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No deal

A leading German foreign policy expert says the US should become postmodern

By prospect   September 2004

The new deal proposed by Philip H Gordon (Prospect, July) to help drag transatlantic relations out of their post-Iraq low is too nostalgic. America should be nicer to Europe, he suggests, and then Europe will support America again. But, as David Marquand pointed out in the last issue, the status quo ante will no longer work. How can Europe respect America’s special responsibility for global security when large majorities in Europe believe that the way the US handles foreign policy puts them at greater risk? We do not want to provide legitimacy for international actions of which we disapprove. We do not believe in your enforcement of democracy (at least not through regime change) or in the desire to fashion other countries in your image. Will we help you in Iraq? We will help an America that returns to the rule of international law, and that ranks “soft power” as high as military power.

Many Europeans believe that we have a better idea of security. Your war on terror is like draining the lake to catch the fish. Europe is developing a more flexible security system, which stresses collective responsibility rather than just our own interests. The strength of Europe today is that is has no enemies. And if power means getting what you want, then Europe is pretty powerful. Jeremy Rifkin grasps the new mood in his book The European Dream: “The American dream is far too centred on personal material advancement and too little concerned with the broader human welfare to be relevant in a world of increasing risk, diversity and interdependence. It is an old dream, immersed in a frontier mentality… The European dream emphasises sustainable development over unlimited growth… and global co-operation over the unilateral exercise of power.”

Europe, unlike America, does not aspire to western supremacy – the assumption that there are things we have the right to possess but that we need to keep out of the hands of others. This idea is fertile soil for anti-western attitudes and even for terrorism. The principle of western supremacy seems unlikely to survive the 21st century, but the US is committed to resisting its decline – widening the gulf with Europe in the process.

Let us take a current example: Iran. You suggest a common, Euro-American carrot and stick approach to prevent the country from getting nuclear weapons. But whatever we do, Iran will do everything in its power to get the bomb. It feels threatened and it knows that the bomb is the route to real clout as a global player. Rather than thinking about how to keep them in their place, why not take their interests seriously? Nuclear deterrence worked for us for more than 40 years. Why should it not work in the middle east? Or between India and Pakistan? In any case, we cannot durably prevent proliferation through military force.

The US needs to acknowledge that the EU is a state in the making – it will soon have a foreign minister and its own diplomatic service. And since Nato can no longer carry transatlantic relations as it did in the cold war, the US and the EU should agree on a treaty that focuses on new spheres of interdependence. The task of the EU is to spend more on security and become more effective; the task of the US is to join us in the postmodern world.

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