Abstract Musings

Documenting the random thoughts of a cluttered mind

The Myth of European Power

In a NY Times op-ed, Timothy Garton Ash argues America is overlooking European power:

Why is it that Americans do not understand the power of the European Union? Is it because they are simply not well informed by reports from Brussels and other European capitals? Or is it because, as citizens of the world’s last truly sovereign nation-state, Americans - and especially American conservatives - find it difficult to acknowledge the contribution of a transnational organization based on supranational law? It’s as if they can conceive of power only in the old-fashioned terms of a classical nation-state.

Robert Kagan describes the difference between America and Europe as the difference between power and weakness - American power, that is, and European weakness. This description is sustainable only if power is measured in terms of military strength. In the way that some American conservatives talk about the European Union, I hear an echo of Stalin’s famous question about the Vatican’s power: how many divisions does the pope have? But the pope defeated Stalin in the end. This attitude overlooks the dimensions of European power that are not to be found on the battlefield.

Ash makes four arguments in favor of European power overcoming the American superpower:

  1. The European approach to combating terrorism.

  2. The economic standing of the EU.

  3. The appeal of European culture and society.

  4. The ability of the EU for continued growth by admitting new nation states to the union.

Stephen Bainbridge effectively counters Ash’s arguments.

If Ash were right, and the EU really were equal in power to the US, I would argue that that would be cause for great concern. I’m not convinced that the EU is a force for good within its own borders, let alone in the wider world, where appeasement and coddling of dictators seems to be the order of the day. The good news therefore is that the EU is not equal to the US in power. The even better news is that the trendlines are in our favor; not theirs.

We have seen how the EU responds to terrorism and the regimes that foster terrorism in its approach to the Madrid bombing, Theo van Gogh’s murder, and the Iranian nuclear issue. Additionally, Theo van Gogh’s murder provides insight into the ability of European nations to absorb people of non-European descent. Van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch Islamic radical, the child of immigrants. Even with all of the benefits of Dutch citizenship and living in the midst of European culture and society, the murderer still felt that he needed to respond to van Gogh’s affront to Islam with violence. When was the last time you heard of an American citizen murdering a prominent filmmaker or writer because of an affront to his religious principles? Until Europe can prove that it can successfully integrate its immigrants and their offspring into the greater whole of European society, Europe won’t be able to continue to grow through admitting new members. Nor does its society have any special power over those outside Europe, when those of non-European descent in Europe reject that culture and choose barbarism instead.