TEL AVIV – The old vocation of what Rudyard Kipling called the “White Man’s Burden” – the driving idea behind the West’s quest for global hegemony from the days of imperial expansion in the nineteenth century to the current, pathetically inconclusive, Libyan intervention – has clearly run out of steam. Politically and economically exhausted, and attentive to electorates clamoring for a shift of priorities to urgent domestic concerns, Europe and America are no longer very capable of imposing their values and interests through costly military interventions in faraway lands.
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was stating the obvious when he recently lambasted NATO’s European members for their lukewarm response to the alliance’s missions, and for their poor military capabilities. (Ten weeks into the fighting in Libya, the Europeans were already running out of munitions.) He warned that if Europe’s attitude to NATO did not change, the Alliance would degenerate into “collective military irrelevance.”
Europe’s reluctance to participate in military endeavors should not come as a revelation. The Old Continent has been immersed since World War II in a “post-historical” discourse that rules out the use of force as a way to resolve conflicts, let alone to bring about regime change. And now it is engaged in a fateful struggle to secure the very existence and viability of the European Union. As a result, Europe is retreating into a narrow regional outlook – and assuming that America will carry the burden of major global issues.
But America itself is reconsidering its priorities. These are trying economic times for the US, largely owing to imperial overstretch financed by Chinese credit. Admiral Mike Mullen, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently defined America’s colossal fiscal deficits as the biggest threat to its national security. Indeed, at a time of painful budget cuts – the US is facing a $52 trillion shortfall on public pensions and health care in the coming decades – the US can no longer be expected to maintain its current level of global military engagement.