The American Dimension: Britain, Germany,
and the Reinforcement of US Hegemony
in Europe in the 1990s
When Henry Luce, the publisher of Time-Life, proclaimed the dawning of the American Century in 1941, he did not only foresee the defeat of Germany and Japan in World War II but also the political and economic predominance of the United States in the post-war period. True, his characterization lost much of its glow and force in the 1970s and 1980s, when the United States witnessed the erosion of its political credibility due to the Vietnam War and its competitive advantage in many economic areas at the expense of Japan and Germany. But with the millennium approaching, it is impossible to deny that the United States has consolidated its global leadership position. Dire prognoses of US decline—some sort of ‘imperial overstretch’1—and a retreat into isolation have been silenced by a rejuvenated economy and vigorous and, at times, aggressive diplomacy.
This development was by no means apparent in 1990–1. Apart from the Gulf War, the United States was a reluctant world power, and the economic recession at home spurred calls for introspection and a domestic agenda. The Bush Administration certainly played a key role in German reunification, but it did not want to become engaged in the Yugoslav crisis or to end the strategic uncertainty following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. The Americans were, in other words, slow to spell out their precise role in a European post-cold war setting. Towards the end of the 1990s the picture was much clearer: the United States had not only reaffirmed its status as an economic superpower but has also reinforced its political and military hegemony in Europe.
It will be argued here that the interplay between the United States, on the one hand, and Britain and Germany, on the other, played a decisive role in shaping developments regarding European integration in the 1990s. In the absence of cold war certainties, the process itself was highly
1 This is the thesis of P. Kennedy’s book The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York, 1987).