A Still-Strong Alliance
Charles A. Kupchan, Hoover Institution | May 2012
This essay examines transatlantic relationships over the past two decades and the reasons behind why the Western alliance has been able to survive despite predictions of demise. Particular emphasis is given to what the skeptics got right and what they got wrong, including Robert Kagan's paper entitled "Power and Weakness." Attention is also given to a new challenge confronting the Atlantic Alliance, specifically the crisis of governance, and measures needed to respond to this threat.
Like so many other analysts, Kagan predicted that America's appetite for policies of coercion over persuasion, in stark contrast to Europe's more Kantian stance, favoring the carrot over the stick, will deepen the transatlantic divide. His analysis proved to be impressively accurate a decade ago, especially considering European widespread opposition to the war in Iraq, the EU's slow response to the financial crisis, as well as Barack Obama's inability to keep his promise to shut down Guantánamo and sufficiently commit to curb global warming.
Despite these shortcomings, the Western alliance has been able to defy such predictions of demise. Europe's willingness to use force has been severely underestimated, as attested by the tens of thousands of European troops in Afghanistan and the successfully driven air campaign by Britain and France that toppled Bashar al-Assad's regime in Libya. Similarly, the United States' readiness to resort to force whenever it deems necessary is greatly overestimated; Washington has been responsible for many multilateral practices and creation of several international institutions.
As reassuring as this might sound, the Atlantic alliance is not completely out of the woods. It is encountering perhaps an even greater threat - namely, the crisis of governance that is transpiring on both sides in the form of an extended period of slow economic growth and political polarization. With a re-emergence of nationalism in Europe, the project of European integration is starting to stagger, at a time when the collective will of the European Union is needed to mend transatlantic ties and provide global leadership with its partners. A common voice cannot be found in American politics as well, as partisan polarization and animosity is becoming even more intense resulting in weak policy and political paralysis.
Accordingly, a three pronged agenda is needed to recover economic and political solvency. First, both sides of the Atlantic must engage in strategic economic planning in the face of globalization, with large-scale investments in education, research, infrastructure and jobs. Second, Western leaders must embrace an agenda of progressive populism, so as to ensure that centrist voters regain confidence in democratic institutions and not veer to political extremes. Lastly, as Americans are tired of shouldering most of the burden of two lengthy wars in the midst of economic turmoil and Europeans seek to retreat from EU integration, Western governments must aspire to take all reasonable measures to prevent their publics from turning inward.
Read the full paper here.
Charles A. Kupchan is a professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University and Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Written by Ramin Daniel Rezai