemporary world politics: NATO, the United Nations, and the European Union. Yet global and regional cooperation remain essential to resolve global problems, given the magnitude of the common interests at stake. This essay poses the question: What have we learned about the prospects for international cooperation from the conduct of US policies, as well as the contrasting experience of Europe and other great powers, in this period?
The analysis below focuses particularly on the US-European relationship, using examples primarily drawn from transatlantic policies—but the analysis might easily be extended to Asia. The basic argument is that the international system should not be viewed as unipolar, with the US as a “sole superpower,” as realists and neo-conservatives alike have tended to view it. Unipolarity exists only on a single narrow military dimension. If we consider other forms of civilian, economic, institutional and normative (“soft”) power, the world system appears bipolar, if not multi-polar. These civilian, economic, and normative power resources are at least as important as military ones in structuring interstate behavior and in assessing the prospects for global peace and security. The unwillingness to accept the multi-polar nature of world politics is a critical intellectual failure—perhaps the central and decisive one—of Bush Administration policy.
This perspective suggests, however, a cautiously optimistic scenario for the future of US relations with other great powers, not just in Europe but in Asia as well. Obsessive focus on the military balance, and on disagreements over Iraq, has led most observers to exaggerate greatly the level of conflict and power balancing between America and Europe. In fact, I shall argue, the post-Cold War period, has been a period of increased coordination of policies within the West, as compared to what preceded—even in the most controversial areas, such as military intervention. The US policies that gave the greatest offense, such as the invasion of Iraq, are clearly unsustainable—precisely because they exaggerate the impact of military dominance and underestimate other components of power. Looking forward, there are corresponding opportunities to deepen cooperation, not least because American “hard power” and European (or other allied) civilian, low-intensity military and soft power capabilities complement one another. Countries have comparative advantages, specializing in different forms of power projection, and—with a proper dose of modesty about the effectiveness of any single instrument—the relationship between the US and other countries is far more balanced than it seems at first glance. This optimistic scenario would be threatened if either side fails to recognize its own true weaknesses, either by the US continuing to pursue preventive military policies or the Europeans losing faith in the power of their civilian, economic, institutional and normative assets.

Unipolarity and the Sources of Realist and Neo-Conservative Policy
It is conventional to begin analyses of the post-Cold War world order by noting that, by classic realist measures, the international system is unipolar. The United States is less dependent militarily on allies than at any time in the past half-century. U.S. defense spending now surpasses that of China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom combined, and the disparity will only grow, since the United States outspends a united Europe, its next (if still hypothetical) competitor, by a ratio of 5 to 1 on military research and development. The US is the only power able to project force where and when it desires, often reasonably confident of quick victory, low casualties, and little domestic fallout. Its ambitions have expanded accordingly. Two decades ago, the Reagan administration pursued “regime change” only in small countries and by proxy; today, the Bush administration feels free to conquer a midsize power across the globe directly, with little allied participation. Judged by the classical objective of winning battles against a conventional army, unilateral intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has proven remarkably cost-effective in the short term. In this a very narrow sense—but only in this sense—American hawks of a realist and neo-conservative persuasion, who trumpeted the opportunities presented by post-Cold War US unipolarity, were proven correct.
Many such authors predicted that the end of the Soviet threat, combined with the disparity in military power, condemns the US and Europe to conflict—greater conflict than when they faced a common Cold War enemy. This was the position taken by neo-conservatives like Robert Kagan and Charles Krauthammer, as well as by realists such as John Mearsheimer, who famously predicted the collapse of European integration as well. All these theorists, albeit for different reasons, maintain that the existence of preeminent US military power begets an ideological tendency to use it. In Europe, by contrast, weak militaries coexist with an aversion to war. Influenced by their relative military weakness, social democratic ideas, the legacy of two world wars, and the EU experience, Europeans prefer to deal with problems through economic integration, foreign aid, and multilateral institutions. Such differences do become embedded in bureaucracy: The best and brightest American foreign policy officials specialize in unilateral politico-military affairs (“national security,” narrowly defined), whereas their high-flying European counterparts focus on civilian multilateral organizations such as the EU.
American power and autonomy, on this reading, not only permitted the US to indulge idiosyncratic threat perceptions, but provided a compelling argument for doing so. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, combined with existing U.S. commitments involving oil and Israel, have led many Americans to view the war against rogue regimes, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as a matter of vital national interest. Since the attacks were not directed at them, so some neo-conservatives argue, Europeans find the threat less pressing—and with large Muslim minorities at home and Islamic neighbors next door, they worry more about the spillover of Middle East instability. For Europe, in the realist and neo-conservative understandings, the defining moment of the contemporary era is not 9/11 but 11/9: the collapse of the Soviet empire, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Without major direct threats to their security, Europeans have felt free to disarm, cultivate their unique postmodern polity, and criticize the United States. Thus, many argue, Europeans and Americans disagree about not only power and threats, but also means.
It is true that such structural shifts in military power do mark an epochal transformation in world politics. The heyday of Atlanticism, when the protection of Europe by U.S. strategic and European conventional forces was the centerpiece of the Western alliance, is gone for good. But the rest of the analysis does not follow. The faith in the transformative power of military unipolarity is not simply misguided; it has become a central element in explaining US policy failure.

The Limits of Military Unipolarity: A Liberal Internationalist View
There are many reasons to doubt the pessimistic prognoses that follow from an obsessive focus on the unipolar military power of the US. Among the most fundamental, and the one I shall focus on here, is the realist and neo-conservative tendency to equate America’s unipolar position as a “sole superpower” in military domain with cost-effective global influence. The failure of this perspective is the central theme of US foreign policy over the past decade. In this regard, the experience of the Bush administration policy has numerous lessons to teach.
One is that US use of its unilateral military supremacy to wage preventive war and impose regime change is unsustainable. Beyond the initial months of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, military force proved itself more expensive and less effective than American hawks had predicted. Unconventional, terrorist and insurgency tactics have substantially offset US military prowess. This experience is not the result of particular errors made in the Iraq occupation, even if they exacerbated its negative consequences. The limited utility of such force is a general lesson of modern statecraft that was already learned (and forgotten, it seems) during Western conflicts in South Africa, Algeria, Vietnam, Lebanon, and elsewhere. Military intervention for the US is like a high-interest loan; cheap in the short-term and increasingly expensive over time. Even if had been successful, a policy instrument that costs a 0.5–1.5 trillion dollars, 2500 American lives, 30 percentage points in popularity of the sitting president, and the diplomatic good-will of much of the world, cannot be the cornerstone of US policy going forward. Almost no one in Washington now admits that they would have supported the war, had they known then what they know now. This realization is, as John Ikenberry has argued, the beginning of the end of the neo-conservative era. The Bush Doctrine is “yesterday’s news”.
Despite the resources expended on it, moreover, imperial occupation in Iraq is proving unsuccessful. And here there is a second lesson, namely that winning the peace is harder, but much more important, than winning the war—and it requires different instruments. Like skepticism about the wisdom of the Iraq war, this is also a view to which nearly every American policy-maker today, regardless of his or her initial position on the war, now subscribes. Once one goes to war, one assumes the additional burden of winning the peace—and doing so in real time. Only effective instruments of postwar peaceful change can consolidate true political transformation. In retrospect the US policy seems to have been singularly uninformed: unconnected to the “war on terrorism”, blind to the costs likely to attend postwar reconstruction, and misguided about the ensuing regional dynamics. Similarly, if optimal the strategy was instead to address challenges while avoiding war in Iraq, then a redoubling of civilian power instruments would have been required.
This leads to a third lesson, namely that the US does not appear to possess any exceptional expertise, capacity or success in unilaterally wielding non-military instruments of international power. Again, this is a point on which official Washington now agrees. The US level of civilian foreign aid is low. Its expertise in nation-building and democracy promotion is limited. Its commitment to multilateral institutions and regional integration is uneven. Its specific conception of democratic values is not widely shared. Again, Iraq provides striking evidence of the absence of such power resources in the hands of the US. Perhaps, to be sure, little could have been done to make the Iraq occupation a success, once the intervention was launched. But it is uncontroversial to claim today that the weakness of US civilian power instruments played an important role in undermining its ability to make the most of an imperial option in the region. Effective policy would have required familiarity and commitment to the cultivation of power instruments ranging from counter-insurgency warfare, nation-building and democracy promotion, anti-terrorist human intelligence gathering, economic development policy, and the management of regional stability. Few would question that efforts to ensure security and to reconstruct public order in Iraq were ineffective. Economic and democratic reconstruction did not fare better. The assumption was that a two-year occupation, modest aid, a quick hand-off to an interim government, and a postwar economic boom based on sales of privatized oil will spark a rapid economic miracle, similar to that which occurred in West Germany after World War II. Democracy, reconstruction, and development will be self-fulfilling, self-financing, and self-legitimating—and will make Iraq into a new reliable ally. To be sure, few outside the White House, the Pentagon, and the American Enterprise Institute shared this optimism. Even the postwar German and Japanese miracles were based on massive, long-term U.S. assistance in countries with an experience of democracy, highly developed economies, high human capital, and no major national minorities. Iraq was less promising terrain.
The example of Afghanistan is similarly chastening: Warlords reassert their power, government ministers have been assassinated, internal security has collapsed to the point where humanitarian aid no longer reaches many regions, the country has reemerged as the world’s largest exporter of opium, the battle against al Qaeda has stalled, and Taliban forces are resurfacing in a half-dozen provinces. In Afghanistan, the United States pursued a “fire and forget” policy: few peacekeepers, no trade concessions in sectors such as textiles, and meager foreign assistance—after forgetting to include the line item in its proposed annual budget. Such failure is nothing new. A recent Carnegie Endowment study reveals that of 16 U.S. efforts at nation building over the past century, only four of them resulted in sustained democracy: Germany, Japan, Grenada, and Panama. The odds are against Afghanistan or Iraq becoming the fifth.
The decisive importance of non-military power is not unique to the post-Cold War period or this era of globalization. Yet the US seems unable to respond. Not since the wake of World War II has the United States forged civilian and military means into a coherent geopolitical strategy. Much has been said about the multilateral nature of the institutional means. As John Ikenberry, Robert Keohane and others have observed, US “hegemony” played a decisive role in the creation of the current range of international institutions, including the UN, GATT, IMF, NATO, and others. Yet, as John Ruggie and others remind us, more important than the form of the post-war US strategy was its substantive: the mix of instruments and objectives it contained, and in particular the mix of military and civilian power. Looking back at the Cold War, often thought of as the heyday of military deterrence, it is clear—as George Kennan, the architect of containment always said it would be—that military containment via NATO and nuclear deterrence were essential, but ultimately only secondary, holding actions. The real transformation took place through the economic and political development of American allies in Europe and elsewhere, and the eventual agreement of governments in the Soviet Union, China and elsewhere that greater engagement with the international system was required. For the latter task, policies like the Marshall Plan, support for European integration, the creation of an open global trading order, and the opening to China were far more transformative steps than the military containment, nuclear deterrence or Star Wars. The history of the Iraq War, like the history of US efforts to promote democracy and nation-building in general, suggest that the immediate post-World War II period was rather exceptional.
Some realists and neo-conservatives have argued that the reasons for the failure of the US to effectively deploy military power to achieve imperial goals in the Middle East is itself explained by power-political dynamics—notably the balancing of unfriendly allies against the US. Again it is the Europeans who take the heat. The decline of the Soviet threat is widely believed to have exacerbated transatlantic conflict and inexorably induced balancing (or perhaps “soft balancing” using non-military means) by allies against the US. Yet the evidence does not appear to confirm this view. Of course many European governments opposed the Iraq war, but why? Placing the Bush administration’s policy in historical and political perspective reveals the importance of pragmatic and specific objections to the necessity and effectiveness of waging war in Iraq, rather than evidence of a deep structural rift.
The fourth lesson is thus that: Among European governments, there exists no blanket objection to military intervention, no structural post-Cold War tendency to balance against US power, no failure to grasp the terrorist threat, and no unquestioning ideological commitment to formal multilateralism and international law. Instead there is a pragmatic assessment of particular deployments of military force.
Historians, political scientists and journalistic commentators increasingly agree that the Iraq crisis divided Western allies because a particularly radical American administration, one set on waging what has been termed a “war of choice” only loosely connected with combating terror, provoked a war that American allies did not believe to be prudent. And—leaving aside peculiar European domestic pressures, such as German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s political vulnerability and French President Jacques Chirac’s Gaullist skepticism of American power—the major motivations behind the European opposition to Iraq were instead pragmatic. The opposition of most European statesmen, notably German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, was based instead on the pragmatic belief that a policy of intervention in Iraq was not a cost-effective means to enhance US or European security. In retrospect, it seems they were correct.
This is a far more plausible than attributing transatlantic tensions to a structural crisis. On the European side, as Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth have decisively demonstrated, the metaphor of “soft balancing,” fails to explain the facts of European policy. Public rhetoric notwithstanding, there is little consistent evidence, even in France, of a tendency to balance against the US for its own sake. Nor was there a fundamental clash of principled European multilateralism vs. American unilateralism, or an example of the pacifist opposition to the deployment of military force caricatured by Robert Kagan—though the framing of the issue in these terms did exacerbate the tensions. As a matter of principle, major European governments are hardly more inclined to give the UN Security Council a veto over military action than is the US. One need look no further than Kosovo, Afghanistan and other recent cases to find formally unsanctioned intervention consensually undertaken by the US and Europe. And in these and other post-Cold War cases, Europeans have strongly supported the use of military force. Cooperation in the war in Afghanistan, like tight intelligence and police cooperation between the US and Europe, demonstrates that the terrorist threat receives high priority on both sides of the Atlantic.
The history of US-European relations suggests the opposite of what theorists of military unipolarity predict: Tensions over “out of area” military engagement were far greater during the Cold War than they are today. Consider the following comparison. During the Cold War—between the Korean War and 1989—it is hard to think of a single US intervention that had European support—the Lebanon crises of 1958 and 1983 being the only salient exceptions. In nearly every other case, ranging from Vietnam to Nicaragua, European governments not only failed to back the US and criticized the US in public, but often supported opponents of the US with UN votes and even foreign aid. Since the end of the Cold War, by contrast, only one military intervention by either the US or Europe has lacked transatlantic support: Iraq. In every other of over a dozen cases since 1989, including major actions such as the first Iraq War, Afghanistan, and Kosovo, as well as humanitarian or peacekeeping actions in places as disparate as East Timor, Haiti, Sierra Leone and Lebanon, the West has been united. Who would have believed 20 years ago that German troops would have been deployed to South Asia to back a US-led intervention?
Thus we would do well to think of the current transatlantic crises as, at least in part, a temporary phenomenon. Tensions between the US and Europe been cyclical events, arising most often when conservative Republican presidents pursued assertive unilateral military policies. During the Nixon and Reagan administrations, as today, European polls recorded 80–95 percent opposition to US intervention abroad and millions of protesters flooded the streets—in a far more sustained way than we see today. NATO was deeply split, and European politicians compared the United States to Nazi Germany. Washington went into “opposition” at the UN, where vetoed dozens of Security Council resolutions on the Middle East alone, each time casting the lone dissent. When the Reagan administration bombed Libya in 1986, poll support for the US in Great Britain—the only country willing to give US bombers landing rights—was in single digits.
This analysis suggests that the interests of Europe and the US are closely aligned on many issues, but a crisis emerged, most fundamentally, because of exaggerated confidence on the part of the US in the potential influence of its military power. If, as many argue, the West might have done better to approach the post-9/11 period, and especially the issue of Iraq, with a stronger set of power instruments other than predominant classical military force—such as international inspection, peacekeeping force, diplomatic engagement, economic assistance, and regional integration—this would also have required greater US cooperation with its allies, to which we now turn.

The World is Multi-polar After All: Europe as a “Quiet Superpower”
If we take civilian and low-intensity instruments of world power seriously, as the preceding analysis suggests that we should, it follows that the world is not unipolar. With regard to the full range of power resources—trade, foreign aid, peacekeeping and policing, international monitoring, membership in multilateral institutions, and the attractiveness of values—the US is not the sole superpower. Across the full range of important power resources, the world system is bipolar—or, in some respects, multi-polar. And the primary example of multi-polarity is the effective policies pursued by Europe since 1989.
To be sure, many realists and neo-conservatives maintain that the only way Europe can project global power commensurate with its resources is by launching a major military build up to compete with or complement US policy. A parade of pundits—American neoconservatives, traditional NATO analysts, European federalists, and French Gaullists alike—have recently promulgated a new conventional wisdom: that the rearming of Europe is the alliance’s only hope. Their logic is simple. To get the United States to listen to its concerns, Europe needs to develop true power projection capabilities. Only an alliance of equals can work, and military power is the only coin that matters.
This is classic Realpolitik thinking, with all the parsimony and empirical implausibility thereof. While no one denies the value of military modernization in Europe, it is doubtful that a military build-up is a cost-effective way of strengthening Europe or the West. Leaving aside the serious question whether Europe could or would ever spend the money to rival the US, the creation of a massive European defense corps might well play to Europe’s weaknesses, rather than its strengths. There is no evidence that the existence of 200,000 or 500,000 crack European troops, useful though they might be in smaller crises, would have changed anything in the run-up to Iraq or the current tensions with Iran. If Europe seeks more global clout, not least vis-à-vis the US, it must therefore focus on its comparative advantage, which is civilian power. In this regard, the salient lesson to be learned from post-Cold War Europe is the striking cost-effectiveness of its instruments of civilian and low-intensity military power projection Europe already possesses. When it comes to such instruments, one might argue (with only slight exaggeration) that there is only one global superpower in the world today: Europe. Europe has emerged as the “quiet superpower,” with an unparalleled ability to manipulate such civilian and low-intensity military instruments of power. Consider the following tools in the hands of European governments.
Integration: Since the end of the Cold War, the single most powerful and cost-effective Western policy instrument for promoting global peace and security has been admission to the European Union. Since 1989, at a tenth of the cost of the US intervention in Iraq, Europe has already assisted 12 countries to make the transition to democracy and a market economy—all of which continue to perform well. The instrument works well not only (or primarily) because explicit economic and political conditions can be imposed on prospective members, but because of capacity building efforts by existing EU governments and the persuasive and symbolic pull of EU membership. In country after country, authoritarian, ethnically intolerant, or corrupt governments have lost elections to democratic, market-oriented coalitions held together by the promise of EU membership. Today Europe is seeking to establish itself as a multi-cultural force, as the visible impact of Europe’s “attraction” impact extends beyond current members to Romania and Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia, Albania, and Turkey.
Trade: Trade can promote prosperity and, thereby political stability. Actually joining the EU is an immediate option only for those nations in closest proximity, but economic association with the EU remains an option for many. Association agreements already encompass Russia, much of the rest of the former Soviet Union, Israel, and many Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa—for all of whom the EU is their largest trading partner, dwarfing the US. Indeed, the EU trades more than the US, and has a better bilateral balance, with China as well. A current successful example of this quiet economic influence in the Arab world is Morocco, a country successfully attempting to engineer a process of political and economic liberalization in close cooperation with the EU.
Foreign Aid and Democracy Assistance: Foreign assistance—whether in the form of humanitarian aid, technical expertise, or support for nation building—reduces immediate human suffering and bolsters peaceful development. Here, too, Europe is the civilian superpower, dispensing 70 percent of global foreign aid and spreading its largess far more widely than the United States. More than 90 percent of Western aid to Afghanistan comes from Europe. The failure of the Europeans, and the UN, to be more active in Iraq surely undermined the US effort there. Israeli-Palestinian settlement—past or future—is unthinkable without European assistance. In promoting democracy, Europeans have effectively wielded influence in their neighborhood, most notably in the Ukraine.
Peacekeeping: Foreign policing and peacekeepers have been essential to the success of postwar settlements in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and today Lebanon. Failure, as in Rwanda, can trigger genocide. Current and prospective members of the European Union contribute 10 times more many soldiers to such UN peacekeeping missions than the United States. Much could be done to improve the effectiveness of European forces, and to this extent, as Michael O’Hanlon and others have shown, European plans for military rationalization and modernization are useful.
Monitoring and Intelligence: Europeans have unparalleled experience working with multilateral institutions to monitor the behavior of foreign governments, whether with regard to economic matters, human-rights or arms control. The policing of human rights and economic reform is important as well in many parts of the world. Europe has extensive regional experience at conditioning aid on monitoring and is the major supporter of the multilateral institutions with serious inspection capability. A recent illustration comes from Iraq: The most reliable evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs—as well as the lack thereof—came from the years of UN-sponsored inspections. Even the Bush administration now concedes that the inspectors forced Saddam to dismantle, destroy, or displace all, or nearly all, of his WMD. One of the lessons of the Iraq crisis the lesson is that while in some cases neither UN inspections nor American coercive diplomacy work very well by itself, they can sometimes be extremely effective as complementary elements of a “good cop, bad cop” routine. This tactic might have been more effective had Europe been willing to sponsor thousands of “coercive” inspectors, a promising avenue for future EU collaboration. One can imagine many post-conflict scenarios where monitoring under multilateral auspices would be useful. Had there been WMD in Iraq, for example, one wonders whether Anglo-American discoveries would have been credible without multinational monitoring. Finally, the critical role of multilateral institutions is clearest in the most important issues of all, namely control over the use of nuclear, biological, and chemical materials, and combating terrorism. Effective non-proliferation and anti-terrorist regimes are unthinkable without such cooperation, and in areas like intelligence and monitoring, European capabilities are in many respects equal to those of the US.
Multilateral Legitimation: The United Nations, European Union and NATO, despite their weaknesses, are powerful instruments of legitimation. For almost any major international issue today, European involvement is crucial. Foreigners do not share the view that the United States is “a more trustworthy universal arbiter than the U.N.,” as the Iraq expert Lawrence Kaplan puts it. (Neither do many Americans, if polls be the judge.) For a complex domestic reasons, the US remains ambivalent about formal commitments to international organizations, and here Europe is more comfortable and credible. Again Iraq is instructive. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush was initially disinclined to move against Iraq through the UN, but he was advised that European countries would not back his efforts without a Security Council resolution. The result of his administration’s careful diplomacy was near unanimous Western support for the war, the unlocking of $50 billion to $60 billion in co-financing, and near universal logistical cooperation from neighboring countries. The second Gulf war, by contrast, his son pursued a policy opposed by large majorities throughout the world, and an most important reason for that appears to have been the lack of final, explicit un authorization. Absent such approval, the allies offered no financial contributions, and important regional actors such as Turkey withheld vital support for military operations. Who would have believed that a UN resolution could shift public opinion in many countries by 20-30%? Furthermore, by pooling their power in various multilateral mechanisms, Western states maximize available resources while minimizing the potential for popular backlash directed at it. Major powers can still maintain critical behind-the-scenes influence (as in Afghanistan). Multilateral institutions strengthen other tools. Monitoring, for example, is generally more effective and more legitimate than unilateral efforts, for the monitored party has less reason to suspect the inspectors’ motives. Europeans have learned to use multilateral institutions flexibly, as they have in diplomacy with Iran, which is handled by Britain, France and Germany, but is supported by European countries. The suggests that the widespread expectation among US policy-makers that one can employ a “divide and conquer” strategy with respect to Europe is another false lesson drawn from the Iraq.
Cultural Values: The final European power resource is its cultural values. This is part of what Joseph Nye terms “soft power,” the symbolic legitimation of the values and culture of an actor in world politics. As Nye has pointed out, the US has considerable “soft power” resources, including Hollywood movies, lifestyle and fashion tend-setting, world-class universities, its ability to integrate immigrants, and its democratic tradition. Some of these (e.g. Hollywood movies and lifestyle trends) are perhaps only obliquely connected with foreign policy. Others (e.g. universities and immigration) may well remain strong political assets. But one area in which the US greatly overestimates its relative power, and where the Europeans possess distinctive assets, is in political ideology.
Two factors hamper the projection of American political ideology. One is anti-Americanism, which attends much of what America does. Hostility to Europe is far less prevalent. But a more subtle reason for the lack of US cultural influence is the peculiar nature of American economic and political institutions. The U.S. Constitution was once a revolutionary document, full of epochal innovations—free elections, judicial review, checks and balances, federalism and, perhaps most important, a Bill of Rights—which were emulated elsewhere. Today countries have dozens of political, economic and social models to choose from, and it is striking that emergent democracies writing new constitutions today almost never copy more than a few elements from the US, preferring instead to borrow from countries like Germany, Canada, and South Africa. Many aspects of American constitutionalism are viewed as idiosyncratic or undesirable: the small size of the social welfare state, the role of private money in politics, the idiosyncratic collection of human rights, race relations, and the disregard for international law. While Europe is far from perfect, some—among them futurologist Jeremy Rifkin, in his recent book "The European Dream"—have hailed an emerging European Union based on generous social welfare, cultural diversity and respect for international law, a model that's caught on quickly across the former nations of Eastern Europe and the Baltics, and may be more attractive globally. When polled, only small percentages of the citizens of even the staunchest allies of the US in places like Eastern Europe say that they want their societies to be more like the US.

This paper has argued that the Iraq trauma has led analysts to greatly exaggerate underlying divergences of interest, principle and tactical preferences have been greatly exaggerated. The true lesson of the Bush administration is that the US is less powerful than some realists and neo-conservatives believed, and the main reason for this misconception lies in the exaggeration of the efficacy of military force. This view differs from many “liberal” critiques of recent US policy, which focus primarily on the low value accorded formal multilateralism. The atrophy of multilateral institutions and processes has been a regrettable consequence of that policy, but it is more symptom than cause. The central driving force, on this reading, has been the exaggeration of the impact of military force—and thus of US military unipolarity.
At the level of policy, one consequence is that we should think of US relations with other great powers—not just in Europe but in Asia and elsewhere as well—in terms of comparative advantage. Rethinking post-Cold War world order in terms of multiple forms of power, with an equal role for civilian, low-intensity military and soft power, reveals that in fact the comparative advantages of the US and Europe are complementary. Europe may possess weaker military forces than does the United States, but on almost every other dimension of global influence it is stronger. Meshing the two sets of capabilities would be the surest path to long-term global peace and security. Complementarity is the key to transatlantic reconciliation.
This same lesson is applicable elsewhere in the world, notably in East Asia, where great power interests are, with the exception of a few issues like Taiwan and human rights, remarkably convergent. Yet the respective geopolitical strengths and weaknesses of great powers are quite disparate, as Thomas Christensen and others have observed. In trans-Pacific relations, as in transatlantic relations, policy analysis attentive to the interaction of varied forms of power would surely result in sounder policy.

1 The paper excerpts from a number of recent articles cited below, which provide further documentation. These articles are all available on line at <>. See "Striking a New Transatlantic Bargain," Foreign Affairs (July/August 2003); “Dream on America," Newsweek (Cover Story, 31 January 2005); "The Quiet Superpower," Newsweek (17 June 2002, Atlantic Edition); "The Paradox of US Human Rights Policy," in Michael Ignatieff, ed. American Exceptionalism and Human Rights (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); "Conservative Idealism and International Institutions," Chicago Journal of International Law (Autumn 2000); "Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics" International Organization (Autumn 1997); "Is Anybody Still a Realist?" International Security (Fall 1999) (with Jeffrey Legro). The author can be contacted at <>.


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