[Paleopsych] Commentary: Arthur Waldron: Europe's Crisis

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Arthur Waldron: Europe's Crisis

    The great transatlantic European-American divorce, about which we have
    heard so much: is it really going to take place?

    A few months ago, from the other side of the Atlantic, it looked like
    a done deal. Seldom had the sheer weight of European opinion seemed so
    monolithically averse not only to American policies but to the
    American character, especially as represented by President George W.
    Bush. Before the November election, polls of the British parliament
    suggested that 87 percent of that body's members would have voted for
    John Kerry; among Tories, only 2 percent stated that they would be
    "delighted" by Bush's reelection. After the event took place, Le Soir
    of Brussels spoke for many in characterizing the reaction of European
    elites as "no longer about policy, but a matter of rage"--rage, the
    paper elsewhere went on to explain, over America's "anaesthetization
    by a detestable mixture of economic-financial interest groups, blind
    militarism, religious fundamentalism, and neoconservative propaganda."

    To be sure, this latest outburst of European America-loathing has
    roots, even deep roots. Readers of a certain age will remember the
    demonstrations in Britain of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament,
    founded in 1957; the massive Europe-wide protests against the Vietnam
    war in the 1970's; or the hysteria over European deployment of
    Pershing-2 missiles in the early 1980's. Since the end of the cold
    war, the debate has shifted somewhat. Today one is more likely to
    hear, in tones of resignation, bafflement, or fury, that Europe and
    America are simply too different, in too many ways, for their one-time
    alliance of convenience to continue.

    "Many U.S. priorities concern traditional power politics," goes one
    line of argument (I am quoting Le Soir again), "while the European
    Union often seems to be groping after a more rule-governed world."
    Another line focuses less on political than on economic priorities:
    Europeans distrust markets and favor state intervention to maintain
    living standards and equalize incomes, while Americans want less
    welfare and more tooth-and-claw competition. ("Only Europe," pleaded
    the London Guardian, can provide a "viable counterpoint to the
    economic brutalism of the American way.") Most importantly, perhaps,
    Europeans see themselves as enlightened secularists while Americans
    are incorrigibly and benightedly religious--and some, like Bush,
    frighteningly so: "God's President," as the London Observer put it.

    And yet, no sooner had Bush been reelected than Europe seemed suddenly
    beset by second thoughts, even if they were not always presented as

    The single most momentous catalyst for this rethinking was an event
    that occurred on election day itself, November 2. This was the brutal
    murder in Amsterdam, in broad daylight, of Theo van Gogh, a quixotic
    provocateur who had just completed a short film, Submission, about the
    abuse of women under Islam. The film had so enraged Mohammed Bouyeri,
    a twenty-six-year-old Dutch Muslim of Moroccan descent, that he
    ambushed the filmmaker as he pedaled to work, cut his throat to the
    spinal bone with a meat cleaver, and then thrust into his chest a
    dagger to which was affixed a letter threatening the lives of others
    for insulting or blaspheming Islam. Most of those named in the note
    are still in hiding.

    To add irony to gruesomeness, two years earlier this same Mohammed
    Bouyeri, his impeccably tolerant and liberal views expressed in
    perfect Dutch, had been featured in the media as a shining model of
    the success of Holland's official multiculturalism. Now his
    connections to Islamists in Morocco were quickly traced, and
    continuing investigations disclosed an ever-larger network--including
    contacts in Belgium and neighboring states--indicating that he had not
    acted alone. All of Western Europe, it rapidly came to be said, faced
    a similar peril: as Britain's then Home Secretary David Blunkett
    warned on BBC television, al Qaeda "is on our doorstep, and
    threatening our lives."

    That such sentiments marked a change in European attitudes toward the
    threat of Islamic terrorism should be plain enough. Previously, many
    had either derided American concerns on this score or seemed to assume
    that they could avoid the threat simply by keeping their distance from
    Washington. Thus, the Islamist bombings of Spanish railways in March
    2004 led not to a resolve on the part of Spaniards to redouble their
    efforts in the war against terror but, on the contrary, to the
    immediate ousting of their prime minister, who had brought the country
    into the American-led coalition in Iraq. In the Guardian, Polly
    Toynbee, in the course of dismissing Tony Blair as an American stooge,
    scoffed at the "breathtaking Pentagon nonsense about the nature of
    global terrorism, its causes and cures."

    After the murder of van Gogh, little more was heard along these lines.
    Suddenly--one could feel it happening--a whole state of mind seemed to
    disappear. If, as David Pryce-Jones rightly pointed out in the
    December 2004 Commentary, a kind of "fellow traveling" mentality had
    taken hold in Europe where the Islamist threat was concerned, it was
    now being generally acknowledged that one could not escape that
    threat, as the Spanish had attempted to do, by cutting ties with
    Washington; one could only escape it by defeating the terrorists.

    Of course, acknowledging reality is one thing; doing something about
    it is another. In the ensuing weeks, European governments moved rather
    quickly to increase numbers of police, to improve intelligence, to
    strengthen cooperation across borders, and to begin to confront the
    difficulties presented by the millions of Muslim immigrants whom their
    economies require for their survival. Suddenly respectable, even
    mainstream, became talk of identity cards, immigration controls, laws
    requiring imams to preach in the local language, and the need to come
    to grips with the sheer vacuity of what one Dutch politician decried
    as her country's longstanding creed of "passive tolerance," according
    to which newcomers of every kind were welcome and, facing no civic
    requirements or challenges of any kind, were simply invited to join in
    the general, non-conflictive fun.

    Has a line been crossed, then, or will momentary fright, having been
    met by spasmodic gestures of resolution, devolve into lethargy and
    accommodation? It is too soon to tell; but in the fleeting recognition
    that terrorism in Europe is not Washington's problem, and that
    Europeans cannot look to Washington to solve it for them, reality did
    intrude, and, if anything in life is certain, not for the last time.

    Nor is terrorism the only problem affecting Europe's general security
    that, like it or not, Europe alone is going to have to deal with. The
    present European Union, comprising 25 states (with 15 more hoping to
    join), faces unique strategic challenges. Already sharing a border
    with the newly expanded EU are Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Russia.
    If and when Turkey joins, Europe will include both it and Cyprus,
    another "Asian" state, and will then, by its own volition, be sharing
    borders with Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

    In short, the new European Union is forming itself smack in the
    cockpit of geopolitical danger. At the same time, it lacks either the
    material or the diplomatic wherewithal to deal with this danger in a
    forceful or unified manner. As the crisis of freedom in Ukraine
    developed this past November and December, and as Polish President
    Aleksandr Kwasniewski and Solidarity hero Lech Walesa headed for Kiev,
    the stance of the French government was, as a French commentator aptly
    put it, one of "embarrassment." "It can scarcely be an accident," the
    English columnist Philip Stephens dryly observed in the Financial
    Times, "that France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder
    have not missed the opportunity to keep quiet about Ukraine's orange
    revolution"--an event of far greater consequence for them, and for the
    European Union at large, than anything the United States may or may
    not be doing in Iraq.

    The plain fact is that, for 50 years, Europe enjoyed a privileged
    existence, relieved by the American deterrent of the need to defend
    itself against the Soviet Union. Those days are gone, but Europeans
    are only now beginning to understand what that means. "Europe is
    incapable of guaranteeing, on its territory, the security and freedom
    of movement of citizens and residents who wish to exercise their
    freedom of thought and free expression," lamented the French leftist
    paper LibE9ration after the van Gogh murder. To which might be added
    that it is also incapable of guaranteeing its territory against
    foreign threats.

    Unfortunately, many Europeans are still trapped in the old modes. A
    good example was a headline above a recent Financial Times editorial:
    "Iran's Deterrent: Only the U.S. Can Address Teheran's Nuclear
    Concerns." Can that really be the case? Is not Iran a good deal closer
    to Europe than to the United States--and are not the Europeans
    currently carrying out an initiative of their own vis-E0-vis Iran
    that, rightly or wrongly, excludes the United States?

    But there are other, more heartening signs as well. Just as terrorism
    has haltingly come to be addressed as a European problem, and not
    simply a byproduct of American incompetence or worse, so too are some
    Europeans beginning to contemplate defending themselves. The number of
    men under arms already exceeds that of the United States. The European
    Union has also started its own security program--so far, a minuscule
    one. Some 7,000 EU peacekeepers will go to Bosnia; a rapid-reaction
    force of 1,500, capable of moving on ten days' notice, is in the

    If the numbers are hardly impressive, that is partly because Europeans
    are not agreed among themselves about whether they really need a
    separate security organization. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, for example,
    the secretary general of NATO, sees "no need to reinvent the wheel."
    Nor is Europe necessarily willing to pay the freight. Currently,
    France spends $45 billion per year on defense, more than any other
    European country (the United Kingdom is next). The entire 25-member EU
    spends $208 billion. The United States alone spends $405 billion.

    But here is a place where, inadvertently (or perhaps I should say
    dialectically), Washington may be playing a helpful role. To reduce
    matters to their most basic, the security of Europe is no longer an
    indispensable security requirement of the United States. Of course
    Americans have values and sympathies, which may eventually add up to
    interests, but in the most hard-headed strategic terms, now that the
    USSR is gone, and with a home-based American ability to destroy any
    target in the world, the details of what happens eight or nine hours
    east by air from Washington will usually turn out to be of far deeper
    concern to Europe than to the United States. If we were to wake up one
    morning and learn that the EU buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg had
    been destroyed, we would surely be shocked, but we would not in any
    way be under direct threat ourselves.

    To this reality, too, more and more Europeans may at last be

    As in security, so in matters economic. At Lisbon in 2001 the European
    Union set the goal of becoming, by 2010, "the most competitive and
    dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world." Recently, this project
    was labeled "a big failure" by none other than Romano Prodi, the
    outgoing European Commission president.

    With five years to go before the target date of 2010, the facts are
    thoroughly dispiriting. According to Gordon Brown, British chancellor
    of the exchequer, speaking early in 2004, "Eurozone" growth for the
    year would be half that of the U.S. and Japan. In the last three
    years, cumulative Eurozone growth was just 3 percent, compared with
    5.5 percent for the U.S. and 6 for the UK. In fact the results proved
    far worse than Brown had predicted. Figures for the third quarter of
    2004 show German and French growth at 0.1 percent.

    Structural unemployment, itself intimately related to European welfare
    policies, is imbedded in the system. In France, unemployment runs to
    10 percent; in Belgium, it is at almost 9 percent in the relatively
    prosperous Flemish-speaking areas, 19 percent in French-speaking
    Wallonia, and an astonishing 22 percent in the capital city of
    Brussels. Germany, where an individual unemployed for more than a year
    can receive up to half his previous net wages for an unlimited period
    of time, has created a system unique in the world for discouraging the
    energetic search for work.

    Moreover, and despite the widespread unemployment, simply to fill
    existing jobs requires a net inflow of 1.5 million migrants a year. To
    bring European work-force participation to U.S. levels would require
    17 million more jobs. Who is to perform those jobs, if not immigrants?

    Fertility rates make the future look even more ominous. In the United
    States, the average woman produces 2.06 children, just about
    replacement level; in the 25-nation EU, the average number of children
    is only 1.46, which means populations will shrink, more immigrants
    will be needed, and, as longevity increases, the young will be
    increasingly burdened by the old.^1

    During a visit to China in October 2004, Jacques Chirac suggested that
    somehow his country and his continent could escape the need for
    internal reform by developing a privileged relationship with the
    "emerging superpower" of China. Whether or not the rise of China is
    inevitable--I have regularly expressed my own doubts about
    this^2--there is no denying that China is indeed growing. But how? Not
    by buying French grain, or by ordering a version of France's
    impressive high-speed train (the producer of which has gone bankrupt),
    or by buying French weapons. China, like India and the other economic
    powers of Asia, is growing by selling things.

    Exports constitute 20 percent of China's gross national product, and
    even its Asian neighbors are having trouble matching the
    bargain-basement prices made possible by Beijing's "disciplined" labor
    force. Great swaths of the American economy have already been laid low
    by Asian exports, Chinese in particular, and we are far better
    equipped to meet the challenge than are the Europeans. So the special
    relationship with China, which Paris has long pursued, is not going to
    save European manufacturing. If present trends continue, a far more
    likely prospect is that it will destroy it completely. When the smoke
    clears, we may well see an Asia much wealthier than before, a United
    States bruised but still standing--and a Europe that resembles
    something like the ruins of the Spanish empire.

    Whatever the sins of the United States, destroying the European
    economy is not among them. But denunciations of American capitalism
    remain legion in Europe, and the European has not yet emerged who will
    seriously engage the massive challenge posed to the continent by the
    growth of the Asian economies. In the meantime, the effects are
    already crashing over Europe like a storm tide.

    Is the economic situation then hopeless? My answer, perhaps
    surprisingly, is no. The continent still disposes of formidable
    material and human resources, and it is not a foregone conclusion that
    attempts to reform its internal problems and misdirections would fail.

    Europe already leads the United States in several dimensions critical
    to growth. It has a larger aggregate economy and far larger exports
    ($1,430 billion as against $986 billion), and, critically, its
    citizens enjoy much higher levels of educational skills. Thus, in a
    recent international study of mathematical achievement, Hong Kong
    ranked first, Finland second, the Netherlands fourth, Japan sixth,
    Canada seventh, Belgium eighth, France sixteenth, Germany nineteenth,
    Poland twenty-fourth--and the United States twenty-eighth. Mathematics
    is, of course, the key to future scientific and technical excellence,
    and in this area the Europeans are far ahead of us.

    Besides, if Europe is to be secure, it will have to reform its economy
    to support its military. So far, opportunism and complacency about the
    steadily declining economy have been the rule, but some influential
    figures are considering how to go about changing this, in the first
    place by acknowledging the magnitude of the impending crisis. An
    authoritative but little studied report by Michel Camdessus, former
    director of the International Monetary Fund, has put matters starkly:
    "We are engaged in a process of descent that cannot but lead us, if
    nothing is done, to a situation that, in a dozen years, will be
    irreversible." But it need not happen that way. Europe's current
    condition has identifiable causes, and if those can be addressed, the
    situation can be improved.

    In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, formerly the finance minister, and
    employment minister Jean-Louis Borloo have published a report
    estimating that by removing barriers to entry into business, France
    could create a million jobs. Wim Kok, the former Dutch prime minister,
    identifies the basic EU problem as "lack of commitment and political
    will," exemplified in the perennial flouting by core EU states like
    France and Germany of the Stability and Cooperation Pact intended to
    reduce deficits and keep European fiscal policies in alignment. Even
    Asian competition is on the agenda: in March, a European summit will
    discuss how to lift the competitiveness of the European economy
    without undercutting the "European model based on solidarity, and on
    compromise between employers and workers."

    It is easy to be amused by such small and wholly inadequate
    beginnings. It is easy to be amused by the actually existing European
    Union altogether, with its grandiose yet undistinguished buildings in
    Brussels and Strasbourg, its shameless feather-bedding and extravagant
    entertainment and conference budgets, side by side with its political
    haplessness, military weakness, book-length constitution, and
    reflexive habit of impotently wagging a finger across the Atlantic
    while ignoring Russia, China, the Middle East, and its own competing
    nationalisms and dysfunctional economies.

    But to be dismissive in this way may be to underestimate the depth,
    and the longevity, of Europe's determination to make something of
    itself as an entity. The project of unification did not emerge from
    some glass and steel office tower. It was forged in the fire of World
    War I, which was when most Europeans understood that they had to
    cooperate; and it was renewed in the aftermath of an even more
    catastrophic world war. Since then, however creepingly, the course has
    been set, and though the voyage has already been overlong, circuitous,
    and ridiculously costly, and will become more so, something like the
    destination may yet be reached.

    The issue is what Europe will look like at that point. Will it be
    vital, actively taking a role in the pressing issues of war, peace,
    and development, or will it be inwardly preoccupied and inert,
    effectively irrelevant to the broader world? For if the EU were
    actually able to pull off its planned integration with even partial
    success, and simultaneously resolve its besetting political and
    economic problems, its potential power could rather quickly be
    converted into real power. But then the same question would arise that
    has been hiding in plain sight all along: is it really in Europe's
    best interest to be seeking this power in order to balance and
    constrain--or overtake--the United States, as the French insist and as
    an inchoate consensus seems to believe today, or might not a
    rediscovery of what the estranged couple have in common be, in fact, a
    precondition for Europe's emergence from its current crisis?

    Here, too, there are some intriguing straws in the wind. To begin
    with, even amid the general consternation at the results of the
    American election, there were those in Europe who viewed things
    otherwise--who indeed saw positive lessons for Europe. In
    mid-November, the well-known French columnist Ivan Rioufol suggested
    that the reelection of George W. Bush should be regarded not as a fit
    of collective madness but rather as an understandable and appropriate
    demand by a majority of Americans that their liberal elites get back
    into line. Then he went further:

    The "conservative revolution" victoriously led by George Bush despite
    the predictions of the media could well be reproduced in France. In
    fact, the aspirations of Americans--values, religion, security--are
    not specific to their Anglo-Protestant culture. . . . France's
    political discourse, just like that of the American Left, only
    imperfectly reflects the preoccupations of its citizens.

    Who knows, in short, where the European Union could go if France were
    led by an international visionary like Ronald Reagan rather than by a
    petty nationalist like Jacques Chirac?

    We hear a great deal about European values, and how they differ from
    their inferior American counterparts. But in practice what we see in
    Europe day to day is a series of low-minded attempts by member states
    to use the EU for their own narrow purposes, or groups of states
    insisting on the indefinite postponement of pressing continental
    issues. These can never constitute a moral compass, let alone a
    direction forward.

    West European capitals today tend not to grasp the degree to which the
    world is moving toward the ideals of economic and political freedom.
    Central and East Europeans are miles ahead on this point, as has
    become clear with the rapid expansion of the EU and the emergence of
    ideological differences between what Secretary of Defense Donald
    Rumsfeld termed "old" and "new" Europe. Reactions to the Ukrainian
    crisis, as I have already suggested, underscored the difference; new
    Europeans instantly grasped its significance, old Europeans fell back
    into silence. As a letter writer to the Guardian observed, "Clearly it
    still only takes a growl from Russia for Western Europe to abandon all
    support for human rights on its eastern borders." One might add that
    it likewise takes only a growl from Beijing to silence any protest at
    Chinese actions which, if carried out far more gently by white people,
    would most certainly be labeled war crimes.

    The noble values of economic and political freedom, pioneered by
    Western Europe, are in low repute in Western Europe, though they are
    plainly what should serve as the EU's missing ideological cement.
    Recently I had a long chat with a Japanese ambassador about details of
    the alliance between our two countries. As we parted and he turned to
    shake hands, he said, "One more thing, Arthur. This is not about any
    of the things we discussed. It is about freedom." I can easily imagine
    similar words coming out of the mouth of a Polish or a Latvian or a
    Czech diplomat. But a French, German, or Italian one?

    After the November 2004 election, a German columnist wrote that "if
    there is one man capable of making a European feel truly European, it
    is not President Jacques Chirac of France or Chancellor Gerhard
    Schroeder of Germany. It is George W. Bush." He was not paying a
    compliment to the American President. Still and all, there may be more
    to his words than he intended. Some Europeans have chosen to forget
    what they were the first to teach the world, but Americans still
    remember and strive to live by it. Nor, on the grassroots level, are
    the two communities so different: to a recent survey asking whether
    the U.S. and Europe share enough common values to be able to cooperate
    on international problems, 70 percent of Americans answered yes, and
    so did 60 percent of Europeans. Sixty percent of both believed NATO
    was important to their security.

    What with its borders in flux and its membership growing, terrorism on
    the increase, and Washington ever more distant, the pressure on Europe
    to rise to its potential is far stronger today than at any point since
    the end of World War II. Historians have no right to be optimistic,
    but events and attitudes like those I have surveyed do sound to me
    like at least a basis for mutual rediscovery and cooperation, albeit
    with modalities redefined. It would be a fine historical irony if
    George W. Bush were to prove a catalyzing agent of this world
    transformation as well.

    Arthur Waldron is the Lauder professor of international relations at
    the University of Pennsylvania. He spent the second half of 2004 as a
    visiting professor of history at the Catholic University of Leuven,

    ^1 In Europe as in the United States, the economy and standard of
    living are kept afloat by borrowing. Jacques de la Rosière, the former
    managing director of the International Monetary Fund, recently
    declared France's public finances "not sustainable."

    ^2 See, for example, "The Chinese Sickness" in Commentary, July-August

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