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*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


****Of Paradise and Power

America and Europe in the New World Order

by Robert Kagan

Reviewed May 6, 2003.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2003.  103 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (327.73 KAG).
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #2, Political Nonfiction

As soon as I read the first sentence of this book, I knew I had to check it out.  “It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world.”

The situation with Iraq I’m sure made it clear to everyone that Europeans and Americans were seeing the world differently.  Even as early as last summer, I was struck by the difference when I was listening to my sister singing with the Continentals, an American choir, in a German church.  One of their songs began with a taped speech from President Bush.  An embarrassed awkwardness fell over the German crowd.  I don’t think that the American singers realized that, although there probably are Europeans who don’t think of Bush as a barbarian cowboy advocate of death, even those would certainly never hold him up to other Europeans as a fine Christian example or put his speech in a Christian song.  (I should have suggested that the director drop that song from the program while they were in Europe, but I’m afraid I let it go.)  I was surprised that the Americans didn’t seem to have a clue that it was out of place.

As I mentioned in my last issue, our family’s trip to Verdun brought home to me the beginnings of an understanding of the scope of destruction suffered in Europe during the World Wars.  That also certainly affects their way of looking at the world.

This book talks about those differences and examines the reasons for them.  The first paragraph continues:  “On the all-important question of power--the efficacy of power--American and European perspectives are diverging.  Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation.  It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Immanuel Kant’s ‘perpetual peace.’  Meanwhile, the United States remains mired in history, exercising power in an anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable, and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.  That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus:  They agree on little and understand one another less and less.  And this state of affairs is not transitory--the product of one American election or one catastrophic event.  The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep, long in development, and likely to endure.  When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways.”

The author proceeds to talk about the historical reasons that opinions have diverged, and he also looks at results of that divergence.  One part of the source is that Americans are now much more powerful militarily than any other nation on earth.  As the old saying goes, “When you have a hammer, all problems start to look like nails.”  For Americans after September 11th, the risk that Saddam Hussein would be responsible for a devastating attack against us in the future seemed greater than the risk of war.  If you don’t have a strong fighting force, the risk of war would be much greater.  Indeed, if you don’t have a strong fighting force, the risk of an unprovoked attack seems less as well.

I found it interesting that the “paradise” in the title refers to Europe.  I’d already noticed and envied the social programs that taxpayers in Europe are funding.  The author makes the case that Europeans are able to spend much less on defense because they are able to rely on America to protect them.  They can turn their priorities to social programs giving better lives to their citizens.  They only need military that is able to defend their own nations, and they haven’t tried to build forces that can be projected all over the world.

Another aspect of the situation is indeed the legacy of the world wars.  “Consider again the qualities that make up the European strategic culture:  the emphasis on negotiation, diplomacy, and commercial ties, on international law over the use of force, on seduction over coercion, on multilateralism over unilateralism.  It is true that these are not traditionally European approaches to international relations when viewed from a long historical perspective.  But they are a product of more recent European history.  The modern European strategic culture represents a conscious rejection of the European past, a rejection of the evils of European Machtpolitik.  It is a reflection of Europeans’ ardent and understandable desire never to return to that past.  Who knows better than Europeans the dangers that arise from unbridled power politics, from an excessive reliance on military force, from policies produced by national egoism and ambition, even from balance of power and raison d’etat?. . . The European Union is itself the product of an awful century of European warfare.”

These are a few key thoughts in a fascinating analysis of the current situation.  I highly recommend this book to other Americans living in Europe.  I hope that it will also be read by anyone who has eaten “Freedom Fries” lately.

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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