Friday, February 22, 2013

The hubris of the Europhiles

Anne-Marie Slaughter--once a part of the U.S. State Department and now a professor of political science at Princeton--offers an essay over at Project Syndicate humbly entitled The Coming Atlantic Century. Written on the heels of the annual Munich Security Conference, the essay argues that American and European economies can still continue their worldwide dominance, that the addition of South American economies--like Brazil--into the mix can create an even larger, Atlantic-sized, sphere of Western influence:
Western fortunes are rising, slowly but surely. Together, Europe and the US account for more than 50% of global GDP, have the largest military force in the world by many multiples, and control a growing proportion of global energy reserves. They also have a formidable diplomatic and development-assistance capacity, representing a peaceful community of democracies that share a common commitment to the rights, dignity, and potential of all human beings.

Imagine that community spreading down the east coast of Latin America and the west coast of Africa. It might be an Atlantic century after all.
The rising fortunes bit is based on the idea that things are getting better in the U.S., the Eurozone is at least stabilizing, and the assumption that liquid natural gas will redefine world energy markets (to the pronounced benefit of the U.S. and Europe):
Equally important, the panelists reported on the rising importance of liquid natural gas relative to pipeline gas, which has enormous geopolitical implications. In a nutshell, if gas is exported in liquid form, it is fungible. In other words, if Russia restricts the flow of gas to Ukraine for political reasons, but the rest of Europe has gas from other sources, they can simply resell their gas to Ukraine and export it via the Baltic Sea.
I can't decide what troubles me the most here: the profound hubris inherent in these articles, or the somewhat unbelievable ignorance required to make them. I'm all for rah-rah moments, but realism need always be front and center. Western fortunes--relative to the rest of the world--are not rising. They just aren't. This isn't to say they are tumbling or the like, but they most definitely are on the decline with respect to any sort of serious historical perspective.

The apogee of European fortunes, in particular, has come and gone. The demographics of Europe alone tell that tale. An aging population with limited natural resources--with noted exceptions among the Nordic countries--and limited expertise outside of banking and soccer, Europe is dependent on trade and energy routes that are no longer the largest nor the most critical. Those routes--the critical ones, the largest ones--are now in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, something even the current administration is well aware of. From Ms. Clinton's Foreign Policy essay:
Harnessing Asia's growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests and a key priority for President Obama. Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia. Strategically, maintaining peace and security across the Asia-Pacific is increasingly crucial to global progress, whether through defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, countering the proliferation efforts of North Korea, or ensuring transparency in the military activities of the region's key players.
As I noted in the above piece, the trade/energy linkage is clear, it is as Robert Kaplan outlines in Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. Persian Gulf to Arabian Sea, on to the Indian and Pacific rims, energy is linked to the manufacturing base (and growing consumer base) in the East not to the European West, where both bases are shrinking.

The U.S. thus needs to look to the Pacific, not the Atlantic, for it's own participation in this unfolding paradigm. And in that regard, it needs to jump in and play hardball, because security and military presence will be critical. As I noted in another piece, the U.S. has--in the past--allowed itself to get snookered in this regard when it came to Europe and NATO. But now we see that the long-term implications of that game--the shirking of responsibilities by European allies--has left Europe in a precarious position: it has no power to really participate in what is unfolding in the East, even if it desired to do so. From the above piece:
But Ms. Clinton recommends simple reassurance to the nations there that the U.S. will be available for security needs. Mr. Logan suggests that the U.S. balk on such commitments, thus forcing these nations to chip in a fair share or at least some share. Me? I think that if other nations want to depend on the U.S. for security, we should oblige them. But on our terms, not theirs. Access and control go hand in hand with security in my view, and that's exactly how it should be. Other nations--in Europe and elsewhere--will be the odd men out, at the end of the day, since they have already forfeited their ability to demand either access or control.
Regardless of how the U.S. proceeds, Europe is not a factor in the least; it's position is one of decreasing importance, by any realistic assessment of the immediate future.

I understand the cultural ties that bind the United States with Western Europe, the shared history and family linkages, and I guess this is probably the source of such ideas as "a coming Atlantic century," because they feed the egos of Europhiles on both sides of the Atlantic. But such notions cannot be the basis of policy; the future demands more attention be paid to the East, to the forging of new ties and linkages there by the U.S. and its citizens. By doing so, the U.S. can revive itself, economically and culturally, because it still has much to offer. Europe? Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. I generally agree with the perspective of European decline, though some energy discoveries might change that a bit, and not all Europe is a monolith. On the other hand, the East faces it's own major demographic issues (though the time when they will become more and more important is obviously different between places like Japan and China). To be perfectly honest, it is extremely hard to say how things will play out. In the immediate future China and India will obviously play an increasing role, but in 25-30 years?