Academic journal article Policy Review

"We"

Academic journal article Policy Review

"We"

Article excerpt

THERE IS NO question that the aftermath of September 11, 2001, has laid bare a divergence in view between the United States and Europe over the question of the place of power in international affairs. Insofar as countering terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has become a priority likely to dominate U.S. security policy for a generation or more, and insofar as the United States will likely seek recourse to military measures on occasion in this period, the divergence is likely to persist. Transatlantic relations may go through periods of relative warming in the years ahead, but they seem likely to be punctuated by occasions in which the differences reemerge starkly. We have, in all likelihood, doses of bitterness ahead of us every bit as unpleasant as the bitterness over the Iraq war.

But what I want to do here is take a large step back from all the disagreement and see if it does not, after all, take place within a frame of broader agreement about fundamental issues--more fundamental, even, than the question of the proper role of the use of force internationally, which is itself a mischaracterization of what was at stake in the dispute over Iraq, as we shall see.

To show how this is so, I would like to radicalize the discussion by proffering a thesis so contrarian in the current context that I should probably begin by asking readers' indulgence. It is this: There are no fundamental disagreements or differences between the United States and Europe. Existing differences are often more apparent than real. When real, the differences are in all consequential cases actually agreements to disagree. And in any case, the views of Americans and Europeans have been converging for some time and will continue to do so.

The norm of peace

LET'S BEGIN WITH two questions: Will the United States ever go to war with Germany or France? Will France ever go to war with Germany? At one level, the questions are absurd. Who asks such things? If we turn our attention to a consideration of where in the world war might break out, the last countries one would think would meet in combat would be the United States, France, and Germany. Insofar as war is serious business and should be approached accordingly, consideration of such scenarios as these seems to be at best a waste of time.

It is not. I do not, of course, mean to single out France and Germany. The questions under consideration here are really whether war is possible between European countries, or between the United States and any country or countries in Europe or a European collectivity, the European Union. The question is absurd because the answer is clearly "no." But the implications of a "no" answer are nothing less than profound.

As it happens, there is no point in human history prior to the end of the Second World War at which one could offer the same answer about any such group of countries. We need not belabor the point. What we are talking about is nothing other than the history of violent political conflict and organized warfare since the beginning of time. When tribes or peoples or states have had contact with one another, the results often have been violent, and even during periods of peace, it seems unlikely that the parties allowed themselves the luxury of thinking that another war was impossible--and that if any such forecasts emerged, serious-minded contemporaries regarded them as delusional, as indeed they proved to be when the next war came.

Perhaps in light of history, we should modify our "no" answer in such a fashion as to avoid the radical proposition that war is impossible. One could adopt a "never say never" approach to the question. At the same time, however, we probably want to avoid overcompensating by describing matters in such a fashion as to make a wholly implausible war seem more likely than we all know it to be. One might say this: For the foreseeable future, war in Europe or between the United States and Europe is impossible. …

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