History Strikes Back

Can Europe stay on top by joining forces with the United States?

November 18, 2008

Can Europe stay on top by joining forces with the United States?

For some time after its victory in the cold war, the West thought that it alone was in charge of world affairs, the sole arbiter of good and evil. Now, more than 20 years later, it must understand that it no longer has a monopoly on history or power.

Having promoted universal values and the rules of the free market, other world powers — which the West does not control and which have not forgotten the Western domination of the past 500 years — are on the rise.

Aided by the very globalization desired by the West, they are emerging — or reemerging — with the intention of redesigning the world in their own way and free market economics will continue to spread but not necessarily under Western leadership in a way.

Democracy and free market economics will continue to spread, but not necessarily under Western leadership — or in a way that will guarantee Western supremacy.

Neither competition nor politics nor history is over. On the contrary, the tectonic plates of geopolitics, geoeconomics, and geoecology have again begun to shift, and these enormous changes will not take place without significant disruption.

We are entering an era of serious tensions. Westerners are going to lose, or perhaps have already lost, their monopoly. But they have not lost either their power or their influence, which could be considerable if put to use in the right way.

If the United States is unable to get beyond the hubris that led it astray over the past few years, it will create further disappointments and catastrophes, for itself and the West as a whole.

With the 2008 presidential elections, the Americans must seriously analyze the causes of the failures of the Bush Administration in the Middle East, including the deep conceptual reasons for this foreseeable fiasco.

And the new administration will have to take a very different approach. For their part, if the Europeans do not overcome their naiveté, they will be mere spectators of an unstable multipolar world being created without them.

On the other hand, if they do face up to realities, they could by acting together become a major world power and true partner of the United States.

A coherent and determined Europe would help compensate for the alarming vacuity of the notion of an “international community.”

Such a Europe would take account of the geopolitical balance of power and adapt its strategy accordingly.

It could, for example, help promote global awareness of the environmental time bomb we are facing, which it has so far recognized more clearly than the United States.

It could thus help transform the environmentally destructive economy of today into the ecological economy we need and make “sustainable development” a real policy as opposed to a slogan.

Such a Europe could put the concept of solidarity among the world’s 6.5 billion people on a solid footing since, whatever our divisions, we face the same threats.

These ideas should be at the heart of the notion of “regulation” of untamed globalization and of the “global governance” so often praised in speeches. Europe is well placed to promote such thinking just as it can help rehabilitate the role of states and governments.

This feature is adapted from HISTORY STRIKES BACK by Hubert Vedrine. Copyright 2008 Brookings Institution Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Takeaways

Neither competition nor politics nor history is over.

For their part, if the Europeans do not overcome their naiveté, they will be mere spectators of an unstable multipolar world.

We are entering an era of serious tensions. Westerners are going to lose, or perhaps have already lost, their monopoly.