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PINR: The Europe - U.S. Divide

The Europe - U.S. Divide

By Power and Interest News Report (PINR) Column

The recent tensions between the United States and Western Europe show no sign of abating and further highlight the growing differences between these former allies. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the traditional threat to Western Europe dissolved. Throughout the '90s, the U.S. began to realize that without the threat of the Soviet Union, there was no state from which to protect the European continent. Furthermore, the U.S. could now pursue its envisioned foreign policy without having to be overly concerned with the opinions of those in Europe -- whether it be the public or the politicians and diplomats; without Europe being threatened, European states had no cards to play against the United States, as the French consistently had done in conflicts such as the one in Vietnam. Despite this lack of dependence, during the first decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States continued to pursue its traditional role in European relations: in 1991, the Bush administration worked with Europe to attack Iraq in the Gulf War, and later in the decade the Clinton administration worked with Europe to attack Serbia in the Balkans.

Throughout this decade, even though neither the Bush administration nor the Clinton administration necessarily needed Europe to achieve their interests, the link between European states and the United States was too strong to circumvent. While the U.S. did flex its muscles more during the decade after the Soviet Union's fall in 1991, by and large it continued to work with its traditional allies in Western Europe and through the multilateral institution of the United Nations. All of this changed with the election of George W. Bush in the fall of 2000.

The coming to power of the Bush administration coupled with the September 11 attacks provided Washington the opportunity to reinstate full-scale power politics back into U.S. foreign policy. This policy change reflected the belief in Washington that the United Nations was becoming irrelevant. The U.N. was created to restrain large powers from colliding; the need for the United Nations was evident after World War II when, for the second time in 50 years, the power projections and interests of regional hegemons clashed and resulted in much bloodshed. The purpose of the U.N. was to prevent strong states from destroying each other again.

The need for the U.N. to restrain weak states was less clear. During the decades after its creation, it was not the U.N. that restrained weak states but was instead the superpowers that did so. The United States restrained weak states within its sphere of influence and the Soviets restrained weak states within their own sphere. Because of this reality, the U.N. was used by the United States to check the power of the Soviet Union, while the Soviet Union used the U.N. to check the power of the United States.

Now that the Soviet Union is gone, the only power the U.N. has left to restrain is that of the United States, but the Bush administration has reacted with hostility to attempts by the U.N. to restrain U.S. actions. Therefore, what the world has now witnessed with the decision to attack Iraq is the Bush administration taking the United States one more step away from internationalism and one step closer to power politics, which remains the condition of world order that has prevailed since the creation of the modern state system at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

The American disdain for being restrained by the United Nations is why the entire world, except for isolated U.S. allies such as Great Britain, Japan, and Australia, have felt threatened by the U.S.' latest move in Iraq. The eyes of the world were watching to see whether the U.S. would decidedly choose a world of power politics, or remain within the confines of internationalism. Now, since Washington chose power politics, the world is scrambling to adjust. The U.S. has shown that it has no need for the United Nations since the U.S. sphere of influence now covers the entire world, as there is no superpower to challenge its hegemony.

When a state in the Middle East now steps out of line as Iraq did, it will be the United States that works to restrain it, not the United Nations. If a state in Asia steps out of line, it will also be the United States that will work to restrain it. The entire globe is now within the United States' sphere of influence, which has made the U.N. more impotent than ever. This is what has so enraged Europe. By increasing its power outside the restraints of the United Nations, the U.S. has further weakened the power of all states still working within the United Nations.

Other states will only accept U.S. power politics if they also find the U.S. political, economic and societal model as desirable. But this is not the case. These disagreements express America's failure at persuasion and, judging by history, the U.S. will not be able to rule by striking down every state that challenges this model. This looks to be the current plan shown through the Bush administration's 2002 National Security Strategy.

Each time the U.S. strikes down a challenger to its rule, the U.S. is going to have to rely more and more on coercion in order to preserve its new world order. This state of affairs will weaken U.S. persuasion around the world and increase the growing resentment held toward the United States. It will further encourage potential superpowers such as China to increase its power as to be able to rival the United States. When this happens, as it did in World War II between the U.S. and Japan, the world could very well witness another clash between the powers and interests of titans along with all the negative implications that holds.


Erich Marquardt drafted this report.

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an analysis-based publication that seeks to, as objectively as possible, provide insight into various conflicts, regions and points of interest around the globe. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. PINR seeks to inform rather than persuade. This report may be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast provided that any such reproduction identifies the original source, All comments should be directed to

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