Europe and the US: the widening gap, Part II (with update of 3 Feb)

In the previous post I argued, with no pleasure at all, that the United States (not only the United States of George W Bush) and the Europe of the EU, including Britain, were and are steadily drifting apart, socially, politically and culturally, and that the European view of America was no longer founded in almost unreserved admiration, as it once was. 

Today's Guardian carries a long and highly suggestive article ("The empire strikes back") Parag Khannawhich provides strong analytical support for that proposition.  The article is by the American scholar and writer Parag Khanna, Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Global Governance Initiative of the American Strategy Program.  Khanna's labelling of the EU as a new and benign form of empire, expanding by political, social and economic attraction rather than by armed conquest, may be debatable, but what's in a word?  "Empire" will do.

Particularly loud bells are rung by Khanna's passage on the Europeans' view of America:

Europe has its own vision of what world order should look like, which it increasingly pursues whether America likes it or not. The EU is now the most confident economic power in the world, regularly punishing the United States in trade disputes, while its superior commercial and environmental standards have assumed global leadership. Many Europeans view America's way of life as deeply corrupt, built on borrowed money, risky and heartless in its lack of social protections, and ecologically catastrophic. The EU is a far larger humanitarian aid donor than the US, while South America, east Asia and other regions prefer to emulate the "European Dream" than the American variant.

The US and the EU increasingly differ about both the means and ends of power as well. For many Europeans, the US-led war in Iraq validated their view that war is not an instrument of policy but a sign of its failure. The al-Qaida attacks on European soil served to heighten this disdain. It is often said that America and Europe make a strong team because America breaks and Europe fixes, but this cliche has long begun to grate on Europeans, who would rather spread their version of stability before America destabilises countries on its periphery, particularly in the Arab world.

It's almost (but not quite) tempting to wonder whether Mr Khanna had been reading my blog. The whole piece should be made compulsory reading for our quaint, old-fashioned Europhobes and Eurosceptics, with their cramped tunnel vision of the European adventure of which Britain is, happily for us, a part. 

Parag Khanna's Hindu family fled from Lahore to Calcutta, presumably a not uncommon event on the subcontinent, to which Parag has returned, writing vividly of his impressions of the experience in Prospect magazine (Sept. 2005).  He's currently an adviser to Barack Obama, who certainly seems to need insights into Europe's view of the US as the Chair of the European subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee who has never called a meeting of it.  Realistic advice on Europe from Mr Khanna would certainly be in order, judging by the following extracts from Obama's famous article in Foreign Affairs, admittedly chosen highly selectively: 

Throughout the Middle East, we must harness American power to reinvigorate American diplomacy. Tough-minded diplomacy, backed by the whole range of instruments of American power — political, economic, and military — could bring success even when dealing with long-standing adversaries such as Iran and Syria….  To renew American leadership in the world, we must immediately begin working to revitalize our military. A strong military is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace… [As President and commander-in-chief,] I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened…  …[T]oday, NATO's challenge in Afghanistan has exposed, as Senator Lugar has put it, "the growing discrepancy between NATO's expanding missions and its lagging capabilities." To close this gap, I will rally our NATO allies to contribute more troops to collective security operations and to invest more in reconstruction and stabilization capabilities.

No doubt any US presidential candidate has to inject generous helpings of machismo into his (or indeed her) speeches and writings, especially those aimed primarily at American audiences and readers.  Nor is the concept of American leadership, including military leadership, by any means exhausted;  we are all in its debt.  I just have a hunch that Parag Khanna would have expressed these sentiments differently.  (I hope it won't now be revealed that Obama's Foreign Affairs article was drafted by Mr. Khanna.) 

Parag Khanna is a name to look out for.  

Update (3 Feb. 03):  Parag Khanna's Guardian article, discussed above, is even more impressive when read alongside his long essay, published by the New York Times on 27 NYT Magazine cover, 27 Jan 08January as the cover story of the magazine and adapted from his forthcoming book, The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order, to be published in the US in March and in the UK in April.  This represents a survey of global trends and realities in the next decades of the 21st century of breathtaking, Kissingeresque breadth and scope.  Many seemingly disconnected international phenomena, such as the apparent drifting apart of the US and Europe and the significance of the role of the EU in the developing global balance, fall into place as Khanna's analysis unfolds.  The last two of the essay's eight web pages are especially stimulating and suggestive.  The whole thing is probably a little neater than it will prove to be in real life, but the essay is an eye-opener for those of us trying to make sense of the way the world is going, and puts many current issues and problems into a cogent perspective.  That's how it strikes me, anyway;  and if that's how important an eight-page essay appears to be, consider the impact that the book from which it's distilled is likely to make when it comes out in the spring!  Bear in mind, too, that the author is an adviser on international affairs to the man who just might have become the 44th President of the United States in a year from now.  Are others as strongly impressed as I am?

PS If you prefer to read the Khanna essay on a single web page, in smallish print, the full text is available here


1 Response

  1. Michael Hornsby says:

    Parag Khanna's essay in the New York Times does indeed have  a Kissingeresque sweep – or perhaps even Toynbeeesque (a name  Khanna himself invokes at one point). It has to be said that the picture he paints of the EU's present and future world role is extremely flattering. If the Eurocrats in Brussels have got any sense they will be running off hundreds of thousands of copies of the essay as we speak for distribution to every political leader, parliament, newspaper and university on the planet. I would love to think that everything he says about the EU is true, but remain a touch sceptical about such a rose-tinted view. His description of the inexorable rise of China also rather skates over the internal political problems faced by that vast country. China has so far managed to pull off the trick of combining rampant, laissez-faire capitalism with Stalinist central control and one-party political rule, but one wonders how long that balancing act can be sustained. Khanna is perhaps also overly downbeat about his own country's outlook. I suggest that, as a mild corrective, you might like to take a look at an article in the current issue of Prospect  magazine by Michael Lind, a senior fellow at the New American Foundation in Washington DC, which argues that "America still works" and "will remain first among equals for generations to come, even in a multiploar world with several great powers". It is available at:.

    For all that, it is undeniably refreshing to see the EU-US relationship analysed in these more nuanced terms, and to have an admission from the other side of the Atlantic that "the old world", as Donald Rumsfeld used derisively to refer to Europe, may after all have got some things right and still have insights to offer from which the US might profitably learn (a view, one hopes, that  will carry more weight coming from an American commentator than from Prince Andrew!).  One thing that did particularly strike me in the Khanna piece was the diminished, and diminishing role, he sees for the United Nations. He seems to be saying that the UN, however nobly conceived, was an idea before its time, and that for at least this century the peace and progress of the world will depend on something like the old European balance of power, between Britain, France and Germany,  translated to a global stage, with their modern counterparts being the US, the EU and China, the EU leg of this tripod in addition offering (on Khanna's somewhat charitable view) the only working model of supra-national government for the foreseeable future, the old European imperialism now replaced by a "benign empire" of aid and trade links with the developing world. Some historians would no doubt say that Russia was also part of the old European balance of power, but I would contend that, because of its political and economic backwardness, it was always somewhat peripheral, despite its vast size. Khanna, if I understand him right, seems inclined to the view that Russia is of even less consequence now, and will decline in weight and importance even further as time goes on,  becoming a sort of impotent, raw-material-supplying annex of the EU. I'm not sure about that, but it's a thought-provoking suggestion. If Khanna is right, one can only hope that the new tripolar balance of global power will work better than the old European one, which engulfed much of the planet in two devastatingly destructive world wars.

    Brian writes:  Thank you very much for these pertinent and thought-provoking comments, with which I agree passim.  Someone else has commented in a private e-mail that (like you) he thought the article unrealistically complimentary and optimistic about the role of the EU, and insufficiently appreciative of the probable continuing or growing importance of Russia (and in particular of India).  I too think his dismissal of the UN is rather strange:  the UN, after all, is the principal stage on which the dramas of international inter-governmental relations and their conflicts and problems are played out, rather than an independent player in its own right.  Given that the two main recent attempts to address problems by using force without the authority of the Security Council (Kosovo and Iraq), in defiance of the UN Charter and hence of international law, have both ended in humiliating failure, in large part because by-passing the Council has deprived both acts of aggression of broad international support, I would have thought it at least possible that for the next decade or two western governments, even including the US and the UK, might recognise the value of working by and through the Security Council as the sole pathway to legitimacy and international support.  If international agreement is ever reached on the reform of the Security Council by expanding its permanent membership, probably without the veto, to include (e.g.) Brazil, South Africa, India, and others, even perhaps the EU in some form, that will add much weight to its authority and increase the international price of by-passing it.  But that's a very big 'if'.