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National Observer Home > No. 63 - Summer 2005 > Articles

United States Foreign Policy: Does Europe Matter?

Max Teichmann

For many years the Americans have been receiving a continuous stream of unsolicited advice from friends and enemies as to what kind of foreign and military policies and dispositions they should be conducting, and making; what kind of political system they should have; and how they could improve their society.

This has come from nations almost wilfully dependent upon the United States, economically, militarily and culturally since the United States found herself a world power around about 1917. Usually, the Americans have taken these often rancorous, frequently self-serving, and invariably ungrateful diatribes from their critics with considerable aplomb. That includes the permanent ingratitude — which comes free.

But the massive disloyalties and inspired treacheries of some of their oldest friends/mendicants, since September 11, have finally mobilised many Americans to ask how important is Europe to America; how valuable are institutions like N.A.T.O. and the United Nations . . . should not America be concentrating upon Asia and the Pacific and upon Latin America . . . with Europe, Russia and Africa constituting second order commitments which should not in the future be allowed to deflect the United States from the pursuit of its core interests?

Now debates with this kind of structure have always been an important part of American political life, based upon the premise that all the participants in these discussions and arguments shared a common picture of their country, and basically disagreed, when they did disagree, upon the best means to advance goals and values which virtually everyone shared. There was substantial bipartisanship.

The emergence of Soviet Russia, of Communism and the Cold War debates, frequently tested that consensus, but it held. It took the Vietnam War to destroy it and to create, so to speak, two Americas, with different ideas as to which type of nation the United States should be and how she should deal with other countries in the world.

This rupture has produced many swings and inconsistencies in America's international dealings, as it has in the cases of other states with similar divisions and preoccupations. For example, Australia.

It is not intended to discuss here generally this great cultural debate, but it has divided and shaken the West almost to its foundations, while greatly encouraging its enemies. It is sufficient to note that the events of September 11 and the rise of international terrorism linked as it has been with Islamic fundamentalism and also revanchism, have made the Western family Kulturkampf, raging from the 1960s, seem strangely passé, even irrelevant to the needs and dangers of a New Age. Countries, not only Western countries, are starting to change their focus. America led the way — and the latest George W. Bush electoral victory revealed a seachange occurring in American political consciousness. A new bipartisanship may be very close — at least for Americans.

Europe or Asia; Atlantic or Pacific?

One perennial debate which has engaged America's political class is whether "Europe" or "Asia" is more important to the overall advancement of America's political and economic power and wellbeing. The people facing the Atlantic — and beyond that, Europe — have always tended to focus on the Old World. It was the source of America's original culture and its political, social and legal ideas; and, until recently, of most migrants. It was the source of much-needed investment until World War One, and a major site for U.S. investment and trade after World War One. The most significant wars occurred there, and the principle threats to world order — viz. Prussianism, Nazism, Fascism, Communism — came out of Europe. A shared language guaranteed close ties with Britain, ties which continue to survive.

So there seemed every reason why Americans would think of Britain and Europe as their natural partners. Yet those living in the western part of the United States, facing the Pacific, and the countries of Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, have seen world politics rather differently.

The Pacific War heightened this new concentration upon Asia, while the emergence of Communist China and evidence of widespread support for Communism among some other Asians, added a new — and as it transpired — permanent theme to the repertoire of policy challenges. Three other processes have occurred to dilute the overwhelmingly Eurocentric preoccupations of Americans. The economies of Asia led by Japan, Korea, China and increasingly India, took off until they have become, or soon will become, major financial, commercial, industrial and scientific actors in the world economy. And, at the same time, they provide great new areas for American trade and investment, as well as being fierce economic competitors. Furthermore, China, at least, is turning into a major military power. Will Japan be far behind?

The second change occurring over these past few decades has been the burgeoning of industry, commerce, the new technologies and population in the West and South of the United States, with California and Texas standing out. So, the composition of the popular vote and its reflection in the texture of Congress has changed, dramatically. The West, from where the Asia lobby gains its grassroots support, can now match the East.

The third change in the political map in the United States comes from Latin America. Many millions of migrants were settled in the Western and Southern states with a quite attenuated interest in European politicking, but determined that the United States should take greater interest in the affairs of their former countries. In reality, the United States cannot be accused of being uninterested in Latin America: for it has been accused of gross exploitation, of procuring regime changes, of siding with dictators rather than democrats . . . and much beside.

So inactivity or disinterest could hardly do justice to United States relations with Latinos.

But we have here an important, growing and permanent network of relationships which concern many Americans far more than questions about what the Europeans, or even the Russians, might be doing now.

For many decades, the European problem for America was really the Russian problem. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western Europe has been living on borrowed time. So, Western European behaviour during recent Middle East troubles has been quietly producing that same distaste for Europe and its repetitive parochialism that led to the return of Isolationism in the United States.

The European Union

Advocates of a policy of close alignment with Western Europe — of a return to the close bonding supposedly existing before the Wall fell — have a large credibility gap to fill. Europe is not a united entity for the reason that there is no single generally supported foreign policy; nor is there universal agreement on military matters, including how or where or whether European troops should be employed in sensitive areas of Europe or beyond Europe.

There is little that can be presented as the voice of Europe.

As Paul Johnson asked in a recent Spectator essay (13 November 2004):

"What weight does Europe (excluding Britain) carry in the world today? Less and less. I suspect that by the end of Bush's second term the pattern of the future will be emerging, a triumvirate of three great power groups: India, China and the English-speaking world. Demographic projections are notoriously unreliable, but we have to go by the available evidence, and that points strongly in the direction of an Anglo-Indian-Chinese world, with Europe marginalised. By 2050 India will have 1,628 million people, China will have 1,393 million and America, with by far the largest of the ‘advanced’ peoples, will have 422 million, a 45 per cent increase on the 2003 figure.

By contrast the projections for Europe tell a dismal tale. I remember telling an international conference on European culture, held in Vienna 40 years ago, that Continentals should stop boasting and should raise their birthrates. I used colourful language to stress the point and provoked fury. Alas, nearly a generation later my warnings are proving only too accurate. Germany, population nearly 83 million in 2003, will have only 67.7 million by 2050. Italy will drop 9 per cent to only 52.3 million. France will increase slightly but only thanks to an extra 5 million Muslims. Spain will be stationary, again thanks to Muslims, otherwise falling steeply. Poland and Greece will drop 12 per cent each, Portugal and the Czech Republic will each shrink by 10 per cent, Hungary by an alarming 25 per cent, Russia by 18 per cent, with the prospect of dwindling below the 100 million mark well before the end of the century. Even if the European Union expands to include Russia, the United States is on course to overtake it in population, let alone G.N.P.

Not so long ago, at a vainglorious meeting in Lisbon, European Union bosses boasted that by 2010 they would be running a ‘world-beating’ economy well ahead of the United States. The panel of experts set up then has now produced its report, and grim reading it makes. It notes that falling population will extinguish the already feeble economic dynamism in Europe completely. The magic date 2010 is just a milestone on this road to the cemetery. By 2050 the ratio of pensioners to active workers will more than double, jumping from 24 to 50 per cent. An extra 8 per cent of G.D.P. will be required just to keep healthcare and pension costs at current levels. The report states that ‘the growth-gap with America and Asia has widened and time is running out’. Productivity growth, probably the most important economic indicator of all, is much lower than America's and falling; and growth itself is predicted to fall almost automatically as population shrinks and dependency increases. Europe is falling behind in advanced sectors. The report notes that 74 per cent of the 300 leading information firms are now American, one reason why America wins so many Nobel prizes and continental Europe so few."

The European Union has now agreed upon a rapid response force: a proposal periodically aired for many years, but now assented to. But it is essentially an attempt to check the rising dominance in world affairs of the United States after George W. Bush's decisive election victory.

The United States and their allies are unlikely to be impressed in the light of previous experiences. In passing, the point of a new European military force is probably economic: a pretext to engage in more arms production and research so as to sell more arms to other countries — a mischievous trade in which Europeans have been engaged for many years selling to literally anyone without the slightest sign of regret.

The question, as always, is, would these European forces actually fight and under what conditions? Over the past years most Europeans have virtually refused to fight anywhere, except under highly favourable conditions, for example, against weak, poorly armed opponents in Africa.

The N.A.T.O. performance in Yugoslavia has been a long-running, albeit concealed, disaster — like a boa constrictor trying to swallow an ox having mistaken it for a collie dog. The United Nations continues to try to save face by conducting long, tortuous war crimes trials, which certainly do not conceal the extent of the failure of the United Nations in Yugoslavia and, currently, Kosovo.

The reality is that most Europeans have been disinclined to engage in prolonged, destructive warfare for any reason, no matter who the opponent may be . . . for many years. This continent's wide aversion goes back as far as the aftermath of World War I. Despite the continuing charade of ministers of war and foreign affairs, of large conscript armies, in the period between the wars, few countries were prepared to unite with others in a meaningful way, and when their time came, few stood up to the Nazis and Fascists. Only the Poles and Russians showed any willingness — the Czechs having earlier been betrayed by the West. Russia only stood up after she was attacked.

All the talk about European resistance to fascist occupation was just that — talk — with the shining exceptions of the Poles, the Serbs and the Russians. And the Nazis had given the Slavs no reason to co-operate, but every reason to resist; for theirs were to be fates worse than death.

But these important exceptions beside, Europeans said ohne mich, and waited to be rescued —as they were. They have been showing their gratitude ever since.

Most European states and their people have continued this "count me out if it costs me blood" since 1945 — through the Cold War and since its end. N.A.T.O. Cold War strategists believed that the British and the West Germans could be the only ones to be relied upon to fight on the ground. This N.A.T.O. ground force was to provide a trip wire to slow up the far stronger Communist armies, so as to provide time for negotiation. The other alternatives were surrender or full nuclear war. And, as noted here, the only ones N.A.T.O. could be sure would fully engage were the West Germans and the British.

As things turned out, the Russians did not come, and the Americans eventually broke Communism's back. There are many in the West who have never forgiven them for killing Santa Claus, and this is one of the secret springs that nourishes ongoing anti-Americanism.

The fact is, Europe was divided — continent wide and within individual nations — before the wars, during the wars and after World War II. Indeed, these divisions persisted right through the Cold War. These divisions continue and have wrecked the United Nations’ attempts to keep the peace in any major dispute where the powers did not agree. They do not agree now.

The peace has been kept, insofar as it has been kept, by the United States as it was earlier by Britain and much earlier, Imperial Rome. This is not a peace where freedom, justice and equality necessarily shine: but they shine even less in chaos or in the crude balance of power games which some contemporary international actors have been trying to play now.

One can understand why European governments should want the Americans to remain to protect them, for their own people will not. But really, there is no need. There are no threats, unless it be the relentless takeover of Europe by people from Africa, the Middle East and beyond, or a collapse in Russia or Ukraine.

These are situations brought about by the various Europeans themselves; the latest and possibly final chapter in the European saga of ohne mich.

The Americans cannot help them from here, and can only leave the Europeans to enjoy the fruits of their folly. (Schröder is now calling upon German Muslims to integrate and to start learning the German language and tune in to German culture — whatever that may be, as of now. This is a very late call indeed, and we in Australia should be learning from Europe's mistakes.)

So the major threats and opportunities for the United States, and needless to say Australia, will be found in the Indo-Pacific region. The challenges facing us two are quite daunting. The maintenance of stability and continuity of policies are very difficult tasks for many Asian-Pacific nations, so volatility sometimes seems to be unavoidable. It would be absurd to expect the kind of close bonding and permanent or long-running alliances which we have enjoyed with the Anglo-Saxons.

Moreover, most Asian states appear no more willing to fight or combine to fight in defence of their own or any regional interests than are our jaded Europeans. The situation is potentially more serious for us than it is in Europe, for we will have to provide all the muscle. So it is in our interests that the United States devote its attention and resources to Asia and the Pacific.

National Observer No. 63 - Summer 2005