Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Europe vs the US

The concept of Balance of Power has been the basis for the modern the study of International Relations (IR). Though liberal internationalist claim it is obsolete. In its most basic form it says that in the international sphere, lesser powers will band together in the face of a greater power. The concept even informs the current National Security Strategy of the US, which calls for a “balance of power” favorable to democracy. Recently pundits like Thomas Barnett and Thomas Friedman have posited that globalization has nullified the need for this strategy. Today however, it looks like our own allies are balancing against us. The recent refusal by NATO to expand the mission in Afghanistan is the latest sign. NATO insists that an expansion into anti-terrorism would put their peacekeeping forces at risk. It would also free American military forces now conveniently tied down. From resistance to the war in Iraq, to a contrarian stance on Iranian nuclear issues, our European Allies have been steadily showing the signs of “balancing” against US policy.

Balance of Power theories generally fall into the realist school of IR. In recent years a neorealist view has gained currency. This version of the theory emphasizes balancing against threats and minimizes balancing against power alone. Historically, states will balance against threats first. So western Europe, during the Cold War, balanced against the nearer and more aggressive Soviet Union, by siding with the more powerful, but friendlier and more distant US.

In the absence of a direct threat to security nation states seek to increase their own power and influence, and to minimize the influence of any dominant or potentially dominant power, known as a hegemon.

Since 1991 we have lived in an era of American hegemony. Whether or not we directly threaten a nation state or not, the inclination of lesser powers has been to commence balancing against American power, to preserve their own freedom of maneuver. These lesser or regional powers include the obvious candidates, China, Iran, North Korea and even Russia. But the list also includes our allies. The European Union, under the leadership of France and Germany seeks to lessen American influence.

The “Atlantic Union” consists entirely of democracies. Even in a post Soviet era we share mainly overlapping security interests. So why should our allies be balancing against us? Answers from abroad generally include phrases like, “American arrogance,” or “unilateral policy” or “irresponsible.” The bottom line is that nation states like humans resist limitations on their freedoms. States naturally seek to reduce the power of any state that can dominate international politics. It’s never easy being number one, even one’s friends can become resentful and jealous.

This also explains why Britain and the recently freed nations of eastern Europe have chosen to stand with us. They feel more threatened by nearby German and French primacy in Europe, than by America’s global ascendancy. They are in fact counterbalancing the western European mainstream.

These minor acts of balancing may indicate a significant shift in global alignments. Western Europeans, who today spend far less on defense then America don’t see threats in the same terms we do. Europeans have indicated that they no longer feel indebted to American power for their security.

Globalization theorists like Friedman and Barnett have down played classic realism with its emphasis on balancing. They assert that economic linkages between nation, globalization, and trade have reduced the likelihood of war between developed nations, and their near peers and trading partners. There may be something to the idea that nations with serious economic interdependencies are not likely to go to war. China indeed may never want to fight a war with the US. But globalization theorists need to remember that the most recent global power struggle included serious balancing efforts, but no great power war.

For almost fifty years the US and the Soviet Union waged a serious competition for global supremacy, without fighting a war. Balancing, alliances, economic competition, espionage, and other tactics were the means of fighting the cold war. While one should not expect a cold war with Europe or even China, it is best to remember the limitations of globalization. It may even be that Europe and China may wish to preserve American hegemony in the globalizing world. But if they do, they will seek to constrain that hegemony, to rein our power as tightly as possible, while at the same time trying to shape it to their own ends.

So today, knowing how important the mission against al-Quaeda and Taliban holdouts in Afghanistan is, our allies refuse to actively participate. They would rather see a powerful America stretched a little thin. By doing so they constrain our efforts in Iraq. They gain a greater voice in negotiations with Iran. A game in which they are willing to allow the Iranians more points than is in our interest. So now the Iranians too are able to balance American power, and with the complicity of our own so called allies. Who said balance of power politics are dead?

Today's Read:

Conservative Grapevine


Anonymous Osama Bin Howard Dean said...


spelling error line 3, first paragraph. "from" should be form.

By the way, my wife is considered hot in France, along with Jerry Lewis. Doesnt that count in the balance for power?

Wed Sep 21, 01:19:00 PM 2005  

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