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When historians want to find out about the ideas that motivated American foreign policy in the early years of the twenty first century, they would do well to read this book. Robert Kagan has formally set out a case for unilateralism on the part of the United States, as opposed to the multilateralism now characteristic of Europe. The U.S. is now quicker to use military force, less patient with diplomacy, and more willing to coerce or bribe other nations to achieve a desired result. By contrast, European nations ...
When historians want to find out about the ideas that motivated American foreign policy in the early years of the twenty first century, they would do well to read this book. Robert Kagan has formally set out a case for unilateralism on the part of the United States, as opposed to the multilateralism now characteristic of Europe. The U.S. is now quicker to use military force, less patient with diplomacy, and more willing to coerce or bribe other nations to achieve a desired result. By contrast, European nations are trying to work together, preserving the ties of diplomacy, cooperation, long-term problem-solving, and international law - signs of weakness. Kagan believes that the United States can disregard a weak Europe, and have a free hand in pursuing its global interests.
Kagan's characterization of a postmodern Europe, however, is too German-centered; he ignores the fact that the United Kingdom and France retain great-power identities and a willingness to use military force. His reading of the United States is also debatable. The United States has been the preeminent global power since World War II, yet it has oftenpursued its national interest through multilateral institutions and security partnerships. Pace Kagan, Europe and the United States might disagree on the nature of threats outside the West — as they have in the past — but their own relationship remains embedded in an Atlantic security community.
It is easier to see the contrast as an American living in Europe. Europeans are more conscious of the growing differences, perhaps because they fear them more. European intellectuals are nearly unanimous in the conviction that Americans and Europeans no longer share a common "strategic culture." The European caricature at its most extreme depicts an America dominated by a "culture of death," its warlike temperament the natural product of a violent society where every man has a gun and the death penalty reigns. But even those who do not make this crude link agree there are profound differences in the way the United States and Europe conduct foreign policy.
The United States, they argue, resorts to force more quickly and, compared with Europe, is less patient with diplomacy. Americans generally see the world divided between good and evil, between friends and enemies, while Europeans see a more complex picture. When confronting real or potential adversaries, Americans generally favor policies of coercion rather than persuasion, emphasizing punitive sanctions over inducements to better behavior, the stick over the carrot. Americans tend to seek finality in international affairs: They want problems solved, threats eliminated. And, of course, Americans increasingly tend toward unilateralism in international affairs. They are less inclined to act through international institutions such as the United Nations, less likely to work cooperatively with other nations to pursue common goals, more skeptical about international law, and more willing to operate outside its strictures when they deem it necessary, or even merely useful.
Europeans insist they approach problems with greater nuance and sophistication. They try to influence others through subtlety and indirection. They are more toler- ant of failure, more patient when solutions don't come quickly. They generally favor peaceful responses to problems, preferring negotiation, diplomacy, and persuasion to coercion. They are quicker to appeal to international law, international conventions, and international opinion to adjudicate disputes. They try to use commercial and economic ties to bind nations together. They often...
Posted June 9, 2007
Throughout the history of man, nations have continually sought greater levels of power and influence over other, weaker communities. Occasionally, a single political entity gains sufficiently in either of these two areas to the point at which the strength it wields is such that no other nation possesses the capability to oppose it in any further ambitions. At this point in the development of a civilization, it has reached the height of its status, and only then can the title of ¿Super Power¿ be correctly attributed to it. However, this period in the history of all societies who are fortunate enough to attain it lasts only a short while. Eventually, political turmoil within, or military conflict without, or not unusually, some combination of the two, results in the swift decline and sudden collapse of the nation into a mere fraction of what it once was. Thus is the way made clear for the cycle to continue. The United States has fought for and attained the status of a super power, and this in a relatively short span of time (a period not greatly exceeding the duration of two centuries). This book is a fascinating one to read, as it forces one to contemplate the question of exactly how much longer will present conditions persist? That is, how much longer will the United States remain in possession of the enormous influence which it currently enjoys? It may last for centuries. Or, on the other hand, it may only withstand the duration of the next hundred years. Mr. Kagan¿s essay is a truly objective work that presents both a critical evaluation of the relationship between the United States and Europe, and also the reality that the United States has most probably reached the highest level of influence possible. This short essay is well worth taking the time to read, as its relevance extends well beyond the world of today. It is certainly destined to take its place as one of the greatest political and philosophical works of our time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.