The first decade of the 21st century could mark a double blow to US power. The Iraq conflict has illustrated the limits of US military power: it can win wars easily enough but it cannot win the peace without broad international co-operation. And if Niall Ferguson is right, US economic power may soon be on the slide too. Ferguson predicts that the dollar’s role as the world’s undisputed reserve currency – the symbol of that economic power – may be in the process of shifting to the euro. One of the shorter-term effects of such a shift would be to increase substantially the cost of borrowing for the US, making expensive invasions even less attractive.
But world money does not mean world power for Europe. Indeed, it is not even clear that Europeans would want the euro to become the global reserve currency. Such a status confers benefits but also responsibilities – such as running large trade and current account deficits without which the world would be starved of liquidity. Could Europe agree on how to discharge such responsibilities? Given recent form, the answer is probably no, and for the welcome reason that Europe remains a confederation of nation states. Ferguson, unlike many others on the right in Britain, understands this and is even prepared to give his cautious blessing to the current EU constitution, which he describes as “Gaullist” in inspiration. He also points out that the constitution’s new voting proposals will increase the power of big states like Britain, which tend to be more jealous of their sovereignty. A vote for the constitution is a vote for a European status quo that suits Britain quite well. A vote against the constitution is a vote to return us to the sidelines we occupied during the John Major era. That might suit President Chirac who, as Derek Coombs points out, continues to gloat over the Anglo-Saxon mess in Iraq, but it would not serve the cause of a stronger global voice for the EU.
A powerful new faction is emerging in British politics (see News & Curiosities) – the eco-plutocrats. They represent fabulous wealth, of old and new varieties, wrapped in a modish environmentalism. The unofficial leader of the faction is Prince Charles, whose pre-Enlightenment worldview is mercilessly dissected by Tristram Hunt inside. How appropriate, then, that James Lovelock, father of Gaia theory and a big influence on Charles’s thinking, should in this same issue remind us that it is not a Tolstoyan feel for the soil that will save the planet, but hard-headed science and technology.