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Power And Weakness By Robert Kagan

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Autor:  anton  30 November 2010
Tags:  Weakness,  Robert
Words: 1319   |   Pages: 6
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Study of the essay “Power and Weakness” by Robert Kagan

Robert Kagan, American neoconservative scholar and political commentator created an international sensation in 2002 with his essay "Power and Weakness," that he later expanded into a bestselling book entitled Of Paradise and Power. His essay announced that "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.”

Here is a summary of his essay and the different steps of his analysis of the deteriorating US-Europe relationship

According to Kagan, a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Europe has begun. Indeed Europe is hiding from power beyond laws and rules, whereas United States is using power because laws are not reliable enough. This results in a difference in the way to lead Foreign policy. The United States are less patient with diplomacy; they want to solve problems quickly. This leads to unilateralism in international affairs.

Europeans are more tolerant, preferring negotiation, diplomacy. They use economic ties to unite nations together.

What is the source of these differing strategic perspectives?

For Europeans the peaceful strategic culture is pretty new. The power has shifted

200 years ago when the United States were weak, and practiced the strategies of indirection, now that the United States are powerful, they behave as powerful nations do and European countries see the world through the eyes of weaker powers.

1. Power gap: perception and reality

Europe has been militarily weak since World War II, but it remained unnoticed because of the unique geopolitical context of the Cold War: it was the strategic pivot between the United States and the Soviet Union. With the “new Europe”, in 1990s, everybody agreed that Europe will restore its power. However, the Balkan conflict revealed the European military incapability. The United States carried out the decisive phases of a military mission and led to a stable situation. This isn’t a surprise when we know that average European defense budgets fell below 2 percent of GDP.

Meanwhile, the collapse of the Soviet Union has increased America’s relative strength to the rest of the world. It made the US more willing to use force abroad whereas Europeans become more and more unwilling to use force.

2. The psychology of power and weakness

“Today’s transatlantic problem is a power problem”: the United States are more willing to use power thanks to their strength, and the European Union is unwilling to, because of its weakness. Europe doesn’t believe in a world where “Man is a wolf to man” (Hobbes), because every country should be equally protected by international lows. And this is common sense because in an anarchic world, small powers always fear they will be victims. This results in the today’s transatlantic disagreement concerning the problem of unilateralism. The Europeans fear American unilateralism because it would carry on a Hobbesian world in which they may become more and more exposed. That’s the reason for the current principal objective of Europe as the “multilateralising” of the United States.

The United States and the European Union still have the same ideals : “more orderly worfd system based not on power but on rules”. However, they don’t give to power the same role in international affairs. Moreover they disagree on what constitutes a tolerable or an intolerable threat. Europe is more tolerant to threats because of its relative military weakness. Concerning Saddam Hussein, Europeans concluded that the thread was more tolerable for them that the risk of removing him.

Europe has been enjoying American security guarantee, and neither Iraq nor Iran nor North Korea are European primarily problems, but American. Indeed the United States is the most powerful; hence it is the primary target.

3. The origins of modern European foreign policy

The European Union developed a different perception of power in international relations, due to its historical experience since the end of World War II: now they entered the “postmodern” era and emphasis on diplomacy, economic ties and reject the harms of European past: the hegemonic ambitions of individual states resulting in an awful century of European warfare. The European integration was intended to control these “hegemonic ambitions”. Fisher thinks that Europe moved toward a new system preserving peace in international relations. Americans judge it too idealistic. Diplomacy and commercial ties were the tools of the Franco-German rapprochement and made the European integration possible. Today Europe believes that it has a role to play in world “governance”, a role based on replication the European experience on a global scale. In the mean time, the American will to exercise its power represents a threat to Europe’s new mission.

Concerning the overseas military missions, Europeans are engaged so long as the missions are limited to peacekeeping. Moreover, they don’t look to be really concerned about issues outside of Europe.

4. The US response

Americans shouldn’t forget that it is already a miracle that Europe became a continent free from military competitions and bloodbath. And the United States contributed to that integration by the presence of American forces that provided the security against any resurgence of German militarism after World War II. In these terms it’s a paradox that Europe rejects American power, whereas it was one of the fundamental component of its integration. This duality can be solved by the use of “double standards” according to Robert Cooper. Among themselves, Europeans may “operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security” but concerning the rest of the world “we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era”. The United States is already operating according to Cooper’s double standards.

5. An acceptable division?

The situation of carry on the burden of maintaining global security almost alone, is tolerable for the United States thanks to the amount of the defense budget which is almost 500$ billion per year. And after September 11, the United States seems even more willing to continue that mission. They don’t have any regret at not being able to enter the “postmodern” utopia, because Americans don’t have the experience that could lead them to embrace the European ideals. They don’t have any experience of promoting ideals successfully without power but remain realist because they believe in the necessity of power in a world that is far from perfect. The United States decides to act unilaterally, because they don’t have any other alternative.

Hence, the tensions are increasing in the international relations: Europe is complaining more and more, and one day will come when the United States will become less disposed to listen or even care.

The recommendation would be for Europe to follow Cooper recommendations: build up its military capabilities and accept the necessity of having the American power for the world and Europe. Whereas Americans should realize that Europe is not able to constraint the United States.

The United States and Europe are different, while sharing the same perspective of ideals for humanity, the view about the power constraint them to choose really different strategies for their foreign policies.

Conclusion and Limitations

In this essay Kagan proposes a cold analysis of the growing disparity between the United States and European views of the post-cold war world and how best to achieve peace and order. He traces the evolution of this dichotomy, explaining how Europe and America have always played opposite roles.

Europe, as Kagan points out, is economically strong but militarily weak, while the United States is strong on both fronts. How to settle the world's problems is seen very differently, then, depending on whether one is negotiating from strength or from weakness.

Clearly the gap between Europeans and Americans is deeper than many think, and both sides have some serious issues to discuss. But, do Europe and the United States really have different roadmaps that are bound to clash an increasing number of times in the future?

At last, “The obvious answer is that Europe should.... and build up its military, even if only marginally”, leaves me with a mystery. Is Kagan implicating that Europe has no military power at all or is it that he wants to begin a new military race?

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