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America Votes, but Europe Decides on the Future of Transatlantic Relations

Jan Techau, head of the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Studies at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) wrote an insightful op-ed in July, which is still very relevant. Techau described the European attitude towards the US election campaign:
It is just like when worried parents are wondering what kind of boyfriend their beloved daughter is going to be bringing home this time. It is true that they no longer have any say whatsoever in the choice, but nevertheless they have a very concrete idea of exactly what he should look like.
Although most Europeans believe that US voters will decide the future of transatlantic relations on November 4th, it is actually Europe that will determine the meaning, benevolence and usefulness of transatlantic. We have to make up our minds:
The burden of debt, trade deficit, crisis in the financial markets, the dollar exchange rate and recession force the giant [= the United States, ed.] onto a more pragmatic political course, but America will not be able to change its foreign policy as much as many Europeans would like to see. For this reason the question of who would be a more comfortable president for Europe is neither here nor there. The meaning, benevolence, and usefulness of transatlantic relations are in reality actually decided upon in Europe and not in America. It is the Europeans who will have to give up their reluctance in all things concerning global governance. Without robust and sometimes hard contributions to international stability and conflict resolution the world will become an unsafer place, as America becomes (in relative terms) weaker.
Read Jan Techau's op-ed: America Votes, but Europe Decides on the Future of Transatlantic Relations.

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Don S on :

I went back and read the essay by Jan Techau, and he seems more spot-on now than he did in July. All the people hailing the end of the American hegenomy are anticipating the event too soon, and in any case their analysis of what being a hegenomy is is extremely defective. Memories are short, and knowledge of history even shorter in many of these less than astute op-ed pieces. Assumption One) True hegemons always have everything their own way, and therefore the fact that the US is not having things it's own way this decade means the US is crumbling. The high point of US power is generally acknowledged to be between 1945 and 1960. Do we see the US having everything it's own way during these years? Well, no. In fact three setbacks to the US during these years make anything which happened this decade pale in comparison. I am referring to the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the test of a working atomic bomb by the USSR, also in 1949, and the almost-successful fait accompli conquest of South Korea by North Korea in 1950 followed by a whipping by the Chines Red Army late in 1950. The USSR got the H-bomb and beat the US into space during this period also. Another high point of US hegenomy was the 60's and 70's. Highlights of that period include the Chinese A-Bomb and the US defeat in Vietnam. There was another hegenomy before that, the British hegenomy dating from the end of the 7 Year War in 1763 to about 1890 (or perhaps later by some measures). Surely this was unmarked by massive setbacks? No. The British lost the American Revolution badly, lost the War of 1812, lost repeatedly to the French Revolutionaries, created several anti-Napoleon coalitions and saw ALL of those coalitions lose badly except the last two ones. They lost an entire army in Afghanistan, almost lost the Indian Rebellion of 1857, were less than successful in the Crimean War, etc. Perhaps the banking, stock market, and exchange panic of 2008 mark the end? No, it doesn't it would seem, for two reasons. Bank panics are a regular feature of history. Britain had several fiscal crisises of at least similar magnitude during it's hegenomy - none came close to ending it. The second reason is that a certain picture is beginning to appear. The US has been hurt no worse than others have been, and very possibly - less. Information currently available leads me to believe that US banks may actually be far less exposed to bad debts than European banks are; perhaps half the exposure worldwide. The Gulf states and Russia are in turmoil. China may be sound although it's stock market is down 65%. Where China may be hurt badly is in the upcoming recession which is going to cut consumption and demand a great deal in all of it's major markets. So it's not clear that china will come out better than the US either. Nevertheless the advocates of the 'US decline' POV do have one thing correct; the relative decline and turmoil of the past decade are a clear signal that the US has to change the way it is doing things, to change from being a dumb hegemon to a smart hegemon. Stop doing things which cn be done much better by others, pull back in some areas, invest in it's economy rather than pay for services used by rivals free gratis, but also expand our committments in areas which benefit the world economy.

Don S on :

So, what would a 'smart hegemon' policies be? Make intelligent choices. Don't be too tied to past choices which may have made sense 50 years ago but may not now. Do what needs doing in the interests of the US - don't do things which primarily are in other's interests without substantial concessions offsetting the additional costs to the US of doing these things. Don't continue with missions where others can do the job as well or better. Make choices. Defend Western Europe OR patrol the sealanes of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, not both. I suspect that the relative value of the latter exceeds that of the former. Germany and France can step up to become the major guarantors of the Russian border, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans. They have the technical capability, manpower, economic resources to do so, and have huge political and economic interests in these areas, much as the US has in Canada and Mexico. It makes no more sense for the US to defend Europe than it would make for France to defend Mexico! For that matter, look at the Persian Gulf mission really hard. The US does much of the work patrolling the oil lanes. The Gulf States Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran are major beneficiaries. Where does that oil go? Western Europe and Japan I suspect. What direct benefit to the US, other than general world economic order, stable markets, etc? These are real benefits, but they benefit many, many others more than they do the US; so why does the US provide a fre insurance policy to all these countries? Perhaps they should be shouldering much of the burden and costs themselves? Either that or perhaps they should offer services or payment to the US offsetting the cost of the 'insurance' the US is providing? These are the kinds of questions and choices that a smart hegemon should be asking itself, and where current missions don't make much or any sense, the US ought to give fair notice of intent to vacate - then leave after a long enough interval for other countries to find substitutes. In a few years, not decades.

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