The United States and Western Europe since 1945: From "Empire" by Invitation to Transatlantic Drift

By Geir Lundestad | Go to book overview

9 America's New Strong Role in Europe, 1993-2001

With the end of the Cold War, the position of the United States was considerably enhanced: militarily, since the Soviet Union had now disappeared, no one could threaten America's vast; economically, in the 1990s the rapid growth of the United States was to coincide with Japan's ever growing problems; ideologically, America's market system and democracy reigned supreme. On the more negative side, the resulting celebration of the United States bred arrogance at home and opposition abroad. In fact, the strongest restraint on US power appeared to be the reluctance of the American people to remain truly involved in the affairs of the outside world. In some ways America's position at the end of the Cold War could be compared with that in 1945, but while relatively stronger militarily, the economic basis was not as sound now with the big deficits in the federal budget and, even more serious, in the balance of payments. For good and ill, increased globalization also made even the United States more interdependent with the rest of the world now than in the first decades after 1945.

Many expected the role of the United States in Europe to shrink now that the Soviet-Communist threat had gone. Western Europe presumably did not need the US in the same way it had during the Cold War; now a strengthened EU could manage much more on its own. Indeed, in some ways the American role did decline; thus, the number of US troops in Europe was drawn down even further under Clinton than had already been done under Bush, and there was much talk in Washington about Asia and the Pacific replacing Europe and the Atlantic as the focus of America's interests.

Yet, the big surprise was how little the American role in Europe changed. The unification of Germany and Western Europe's participation in the Gulf War under US leadership had set the pattern under Bush. Now, under Clinton, America's lead was to be most clearly seen in the wars in ex-Yugoslavia and in the process of NATO expansion. NATO did not collapse when its raison d'être, the Soviet Union, the enemy against which it had been directed, disappeared and the Warsaw Pact was dissolved. On the contrary, NATO took in new members from among the former Pact members and some of the disputes

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