The Transatlantic Divide

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"Power and Weakness" by Robert Kagan, in Policy Review (June–July 2002), 818 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Ste. 601, Washington, D.C. 20006; "Has History Restarted since September 11?" by Francis Fukuyama, at, forthcoming as CIS Occasional Paper 81, Centre for Independent Studies, P.O. Box 92, St. Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Many Europeans are aghast these days at Washington’s apparent penchant for going it alone, whether on global warming, criminal justice, or Iraq. Americans, they charge, have a "cowboy" mentality, none more so than the conservative primitive now in the White House. In truth, however, argues Kagan, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Europeans and Americans have come to look upon power—its efficacy, morality, and desirability—very differently. And the reasons for this gulf in strategic perspectives "are deep . . . and likely to endure."

"Europe is turning away from power," Kagan contends, to reside in "a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a posthistorical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant’s ‘Perpetual Peace.’ The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might."

The different strategic perspectives are not outgrowths of Americans’ and Europeans’ different national characters, he maintains. "When the United States was weak, it practiced the strategies of indirection, the strategies of weakness; now that the United States is powerful, it behaves as powerful nations do. When the European great powers were strong, they believed in strength and martial glory. Now, they see the world through the eyes of weaker powers." (Though European nations ceased to be global powers with World War II, he says, their military weakness was long masked by Europe’s geopolitical importance in the Cold War.) Europe’s new strategic outlook, with its emphasis on diplomacy, commerce, international law, and multilateralism, Kagan notes, also reflects "a conscious rejection of the European past, a rejection of the evils of European machtpolitik."

Having achieved in its postwar integration the "miracle" of getting the German "lion" to lie down with the French "lamb," Europe now wishes to export its "perpetual peace" to the rest of the world, Kagan says. But "America’s power, and its willingness to exercise that power—unilaterally if necessary"—stand in the way. Ironically, he points out, it is American power that has made Europe’s "new Kantian order" possible, and now sustains it.

While Kagan adds that America should show a "‘decent respect for the opinion of mankind,’" Fukuyama, the Johns Hopkins University scholar known for his "end of history" thesis, says that Kagan doesn’t seem to really mean it, in the sense of letting others help to define America’s foreign policy objectives. In Fukuyama’s view, a stronger dose of moderation is needed.

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