The US vs. the Rest
Francis Fukuyama is author of The End of History and
the Last Man. This article is based on a speech he gave in Melbourne,
Australia in August at the Center for Independent Studies.
Melbourne-Like many Americans, I have been preoccupied
since September 11, 2001 trying to understand the meaning of this event
and how the world has changed as a result of it. An accounting has been
demanded of me in particular, since I argued 12 years ago that we had
reached the "end of history." September 11 would seem to qualify,
prima facie, as an historical event, and the fact that it was perpetrated
by a group of Islamic terrorists who reject virtually all aspects of the
modern, Western world lends credence, at least on the surface, to Samuel
Huntington's "clash of civilizations" hypothesis.
I have developed a standard answer to this challenge. The standard answer
goes something like this. The "end of history" hypothesis was
about the process of modernization. Progressive intellectuals around the
world spent much of the last century and a half believing that historical
progress would result in an evolution of modern societies toward socialism.
In more recent years, they have held that societies could modernize and
yet remain fundamentally different culturally. My hypothesis was that
there was such a thing as a single, coherent modernization process, but
that it led not to socialism or to a variety of culturally-determined
systems, but rather to liberal democracy and market-oriented economics
as the only viable choices. The process of modernization was, moreover,
a universal one that would sooner or later drag all societies in its train.
Understood in this fashion, September 11 represents a real challenge,
but not an ultimately convincing one. Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, the Taliban,
and radical Islamism more generally, do in fact represent ideological
challenges to Western liberal democracy that are in certain ways sharper
than those offered by Communism. But in the long run, it is hard to see
that Islamism offers much of a realistic alternative as a governing ideology
for real world societies. Not only does it have limited appeal to non-Muslims;
it does not meet the aspirations of the vast majority of Muslims themselves.
In the countries that have had recent experience of living under an actual
Muslim theocracy-Iran and Afghanistan-there is every evidence that it
has become extremely unpopular. Thus, while fanatical Islamists armed
with weapons of mass destruction pose a severe threat in the short run,
the longer term challenge in the battle of ideas is not going to come
from this quarter. September 11 represents a serious detour, but in the
end modernization and globalization will remain the central structuring
principles of world politics.
I want, however, to explore another important issue that is related to
the question of the end of history that has been raised by events since
September 11, namely, whether the "West," which was in my earlier
account the ultimate goal of the historical process, is really a coherent
concept, and whether the United States and its foreign policy might themselves
become the central issues in international politics.
REACTIONS TO SEPTEMBER 11 | In the immediate aftermath of September
11, the French sociologist Jean Baudrillard published a long piece in
Le Monde in which he argued that "Ultimately, it is they [i.e., the
terrorists] who've done the deed, but it is we who have wanted it...Terrorism
is immoral, and it responds to a globalization that is itself immoral."
His image is one of France, and Europe more generally, as a island of
civilization caught in a struggle between two morally equivalent fundamentalisms,
that of the US and of the radical Islamists.
Baudrillard does not, of course, speak for all Frenchmen, and his piece
was quickly denounced in Le Monde by Alain Minc who said that it reflected
"the French intelligensia's traditional inability to recognize that
a hierarchy of values exists." But Baudrillard's view, while phrased
in an offensive way unique to French intellectuals, represents more of
an undercurrent in Europe than many Americans realize or are inclined
to admit. The idea that the US was only getting what it deserved in the
Word Trade Center/Pentagon attacks was a far from uncommon view, not just
in Europe but in many other parts of the world.
There was, of course, a large, spontaneous outpouring of support for the
US and for Americans around the world after September 11, with European
governments lining up immediately to help the US prosecute its "war
on terrorism." But with the demonstration of total American military
dominance that came with the successful rousting of al-Qaeda and the Taliban
from Afghanistan, new expressions of anti-Americanism began to pour forth.
After President Bush's denunciation of the "axis of evil" in
his late January State of the Union address, it was not just European
intellectuals but European politicians and publics more generally that
began to criticize the US on a wide variety of fronts. According to Will
Hutton, the Laborite journalist, Britain's US ally is "not the same
good America...that reconstructed Europe and led an international liberal
economic and social order." Rather, it had been taken over by a group
of crazed conservatives and was now the chief source of global instability.
In France, a book became a best seller arguing that September 11 was not
the work of Muslim extremists but of a cabal of conservatives within the
US government. According to one poll, some 30 percent of French people
regard the US as France's chief enemy. While many Americans regard September
11 as a broad attack on Western civilization, Europeans are much more
likely to regard it as a response to specifically American policies, representing
a risk from which they are largely immune. What is going on here?
The end of history was supposed to be about the victory of Western, not
simply American, values and institutions. The Cold War was fought by alliances
based on shared values of freedom and democracy. And yet an enormous gulf
has opened up in American and European perceptions about the world, and
the sense of shared values is increasingly frayed. Does the concept of
the "West" still make sense in the first decade of the 21st
century? Is the fracture line over globalization actually a division not
between the West and the Rest, but between the US and the Rest?
In my view, the idea of the West remains a coherent one, and that there
remain critical shared values, institutions and interest that will continue
to bind the world's developed democracies, and Europe and the US, in particular.
But there are some deeper differences emerging between Western democracies
that will be highly neuralgic in America's dealings with the world in
the coming years that need critical attention by policymakers and by,
THE NATURE OF THE RIFT BETWEEN AMERICA AND ITS
ALLIES | "Europe" in this context is more of a placeholder
for global attitudes critical of American foreign policy. Europeans, of
course, are themselves divided in their views of the US; the views I characterize
as typical of them are often broadly representative of left-of-center
opinion in a variety of countries around the world, including Australia
and New Zealand. Asian countries from Japan to Malaysia have voiced similar
misgivings about American unilateralism in the wake of September 11. Some
views, however, related to the need to devolve sovereignty to supranational
organizations are peculiar to the historical experience of members of
the European Union.
The ostensible issues raised in the US-European disputes since the "axis
of evil" speech for the most part revolve around alleged American
unilateralism and international law. There is by now a familiar list of
European complaints about American policy, including but not limited to
the Bush administration's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol on global
warming, its failure to ratify the Rio Pact on biodiversity, its withdrawal
from the ABM treaty and pursuit of missile defense, its opposition to
the ban on land mines, its treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo
Bay, its opposition to new provisions of the biological warfare convention
and most recently its opposition to the International Criminal Court.
The most serious act of US unilateralism in European eyes concerns the
Bush administration's announced intention to bring about regime change
in Iraq, if necessary though a go-it-alone invasion. The axis-of-evil
speech did indeed mark a very important change in American foreign policy
from deterrence to a policy of active preemption of terrorism. This doctrine
was further amplified in Bush's West Point speech in June, in which he
declared "the war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We
must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the
worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only
path to safety is the path of action."
The European view is that Europe is seeking to create a genuine rule-based
international order suitable to the circumstances of the post-Cold War
world. That world, free of sharp ideological conflicts and large-scale
military competition, is one that gives substantially more room for consensus,
dialogue and negotiation as ways of settling disputes. They are horrified
by the Bush Administration's announcement of a virtually open-ended doctrine
of preemption against terrorists or states that sponsor terrorists, in
which the US and the US alone decides when and where to use force. In
Europe, the nation-state to an increasing extent has been dissociated
from military power, despite the fact that the modern state built on centralized
power was born on that continent.
Robert Kagan, in a brilliant recent article in Policy Review, put the
current difference between the US and Europe as follows. The Europeans
are the ones who actually believe they are living at the end of history,
that is, in a largely peaceful world that to an increasing degree can
be governed by law, norms and international agreements. In this world,
power politics and classical realpolitik have become obsolete. Americans,
by contrast, think they are still living in history and need to use traditional
power-political means to deal with threats from Iraq, al-Quaeda, and other
malign forces. According to Kagan, the Europeans are half right: They
have indeed created an end-of-history world for themselves within the
European Union, where sovereignty has given way to supranational organization.
What they don't understand, however, is that the peace and safety of their
European bubble is guaranteed ultimately by American military power. Absent
that, they themselves would be dragged backward into history.
IS THE RIFT GENUINE? | This, at least, is the popularly accepted
account of American unilateralism and European emphasis on international
law and institutions. We need to ask, however, whether it is in fact accurate,
and whether the US has consistently been more unilateralist than Europe.
The truth of the matter here is far more complicated, with the differences
between the US and Europe being much more nuanced.
Liberal internationalism, after all, has a long and honored place in American
foreign policy. The US was, after all, the country that promoted the League
of Nations, the UN, the Bretton Woods institutions, the GATT/WTO and a
host of other international organizations. There are a huge number of
international governance organizations in the world today in which the
US participates as an active, if not the most active member, from standards-setting,
nuclear power safety and scientific cooperation, to aviation safety, bank
settlements, drug regulation, accounting standards/corporate governance
It is useful here to make a distinction between those forms of liberal
internationalism that are primarily economic, and those that have a more
political or security dimension. Particularly in recent years, the US
has focused on international institutions that have promoted international
trade and investment. It has put substantial effort into creating a rule-based
international trade and investment regime with stronger and more autonomous
decision-making authority. The motives for this are obvious: Americans
benefit strongly from and indeed dominate the global economy, which is
why globalization bears a "made in the USA" label.
In the realm of economics, the Europeans don't have all that great a record
with regard to respect for multilateral rules when compared to the US.
They have been on their high horse this year because of American actions
with regard to steel and agricultural subsidies, and they are right to
complain about American hypocrisy with regard to free trade. But this
I regard as kind of normal hypocrisy: All countries act in contradiction
of declared free trade principles, and the Europeans have been notorious
for among other things agricultural subsidies maintained at higher levels
and over longer periods of time than American ones. America is guilty
only of the most recent outbreak of hypocrisy. And in any event, the American
administration can argue that its backsliding on trade was a tactical
retreat undertaken for the sake of trade promotion authority, which was
in fact granted by the US Congress in early August. With TPA the Bush
administration has announced an ambitious trade liberalization agenda
including the ending of agricultural subsidies, though at this point the
agenda remains an unfulfilled promise.
There are a number of areas where the Europeans have acted unilaterally
in economic matters, and in ways that at times contravene the existing
legal order. The EU resisted unfavorable decisions against them on bananas
for nine years, and beef hormones for even longer. They have announced
a precautionary principle with regard to genetically modified foods, which
is very difficult to reconcile with the WTO's sanitary and phytosanitary
rules. Indeed, the Europeans have been violating their own rules with
regard to GM foods, with certain member states setting standards different
from those of the community itself. The European Competition Commission
under Mario Monti successfully blocked the merger of GE and Honeywell
when the deal had been approved by American and Canadian regulators, in
ways that promoted suspicions that the EU was simply acting to protect
specific European interests. Finally, the EU has succeeded in exporting
its data privacy rules to the US through its safe harbor arrangements.
For all their talk of wanting to establish a rule-based international
order, the Europeans haven't done that well within the EU itself. As John
van Oudenaren has argued, the Europeans have developed a decision-making
system of Byzantine complexity, with overlapping and inconsistent rules
and weak enforcement powers. The European Commission often doesn't have
the power to even monitor compliance of member states with its own directives,
much less the ability to make them conform. This fits with an attitude
toward law in certain parts of Europe that sees declarative intent often
of greater importance than actual implementation, and which Americans
tend to see instead as undermining the very rule of law.
The second type of liberal internationalism has to do with politics and
security. With the exception of the two environmental agreements (Rio
and Kyoto), all of the US-European disputes in recent months have concerned
security-related issues (the International Criminal Court may not seem
like a security matter, but the reason that the US does not want to participate
in it is out of fear that its soldiers and officials may be held criminally
liable by the ICC in the conduct of their duties). It is in this realm
that the tables are turned and European charges of American unilateralism
It is possible to overstate the importance of these disputes. A great
deal of European irritation with the US arises from stylistic matters,
and from the Bush Administration's strange failure to consult, explain,
justify, and cajole in the manner of previous administrations. The administration
could have let ratification of Kyoto languish in Congress as the Clinton
administration did, rather than casually announcing withdrawal from the
pact at a luncheon for NATO ambassadors. Europeans did not like the religious
language of the "axis of evil," nor the fact that this major
policy shift was announced as it were on the fly without prior notification
The US has had a consistent record of using strong-arm tactics to shape
international agreements to its liking, and then to walk away from them
at the last moment. This pattern goes all the way back to Woodrow Wilson
and the League of Nations, and was continued in negotiations over the
Rio Pact, Kyoto and the ICC. Even if you are skeptical about the value
of international institutions, it is not difficult to see why non-Americans
might get a little irritated at this kind of behavior.
The foregoing suggests that much of the European-American rift concerned
style rather than substance. The Clinton administration talked a multilateralist
game, while the Bush administration has at times asserted what amounts
to a kind of principled unilateralism; in fact, policy between the two
administrations didn't differ in substance all that much. Clinton may
have signed the Kyoto and ICC treaties, but he knew he wouldn't spend
much political capital in a hopeless effort to get them through Congress.
On the other hand, the US effort in Afghanistan made use of a reasonably
broad coalition of forces.
But while it is tempting to say the problem is simply stylistic, there
is in fact a deeper issue of principle between the US and Europe that
will ensure that transatlantic relations will remain neuralgic through
the years to come. The disagreement is not over the principles of liberal
democracy, which both sides share, but over where the ultimate source
of liberal democratic legitimacy lies.
To put it rather schematically and over-simply, Americans tend not to
see any source of democratic legitimacy higher than the constitutional
democratic nation-state. To the extent that any international organization
has legitimacy, it is because duly constituted democratic majorities have
handed that legitimacy up to them in a negotiated, contractual process.
Such legitimacy can be withdrawn at any time by the contracting parties;
international law and organization has nonexistence independent of this
type of voluntary agreement between sovereign nation-states.
Europeans, by contrast, tend to believe that democratic legitimacy flows
from the will of an international community much larger than any individual
nation-state. This international community is not embodied concretely
in a single, global democratic constitutional order, yet it hands down
legitimacy to existing international institutions, which are seen as partially
embodying it. Thus, peacekeeping forces in the former Yugoslavia are not
merely ad hoc intergovernmental arrangements, but rather moral expressions
of the will and norms of the larger international community.
One might be tempted to say that the stiff-necked defense of national
sovereignty of the type practiced by Sen. Jesse Helms is a characteristic
only of a certain part of the American Right, and that the Left is as
internationalist as are the Europeans. This would be largely correct in
the security-foreign policy arena, but dead wrong with regard to the economic
side of liberal internationalism. That is, the Left does not grant the
WTO or any other trade-related body any special status with regard to
legitimacy. They are very suspicious of the WTO when it overturns an environment
or labor law in the name of free trade, and are just as jealous of democratic
sovereignty on these issues as Sen. Helms.
Between these two views of the sources of legitimacy, I would say that
the Europeans are theoretically right, but wrong in practice. They assert
that they and not the Americans are the true believers in liberal universal
values. It is in fact impossible to assert as a theoretical matter that
proper liberal democratic procedure by itself inevitably results in outcomes
that are necessarily legitimate and just. A constitutional order that
is procedurally democratic can still decide to do terrible things to other
countries that violate human rights and norms of decency on which its
own democratic order is based. Indeed, it can violate the higher principles
upon which its legitimacy is based, as Lincoln argued was the case with
slavery. The legitimacy of its actions is not in the end based on democratic
procedural correctness, but on the prior rights and norms which come from
a moral realm higher than that of the legal order.
The problem with the European position is that while such a higher realm
of liberal democratic values might theoretically exist, it is very imperfectly
embodied in any given international institution. The very idea that this
legitimacy is handed downward from a willowy, disembodied international
level rather than handed upward from concrete, legitimate democratic publics
on a nation-state level virtually invites abuse on the part of elites
who are then free to interpret the will of the international community
to suit their own preferences.
The second important practical problem with the European position is that
of enforcement. The one power that is unique to sovereign nation-states
and to them alone, even in today's globalized world, is the power to enforce
laws. Even if existing international laws and organizations did accurately
reflect the will of the international community (whatever that means),
enforcement remains by and large the province of nation-states. A great
deal of both international and national law coming out of Europe consists
of what amount to social policy wish lists that are completely unenforceable.
Europeans justify these kinds of laws saying they are expressions of social
objectives; Americans reply, correctly in my view, that such unenforceable
aspirations undermine the rule of law itself.
The only way that this circle of theory and practice could be squared
would be if there were genuine democratic government at a level higher
than that of the nation-state. Such global democratic government could
then be said to truly embody the will of the international community,
while containing procedural safeguards to make sure that that will was
not willfully misinterpreted or abused by various elites or interest groups.
It would also presumably have enforcement powers that do not today exist,
apart from the specific ad hoc arrangements made for peacekeeping and
Some Europeans may believe that the steady accumulation of smaller international
institutions like the ICC or the various agencies of the UN will someday
result in something resembling democratic world government. In my view,
the chance of this happening is as close to zero as you ever get in political
life. What will be practically possible to construct in terms of international
institutions will not be legitimate or democratic, and what will be legitimate
and democratic will not be possible to construct. For better or worse,
such international institutions as we possess will have to be partial
solutions existing in the vacuum of international legitimacy above the
level of the nation-state. Or to put it differently, whatever legitimacy
they possess will have to be based on the underlying legitimacy of nation-states
and the contractual relationships they negotiate.
WHY DO THESE DIFFERENCES EXIST? | Robert Kagan provides a realpolitik
explanation for US-European differences with regard to international law.
The Europeans like international law and norms because they are much weaker
than the US, and the latter likes unilateralism because it is significantly
more powerful than any other country or group of countries (like the EU)
not just in terms of military power, but economically, technologically
and culturally as well.
This argument makes a great deal of sense as far as it goes. Small, weak
countries that are acted upon rather than influencing others naturally
prefer to live in a world of norms, laws, and institutions, in which more
powerful nations are constrained. Conversely, a "sole superpower"
like the US would naturally like to see its freedom of action be as unencumbered
But while the argument from the standpoint of power politics is correct
as far as it goes, it is not a sufficient explanation of why the US and
Europe, not to mention other countries around the world, differ. As noted
above, the pattern of US unilateralism and European multilateralism applies
primarily to security/foreign policy issues and secondarily to environmental
concerns; in the economic sphere, the US is enmeshed in multilateral institutions
despite (or perhaps because of) its dominance of the global economy.
Moreover, to point to differences in power is merely to beg the question
of why these differentials exist. The EU collectively encompasses a population
of 375 million people and has a GDP of $9.7 trillion, compared to a US
population of 280 million and a GDP of $10.1 trillion. Europe could certainly
spend money on defense at a level that would put it on a par with the
US, but it chooses not to. Europe spends barely $130 billion collectively
on defense-a sum that has been steadily falling-compared to US defense
spending of $300 billion, which is due to rise sharply. The post-September
11 increment in US defense spending requested by President Bush is larger
than the entire defense budget of Britain. Despite Europe's turn in a
more conservative direction in 2002, not one rightist or center-right
candidate is campaigning on a platform of significantly raising defense
spending. Europe's ability to deploy the power that it possesses is of
course greatly weakened by the collective action problems posed by the
current system of EU decision-making. But the failure to create more usable
military power is clearly a political and normative issue.
Moreover, not every small, weak country is equally outraged by American
unilateralism. In a curious role reversal from Cold War days, the Russians
were actually much more relaxed about the American withdrawal from the
ABM Treaty than were many Europeans, since it makes possible deep cuts
in offensive strategic nuclear forces. Australia and New Zealand of course
want the US to abide by international trade rules since they are directly
affected by American agricultural subsidies, but have generally expressed
less moral outrage over the American failure to subordinate its security
policy to international norms than most members of the European Union.
This brings us to other reasons why Europeans see the international order
so differently from Americans. One critically important factor has to
be the experience of European integration over the past generation. The
loss of sovereignty is not an abstract, theoretical matter to Europeans;
they have been steadily giving up powers to Brussels, from local control
over health and safety standards to social policy to their currency itself.
Having lived through this masochistic experience repeatedly, one imagines
that they are like former smokers who want to put everyone else through
the same withdrawal pains that they have endured.
The final important difference between the US and Europe with regard to
international order has nothing to do with European beliefs and practices,
but with America's unique national experience, and the sense of exceptionalism
that has arisen from it. The sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset has spent
much of his distinguished career explaining how the US is an outlier among
developed democracies, with policies and institutions that differ significantly
from those of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Japan. Whether
in regard to welfare, crime, regulation, education or foreign policy,
there are constant differences separating America from everyone else:
It is consistently more anti-statist, individualistic, laissez-faire and
egalitarian than other democracies.
This sense of exceptionalism extends to its own democratic institutions
and their legitimacy. Unlike most of the old societies of Europe, the
US was founded on the basis of a political idea. There was no American
people or nation prior to the founding of the country: national identity
is civic rather than religious, cultural, racial, or ethnic. There has
been only one American regime which, as the world's oldest continuously
existing democracy, is not viewed as a transient political compromise.
This means that the country's political institutions have always been
imbued with an almost religious reverence that Europeans, with more ancient
sources of identity, find peculiar. The proliferation of American flags
across the country in the wake of September 11 is only the most recent
manifestation of Americans' deeply felt patriotism.
Moreover, for Americans, their Declaration of Independence and Constitution
are not just the basis of a legal-political order on the North American
continent; they are the embodiment of universal values and have a significance
for mankind that goes well beyond the borders of the US. The American
dollar bill has the inscription novus ordo seclorum-"new order of
the ages"-written under the all-seeing eye of the great pyramid.
When President Reagan repeatedly quoted Governor Winthrop in speaking
of the US as a "shining city on a hill," his words had great
resonance for many Americans. This leads at times to a typically American
tendency to confuse its own national interests with the broader interests
of mankind as a whole.
The situation of Europe-as well as developed Asian societies like Japan,
for that matter-is very different. Europeans were peoples with shared
histories long before they were democracies. They have other sources of
identity besides politics. They have seen a variety of regimes come and
go, and some of those regimes have, in living memory, been responsible
for very shameful acts. The kind of patriotism that is commonplace in
America is highly suspect in many parts of Europe: Germans for many years
after World War II taught their children not to display the German flag
or cheer too loudly at football matches. While the French and, in a different
way, the British continue to feel a sense of broader national mission
in the world, it is safe to say that few other European countries regard
their own political institutions as universal models for the rest of the
world to follow. Indeed, many Europeans regard their national institutions
as having a much lower degree of legitimacy than international ones, with
the EU occupying a place in between.
The reasons for this are not hard to fathom. Europeans regard the violent
history of the first half of the 20th century as the direct outcome of
the unbridled exercise of national sovereignty. The house that they have
been building for themselves since the 1950s called the EU was deliberately
intended to embed those sovereignties in multiple layers of rules, norms
and regulations to prevent those sovereignties from ever spinning out
of control again. While the EU could become a mechanism for aggregating
and projecting power beyond Europe's borders, most Europeans see the EU's
purpose as one rather of transcending power politics. They do, in other
words, see their project as one of finding comfortable accommodations
for the last man at the end of history.
Australia's national experience places it somewhere in between the US
and Europe. As a loyal colony of Britain, it was not born in a revolution
against state authority as was the US, and therefore does not share America's
anti-statism and suspicion of higher authority to nearly the same degree.
Though it was also a land of new settlement, its national identity was
less overtly tied to a set of new democratic political institutions than
was that of the US. Its size and historical origins moreover have never
allowed Australia to develop a sense that its own institutions were exceptional.
On the other hand, national sovereignty is more important to Australia
than to most European countries. Australia has never had the experience
of the unlimited exercise of its own sovereignty leading it to disaster,
as in Central Europe. Rather, it saw its sovereignty threatened by Japan
and needed to be rescued from that threat by American power. The neighborhood
it lives in is highly diverse, politically and culturally. Traditional
power politics remains a fact of life in East Asia; there is no overarching
framework of institutions and norms comparable to the EU which is capable
of regulating relations between states in the region. As a small power,
it depends on larger powers being constrained by rules and institutions,
particularly in the economic realm, but it also depends ultimately on
American power for its security. It is not surprising, therefore, that
Australian criticisms of the US since September 11 have been more muted
than those coming from Europe.
ARE WE AT THE END OF HISTORY? | This brings us back full circle
to the initial question with which we started, which is also one of the
important sources of US-European disagreement. The Europeans are certainly
right that they are living at the end of history; the question is, where
is the rest of the world? Of course, much of the world is indeed mired
in history, having neither economic growth nor stable democracy nor peace.
But the end of the Cold War marked an important turn in international
relations, since for the first time the vast majority of the world's great
powers were stable, prosperous liberal democracies. While there could
be skirmishes between countries in history, like Iraq, and those beyond
it, like the US, the prospect of great wars between great powers had suddenly
There are certainly no new non-democratic great powers to challenge the
US; China may one day qualify, but it isn't there yet. But a terrorist
organization armed with weapons of mass destruction is a different matter:
Although the organization itself may be a minor historical player, the
technological capability it can potentially deploy is such that it must
be taken seriously as a world-class threat. Indeed, such an organization
poses graver challenges in certain ways than nuclear-armed superpowers,
since the latter are for the most part deterrable and not into the business
of committing national suicide.
The question about the threat is then whether the world has fundamentally
changed since September 11, insofar as hostile terrorist organizations
armed with weapons of mass destruction will become an ongoing reality.
Many Americans clearly think so, and believe that once a leader like Saddam
Hussein possesses nuclear weapons he will pass them on to terrorists as
a poor man's delivery system. They, like President Bush, believe that
this is a threat not just to the US, but to Western civilization as a
whole. The acuteness of this threat is what then drives the new doctrine
of preemption and the greater willingness of the US to use force unilaterally
around the world.
Many Europeans, by contrast, believe that the attacks of September 11
were a one-off kind of event where Osama bin Laden got lucky and scored
big. But the likelihood that al-Quaeda will achieve similar successes
in the future is small, given the heightened state of alert and the defensive
and preventive measures put into place since September 11. They believe
that the likelihood that Saddam Hussein will pass nuclear weapons to terrorists
is small, and that he remains deterrable. An invasion of Iraq is therefore
not necessary; containment will work as it has since the Gulf War. And
finally, they tend to believe that Muslim terrorists do not represent
a general threat to the West, but are focused on the US as a result of
US policy in the Middle East and Gulf.
DEMOCRACY'S FUTURE | Assuming we get past these near-term threats,
there is a larger principle at issue in the current US-European rift that
will continue to play an important role in world politics for the foreseeable
future. That principle has to do with the nature of democracy itself.
In an increasingly globalized world, where is the proper locus of democratic
legitimacy? Does it now and forever more exist only at the nation-state
level, or is it possible to imagine the development of genuinely democratic
international institutions? Will the existing welter of international
rules, norms and organizations someday evolve into something more than
a series of ad hoc arrangements, in the direction of genuine global governance?
And if so, who will design those institutions?
My own view is that it is extremely hard to envision democracy ever emerging
at an international level, and many reasons for thinking that attempts
to create such international institutions will actually have the perverse
effect of undermining the real democracy that exists at a nation-state
level. A partial exception to this is the EU, which continues to move
ahead as a political project with the introduction of the euro and the
planned expansion under the Nice Treaty. But in a way, the experience
of the EU proves my point: There is a significant "democracy deficit"
at the European level, which exacerbates existing democracy deficits at
the member-state level. This is the source of much of the backlash against
further European integration, which is seen as weakening local powers
in favor of unmovable bureaucrats in Brussels. The problem will become
even more severe after the next round of European expansion, which will
bring in states from Eastern Europe with very different expectations and
Nor is it possible to argue in principle that if a nation is threatened
with terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction it does not have
a right to defend itself unilaterally. It is legitimate to argue over
whether such a threat exists. But if it does, it would be irresponsible
for any government to depend on international law for self-defense.
But if the US refuses, rightly, to concede the principle there is a broader
democratic international community providing legitimacy to international
institutions, it needs to consider carefully the consequences and perceptions
of its behavior as the world's most powerful democratic nation-state.
Its own self-interest dictates the need for reciprocity across the broad
range of cooperative agreements and institutions within which it finds
itself enmeshed. The opportunities for unilateral action that exist presently
in the military realm are not nearly as broad in the realm of trade and
finance. There are a large number of global public goods, like standards,
free trade, financial flows and legal transparency, as well as public
bads like environmental damage, crime and drug trafficking, that create
difficult collective action problems. Some of these problems can be solved
only if the world's most powerful country takes the lead in either providing
those public goods, or in organizing institutions to provide them-something
the US was eager to do in earlier periods.
The enormous margin of power exercised by the US, particularly in the
security realm, brings with it special responsibilities to use that power
prudently. Robert Kagan speaks of the need to show what the American founders
labeled a "decent respect for the opinions of mankind." But
for him that seems to consist of nothing more than not gratuitously rejecting
offers of support for American aims and objectives. It is not clear that
those aims and objectives should themselves in any way be shaped by the
opinions of non-Americans.
In my view, an appropriately moderate American foreign policy that did
show a real degree of "decent respect" would involve at least
the following elements.
First, if the US is going to shift to a preemptive policy toward international
terrorism, there ought to be a thinking-through and enunciation of a broader
strategy that among other things indicates the limits of this new doctrine.
What kinds of threats, and what standards of evidence, will justify the
use of this kind of power? Presumably, the US is not thinking of unilaterally
attacking at least two of the three legs of the axis of evil; if this
is the case, why not at least spell this out? The United States is in
the process of scaring itself to death with regard to terrorism and weapons
of mass destruction. A more realistic appraisal of future threats will
mean raising the bar to preemption, while keeping it in the arsenal.
Second, the US needs to take some responsibility for global public bads
like carbon emissions. The Kyoto Protocol is a very flawed document for
any number of reasons, and link between carbon emissions and observed
warming has not been conclusively proven. On the other hand, it has not
been disproven, either, and it would seem only prudent to hedge against
the possibility that it is true. Apart from global warming, there are
any number of good reasons why the US ought to tax energy use much more
heavily than it does: to pay for the negative externality of having to
go to war every decade or so to keep open access to Middle Eastern oil;
to promote development of alternative energy sources; and to create some
policy space in dealing with Saudi Arabia, which does not seem to be a
particular friend of the US after September 11. Americans may not ever
be convinced that they should make serious economic sacrifices for the
sake of international agreements, but they may be brought around to an
equivalent position if they see sufficient self-interest in doing so.
Finally, there should be a walking back of the steel and agricultural
subsidy decisions taken earlier this year. No one in Washington ever pretended
that there was a reason for making them in the first place other than
pure political expediency, and there can be no US leadership on any important
issue related to the global economy in their wake. Now that Trade Promotion
Authority exists, the US needs to use it as a mandate to act forcefully.
The US-European rift that has emerged in 2002 is not just a transitory
problem reflecting the style of the current US administration or the world
situation in the wake of September 11. It is a reflection of differing
views of the locus of democratic legitimacy within a broader Western civilization
whose actual institutions have become remarkably similar. The underlying
principled issue is essentially unsolvable because there is ultimately
no practical way of addressing the "democracy deficit" at the
global level. But the problem can be mitigated by a degree of American
moderation within a system of sovereign nation-states.
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