Sunday, September 17, 2006

America and Old Europe: A Review of 9/11+5

It is 5 years since 9/11. No other atrocities have inflicted so much psychological impact on the global community in the post Cold War era. This is not simply because the scale of murder and demolition is much greater than those in 3/11 of Madrid and 7/7 of London. Americans have become more alert on new type of threat posed by terrorists. As a result, perception gaps between America and the rest of the world have grown wider. This leads to a serious discord between America and its old allies in Europe, particularly on Iraq, and to some extent on Afghanistan, Iran, and Lebanon.

Whereas Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called France and Germany “Old Europe” contemptuously, this word means that both countries are America’s long-time friends as well. As the power duo of liberal democracy, successful alliance between America and Europe is an anchor of global enlightenment and prosperity. Therefore, it is necessary to fill transatlantic gaps and reinvigorate this vital partnership.

Contrary to widely believed understanding, Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan and Managing Editor William Dobson of Foreign Policy argue that 9/11 has not changed fundamental structure of global affairs in their articles contributed to Foreign Policy September/October 2006. In “The Day Nothing Much Changed”, Dobson says the number of travelers increase, skyscrapers are built, and the global economy prospers, despite 9/11. The terrorist attack has not changed the balance of power, but it only aggravated the imbalance between America and the rest. In “Think Again: 9/11”, Cole says the terrorist attack has not changed American foreign policy significantly, but removed political constraints temporarily. The Bush administration would have employed a limited bombing or a coup attempt in Iraq, had there not been for 9/11.

In order to understand policy gaps between America and Europe, I recommend “Of Paradise and Power” by Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He says “One of the things that clearly divides Europeans and Americans today is a psychological, even metaphysical disagreement over where exactly mankind stands on the continuum between the laws of the jungle and the laws of the reason” (p.91). Americans believe in a Hobbesian world, while Europeans believe in a Kantian world.

He goes on to assess the impact of 9/11 as follows.

“The September 11 attacks shifted and accelerated but did not fundamentally alter a course the United States was already on. They certainly did not alter but only reinforced American attitudes toward power” (p.91).

Although both the United States and Old Europe recognize that radical Muslims are serious threats, their approaches are different. Power gap, mentioned by Robert Kagan, is not the only reason for Americans and Europeans are bickering each other. Research Director Jeremy Shapiro and Senior Fellow Daniel Byman, both at the Brookings Institution, contributes an article “Bridging the Transatlantic Counterterrorism Gap” to the Washington Quarterly Autumn 2006. Let me talk of their policy viewpoints.

They argue that Arab and Muslim population in both regions is the key to this transatlantic discord. The United States has small and scattered Arab and Muslim population, while Europe has more concentrated Arab and Muslim communities. Therefore, Europeans worry about domestic upheaval like the riot in Paris, bombings in London and Madrid, and so forth. On the other hand, Americans worry terrorists coming from aboard plotting catastrophic destruction, and even possible use of WMDs.

They also point out that while the United States is a single sovereign state, the European Union is a supra national organization of independent states. The EU treaties mandate common borders within the Union, except Britain, Ireland, and new members. Therefore, terrorists can move from one country to another in the EU, which is not the case with the United States.

Due to demography, political unity, and power gap, the United States and Old Europe take different strategies to defeat terrorism. The United States adopts an externalization strategy: keep terrorists out of country and fight them aboard, in Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever. For Old Europe, fight begins at home. Therefore, Americans and Europeans use different rhetoric against terrorists. American leaders prefer to say anti-terrorism operations “war”, while European leaders downplay it. Unlike Americans after 9-11, Europeans do not appeal to patriotic emotion when terrorists attack them.

Given these different backgrounds, it is understandable why Germany and France are at odds with the United States in dealing with terrorism. Even in Britain, America’s best ally, Labour leftists rebel vehemently against Tony Blair. Despite many gaps in perception and strategy, Jeremy Shapiro and Daniel Byman insist that it is America’s interest to work closely with Europe. For this objective, they recommend that US policymakers endorse European allies focusing on internal enemies. On the other hand, Europeans should be supportive of American anti-terrorism endeavor overseas, they say. Also, both authors propose US-European joint efforts for Middle East democratization.


European opinion leaders take initiatives to fill the transatlantic gap on terrorism. Regarding joint efforts for Middle East democracy, Richard Youngs, Senior Researcher at a Madrid think tank FRIDE and Lecturer at the University of Warwick, suggests “With both the US and EU declaring a new conviction of the need to engage with moderate Islamists, a joint forum would help shed light on this difficult area, in which all donors acknowledge a relative paucity of information.” Mark Leonard, Director of the Centre for European Reform, warns that long war in Iraq and inefficient multilateralism on Iran and North Korea may lead the United States to shift from Wilsonian idealism to isolationism. Even if Europeans hate American unilateralism in Iraq, they need US intervention in a case like Kosovo. Leonard emphasizes this vital point in his article “The US heads home: Will Europe Regret It?” in Financial Times, 26 January 2004.

Five years have passed since then, and it is anticipated that America and Old Europe recover their images each other. Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy could improve American’s impression to Old Europe. Gordon Brown calms down leftists’ pressure against Tony Blair. Both Americans and Europeans must reconfirm that the transatlantic alliance is the central pillar to cope with global challenges.



"Submitted to Carnival of German-American Relations"