The Euro-Federalist Fantasy: For a Burkean American Approach to Transatlantic Relations

Article excerpt


For the better part of the past 50 years, the policymaking elite in Washington has come to the same timeless conclusion about America's relations with Europe. The mantra has it that every effort at closer European integration is to be welcomed, if tepidly, as it is assumed that a unified Europe would inevitably be more pro-free market, more pro-Atlanticist, and more pro-American. However, in the wake of the transatlantic divide over the Iraq war and the public diplomacy calamity that has followed, such simplistic analysis does not begin to explain the schism at the heart of the post-Cold War relationship. Rather than continuing the pattern of merely reacting to fundamental changes in Europe, voicing platitudes from the sidelines, the United States should proactively approach the transatlantic relationship with fixed Burkean principles in mind, seeing the world as it really is, and not as how it might like it to be. For the continent is both more than its sternest critics allege and less than its cheerleaders might like it to be.

First the Good News

Whatever the global issue -- be it tracking down al-Qaeda, the Doha free trade round, Iran's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, the Arab-Israeli conflict, or Iraq -- the United States simply cannot act effectively without the support of at least some European powers. But neither is the world one in which a concert of powers dominates. Whatever the issue, the U.S. remains first among equals. The structural reality makes America's courting of allies vital, for maddeningly the world we live in is not something out of a political science textbook -- it is neither genuinely unipolar nor multipolar. So if America is chairman of the board, but there are other board members, where is the U.S. to find allies? Both now and well into the future there is really only one place. Europe is the only part of the world where political, diplomatic, military, and economic power can be generated in sufficient strength to support American policies effectively.

The cluster of international powers in Europe -- led by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland -- has no parallel. Given this reality, it is important for American to follow the sage advice offered by a very odd source, the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards. He is reputed to have said to Mick Jagger during one of their periodic spats when Jagger is reported to have threatened quitting, 'It's bigger than the both of us, darling. You'll be back tomorrow.' This is the unsentimental, unromantic geostrategic reality of the dawn of the 21stcentury. We simply need each other too much to let the genuine disagreements emanating from Iraq derail the only hope for global stability in this dangerous age.

Then Reality

But while European countries remain vital, the EU emperor is often wearing no clothes. Despite rhetoric from the Commission in Brussels, the great European powers rarely agree on the majority of the great global issues of the day. The EU's one-size-fits-all approach does not fit the modern political realities on the continent. European countries have politically diverse opinions on all aspects of international life: free trade issues, attitudes toward NATO, relations with the U.S., and how to organize their own economies.

For example, Ireland strongly supports free trade, has a tradition of neutrality, has extensive ties to the U.S. through its history of immigration to the New World and its present as a destination for U.S. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and is an advocate foreconomic liberalization. France, by contrast, is often protectionist, unapologetically statist in organizing its economy, and frequently adversarial in its attitude toward America. Germany falls between the two on issues of free trade and relations with the United States, is more pro-NATO than France but values UN involvement in crises above that of the alliance, and is for some liberalization of its economy in order to retain its corporatist model. …