It is time to stop pretending that Americans and Europeans share a common view of the worldby Robert Kagan / August 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power-the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power-American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power or, rather, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and prosperity, the realisation of Kant’s “perpetual peace.” The US, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defence and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might. That is why on major strategic questions today, Americans and Europeans understand one another less and less. And this state of affairs is not transitory-the product of one US election or one catastrophic event. The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep and likely to endure. When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats and fashioning and implementing foreign and defence policies, the US and Europe have parted ways.
America, say many European intellectuals, is dominated by a “culture of death,” the product of a violent society where everyone has a gun and the death penalty reigns. But even those Europeans who do not make this crude link agree there are deep differences in the way the US and Europe conduct foreign policy.
The US, they argue, resorts to force more quickly and is less patient with diplomacy. Americans generally see the world divided between good and evil. When confronting adversaries, Americans favour policies of coercion rather than persuasion, emphasising punitive sanctions over inducements to better behaviour, the stick over the carrot. Americans tend to seek finality in international affairs. They want problems solved, threats eliminated. And, of course, Americans increasingly tend toward unilateralism in international affairs. They are less inclined to act through international institutions such as the UN, less inclined to work with other nations to pursue common goals, more sceptical about international law and more willing to operate outside its strictures.
Europeans insist they approach problems with greater nuance and sophistication. They are more tolerant of failure, more patient. They prefer persuasion to coercion. They are quicker to appeal to international law and…