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Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order by Robert Kagan


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)


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John Wayne and the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys

Reading Robert Kagan’s short new book, Of Paradise and Power, made me wish I understood more about history and the issues he raises. It’s like picking up a conversation mid-stream; you’re not quite sure that understand the context, meaning, or impact of the latest words spoken. Here’s an excerpt (pp. 54-59):

There is a cynical view current in American strategic circles that the Europeans simply enjoy the "free ride" they have gotten under the American security umbrella over the past six decades. Given America's willingness to spend so much money protecting them, Europeans would rather spend their own money on social welfare programs, long vacations, and shorter workweeks. But there is more to the transatlantic gulf than a gap in military capabilities, and while Europe may be enjoying a free ride in terms of global security, there is more to Europe's unwillingness to build up its military power than comfort with the present American guarantee. After all, the United States in the nineteenth century was the beneficiary of the British navy's dominance of the Atlantic and the Caribbean. But that did not stop the United States from engaging in its own peacetime naval buildup in the i88os and i89os, a buildup that equipped it to launch and win the Spanish-American War, acquire the Philippines, and become a world power. Late-nineteenth-century Americans did not take comfort from their security; they were ambitious for more power.

Europeans today are not ambitious for power, and certainly not for military power. Europeans over the past half century have developed a genuinely different perspective on the role of power in international relations, a perspective that springs directly from their unique historical experience since the end of World War II. They have rejected the power politics that brought them such misery over the past century and more. This is a perspective on power that Americans do not and cannot share, inasmuch as the formative historical experiences on their side of the Atlantic have not been the same.

Consider again the qualities that make up the European strategic culture: the emphasis on negotiation, diplomacy, and commercial ties, on international law over the use of force, on seduction over coercion, on multilateralism over unilateralism. It is true that these are not traditionally European approaches to international relations when viewed from a long historical perspective. But they are a product of more recent European history. The modern European strategic culture represents a conscious rejection of the European past, a rejection of the evils of European Machtpolitik. It is a reflection of Europeans' ardent and understandable desire never to return to that past. Who knows better than Europeans the dangers that arise from unbridled power politics, from an excessive reliance on military force, from policies produced by national egoism and ambition, even from balance of power and raison d'6taft. As German Foreign Minister

Joschka Fischer put it in a speech outlining his vision of the European future, “The core of the concept of Europe after 1945 was and still is a rejection of the European balance-of-power principle and the hegemonic ambitions of individual states that had emerged following the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.” The European Union is itself the product of an awful century of European warfare.

Of course, it was the “hegemonic ambitions” of one nation in particular that European integration was meant to contain. And it is the integration and taming of Germany that is the great accomplishment of Europe—viewed historically, perhaps the greatest feat of international politics ever achieved. Some Europeans recall, as Fischer does,

the central role the United States played in solving the “German problem.” Fewer like to recall that the military destruction of Nazi Germany was the prerequisite for the European peace that followed. Instead, most Europeans like to believe that it was the transformation of the European mind and spirit made possible the "new order."

The Europeans, who invented power politics, turned themselves into born-again idealists by an act of will, leaving behind them what Fischer called "the old system of balance with its continued national orientation, constraints of coalition, traditional interest-led politics and the permanent danger of nationalist ideologies and confrontations."

Fischer stands near one end of the spectrum of European idealism. But this is not really a right-left issue in Europe. Fischer's principal contention—that Europe has moved beyond the old system of power politics and discovered a new system for preserving peace in international relations—is widely shared across Europe. As senior British diplomat and EU official Robert Cooper has argued, Europe today lives in a "postmodern system" that does not rest on a balance of power but on "the rejection of force" and on "self-enforced rules of behavior." In the "postmodern world," writes Cooper, "raison d'etat and the amorality of Machiavelli's theories of statecraft... have been replaced by a moral consciousness" in international affairs.

American realists might scoff at this idealism. Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan assumed that only naïve Americans succumbed to such "Wilsonian" legalistic and moralistic fancies, not those war-tested, historically minded European Machiavels. But, really, why shouldn't Europeans be idealistic about international affairs, at least as they are conducted in Europe's "postmodern system"? Within the confines of Europe, the age-old laws of international relations have been repealed. Europeans have pursued their new order, freed from the laws and even the mentality of power politics. Europeans have stepped out of the Hobbesian world of anarchy into the Kantian world of perpetual peace.

In fact, the United States solved the Kantian paradox for the Europeans. Kant had argued that the only solution to the immoral horrors of the Hobbesian world was the creation of a world government. But he also feared that the "state of universal peace" made possible by world government would be an even greater threat to human freedom than the Hobbesian international order, inasmuch as such a government, with its monopoly of power, would become "the most horrible despotism. How nations could achieve perpetual peace without destroying human freedom was a problem Kant could not solve. But for Europe the problem was solved by the United States. By providing security from outside, the United States rendered it unnecessary for Europe's supranational government to provide it. Europeans did not need power to achieve peace, and they do not need power to preserve it.

European life during the more than five decades since the end of World War II has been shaped not by the brutal laws of power politics but by the unfolding of a geopolitical fantasy, a miracle of world-historical importance: The German lion has lain down with the French lamb. The conflict that ravaged Europe ever since the violent birth of Germany in the nineteenth century has been put to rest. The means by which this miracle has been achieved have understandably acquired something of a sacred mystique for Europeans, especially since the end of the Cold War. Diplomacy, negotiations, patience, the forging of economic ties, political engagement, the use of inducements rather than sanctions, compromise rather than confrontation, the taking of small steps and tempering ambitions for success—these were the tools of Franco-German rapprochement and hence the tools that made European integration possible. France, in particular, took the leap into the unknown, offering to pool first economic and then political sovereignty with its old German enemy as the best means of preventing future conflicts. Germany, in turn, ceded its own great power within Europe in the interest of reintegration.

The integration of Europe was not to be based on military deterrence or the balance of power. To the contrary, the miracle came from the rejection of military power and of its utility as an instrument of international affairs—at least within the confines of Europe. During the Cold War, few Europeans doubted the need for military power to deter the Soviet Union. But the end of the Cold War, by removing even the external danger of the Soviet Union, allowed Europe's new order, and its new idealism, to blossom fully into a grand plan for world order. Freed from the requirements of any military deterrence, internal or external, Europeans became still more confident that their way of settling international problems now had universal application. Their belief in the importance and relevance of security organizations like NATO diminished by equal measure.

Readers who are well versed in global affairs will read Of Paradise and Power with greater knowledge and understanding that I did. I found it a useful introduction to the issues America faces with its long-time friends in Europe.

Steve Hopkins, May 27, 2003


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the June 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Paradise and Power.htm


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