Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me, but if I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force I should feel it should be resisted. Neville Chamberlain, 28 September 1938.
THE crux of the present international system is the USA. There is no part of the world in which it is not involved and no issue in which it is not engaged. By reason of its economic and military weight it is the principal player in most. It is the option of first recourse and of last resort. It is not the heir to the British and other modern empires but, by reason of the multiplicity of its interests and engagement and its dependence on the rest of the world for its raw materials, a new phenomenon. One has to go back to antiquity to find a parallel, in the Roman Empire. As the Roman Republic after the defeat of Carthage so, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, US supremacy is unchallenged. As with Rome there is no greater privilege than its citizenship. Its existence is sufficient justification for its actions. As Jeanne Kirkpatrick, former US Ambassador to the UN, is reported to have remarked, the US has no need of a mandate which it does not already possess in its own Constitution. It is hardly surprising that there are parts of the world where people think of the US today rather as Chamberlain eventually thought of Nazi Germany, as a threat at all costs to be resisted. Since they cannot do it themselves the terrorists must do it for them.
A world still coming to terms with the collapse of the Communist Bloc, the end of the Warsaw Pact and the Cold War balance of power, needed time to adjust psychologically. The Cold War had concealed the distance between the US and its principal allies by fostering the idea of partnership and placing a premium on coordinated action adopted by consensus. Each felt it had its indispensable contribution to make. It was axiomatic, at least on this side of the Atlantic, that neither could do without the other. The great anxiety was to avoid a return to the American isolationism of the pre-war period, and much of the 1970s and 1980s were devoted to strengthening the hand of successive US administrations against calls for significant US troop reductions in mainland Europe, e.g. the Mansfield Amendment, and greater efforts towards burden sharing.
Developments since, notably Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, have thrown that process of adjustment into confusion. On the one hand they demonstrated that the Europeans could not act effectively on their own, thus placing a primacy on US leadership, especially where military action was concerned. On the other they showed, in the case of Iraq, that the US would be prepared to dispense with European support if necessary, and that the lack of it did not preclude unilateral military action. Nevertheless, once caught up in the thickets of occupation and a long war of attrition, the US has shown that it is more comfortable with allies than without them. However limited their military contribution, their political support is undeniably useful. If the time needed for Europe and the US to adjust to the changing balance of relationships was hi-jacked by the events mentioned earlier, it has since served to remind both the US and Europe that old assumptions remain as valid today as yesterday.
International security depends as much today as it did from 1945-1988 on close co-operation between the US and its main European allies. If the Balkan experience was the catalyst for European thinking about defence co-operation. Iraq seems to have had the same effect on the US. To be effective, not just as regards the ability to conduct military operations in the relatively short term, but more importantly, to sustain the programme of rebuilding and pacification which inevitably follows, the US and Europe need to co-ordinate their political and military efforts. There will always be divergencies of opinion but there is over half a century of close co-operation on which to build. …