Europe today presents a contradictory picture. It is a land of peace, democracy, and the rule of law. It is also a land of prosperity: its economy is competitive, its currency strong, inflation is low, and its standards of living are among the highest in the world. Europeans benefit from very high levels of social protection, inexpensive, high-quality education, strict environmental standards, and excellent infrastructure. In addition, Europe has unmatched cultural diversity and great natural beauty. It all sounds like a utopian dream.
With its 500 million people and the world’s largest single market, Europe, even if not seen by the world as a real union, is still an economic giant. But politically it is a dwarf – and shrinking. Ours is a century of large states, and the further rise of China, India, the United States, and Japan will soon make the largest European powers look puny. Even today the three largest EU members barely manage to offset Europe’s loss of political weight, much less to stem the tide. Without a strong EU, this development will only intensify.
The world outside Europe is changing rapidly, and it won’t wait for Europeans mired in an agonizing process of self-discovery. The alternatives are clear: keep up or be left behind.
In America, despite the current obsession with Iraq, a strategic view is taking hold that defines the twenty-first century mainly in terms of the triad of China, India, and the US. Japan’s role as an American ally is viewed as a given. The relationship with Russia is placed somewhere between partnership and renewed rivalry, but Russia is not really seen as a strategic challenge. And, in strategic terms, the rest is silence – which applies also to Europe.