Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The talons make the hawk

Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, Robert Kagan, Alfred A. Knopf: 104 pp., $18

February 23, 2003|Warren I. Cohen | Warren I. Cohen is Distinguished University Professor of history at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Robert Kagan, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and monthly columnist for the Washington Post, is one of America's finest commentators on issues of foreign policy. He writes elegantly, has an excellent command of history and consistently demonstrates superior intelligence and insight. He ranks with Ronald Steel, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Fareed Zakaria and his sometime collaborator, William Kristol, among analysts whose work must be read. And the appearance of this book could not have been more timely, as "old Europe" and the United States diverge over the necessity for war with Iraq.

Last summer Kagan published an essay, "Power and Weakness," in the journal Policy Review that startled foreign policy elites in Europe and the United States. He argued that Americans and Europeans no longer shared a common view of the world, particularly about the use of power in world affairs -- that Europeans imagined themselves entering a Kantian paradise of perpetual peace while Americans still perceived international relations in anarchic Hobbesian terms. For Europeans, military power was no longer relevant. To Americans, it was still a jungle out there, filled with villains who responded only to force. The line most often quoted from the essay was "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus." This book is an expansion of that essay.

Although Kagan continues to argue that the U.S. can manage its imperial responsibilities no matter what Europeans choose to think or do, the difference in titles between the essay and the book hints at a slight modification of tone. Kagan softens the essay's emphasis on European weakness ever so slightly by suggesting that the state the Europeans find themselves in is a paradise, a "blessed miracle," to be celebrated, "cherished and guarded." It is, he reminds us, a miracle made possible by the use of American power to protect Europe during the Cold War and against the threat of rogue states since. But Americans are not resentful that Europeans have entered paradise without them. They are proud of their power and the role their country has played. He insists that a Europe at peace is a tremendous strategic asset to the United States, presumably one less part of the world to police.

His principal explanation for the difference between American and European attitudes toward power is relative strength. The United States acts as militarily powerful nations do, unwilling to be constrained by rules and conventions created for the protection of the weak. In the early years of the republic, when it confronted superior European powers, it insisted, usually with minimal success, that they abide by international law. Today, Europe, lacking in military power, seeks a world in which the actions of all nations, weak as well as strong, will be governed by law or international institutions. Power has shifted across the Atlantic -- and so has the unwillingness to be restrained in its exercise.

Kagan also points to historical experience to explain the current European discomfort with military power. The peoples of Europe suffered terrible losses in two world wars. After World War II, they lost their empires. During the Cold War, they were content to rely on American military power for their security. As their great-power status slipped away, Kagan sees them changing ideologically, rejecting geopolitics, unwilling to contemplate a chaotic world in which the strong prey upon the weak. They prefer a scenario in which resorting to force is never necessary.

Like most American foreign affairs analysts, Kagan is quite comfortable with his country's preeminence. He firmly believes that the United States does more good than harm in its actions abroad, that the world is a better place with the United States as the dominant power, a benign hegemonist. He is less troubled than some by American unilateralism, insisting that the United States must refuse to abide by international conventions that prevent it from acting effectively. Aware that the Bush administration is criticized for its Lone Ranger tactics, its disregard for the sensibilities of its allies, he blurs its differences with its predecessor. He points to the Clinton administration's rhetorical shift from the "assertive multilateralism" of its first term to the concept of the United States as the "indispensable nation" of which Madeleine Albright spoke as secretary of state. There is no denying that many Americans learned during the Bosnian crisis that Europe lacked the will to use force to stop evil. Enter Uncle Sam, the reluctant sheriff.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|