Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft
International Politics and Society 1/2003



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Why American Hegemony is Here to Stay

John M. Owen*


The growing tendency of the USA to impose its will unilaterally is the natural result of its superior military power. To make the USA more responsive to European preferences, the EU would have to enhance its own military might. However, Europeans will prefer to avoid the costs of doing so, because their security is not threatened by a powerful USA which shares European liberal values.


The Problem: Power

It is inevitable that allies be dissatisfied with one another.  Sovereign states become allies by trading autonomy for security; they are perpetually tempted to cheat their allies by giving up less autonomy, i.e., acting unilaterally.  Glenn Snyder distinguishes two types of unilateral behavior within alliances, namely, entrapment and abandonment.[1]  In the early days of the Cold War, some Americans feared that Europeans would for a third time draw them into a massive foreign war; all through the struggle with the Soviet Union, other Americans feared that Europeans might abandon them for neutrality.  Europeans, meanwhile, feared early on that the U.S. nuclear umbrella might spring a leak—that Americans might not sacrifice New York for Berlin.  Ironically, by the 1980s many Europeans feared that Washington was too ready to risk Berlin, New York, and the entire world in order to vanquish the U.S.S.R

Sovereign allies in an anarchical system have incentives to betray and
exploit one another, and America’s unprecedented military power
exacerbates these incentives.

Power disparities within an alliance magnify the risks of abandonment and entrapment, so an alliance as lopsided as NATO has always felt these problems acutely.  During the Cold War, America needed Europe less than Europe needed America.  And America could stop the Europeans from fighting a war, as in the Suez in 1956, while the Europeans could not stop America, as in Vietnam after circa 1965.  Once the Soviet threat vanished in the late 1980s Europeans cut military spending proportionally more than the United States, so that today NATO is more unbalanced than ever.  The statistics and anecdotes indicating U.S. military primacy today need no recounting here.  Suffice it to say that Europeans are keenly aware that the United States needs their military contributions less than ever, and that it is more likely than ever to act without taking into account their points of view.

The tensions between Europe and the United States, then, are partly structural:  sovereign allies in an anarchical system have incentives to betray and exploit one another, and America’s unprecedented military power exacerbates these incentives.  Unilateralism is a function of power:  America acts on its own because it can; Europe does not because it cannot.[2] But unilateralism is a function also of the degree of discord in states’ preferences.  America acts unilaterally because it disagrees with Europe about the legitimate and prudent state action.  In particular, most Europeans have a vision for eventual global collective security under the auspices of the United Nations.  Most Americans do not.


The Problem: Ideology

As many observers have pointed out, although America and Europe share a liberal political culture that values the autonomy of the individual, they have long diverged over the correct strategies to reach liberal ends.[3]  To oversimplify, Europeans tend to believe that social pathologies such as aggression are fundamentally caused by deprivation and insecurity, whereas Americans tend to attribute aggression to character flaws.[4]  Domestically, Europeans use the benevolent state to enrich and reassure the deprived; Americans tend to rely more on markets, believing that a guaranteed income only reinforces bad character.  In foreign policy, Europe has come to de-emphasize military force, state sovereignty, and unilateral action and to favor instead diplomacy, compromise, and multilateralism—that is, collective security under the United Nations. The lesson learned by most European elites from the Second World War (with some exceptions, particularly in Great Britain) was that the rule of law must replace the state of nature in international relations.  The lesson learned by most American elites from the same war was that sometimes compromise and cooperation must give way to military force, that some actors are incorrigibly aggressive, and that appeasing such actors only encourages them.

Europe’s own successes at multilateralism and integration give Europeans good reason to want to support and strengthen the UN.  Western Europe, the birthplace of the sovereign states system, the fountainhead of imperialism for five centuries, the cockpit of the horrific wars of the twentieth century, has progressively been replacing the rule of the strongest with the rule of law.  Most strikingly, the Federal Republic of Germany, a country whose size and location tend to generate insecurity in itself and its neighbors, bound itself so tightly to the European Union that German reunification in 1990 did not make Germany’s neighbors feel appreciably less secure.  Americans do not doubt this European achievement, but tend to emphasize that it was allowed by U.S. protection from Soviet attack and German recidivism; that is, military power was a necessary part of the story.  Many Americans also doubt that Europe’s recent happy experiences are viable for most of the rest of the world; Europe may have launched into postmodernity, but the rest of the world remains modern or pre-modern.[5]

That Europe and America have liberalism in common reduces the potential for U.S. unilateralism.

This ideological difference between Europe and America has been present for a while, perhaps since the nineteenth century, when socialism took hold in Europe but not in the United States.  But three recent events have combined to amplify its importance in transatlantic relations.  First, the end of the Cold War bolstered Europe’s expectation that its way was the wave of the future, that history was moving in the direction of collective security. For Europeans, the end of the struggle against totalitarianism came through the gradual, patient engagement of communist regimes, in confidence-building measures culminating in agreements with the Gorbachev government.  Nineteen eighty-nine led them to believe that the sort of integration that had taken place in Europe could take place throughout the world.  The age of unilateralism must be drawing to a close.  Europe’s conviction that military might matters less and less is seen in the sharp declines in Euruopean military spending in the 1990s.  For Americans, by contrast, the Cold War ended because the West determinedly followed the strategy of containment; some Americans go further and argue that Ronald Reagan’s assertive policies bankrupted the Soviet Union.

Second, European expectations of evolution toward global collective security have collided with the presidency of George W. Bush.  The Clinton administration was certainly accused of unilateralism, particularly for its insistence on maintaining sanctions against Iraq and punishing that country with air strikes when it violated UN Security Council resolutions.  (Here again, Britain, whose policy was the same as America’s, was an exception to the European rule.)  Yet Clinton did support international treaties at least in principle, signaling Europeans and the world that the United States would continue to bind itself to international cooperation.  By contrast, the Bush administration has made clear that it was not interested in binding agreements:  it withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Kyoto, and the International Criminal Court, and is poised to withdraw from other treaties as well.  For at least a half-century Europeans have thought of Americans as well-intentioned but simplistic, badly in need of European guidance.  Having a Texan in the White House who seems to disdain European advice raises in them the fear that the United States will initiate wars that are not only needless but will jeopardize Europe’s vision of a global multilateral order.

Third, and most important, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, gave the United States a new primary enemy, one so dangerous that its defeat had to subordinate all other foreign policy goals.  The Bush administration has announced an unprecedented policy of pre-emptive force against probable terrorists and states that harbor them.  As America’s improved relations with Russia and Pakistan demonstrate, the promotion of democracy and free trade is now instrumental to subduing Islamism, just as during the Cold War all other goals were subordinate to containing communism.  But Islamism is different from communism:  it cannot be established in post-Christian Europe, notwithstanding the fantasies of the clerics of Cairo and Riyadh.  The Islamist threat seems rather to unify the Muslim world under Islamism and make it into a global power.  Terrorism is a strategy toward that end:  it is supposed to intimidate and divide the United States from its allies, and perhaps to prod America into ill-advised wars, which in turn would further unify Muslims against it.  The temptation facing Europeans, occasionally acknowledged, is to let the United States fight the battle against Islamism on its own.  After all, although most Europeans genuinely sympathized with America on September 11, it was in fact America, not Europe, that was attacked on that day, America that is the Great Satan for Islamists.  If Islamists are rational, they should prefer to leave Europe alone so as to isolate the United States.  And Washington will surely try to suppress Islamism in the Muslim world with or without European help.

Moreover, although few Europeans would desire a unified, Islamist Muslim world stretching from Morocco to Indonesia, because Europeans are more likely to believe that diplomacy is superior to force they are somewhat less troubled by the prospect of such a world.  Surely Islamists have interests and can, through patient engagement and reassurance, come to moderate their behavior and join the international community.

At the time of this writing, the Iraqi question is especially acute.  The Bush administration, or at least some of its officials, has signaled repeatedly an intention to invade Iraq and replace Saddam Hussein.  Most Europeans oppose such an attack as counterproductive and in any case irrelevant to the war on terrorism.  Washington has demonstrated no direct connection between Hussein and September 11.  The real problem with Hussein, it says, is his historical commitment to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction.  Europeans reply that they abhor Hussein equally well, but that an attack on Iraq would further kindle Muslim wrath against the West and would require postwar reconstruction on a scale the Americans would be unwilling to support.  Better to engage Iraqi society by lifting sanctions and thereby removing the external threat that Hussein uses to bolster his power.  For Europe, the American cowboys simply cannot see this; for Americans, Europeans are following in the tradition of Neville Chamberlain, with predictable results.

Europe’s Options

America’s response to 9/11, then, jeopardizes the vision for global order that is profoundly important to most European elites.  The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung suggests three basic responses for Europe.  The “modest realist” option is to continue the status quo, in which Europe “tries to situate itself as advantageously as possible,” by implication acquiescing to U.S. leadership in the war on terrorism.  The “ambitious realist” option is to increase European military strength so as to become a superpower itself and gain a potential veto of U.S. military actions.  The “idealist” option is to build a “world order that is in line with the fundamental principles of the United Nations,” i.e., global collective security or Wilsonianism.  As ideal types, these three options do seem exhaustive if not mutually exclusive.  Before considering each in turn, I consider briefly the assumption that Europe is or can be an actor in international politico-military affairs.


Costs of Unified Foreign Policy

The three options all presuppose a united European foreign security policy, which itself is problematic given the rudimentary and decentralized state of the EU’s mechanisms for external relations.  The issue of costs and benefits is complex, because the very unit incurring the costs and benefits—European states, or Europe itself?—is at issue.  Still, we must note in passing that a unified European foreign policy would not only be require extensive and difficult restructuring of the EU’s machinery, but (like other components of European integration) would impose opportunity costs on member states.  In particular, in its strong form it would deny individual European states the right to cultivate their own relations with non-European states, relations whose special benefits include leverage over other European states.  The most obvious loss would be to Great Britain, which has used its post-1941 “special relationship” with the United States to great advantage.  Nor is it clear how separate British and French seats on the Permanent Five of the UN Security Council could any more be justified; united Europe would probably have to settle for one seat.  As discussed below, further costs (as well as benefits) would accrue to European states should unified Europe become a superpower. That said, let us stipulate a united, coherent European policy.Which will it most likely pursue?


The Idealist Option

The idealist or collective security option is most consistent with European identity today.  Above I described what I see as the fundamental European approach to societal problems, including those of international society.  This approach, of course, is consistent with a long tradition, stretching from Woodrow Wilson back to Bentham, Kant, the French physiocrats, and others, that sought to replace power politics with law.[6] Under global collective security, individual states or coalitions cede the right to use force to the international community, i.e., the United Nations.  The UN judges what constitutes violations of international law and authorizes whatever sanctions it deems appropriate in response, including force.  Inasmuch as under traditional public international law states were the subjects, collective security originally meant the international community could authorize states to punish one state for aggression against another.  But in recent years international law has come to take individual persons as subjects; thus collective security today implies more expansive rights and duties for the UN. [7]  Human rights violations, for example, would be under the purview of the UN; the UN could then authorize military intervention against governments that violate human rights within their own borders.

The idealist option is self-defeating.  Implementing it would require an increase in European military power; but that increase would effectively lead Europe to undermine multilateralism

This strong view of collective security insists that states not only cite international law when using force, but that they be constrained by international law.  When the United States uses force, as in Iraq since 1991, it invariably claims authority under UN Security Council resolutions or the UN Charter.  But America is much more prone to forgo seeking specific Security Council authorization for each use of force than Europe would like.  Europe suspects that the United States is not in the least constrained by the UN, but rather uses the UN to cover uses of force that it (America) has already decided upon. >As stated above, the end of the Cold War bolstered Europe’s belief that multilateralism was the wave of the future.  The idealist option calls on Europe to push this wave along.  Europeans imposed the sovereign state upon the world; now shall they not help the world to transcend it?

It is difficult to see how they could do so, at least if American unilateralism is as serious an obstacle as many Europeans believe.  How is America to become multilateralist?  The identity of U.S. leaders matters; Bill Clinton was more multilateralist than is George Bush.  But the Clinton administration could act unilaterally as well.  Clinton only agreed to use force in Bosnia and in Kosovo when convinced that it served U.S. interests; he continued (along with the British) sanctions and occasional air strikes against Iraq over the protests of most of the world.  Even multilateralists with power often act like unilateralists (even if they do not talk like them).  As argued above, power tends to breed unilateral behavior.  Indeed, historically states have sought power precisely to free themselves from external restraint.

If that is so, then for Europe to make the world more like the EU, it would have to increase its own relative military power.  It would then be able to raise the costs to the United States of unilateral action.  America would become more dependent upon Europe’s military might within NATO, as it was dependent on European conventional deterrence during the Cold War.  Dependence confers leverage.  If Europe had more military power today, the United States might not have had to develop its air- and sealift capacity or its precision-guided munitions to the point where America can credibly threaten to invade Iraq by itself.  The United States would be forced, as it were, toward multilateralism.[8]

The enduring centrality of power in international affairs, then, makes the idealist option alone impractical, and in fact points in the direction of the ambitious realist option, viz. Europe’s attainment of superpower status.

The Ambitious Realist Option

The idealist and the ambitious realist options, however, are contradictory.  The former denies that military power matters, while the latter asserts that military power matters a great deal.  In principle, Europe’s quest for superpower status would demonstrate that a state has to go its own way in international politics, and that guns still help it to do so.  In practice, it is highly doubtful that a superpower Europe would be immune to unilateralist temptations.  Such a Europe would by definition have an independent nuclear arsenal and the ability to project force externally.  Force projection would require military cooperation with various (weaker) non-European countries, hence friendly governments in those countries, hence the exercise of some influence in them, hence competition with the United States and any other superpowers that arose.  Such competition would necessitate more unilateral action:  Europe would often find that its interests demanded acting contrary to the interests of the United States and its subordinate states.

Such is not to say that a European superpower would abandon the liberal foreign policy preferences of today’s Europe, including the promotion of democracy and human rights, or indeed withdraw from international institutions.  But picture a superpower Europe that wanted to intervene against, say, an African dictatorship that was persecuting a minority ethnic group.  Suppose that China and Russia, determined to safeguard the principle of state sovereignty, blocked the UN Security Council from passing a resolution authorizing military intervention in the African state.  Europe would be sorely tempted to bypass UN authorization and intervene directly because it could do so.  Consider that European governments (along with the United States) bombed Kosovo and Serbia proper in 1999 despite the absence of direct Security Council authorization, to the condemnation of many around the world who cared about international law.[9]  Given the ability and the cause, Europeans are as capable as Americans of bending UN rules.

Thus the idealist option is self-defeating.  Implementing it would require an increase in European military power; but that increase would effectively lead Europe to undermine multilateralism.  But perhaps the price would be acceptable given Europe’s resulting ability to constrain the United States.  How would transatlantic relations change if both Europe and America were superpowers?  Among international relations (IR) theorists, realists would expect that Europe and America not only would become rivals for influence in the rest of the world, but might become enemies if power politics so required it.  Liberal IR theorists, who emphasize the role of common norms and institutions, would grant that European-American cooperation would become more difficult—states’ interests never completely harmonize under anarchy—but would expect no enmity.

Consistent with the assumption of this essay that ideas and norms matter as well as material power, let us assume that liberal theorists are correct.  The most obvious area of European-U.S. tension today would be the Middle East.  Europeans tend to hold Israel more responsible for the continuing brutal Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Americans tend to blame the Palestinians and their supporters in Iran and the Arab world.  Today, Europe’s main source of leverage over the conflict is the financial aid it provides to the Palestinian National Authority.  A superpower Europe, however, would be able in principle to intervene militarily.  Even if liberal IR theory is correct, that ability would render America less able to shape events in the Middle East.  The EU would at least be able to insist upon an equal role in mediating between the sides, and all else being equal, any outcome should be more consistent with European preferences.  So with Iraq and other potential targets in the U.S. war on terrorism:  superpower Europe would be able at least to lower the probability of U.S. attacks to which it strongly objected.

Such a world doubtless sounds tempting to many Europeans.  Yet superpower status would impose some high costs upon Europe.  As Europeans well remember from their centuries of imperialism, the means used to maintain influence in weaker countries kindle the wrath of the weak.  By virtue of its very power, Europe might become a target not only of relatively small terrorist incidents, as it has been for decades, but of catastrophic terrorism that demands a forceful response and hence the same sort of unilateralism that America practices today.

Given the ability and the cause, Europeans are as capable as Americans of bending UN rules.

Arming to superpower level would also cost a great deal of money.  As some members of the U.S. Congress never tire of noting, NATO membership has allowed European states to spend far less to defend themselves.  Even France and Britain, the most muscular of Western Europe’s powers, spend at most only two-thirds the proportion of national income on their militaries as does the United States.  Since the Cold War ended, military spending in most European countries has flattened or declined.  Depending on how income is measured, the EU’s gross product is either equal to or greater than that of the United States, so the EU has the potential to match U.S. military spending.  Inasmuch as Europe has invested far less than the United States in offensive technology in recent years, however, it would take steep rises in spending for Europe to catch up.  In any case, it is clear that European governments find it extremely difficult to raise military spending.  Their electorates are accustomed not only to thinking of their societies as peaceful, but also to the benefits that come from investing relatively more in the civilian economy.  In a time when most European states are trying to reduce the government’s share of the economy, increasing military spending would be more difficult than ever.  It is telling that even far-right parties in Europe do not emphasize national military power.

Becoming a superpower would impose other opportunity costs on Europe.  To disentangle these, we consider the European status quo, which is more or less the modest realist option.


The Modest Realist Option

A full consideration of the U.S.-European relationship requires that we look not only to military relations but also to economic and cultural relations.  For the sake of convenience I shall use the term hegemony to capture the fullness of U.S. primacy over Europe.  Without engaging in a critical study of the thought of Gramsci, I shall simply define hegemony as leadership that involves the setting of rules and agendas and the shaping of preferences.  A hegemon gets its way less by physical coercion than by using its power to set up conditions under which subordinate states want to do what will serve its interests.  By becoming a superpower, Europe would throw off U.S. hegemony.  What benefits would it thereby forgo?

In the 1990s a number of prominent American realists predicted that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe (or Germany) would indeed become a superpower.[10]  Critics have responded that the opportunity costs to Europe would be too high.  Under the status quo, Europe enjoys efficient solutions to public goods problems, including the pre-eminent goods of security and economic openness; the solutions are made efficient by U.S. hegemony.  Like a global version of Bismarck’s Germany, the United States has made itself indispensable to order in most regions of the globe; most countries have a strong interest in keeping America a global power.[11]  International cooperation is possible absent a hegemon, but it is more difficult.[12]  America, moreover, has bound itself by various international institutions, rendering its behavior more predictable over time.  These institutions, moreover, pay increasing returns to their members, making defection more and more costly over time.[13]  The United States has tolerated in Europe a great deal of institutional diversity, including more socialism than it practices itself.  It has encouraged European integration and made it more feasible by dampening fears of a Soviet invasion and of German recidivism.

Under the status quo, Europe enjoys efficient solutions to public goods problems, including the pre-eminent goods of security and economic openness; the solutions are made efficient by U.S. hegemony. Most countries have a strong interest in keeping America a global power

But the causes of European submission to U.S. hegemony are deeper, precisely because it is American hegemony, not simply domination, that is at issue.  If it were enough that the United States is a benign superpower, then why do not all of the world’s countries want to join the U.S.-sponsored order?  Those who accept American hegemony, however grudgingly, tend to be liberals; those who are actually trying to overturn it, such as Islamists or communist reactionaries in China and Russia, tend to be anti-liberals.[14]  A hegemon is able to maintain its position because its subordinate states agree with it on the fundamental ends of society.  That is why the United States promoted liberal democracy in West Germany and Italy (and Japan).[15]  It also is why the Soviet Union imposed Marxist-Leninist regimes upon the European states it liberated in the 1940s, and used force to preserve them in 1953, 1956, and 1968.  For that matter, it is why Europeans worry inordinately about signs of illiberalism in the United States:  they fear what America would do if it ceased to be liberal.[16]

European acquiescence to U.S. hegemony, then, is partly a product of the liberal principles that Europeans and Americans share.  It is not only that the United States has born many of the costs of collective action to solve international public goods problems such as the gains from free trade or international security.  It is that Europeans and Americans agree that the pursuit of wealth and security are international public goods problems.  Traditional diplomacy saw these pursuits as zero-sum games:  your gain is my loss, and vice versa.  Liberals reject this Hobbesian account of world politics.  Liberalism asserts a stable and prosperous international order is best built on societies that are open, democratic, and tolerant.[17]

That Europe and America have liberalism in common reduces the potential for U.S. unilateralism.  The extensive overlap in preferences between the two means that very often what the United States wants is what Europe wants; Washington trusts its allies, consults them, and modifies its actions more than it would if they did not share fundamental political values.

Even though the United States is acting more and more unilaterally, the above list of goods that U.S. hegemony continues to provide Europe is still impressive.  These are goods about which Europe and the United States continue to agree.  So long as that is the case—so long as Europe and America remain fundamentally liberal—the probable opportunity costs to Europe of becoming a superpower appear too high.  But it does not follow that Europe should continue pursuing the modest realist option, acquiescing to the status quo.  A realist option between modesty and ambition is possible.

Europe Should v. Europe Will

Asking what Europe ought to do involves moral beliefs and judgments, so let me state the most important of these.  First, it seems to me that the postwar European response to U.S. hegemony that I have described has been substantially correct:  the order underwritten by U.S. power has been better for Europe than the viable alternatives.  That is because I believe liberalism is the most legitimate system available.  Second, I believe that Islamist terrorism is a threat to Europe as well as the United States.  Insofar as attacks such as those of 9/11 terrorize any liberal-democratic society, they enhance the credibility of Islamism in the Muslim world and jeopardize the prospects for liberal democracy there, and hence Europe’s vision for world order.  Thus even if al-Qaeda never attacks European targes, Europe has a strong interest in defeating it.  Third, I accept the liberal axiom that in politics, no one is infallible; the right policy is most likely to emerge from full and free discussion.  Thus the war on terrorism, and many international outcomes, will be more just and efficient on balance if the United States takes European preferences seriously.

Regardless of whose liberalism, Europe’s or America’s, is better, Europeans have experiences with terrorism and with Islam that provide them with a certain insights that Americans should heed.  Although the men who murdered more than 3,000 people on September 11, 2001 were not poor, Islamism and anti-Westernism do have great appeal among the Muslim poor; Europeans are readier to recognize this.  Europe have shown more interest than America in rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan.  How can Europe come to exercise more influence over the United States in the war on terrorism?

The United States is disinclined to listen to Europe precisely because Europe has so little military power


Above we saw that U.S. unilateralism is a function both of U.S. relative power and of the divergence of U.S. and European preferences.  It is doubtful that Europe can move American preferences very close to its own; the two competing liberal cultures are too entrenched.  I also have argued that Europe would do well not to attempt to become a superpower.

What Europe can do is to alter the balance of transatlantic power more modestly.  The United States is disinclined to listen to Europe precisely because Europe has so little military power.  In purely operational terms, the U.S. military has almost no need for NATO, apart from the special forces of certain member states.  It may have been rational for Europe to weaken itself militarily in the 1990s, but European weakness has provoked American contempt.  After 9/11, when military action matters more, that contempt helps neither Europe nor the United States.

Europe, then, should build enough airlift, sealift, bombing, and missile capacity—and enough unity in foreign policy—that it could not only intervene without U.S. help in humanitarian crises within Europe, but could also project some amount of force outside of Europe.  Such a military buildup does not imply an EU force independent of NATO and hence of a U.S. veto.  Rather, it means a return to the situation in the Cold War, when the United States depended more on European force and thus had to take European preferences more into account.  To the extent that Europe rearmed, the United States would have to consider tailoring its forces to those of Europe for the sake of efficiency.  As it did so, European leverage over Washington would increase.

It is worth noting that the United States would be pleased should Europe rearm to some extent, so long as Europe does not build a military force independent of NATO.  For most of the Cold War U.S. administrations and members of Congress were convinced that wealthy European governments were not assuming their fair share of the burden of deterring a Soviet attack.  In the 1990s Washington was dismayed at Europe’s inability to end atrocities in the former Yugoslavia.  As a presidential candidate in 2000, George W. Bush and his foreign-policy advisors made clear their desire to decrease U.S. commitments in Europe, implying that Europeans should rearm and take care of their own problems.

So much for what Europe ought to do.  In my view, Europe is unlikely to do what it ought because states build armaments in response to threats to security.  America’s military predominance and unilateralism do not threaten European security; there is no danger whatsoever that the United States will attack Western Europe, precisely because it already enjoys hegemony there.  Some sort of shock to European security, such as withdrawal of U.S. commitments or terrorism on the scale of 9/11, would be required to make increases in military spending acceptable to European publics.  Neither shock appears likely at present.

It seems, then, that Europe is not only stuck with America, but is stuck with a level of U.S. unilateralism that offends and alarms it.  This equilibrium is frustrating to all concerned, but it is stable precisely because of the enduring liberal bond between Europe and the United States, a bond that endures despite the left-right transatlantic divide.  Europeans and Americans shed much blood in the Second World War to build that bond, and in subsequent decades risked a world to keep and strengthen it.  Americans and Europeans alike need to remember why their forerunners paid such a price:  they knew what the alternatives to liberalism were.  After September 11, remembering becomes a bit easier.

[1] Glenn H. Snyder, “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics,” World Politics36 (July 1984), 461-95.

[2] Cf. Robert Kagan, “Power and Weakness,” Policy Review113 (June 2002).

[3] James W. Ceaser, “America’s Ascendancy, Europe’s Despondency: Why We Horrify Them, and They Exasperate Us,” Weekly Standard (May 20, 2002); Kagan, “Power and Weakness.”

[4] Like Kagan and Ceaser, when I ascribe an opinion to “Europe” or “America,” I have in mind societal elites therein.  Actually, the liberalism of many U.S. elites, particularly those on the left (academia, journalism, the Democratic Party) is virtually the same as that I ascribe to Europe.  The relatively strong presence of “right-liberalism” in the United States, however—or what Americans call “conservatism”—pulls American liberalism in the direction I describe.

[5] Cf. Kagan, “Power and Weakness”; Ceaser, “America’s Ascendancy.”

[6] F.H. Hinsley, Power and the Pursuit of Peace (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1967); Michael Howard, War and the Liberal Conscience (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1976).

[7] See Gregory H. Fox and Brad R. Roth, eds., Democratic Governance and International Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

[8] Thomas Risse-Kappen argues that, contrary to conventional European wisdom, the United States was clearly constrained by its European allies on a number of occasions during the Cold War.  See Risse-Kappen, Cooperation among Democracies: The European Influence on U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).  As should become clear below, I do not wish to challenge Risse-Kappen’s argument that common liberal norms help explain Europe’s ability to constrain the United States.  But I contend that British, French, and West German military power also helps explain that ability; else why would Europe have found its ability to constrain Washington eroding since 1991 along with its military power?

[9]See e.g. Albrecht Schnabel and Ramesh Thakur, eds., Kosovo and the Challenge of Humanitarian Intervention: Selective Indignation, Collective Action, and International Citizenship (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2001).

[10] Mearsheimer 1990; Layne 1991; Waltz 1999.

[11] Josef Joffe, “How America Does It,” Foreign Affairs 76, no. 5 (September-October 1997), 13-27.

[12] The definitive account of cooperation without hegemony is Robert O. Keohane’s After Hegemony (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

[13] G. John Ikenberry, “Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Persistence of American Postwar Order,” International Security 23, no. 3 (Winter 1998/99), 43-78; Charles A. Kupchan, “After Pax Americana:  Benign Power, Regional Integration, and the Sources of a Stable Multipolarity,” International Security 23, no. 2 (Fall 1998), 40-79.

[14] Owen, “Transnational Liberalism and U.S. Primacy.”

[15] G. John Ikenberry and Charles A. Kupchan, “Socialization and Hegemonic Power,” International Organization 44, no. 3 (Summer 1990), 283-315.

[16] For more see John M. Owen, “Transnational Liberalism and U.S. Primacy,” International Security 26, no. 3 (Winter 2001/2002), 117-52; and idem, “The Foreign Imposition of Domestic Institutions,” International Organization 56, no. 2 (Spring 2002), 375-409.

[17] The United States supports and even promotes authoritarianism abroad under some conditions, in particular when democracy is likely to yield an anti-U.S. (and anti-liberal) government, as in much of the Middle East today.


John M. Owen *1962;

Professor of Politics, Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia, Charlotteville;

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | net edition malte.michel | 12/2002