Many French intellectuals see their country as leading the challenge to US power. Few are as outspoken as Emmanuel Todd, the author of "Après l'Empire," a bestseller prophesying the decline of America.by prospect / June 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
MM: You predicted the fall of the Soviet Union 25 years ago. Now you speak of the fall of the US, which has just won the war in Iraq. How come?
ET: The war against Iraq was a military absurdity. The US won a victory over a country with a barefoot army which had been bled dry. It demonstrated its military omnipotence in Iraq in order to hide its economic weaknesses. True rivalry will no longer be settled using military force. The real counterbalance to the US is found in Europe, Russia, China and Japan. The main battlefield will be the economic sector.
MM: Isn’t that anti-American wishful thinking?
ET: Actually, I like the US a great deal. Until recently, it was the most important factor in maintaining international order. But now it is a factor for instability. The industrial core of the US has been hollowed out. The American trade deficit amounts to $435bn a year. The country needs $1.5bn a day in foreign capital. The US is no longer self-sufficient. Europe, with its strength in exports, is.
MM: But the US is the undisputed global power.
ET: The US was the undisputed victor of the 20th century. Now it has difficulty in recognising its own dependence. Hitherto, the Europeans envied the US its standard of living and technological power. This generated a certain modesty. Nowadays the US leads only in military terms. In most spheres the Europeans have overtaken it.
MM: But Europe has been torn apart politically.
ET: Europe’s strength is based on economic integration, which is independent of political decisions. Whether governments in eastern Europe like it or not, they are economically tied to Europe and Russia. The only things they can get from America are weapons; America cannot export anything else. The US has created dissidents in “new” Europe, but the latter still depend on “old” Europe and Russia. Turkey realised this and has kept its distance from the US.
MM: But Europe isn’t a cash register, as Dominique de Villepin put it.
ET: Europe still doesn’t have a common foreign policy. Until now it has always been in America’s retinue. Now the Germans have reclaimed their foreign policy and one cannot overvalue the strategic and symbolic dimensions of this. In conjunction with France, there is a core of political renewal independent of the US and with mass popular support. Spain, Britain, Italy and the east Europeans represent the “old” Europe, since they have not yet achieved autonomy.
MM: How can the relationship between France and Germany and the British be repaired?
ET: Blair has been trying for years to be included in the German-French process but he discovered during the crisis that the two stick together when the going gets tough. We must appreciate the difficulty that the British have. They have real historical and cultural ties with the US, but at the same time they are Europeans. I hope that the British will find their way back into Europe. The driving force behind this will be the renewed violence and arrogance of the Americans. The British will realise of their own accord that they belong to Europe’s community of values.
MM: What about the war on terror?
ET: The omnipresence of terrorism is a powerful myth, thanks to which the US has assumed the right to crusade around the world, whether in the Philippines, in Yemen or in Iraq. The US wants to keep the world on tenterhooks by means of this permanent state of war. But military methods don’t help in the fight against terrorism. Only police and secret service work can help. The terrorist threat could have been minimised in this way since 9/11, but the collective psychosis of the Americans did not allow that.
MM: What about the attacks in Djerba and Bali?
ET: They were horrific massacres, but they weren’t any threat to world politics. These attacks on Islamic soil showed rather the killers’ inability to take terror to the west. There were no attacks in Europe following 9/11. I am a demographer and I’ll stick to the facts. Arab and Islamic terrorism is not a relapse of these regions into barbarism, it is the result of a crisis in the modernisation process. All countries go through radical changes as a result of literacy and birth control. Because all the Islamic states have been weakened, there is no great power among them. The terrorism will disappear of its own accord with the end of the demographic revolution.
MM: And what about weapons of mass destruction?
ET: Hitherto, the most lethal terrorist attack in New York was not carried out using poison gas, but using knives and civilian airliners. Only police and secret service work can counter that. The anthrax attacks, on the other hand, came from inside America itself. The danger now is that terrorism will be given a new impetus by the invasion of Iraq. Likewise, certain countries will only feel safe from US air supremacy if they do now develop such weapons.
MM: What about rogue states that back terror?
ET: The Afghanistan of the Taleban was a product of US and Russian reconstruction. In contrast, Iraq was a bloody dictatorship, but it was not a rogue state that supported terrorists. Iran is also not a rogue state, but is modernising towards a pluralistic system.
MM: Does international law have a future?
ET: The majority in the UN was opposed to war in Iraq. In spite of this, the US went ahead and thus violated international law. The UN’s role has never been so important. In view of America’s destabilising role, one might consider whether the UN security council should move to Europe, perhaps to Switzerland.
MM: Numerous rogue states are members of the UN.
ET: The UN is not a club of democracies but an organisation which tries to solve problems between countries without resorting to war. In recent years there has been enormous progress towards democratisation. This has not been imposed from outside; it is the result of education and the emancipation of women. We cannot start a war against Syria or China in order to introduce democracy in these places.
MM: The US is the only country with democratic universalist ideas which wants to export its values.
ET: The Iraq war was a geopolitical show of strength, not a selfless democratic mission. But the Europeans must demand that the US does now put democracy into practice in Iraq. With the overthrow of Saddam comes the end of American hypocrisy. In this respect, I am a long way from the deep-seated anti-Americanism of many of the French. My grandfather was an Austrian Jew and an American citizen. My mother fled to the US during the second world war. I have a positive attitude towards America. But sadly we can no longer speak of the US as a great democracy. Its electoral system is in crisis. Internal inequality is rising. A rich American is no longer comparable with a rich European. There exists a new plutocracy, which is spoiling the American dream. Since the financial scandals, faith in the free market has been destroyed. The US is projecting its own internal disintegration onto the whole world.
MM: Is America also weakened because it has had to bear the burden of keeping the peace for 50 years?
ET: After 9/11, the threat to the US, to a nation which had until then been considered the guarantor of global security, stirred up great anxiety all around the world. Every country wanted to help. But the Americans didn’t want help. They listened less and less to their allies, and became more and more arrogant.
As far as the balance sheet and financial flows are concerned, the US has long been a drain on the whole world. The Europeans can no longer react to this in a friendly manner; they must counter America with industrial and financial methods.
MM: But won’t the power imbalance in favour of the US continue to grow regardless?
ET: If there is no opposition to American militarism, then?as the Europeans well know from their own wars?it will be encouraged to pursue more adventures. Europe and Russia must create a stable strategic structure to counter it. The Atlantic axis no longer functions.
MM: Is Russia a reliable partner?
ET: Russia is no longer dangerous. The Germans obviously see this in a different light to the French, who have fewer problems with the Russians. Russia is weak and is experiencing a similar demographic crisis to that of Germany and France.
MM: Would you like a complete break with the US?
ET: No, I feel a much closer affinity to Anglo-Saxon culture than to Russian culture. But we need a counterbalance to the US. It is not so much a question of a break as a question of autonomy. In order to avoid an antagonistic relationship with the US, it is important that Britain should come back into the European fold. The greater danger is that the US will become more antagonistic and anti-European. The EU and the UN are strong, but Nato is virtually useless. Russia is a more important guarantor of European security.
MM: What can the US do to prevent decline?
ET: For the moment, the US has chosen the military path. It would be better for it to strive for industrial reconstruction, to become productive again. The world believes that thanks to its victory in Iraq, the US has achieved worldwide leadership. In fact, it used military means in response to a non-military problem. I believe this shows it has lost its omnipotence.