Saturday, November 20, 2004

Europe, Take Note

From Robert Kagan's "The Crisis of Legitimacy: America and the World":
...The great transatlantic debate over Iraq was rooted in deep disagreement over world order. Yes, Americans and Europeans debated whether Saddam Hussein posed a serious threat and whether war was the right way to deal with it. A solid majority of Americans answered yes to both questions, while even larger majorities of Europeans answered no. Yet these disagreements reflected more than just differing tactical and analytical assessments of the situation in Iraq . As Dominique de Villepin, France 's foreign minister, put it, the struggle was less about Iraq than it was between "two visions of the world." The differences over Iraq were not only about policy. They were also about first principles.

Opinion polls taken before, during, and after the war show two peoples living on separate strategic and ideological planets. Whereas more than 80 percent of Americans believe that war can sometimes achieve justice, less than half of Europeans agree. Americans and Europeans disagree about the role of international law and international institutions and about the nebulous but critical question of what confers legitimacy on international action. These diverging world views predate the Iraq war and the presidency of George W. Bush, although both may have deepened and hardened the transatlantic rift into an enduring feature of the international landscape.

At the beginning of 2003, before the Iraq war, the transatlantic gulf was plainly visible. What was less clear then was how significant it would turn out to be for the world as a whole.

Today, a great philosophical schism has opened within the West, and mutual antagonism threatens to debilitate both sides of the transatlantic community. At a time when new dangers and crises are proliferating rapidly, this schism could have serious consequences. For Europe and the United States to come apart strategically is bad enough. But what if their differences over world order infect the rest of what we have known as the liberal West? Will the West still be the West?

A few years ago, such questions were unthinkable. After the Cold War, the political theorist Francis Fukuyama assumed along with the rest of us that at the end of history the world's liberal democracies would live in relative harmony. Because they share liberal principles, these democracies would "have no grounds on which to contest each other's legitimacy." Conflicts might divide the West from the rest, but not the West itself. That reasonable assumption has now been thrown into doubt, for it is precisely the question of legitimacy that divides Americans and Europeans today -- not the legitimacy of each other's political institutions, perhaps, but the legitimacy of their respective visions of world order. More to the point, for the first time since World War II, a majority of Europeans has come to doubt the legitimacy of U.S. power and of U.S. global leadership....

...To address today's global dangers, Americans will need the legitimacy that Europe can provide, but Europeans may well fail to grant it. In their effort to constrain the superpower, they might lose sight of the mounting dangers in the world, which are far greater than those posed by the United States. Out of nervousness about unipolarity, they might underestimate the dangers of a multipolar system in which nonliberal and nondemocratic powers would come to outweigh Europe. Out of passion for the international legal order, they might forget the other liberal principles that have made postmodern Europe what it is today. Europeans might succeed in debilitating the United States this way. But since they have no intention of supplementing its power with their own, in doing so they would only succeed in weakening the overall power that the liberal democratic world can wield in its defense -- and in defense of liberalism itself.

Right now, many Europeans are betting that the risks posed by the "axis of evil," from terrorism to tyrants, will never be as great as the risk posed by the American leviathan unbound. Perhaps it is in the nature of a postmodern Europe to make such a judgment. But now may be the time for the wisest heads in Europe, including those living in the birthplace of Pascal, to ask themselves what will result if that wager proves wrong.
Europeans should reflect on this simple fact: The enemy of Europe's rival isn't Europe's friend.