Sign Up

The Paradox of Transatlantic Relations

Will Europe ever be a superpower equal to the United States?

February 14, 2005

Will Europe ever be a superpower equal to the United States?

In his new book, "Free World: America, Europe and the Surprising Future of the West," Timothy Garton Ash maps out ways in which to reconnect Europe and the United States after a difficult period which some have described as a trial separation. In this Globalist Interview, Mr. Garton Ash offers his take on the transatlantic relationship — including Britain's role.

Let's talk about some paradoxes. For starters, what strikes you the most about anti-Americanism in Europe today?

“The paradox is that, to the extent that Europeans are anti-American, they are deeply Americanized anti-Americans.”

What else is strange?

“Europeans spend far more time talking about America than they do talking about Europe.”

And what distinguishes Europe and the United States these days?

“While Europe is divided by a great argument about America, America really is divided by a great argument about itself.”

Is there a British paradox in a transatlantic context?

“Historically, Britain is a child of Europe — and a parent of America.”

What would be your advice to Tony Blair?

“Speaking to Washington on behalf of 60 million British is one thing, speaking on behalf of 460 million Europeans would be quite another.”

What is keeping him — and the country — from assuming that leadership role?

“It's rather simple. A country divided against itself will never find its role in the world. And Britain unfortunately is a country divided against itself. Many Britons want us to choose Europe, others to choose America and a third bunch want us to reject them both."

So how would you rate British foreign policy under Tony Blair's leadership? Compared to its predecessors?

“All British foreign policy since 1940 has been footnotes to Churchill.”

At its core, what distinguishes Britain from France?

“The British are incapable of identifying themselves with Europe — and the French are incapable of distinguishing themselves from it.”

In general, what irritates you about the current debate on transatlantic relations?

“Europe alone is not enough. America alone is not enough. The West alone is not enough. We need to start by looking at what really are the global challenges of our time — and who can meet them.”

What could help?

“In 16th century English, ‘crisis’ meant the decisive moment in a sickness, when you started either to get better or to die. So it is with this crisis of the West. The medicine is in our own hands.”

How would you proceed?

“Let's stop talking about competing values or identities and start analyzing our interests. We'll find they are overwhelmingly common.”

You travel a lot throughout Europe. How would you describe the European paradox on a personal level?

“It's quite strange, indeed. If I go to Warsaw, Berlin, Paris or Madrid, I am abroad. At the same time, if I go to Warsaw, Berlin, Paris or Madrid, I am at home. This being at home abroad is the European miracle.”

With regard to the Bush Administration, how could Europe make a powerful case in today's Washington?

“Europe has an extraordinary story to tell. It’s a story of the enlargement of freedom. Back in 1942, only Britain, Switzerland, Sweden and Ireland could be considered free. In 2004, only Belarus and Russia in Europe received the ‘not free’ ranking from Freedom House, which considers the state of political rights and civil liberties in all countries.
And the magnetism is now extending to Turkey. If the Bush administration's priority really is the spread of liberty, the EU must be its most important partner.”

Which lesson does that history offer for today's European foreign policy?

“Where rulers or dominant ethnic groups are attempting to commit genocide, Europeans should always be ready to intervene. That is what our own history of European barbarism in the 20th century cries out for us to do.”

There are those who want to see Europe challenge the United States. Can it do so effectively?

“It is folly for Europe to aspire to be a superpower taking on the American giant. A continent-wide community of more than 40 different nation-states, speaking almost as many languages, will never be the same as a single nation of 50 federated states.”

What else stands in Europe's way?

“Europe has a hundred left hands — and none of them knows what the right hand is doing.”

Assuming relations can be mended successfully, what is your biggest hope for the United States?

“I truly hope that America’s next war will be the war on want — world-wide. A country so large in spirit, so religious and so rich can surely be won for such a war.”
All quotes are excerpted from "Free World: America, Europe and the Surprising Future of the West" by Timothy Garton Ash © 2004 Random House.