Ideas of Europe

Posted in United States | 16-Jul-04

The new Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute


Institute for Political Studies, Portuguese Catholic University (July 7-10,

2004) Ideas of Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship Speech by Radek Sikorski

We meet after a month of momentous events. First the commemorations of D-Day reminded us of the finest hour of our common struggle against tyranny. Then the governments of the European Union agreed the text of a proposed Constitutional Treaty. The NATO summit welcomed new members--some of them former captive nations inside the USSR--as full participants. NATO has agreed to expand its military presence in Afghanistan and to take on a limited but useful role in the stabilization of Iraq. So have we got over the marital spat within the Atlantic alliance over Iraq? I don't think so.

As a European in Washington, one is surprised by many things. One of them is being denounced as a European, so much that one begins to feel like one.

Another is the sense that the transatlantic link is not the exclusive geopolitical link that America has, and that it is not even a necessary link. I think that when we complain about the United States in Europe we do it as if we would in an old-fashioned family: the old bag may be a pain, but it does not occur to us to have a different one. America strikes me like a forty-year-old family man feeling that perhaps this is a moment to re-arrange his life before it is too late.

Lastly, we Europeans have collectively become a status-quo power. The twentieth century, with its world wars, revolutions, and slaughter, exhausted us so much--we are so pleased to have buried our own demons--that we are ready to rest and enjoy peace for a while. Americans, as the winner in the global struggle for mastery, should be a status quo power par excellence. What else can you desire when you have reached the pinnacle? The odd thing is that the American will to power is not satisfied. They remain a revolutionary people. Americans are as restless, as impatient, and as ready to transform the world as they were at the time de Tocqueville first described these qualities of their collective mind. So the chances that they would respond to a challenge on their home ground with a weary wave of the hand were always small. They were always going to respond with the full force of a democracy when shaken to its foundations and the consequences have been felt across the globe: in Afghanistan, in Iraq, but also in Europe, for better and for worse.

I would like to take you on an intellectual journey that may challenge some of your basic assumptions and may make you feel uncomfortable. First, assume that 9/11 was not an act of terrorism like dozens, even hundreds, that we have suffered in Europe. That is an easy one to assume because it was in fact the bloodiest foreign attack on the United States in the history of that country. More people died than at Pearl Harbor, with greater economic and political impact--and remember that Pearl Harbor is in Hawaii, instead of a mile from the White House, like the Pentagon.

Second, imagine that you have the most powerful military, not just in the world but in history, and that 90 percent of the cost of maintaining it has to be borne irrespective of whether you are at peace or at war.

Thirdly, assume that the war in Iraq, far from an adventure of "Mad King George," was the result of a broad coalition that spans both main political parties in the United States. That is not to say that Americans are uncritical of the way it has been prosecuted, and that they may not punish in November 2004 those they deem responsible for incompetence. But I think in Europe we tend to forget the fact that the Iraq Liberation Act was passed under the previous administration, that President Clinton to this day endorses the war, and that George W. Bush's challenger, Senator Kerry, voted for it and has made not a squeak about wanting to withdraw prematurely. The point is that we have seen the emergence of a new foreign policy posture, which is unlikely to change irrespective of who is boss at the White House.

Given America's revolutionary drive, its military might, and its bipartisan commitment to go after the roots of terrorism, what can that doctrine be? I believe that Charles Krauthammer summed it up right at the Irving Kristol Lecture he delivered at AEI earlier this year. Forget isolationism--the two oceans are no longer the protection they once were; forget Wilsonianism with its naïve aspiration to end all conflict; forget narrow "realism" that pursues power for its own sake, forget empire building, which the U.S.

public has no taste for; forget the 1990's democratic globalism, as too fuzzy and too ambitious in scope. Krauthammer proposed that the right synthesis of all these strands for a vulnerable hyperpower is "democratic realism." We will support democracy everywhere--the doctrine goes--but we will commit blood and treasure only in places where there is a strategic necessity--meaning, places central to the larger war against the existential enemy, the enemy that poses a global mortal threat to freedom.

You can label it neoconservatism, but it is espoused by both George Bush and Tony Blair, one of whom is not neo, and the other is not a conservative. In fact, one of its strengths is that it appeals both to the post-Cold War right--which learnt that other people's liberty can secure Western interests, and to humanitarian interventionists, who have regained their faith in the use of force after it was used to pre-empt genocide in the Balkans. Its central belief is that democracies are inherently more pacific and inherently more friendly to the United States. It argues that realists are right that to protect your interests you often have to go around the world bashing bad guys over the head but that this is not enough. To permanently overcome your enemy's enmity, you have to transform him in your own image, and you have to transplant something that will grow organically, namely, democracy.

Krauthammer says that "democratic realism--sees as the engine of history not the will to power but the will to freedom. Its inspiration comes from the Truman Doctrine of 1947, the Kennedy inaugural of 1961, and Reagan's 'evil empire' speech of 1983. They all sought to recast a struggle for power between two geopolitical titans into a struggle between freedom and unfreedom, and yes, good and evil. Which is why the Truman Doctrine was heavily criticized by realists like Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan and Reagan was vilified by the entire foreign policy establishment: for the sin of ideologizing the Cold War by injecting a moral overlay." Today, post-9/11, Americans like Krauthammer see themselves in a similar existential struggle but with a different enemy: not Soviet communism, but Arab-Islamic totalitarianism, both secular and religious.

I have given you this long summary of Krauthammer's argument because it is a more eloquent formulation of what George Bush said in his speeches to National Endowment for Democracy and in London last year. If I am right, then this is going to be a bipartisan doctrine of the American hyperpower.

The supertanker that is U.S. foreign policy is not easily turned, so you can still point to instances of it being flouted but, I believe, the Spirit of the Age has spoken. If so, what are we, Europeans to think and do about it?

The first reflection that springs to mind is that we should be so lucky that the world's leading country should adopt such a policy. Europe is, after all, closer, to the undemocratic regimes that are its targets. Most of the economic and political migrants from the failed societies on the other side of the Mediterranean come, after all, to Europe, not the United States. If the Iranian mullahs manage to put a nuclear warhead on top of a missile, that missile is more likely to have the range to reach a European capital rather than Washington. And conversely, if the Greater Middle East were to shake itself out of its torpor and join the global economy, we in Europe would the biggest beneficiaries.

At the same time, building democracy is something we know about. Most countries of continental Europe have progressed from dictatorship to democracy within living memory. We know how crucial it is, and we know how difficult it is. Supporting democracy may be controversial in the more ossified parts of our foreign policy elite, but it should be an easy sell to our public. It is also a policy that can be congruous with the dominant political trend on our continent--toward greater integration. I believe it is non-controversial to say that whereas extending the promise of membership in the European Union helped to sustain democracy in Central Europe, failure to so in the Balkans fatally undermined it. Ergo, we can create concentric circles of association with our club to transform the internal policies of our neighbors in our image. This ability to realign the politics and even the psychology of ruling classes and whole nations is an important tool. It would be nice to think that this--a carrot to America's stick--is what we can bring as our contribution to the job at hand. It is nice to think so, and this could be a good thing but, I fear, it will not do.

We Europeans do not just want to have the satisfaction that people in our neighborhood want to join us. After all, people may want to join us for a variety of motives, not all of them pure. You can aspire to a club with good facilities even if you think the committee is mismanaging it and it is on the way to going bust. Princes subscribed to the Holy Roman Empire centuries after at ceased to be holy, Roman, or an empire.

No, what we need is not just the attraction of our satiated stability. To be a useful partner in the tackling the challenge, we need to create the expectation of future dynamic success. Rhetorically, everybody agrees. It was, after all, in this town that the European Union promulgated its Lisbon Agenda, which was and is supposed to make Europe the most competitive and information-rich economy in the world by 2010. Well, it is not exactly on course, is it? Please forgive me for this quotation, but "I told you so" is supposed to be the most delicious four words in politics and I cannot resist. Business Week in November 2003 quoted from an interview I gave them when the agenda was originally announced. "I haven't laughed so much since the Communist Politburo used to announce totally unrealistic production targets." The idea the a dozen men in suits can, by virtue of their pompous announcement, make Europe competitive, is ludicrous. The lesson of this is not to try to pass another EU directive or make another statement, but to get real and do the things that actually make economies competitive and

efficient: smash telecom monopolies, withdraw subsidies, deregulate markets, privatize remaining state industries; in short carry out the Thatcherite/Reaganite revolution here on the continent of Europe, so that its people can enjoy the same benefits of growth and prosperity that Britain and America have had.

Above all, we will not restart growth until we address the main difference between continental Europe on the one and Britain and the United States on the other: our dread of risk, particularly as regards regulations on job security. It is now a fact, as established as anything in social sciences can be, that the less cumbersome it is to hire and fire people, the less unemployment results. While each of us individually would love to have job security, we now know that job protection is a form of selfishness of those in employment toward those who aspire to it. Without addressing the pervasive European aversion to risk, in economy and beyond, without wholeheartedly embracing creative destruction as the source of innovation and growth, we will never become competitive.

Second, Americans have convinced themselves that Europe is in long-term demographic decline. And while it is odd to hear this at a time when Europe has just added 70 million citizens and is actually more populous that the United States, trends are indeed ominous. Unless something is done, we will not be able to pay for the welfare entitlements of those employed today and our continent will undergo a radical ethnic transformation. The reason for this is relatively straightforward. Whereas 100 years ago a child was an economic benefit to a family, as well as its pension policy, today each child represents a cost of over 100,000 euros. When you add the Europeans'

more cramped living quarters and the high price of property, is it any wonder that young people in Europe chose their careers and holidays over rearing families? Here, France has shown the way, maintaining as it does one of the highest birthrates in Europe. Causality is difficult to establish, but it is probably no coincidence that each French child gives their parents generous tax concessions. We need to clone the system in the rest of Europe, as well as modify the model under which you take a financial hit unless you retire the moment you qualify for a state pension.

Third, and most urgently, if we want to be players, we need to reform the European military. Europe spends about a third of what the United States spends on defense and would be a serious partner if it had a third of U.S.

capabilities. But we are not there and the gap is widening every year.

Thanks to precision munitions, for example, the U.S. could actually cut the number of aircraft it maintains, and it would still be increasing its ability to destroy enemy targets. We, on the other hand, continue to maintain twenty-five general staffs, twenty-five procurement policies, twenty-five armies, air forces, and almost as many navies. If each state of the United States had its own defense budget and policy, they would no doubt be as pathetic as we are. If we want to be taken seriously, this has to change. Within a transatlantic institutional context, we have to sort out our procurement policies and our militaries in general.

Lastly, we need a common foreign policy on those things that we agree on.

Only by speaking to tyrants with one voice, and by backing our words with our considerable resources, can we deny them the opportunities to sow mischief by playing countries against one another. Such a common foreign policy must mean--if it is to be taken seriously--that the European Union speaks with one voice at the UN security council. Countries that talk about European unity while jealously guarding their national veto, or even trying to acquire one, are merely stoking suspicions of responding to one unilateralism with a micro-unilateralism of their own.

All of this assumes, of course, that we shake off some of the discredited ideological baggage of twentieth-century collectivism and resist the temptation to make anti-Americanism our lowest common denominator ideology.

The unpopular war in Iraq should make people think: if it is impossible to unite Europe in opposition to the United States even on something as unpopular as the war in Iraq, the lesson is clear: you can either have a united Europe that develops in harmony with the United States, or you can have your anti-American fantasy, but you cannot have both.

I would like to end by suggesting what America for its part can do to retain allies. This is to assume that the high tide of imperial hubris is behind us, and that the cost in lives, treasure and reputation of the mess in Iraq, has brought back a modicum of realism to American policymaking.

First, remember the lessons of your own history. There is a passage in Niall Ferguson's Empire about the origins of the American War of Independence that struck me powerfully. Americans did not secede from Britain because of stamp duty or taxes in general, Ferguson argues. Stamp duty had already been repealed by the time of the Boston tea party and the colonials were in any case more lightly taxed than Britons in Great Britain. The real reason was

psychological: Americans had acquired a proper pride in their own success and had had enough of being talked down to. Today, Europeans are often offended by what they hear as a patronizing tone from Washington. We may be too weak to be equal partners, but we are not so weak as to be subordinates.

Mutual respect is surely not too much to ask for.

Second, remember the more recent lessons of victory in the Cold War. Ronald Reagan's military build-up was useful in tipping the Soviets into admitting failure but Ronald Reagan himself understood that the confrontation was a moral one. The West's superior gadgetry was but a proof of a more vibrant society, and it was the craving for the West's liberty and prosperity that motivated people on the other side of the Iron Curtain to make breeches in it. I know, I lived it. When I was joining the Solidarity movement as a young student, I did not think "Gosh, isn't the tomahawk cruise missile cooler than the Soviet SS-20!" No. I thought, "If we had freedom of the press, if we could kick out our leaders every few years, if we had a market economy, our country could be normal, and I wouldn't have to live inside a freak social experiment." It was from Radio Free Europe that we learnt not only what was happening in the big wide world, but what was happening in our own towns. Thanks to official and unofficial support for the dissident movements in our countries, alternative leaders lived and formulated their visions for our countries. It was thanks to Fulbright scholarships extended to both opposition leaders and party apparatchiks that our leaders became familiar with the ways of the free world. In short, we strove for becoming like the West because we were convinced that it was more moral and that it would welcome us, not because it was better armed. Today, instead of offering thousands of scholarships to Muslim women--who are our natural allies on the other side--the United States has made its visa procedures so inconvenient and even humiliating that millions of people are staying out.

The more foreigners know the United States from Hollywood movies rather than from contact with real Americans, the more hostile they are likely to be.

Third, be careful how you formulate your ideology. I admire and even envy the way patriotic Americans speak about their country. I wish we in Europe could have the same faith in the goodness, uniqueness, and success of our countries and our continent. But American patriotism is evolving, and after the humiliation and loss of 9/11 it has become less inclusive. A British friend of mine, a card carrying member of the Washington establishment for the last twenty years, put it succinctly: "Before 9/11 I felt that Washington was the headquarters of the free world, and we all had our desk in it. Today, I feel more and more like a foreigner." Or, to put it differently, while I agree with Krauthammer's vision of America as a force for good in the world, I am surprised that in his plan of converting the foreign parts of the world to free market democracy, he did not see fit to mention any role for actual foreigners. People around the world, even admirers and allies, will not undertake life and death tasks if told to do it for the love of America. To non-Americans, American nationalism cannot be persuasive as a rallying call. If foreigners are told to follow America's lead simply because America is superior, we will merely be offended.

Foreigners will not worship at the shrine of America. They can, on the other hand, be inspired, when America portrays itself as the strongest member of community of common values and objectives. Listen to this voice from the depths of the Cold War: "I consider myself a servant not of your country alone, because I work for the freedom of all, but since this freedom emanates mainly from your country, I have decided to join with you, and shall continue as long as my strength lasts." So said Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski during one of his first meetings with his American handlers in the early 1970s. He went on to supply the United States with over 40,000 pages of documents, including details of the Soviet war time command bunker, designs of the latest weapons, plans for exercises of a Soviet invasion of the West and plans to crush Solidarity and introduce martial law in Poland.

The most important spy of the later Cold War, Kuklinski daily risked his life on behalf of America because America represented something bigger than itself, something that included his own country as he wanted it to be. It would be tragic if America lost that appeal and came to be seen as just another selfish nation-state.

Fourth, and very briefly, look after your friends. If you treat countries that are hostile, neutral and friendly the same way, you will find yourself with fewer friends in the future. Equally, if the attitude is--I have heard it said in influential circles in Washington: "What have you done for me lately?"--your friends will soon stop doing anything at all. I know how difficult it is to pay attention to the petty concerns of 200 countries that vie for American favor. What can some one country's request matter when you have the free world to run? When you are as powerful as the United States is, it becomes virtually impossible to synthesize all that goes on in the world. But unless you make a better job of it, the opposite dynamic will take hold. Countries know that just as the United States does not have the energy to address their concerns, so it will not when they themselves backslide or even sow mischief that goes under Washington's radar.

I could go on. It helps to have ambassadors who speak local languages. It is not good policy to subject foreign ministers of friendly European countries to strip searches at the airport. Do you really need to charge $100 to apply for a visa to countries to which U.S. citizens travel freely?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We now have an opportunity we should grasp. Strategic dialogue between the allies has begun. America is a little humbled, Europe a little more worried.

It may be less than we could have hoped for but it is the beginning of a beginning. Afghanistan is, I believe, an important test of our commitment to our values. We have here a country which fought valiantly against the might of the Red Army, vitally helping our victory in the Cold War. Through an American-aided blitzkrieg and a European-sponsored political process, we have replaced a cruel, terrorist-sponsoring Taliban regime with the best team Afghanistan has had in twenty-five years. NATO is there to stabilize the country and supervise elections. What could be more sensible and more noble than that? Yet only fraction of the economic assistance we have pledged has actually arrived and now we are skimping on troops. Europe, which has two million men and women in uniform, is scraping the bottom of the barrel to send a couple of thousand of them to Afghanistan! This is unserious and it is ominous. Will Afghanistan do to NATO what it did to the British and the Soviets? An important principle is at stake. Our enemies must know that when NATO goes to war, NATO wins. If we fail, the consequences will be felt much further a field than Afghanistan.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We can still win. When we start thinking about what we can do together, there is no limit to what we can achieve. Through their gruesome acts, our enemies remind us every day that we are, after all, America and Europe, but we are also the Western civilization.