Thursday, November 27, 2014

The 60-Year Itch?

JERUSALEM – “Europe is boring: thank God, for you and for us,” my interlocutor told me. “Today, drama is in the Middle East, growth is in Asia, hope is in Africa, and proximity to the United States is in Latin America. Europe is nowhere – it has become the lost continent.”

There is, of course, a little provocation and a lot of irony in these remarks. A few years ago, their speaker occupied important positions within US diplomacy; he is now a key figure of the New York establishment. And his provocation highlights a sad reality that Europeans must accept and confront: Europe no longer interests America.

Yes, the European Union’s enlargement since 2004 was preceded by NATO’s eastward expansion. But that has not made a real difference; at the end of the day, America is also losing interest in NATO, which turned in a not-fully-convincing performance in Libya and a downright poor one in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, I gave a talk in Washington, DC, entitled “Hollande’s France: A Year After.” The audience members’ average age was significantly higher than mine (and I am 66). The complexities of French politics do not interest young Americans – and why should they? Would I have had a younger and larger audience if my talk had been called “Merkel’s Germany on the Eve of the Upcoming Election”?

Whereas young Europeans look for jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities in America, young Americans go to Europe as tourists. For them, Europe is a continent undergoing museumification – a place to "do," not a place to be.

This disinterest in Europe is not recent, but it has deepened over recent years. Since the end of the Cold War, Europe has no longer been the first line of defense of the United States. And, since the end of the Balkan wars, the continent’s security problems have disappeared (except at the margins, as in Georgia, or potential threats stemming from its near-abroad, particularly the Arab world).

Many American scholars who were once interested in Europe’s social model have moved on to other research interests or retired, with no new generation to replace them. Learning European languages is no longer popular in American schools, with the possible exception of Spanish. To some extent, Mandarin has become the new French, but with a major difference: The language of Molière was a cultural tool, not (or not entirely) an instrument of economic success.

Of course, it would be wrong to overemphasize disenchantment and push self-flagellation too far. Europe still exists in the US, though probably more among the Washington administrative and political elite than within the world of New York finance and business, despite the fundamental importance of transatlantic trade for both economies.

But is the US interested in Europe or only in parts of it? In Washington – as in Beijing, for that matter – the temptation to approach Europe in a bilateral manner is strong and growing. President Barack Obama’s America, rendered prudent by the costs of the country’s military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, is only too happy to count on the interventionist traditions of Great Britain and France. From Libya to Mali, France and Britain are largely seen as the extended arm of an America that is increasingly reticent to commit its own troops – or even weapons. Similarly, for the US government, as for China’s leaders, Germany has become Europe’s key economic actor.

Of course, faced with the Chinese economic challenge, America would be happy to forge a united front – especially in matters of trade – with the continent that is still the world’s leading commercial power. But Europe’s interest in successfully concluding a proposed EU-US free-trade agreement may be even stronger. Without America by its side, Europe would be more vulnerable in the face of a rising China than America would be without the EU.

So America needs Europe, but now at the margins. Europe, given its current divisions and the growing gap between its northern and southern economies, still needs America. In security terms, Europe would be quite lonely without the US, whatever the nature of the threat.

Of course, the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations of the global reach and the extent of America’s Internet and telephone surveillance are, to say the least, unpleasant. But America’s questionable means of satisfying its legitimate security concerns are certainly less damaging for Europe in the long run than is Chinese industrial espionage. America is taking risks with the rule of law, but China has a long way to go before it becomes a country ruled by law.

In the immediate aftermath of Snowden’s revelations, the French satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné ran a headline that said: “For once, Obama is interested in what we are saying.” Europeans should be pleased – and relieved – that they are no longer America’s first line of defense. But if they want the US to listen to them, they need to have something to say, and they need to say it together.

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    1. Portrait of Christopher T. Mahoney

      CommentedChristopher T. Mahoney

      The Continent has been engaged for two centuries in the pursuit of something big, something glorious: Napoleon, Napoleon II, Wilhelm II, Hitler, Stalin, De Gaulle. Glory and happiness are antithetical. Look at the Dutch and the Swiss: they just want to live well, not to make history. They don't have a need to be important, and certainly not to Americans. They just want to be left alone. Who started this internationalism? The French! Louis XIV, Napoleon, Louis Napoleon. It is entirely sterile in terms of human happiness. We must learn to tend our own gardens, and to liquidate our enemies using remote-control devices.

    2. CommentedPatrick Lietz

      I assume that many Europeans would like the TTIP to flounder, as the negative implications outweigh the positive ones by a considerable margin. US corporations may see some tangible benefits, but there are very few for European businesses if one goes a bit below the surface of "growth" and "free trade" rhetoric.

      In addition, why should there be a deal, if the NSA engages in industrial espionage of incredible proportions on behalf of the US? There is also the aspect that the TTIP would allow US farmers to sell genetically modified foodstuff in Europe, something no European wants.

      There may be some incentives for European car manufacturers and other large corporations. Everybody else has very little to gain and much more to lose.

      It may be safe to assume that Europe has more to gain in creating closer trade ties with Russia and other partners located in Eurasia, while the US may investigate the advantages of its pivot towards Asia.

    3. CommentedSoren Dayton

      There is a real risk that TTIP is being driven by the European political class, not the business community or anyone else. We still don't know how interested the Obama administration actually is in a deal.

      If people want the transatlantic relationship to work, they are going to have to start to fight for it, starting with business.

    4. CommentedJose araujo

      I'm Portuguese, European and former greatest power in the world. We actually split the world in two with the Spanish. Today I don't wan't to be a super power like the US, I wan't to be like Luxembourg, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Canada; New Zeland, etc etc Small but prosper, Wealthy but equal, etc etc.

      Not everyone in school wan't to be the bully everyone is afraid. We wan't to go one with our lives, and in case they Bully us we just have to stick together to stop them. That how I see the future of Europe.

      Let China, India, Russia and the US fight for world domination and the title of bully

        Portrait of Christopher T. Mahoney

        CommentedChristopher T. Mahoney

        You are so right. But right now, Portugal is a colony of Germany. You must break free and go back to the Portugal pre-EMU. The only thing wrong with the escudo was that you junked it.

    5. Commentedhari naidu

      If NSA spying of EU offices in Washington, NY, Brussels is, in fact, true, I suspect talks on FTA will be brought to a stand-still by EP and Commission and Council.

    6. Commentedhari naidu

      Having followed your writings over the decades, I've a feeling you're feeling a bit old (disclosure: I'm a decade or more older!) and disenchanted with current developments.

      Last time Schauble (Min of Fin, Germany) spoke to CFR (NY), he said the French only consider their Revolution as the most important factor in history.

      I'm both a Bay Area and European post-graduate and would take issue with your disclaimer of EUs importance in global politics today.

      Mainland China and India still consider EU and Euro as the saviour of globalization principally because trade and development is going to end up with FTA with both emerging markets...and more.

      In terms of realpolitik - which is your labour of love - let's say we don't yet know whether US will become a second-rate power and/or irrelevant in global politics. US Congress may just make US irrelevant - going forward.

      Then what?

      Imagine once we get our Euro crisis - actually it's crisis of national sovereign governance - and Hollande has the political sense to finally come to grips with inevitable French domestic demands of economic adjustment and reform, the EU as a whole will be a long term winner in globalization and peace making.

    7. CommentedMK Anon

      " But Europe’s interest in successfully concluding a proposed EU-US free-trade agreement may be even stronger."
      I disagree with that.. Europe doesn't want it more than the US and the free trade zone - i.e the same production/subsidies/.. rules on both sides of the atlantic will not happen. That would be the very end of what's left to the EU anti-democratic institution legitimacy.

    8. CommentedCarol Maczinsky

      "But Europe’s interest in successfully concluding a proposed EU-US free-trade agreement may be even stronger."

      No, it isn't, it is pushed by the US. The pivot to Asia is a stupid move of the US because it drives them into tensions they don't understand. Libya was no NATO mission but an ad hoc alliance they then put under NATO umbrella.

      Europe didn"t change too much but the US empire is in decline.

    9. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      The most important line from the article:
      "...But if they want the US to listen to them, they need to have something to say, and they need to say it together..."
      Yes, "together"!
      This is the relevance of Europe.
      In Europe started the experiment, the adventure that is threatening to fall apart at present, but which experiment could give the foundation for the whole world to escape the global crisis and to start building a new human system and a sustainable future.
      Humanity has evolved into a global, integral, totally interconnected and interdependent network.
      Based on the laws and principles governing integral system the only way this "single human organism" can succeed, prosper is mutually complementing each other, mutually cooperating working for the benefit of the whole.
      And not following some outdated "ism", or based on moral grounds, but simply because remaining isolated, continuing to compete, fight against each other we will consume each other and the whole system like cancer.
      And the adventure Europeans started with the Union decades ago could pave the pay, showing a positive, working, practical example how it could be done.
      But for that leaders and the public alike need to understand that the only way of doing it, the only way of solving the "unsolvable" Eurozone crisis is full integration as only on secure foundations can any building be built.