Cousins and Strangers: America, Britain, and Europe in a New Century

Cousins and Strangers: America, Britain, and Europe in a New Century

by Chris Patten

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Cousins and Strangers: America, Britain, and Europe in a New Century by Chris Patten

"A magisterial volume—a cocktail of autobiography, political analysis of the state of the world, and policy prescriptions." —Foreign Affairs

For fifty years, the Americans, British, and Europeans were close partners, yet today the Western alliance is strained to a moment of reckoning. In Cousins and Strangers, Chris Patten, one of Europe's most distinguished statesmen, scrutinizes what has happened in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, pinpointing the shifts in power and security that have reshaped our world.

In penetrating and sparkling analysis, Patten argues that to face the urgent threats of the twenty-first century—terrorism, nuclear proliferation, failed and failing states, massive environmental change—the Western alliance must stop bickering and kowtowing and start asserting cooperative leadership. Bad habits and easy, self-absorbed slogans must give way to smart politics in order to ensure the world's, and our own, best interests. Drawing on his decades of experience in government and international diplomacy, Patten sharply assesses the leadership of the United States, Great Britain, and Europe, and the stakes for all three if the West breaks apart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805082579
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 12/26/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Chris Patten, chancellor of Oxford and Newcastle universities, was from 1999 until 2004 European Commissioner for External Relations. He was previously the member of Parliament for Bath, chairman of the Conservative Party, and the last British governor of Hong Kong. He is the author of East and West: China, Power, and the Future of Asia. He lives in London.

Read an Excerpt

Cousins and Strangers

America, Britain, and Europe in a New Century

By Chris Patten

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2006 Christopher Patten
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6054-4



Forget Europe wholly, your veins throb with blood.

To which the dull current in hers is but mud ...

O my friends, thank your God, if you have one, that he

Twixt the old world and you set the gulf of a sea.

— James Russell Lowell

It is, I suppose, what Donald Rumsfeld might call a known known: even while we are pelting one another with genetically modified tomatoes, we know really that there is more that unites North America and Europe than divides us. The speech that asserts this proposition, so regularly delivered and sometimes even heeded, comes easily: the young American Republic formed from the human, cultural, and political stock of old Europe; the shared transatlantic attachment to enlightenment values; the embrace of participative democratic government under the rule of law; the common sacrifices in war; the joint postwar commitment to new global forms of economic and political governance; the struggle to repel Communism's advance; the vision of a world, prosperous, democratic, and free; hands stretched across the ocean to bind a "special relationship"; "Westward, look, the land is bright"; to "the indispensable nation" add "the indispensable partnership." And so on. Both sides of the ocean can do this stuff in their sleep.

Like many known knowns, it is broadly true, but it is not of course the whole story. Moreover a known unknown is that we cannot be entirely sure what is going to happen to this notionally indispensable partnership in the coming years. Old clichés of international governance and alliance — the Atlantic partnership, European integration, shared Western values — have given way in the blink of an eye to another set of clichés — shifting tectonic plates, the new continental union that hit the buffers, the republic that became an empire. To raise this question, to suggest that change may be in the air, to strip away some of the myths that obfuscate the story of the alliance — both those that assert that it has always been plain sailing and those that suggest that it has only been in recent times, since the arrival on the scene of George W. Bush, that it has hit rough-ish water — is to court disapproval. For as Shakespeare noted in Henry IV, Part 2:

Yet the first bringer of unwelcome news
Hath but a losing office.

It is time we faced unwelcome news. Unless America, Britain, and Europe discuss these issues free of cloying cliché and political prejudice, we will find it tough to manage the changing nature of the transatlantic relationship to our mutual benefit and to that of the rest of the world. We will also set back the prospect of having the values that we in America and Europe publicly esteem, and sometimes uphold, gaining sway in other continents as the century advances.

At the beginning of the 1890s, America might have been described as a free rider in a world made pretty safe by Britain's imperial reach and naval might. The British navy had eleven bases and thirty-three coaling stations in the seas around America, which — while claiming by then the status of the world's greatest industrial power — possessed no battleship and had only 25,000 men under arms. America had successfully pursued for years its revolutionary foreign policy, offering friendship to all but concluding alliances with none. In a world of empires, America the Republic had chosen another path. That all changed with the Spanish- American War of 1898. America annexed Hawaii, Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines; in the Philippines alone 200,000 civilians died between 1898 and 1902. The Republic's innocence was lost, but not its aspiration to avoid foreign entanglements, wherever possible. Though persuaded reluctantly to come to the aid of Britain and France late in the First World War, America was not keen to be enmeshed in the problems of war, peace, and economic depression with which others wrestled unsuccessfully in the 1920s and 1930s. Neville Chamberlain, Britain's prewar prime minister, was not alone in thinking that "it is always best and safest to count on nothing from the Americans but words."

That could not have been said after the Second World War and its aftermath. Now America, the planet's mightiest military and economic power, faced a world in which the oldest empires were disintegrating; only the new Soviet empire in Europe remained, threatening the rest of the continent with subjugation to tyranny. America embraced, with becoming reluctance, the new role of global leader, in command of a virtual empire of commercial and cultural predominance and of more or less willing dependent feudatories. "We have got to understand," said Dean Acheson, "that all our lives the danger, the uncertainty, the need for alertness, for effort, for discipline, will be upon us. This is new to us. It will be hard for us." And so it was, though the task was handled with extraordinary dexterity and commendable commitment.

Even for a great power, diplomacy is not easy, and America has had to cope regularly with the assumption that it is throwing its weight around, even when it has been doing no such thing. It also has had to deal with three other problems. First, there was the resentment of those who had been saved, militarily and economically. In the Analects, Confucius noted the colleague who was cross with him, even though, as Confucius pointed out, he had done him no favors. Second, there was condescension masquerading as sophistication. Third, there was resistance to what was seen as the Americanization of indigenous cultures and ways of life: we dressed like Americans, listened to their music, watched their films, and drank their carbonated drinks, even while we rejected some of what they seemed to stand for, particularly in the miserable years of the McCarthyite inquisition and during the failed efforts to bring what Senator J. William Fulbright called "little pissant" Vietnam to heel.

It is plain wrong to see anti-Americanism as a phenomenon of recent years, the reaction to an assertive, nationalist president, whom we in Europe do not understand and with whom we assuredly fail to empathize. In the most creative, generous-spirited, and comradely years of American leadership there were still those in Europe who carped and bitched. Sometimes there was at least a shred of justification for the resentment — at America entering World War II so late, and at the ill-disguised relish with which Americans read the last rites over the British empire. But more frequently the European antagonism was reprehensible. Unsure whether it should take greater exception to the help it was offered, or to the prospect that it might not receive all the assistance it wanted, France took the lead, displaying what the historian Robert Gildea describes as "a kind of petulant ingratitude." Le Monde, founded in 1944 after the liberation, supported an armed and neutral Europe standing between the United States and the Soviet Union. The arrival of the new NATO commander in Europe in 1952 was greeted by French riots. Those political fatheads, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, were in the thick of the troublemaking. As early as 1946, de Beauvoir was complaining that America's attitude to Europe and France was one of "arrogant condescension." The American soldiers who had once been "our liberty" were now "our dependence and a mortal threat." Later she was to opine that "our victory had been stolen from us," though her use of the first- person plural possessive in this sentence begged a few questions. But as the early victories in the battle to keep Coca-Cola out of France were reversed by the French courts, it became clear that no corner of France was safe from the incoming American tide.

The British had their own special brand of patronizing contempt, which was not anti-American, old boy. It is just that Europeans, said Harold Nicolson to an American acquaintance, were "frightened that the destinies of the world should be in the hands of a giant with the limbs of an undergraduate, the emotions of a spinster, and the brain of a peahen." You find the finest literary flowering of these sentiments in the novels of Graham Greene, particularly The Quiet American. Greene was prescient about what was to become the bloody quagmire of Vietnam, but even so the depths of his hostility to America are pretty shocking. Again and again, he puts the boot in. The young American idealist Alden Pyle "was determined to do good, not to any individual person but to a country, a continent, a world. ... He was in his element now with the whole universe to improve." Most famously Greene notes, and he is clearly talking about all Americans, not just Pyle, "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused," and in the frontispiece to the novel (published in 1955) he quotes Byron:

This is the patentage of new inventions
For killing bodies, and for saving souls
All propagated with the best intentions.

So it was not only the boulevard Bolsheviks, the frequently traduced French intellectuals, who seethed and scorned. Within a few years of American-led military victory, the foundation of the United Nations and the launch of Marshall aid, here was old Europe showing its appreciation. As Randy Newman once sang:

We give them money — but are they grateful?
No, they're spiteful and they're hateful. ...

There was never a golden age in transatlantic relations, when all Europeans doffed their hats to the superpower that defended our freedom. We Europeans were always a bit tiresome, and sometimes — as I have said — there was a good reason for it.

For all the talk about family, we are at once cousins and strangers. We are more different than we like to admit, and are surprisingly ignorant about one another. Europeans note with surprise how many Americans have never traveled outside their own country and how some politicians even make a virtue out of not possessing a passport. Even more tellingly, Studs Terkel notes how in his home city of Chicago the taxi drivers, who come from every part of the world, regularly express to him their astonishment at how little their American passengers know about their countries of origin. Casual disregard of the world outside has much to do with being a superpower. Some days you can scour in vain to find a story about Europe in even quality American newspapers. But this reflects, in part, where most of the significant political action is. In any newspaper in any other part of the world, there is page after page of news about America — its politics, its business, its popular culture. The rest of us are hungry consumers.

I have lived my life as a pretty enthusiastic citizen of America's undeclared empire, which chose deliberately not to impose an emperor on its denizens: a touch, that, of political genius. I was born the month before the D-Day landings brought American boots and blood to French soil for the second time in less than thirty years. My father was not one of that military host. He was serving in Palestine with the Royal Air Force, leaving behind his pregnant wife and my older sister. My mother had made her wartime home in her parents' cathedral city, Exeter, until much of it was flattened in an air raid.

My wife's father was less lucky than mine. A Cambridge athlete from the generation after the young men remembered in Chariots of Fire, he hurdled in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, briefly made a career with Britain's biggest chemical company and then joined the Seaforth Highlanders at the outbreak of war. He fought through North Africa and Sicily, went to Normandy in time for the fight across the bocage and was killed just after the Allied breakout at Falaise, shortly before my wife's birth. The list of the war dead at his university college — as at many other Oxford and Cambridge colleges — contains German names as well as British, Dominion, and American. We brought young men together at our eminent universities to learn about the values of Western civilization, and then they returned to their homes and were required in due course to kill one another — from Newman's "umbrageous groves" to trenches and tanks and the war graves of Europe, like the one near Caen where Major John Thornton, the Seaforth Highlander, lies.

The American boys who came from high corn and bluegrass, from tenement block and front porch, to help save Europe once again from the bloody results of rampant nationalism were led by men who believed that the young of their nation should not be required a third time to cross the Atlantic to rescue the Old World. Europe's cemeteries contained too many of their own young heroes already. So it was scarcely surprising that American leaders, policymakers, and diplomats were such eager supporters of the efforts to prevent another European civil war through a unique pooling of sovereignty between France, Germany, and four other countries, initially achieved by bringing together the industries that fed modern conflict, coal and steel. European integration was an American geostrategic objective from the very start, and for Washington it was desirable that Britain should be part of the enterprise. Our American friends did not share our own opinion that Britain could sit benignly, patronizingly, apart from the construction of a new Europe — the cherished friend and valued partner of the superpower, the leader of its own worldwide empire turned commonwealth, the sagacious well-wisher to our continental neighbors in their quaint endeavors. Whatever the gallantry of our recent history, whatever the majesty of Churchill's prose, Britain was no longer a top dog, even though we could still lay claim to invitations to the top table.

I grew up during the years when Churchill still growled about past glories, but then his wartime lieutenants, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan, were confronted in their different ways with the reality of Britain's decline. Discharged from the Royal Air Force, my father had gone to London, building on the prewar contacts he had made as a professional musician to become a popular music publisher, working in "Tin Pan Alley." We lived in semidetached suburban West London, an environment about which I have a passingly Proustian sensitivity. The suburban front-garden smell, to which Michael Frayn alludes at the beginning of his novel Spies, I was able to identify immediately — privet! I spring from that world of privet hedges, mock Tudor, cherry blossom, and well-polished family cars embalmed between London's arterial roads and its Underground lines. My parents were not very political; indeed, I suspect that my mother would have thought it vaguely indecent and certainly uncomfortable to get involved in a deep — let alone rowdy — discussion of either politics or their Catholic religion.

The first international event I recall, courtesy of the Daily Express, was the gallantry of the "Glorious Gloucesters" in the Korean War; of much greater consequence was the Suez debacle in 1956. My father had only recently taken me aside, with much embarrassment all around, to give me a little booklet explaining, improbably, how I might in the future play my part in reproducing the species. He told me for a second time that he wanted to say a word to me privately. I was not to tell my mother or sister; what he had to say would only worry them. Events in the Middle East looked very dangerous. The British and French invasion of Egypt, to stop President Nasser from nationalizing the canal out of private European hands, could trigger another, much larger war. The weapons now available in the world were more terrible than any he had seen used in the last war. Fortunately, President Eisenhower pulled the plug on this crazy Middle Eastern adventure before it went too far, partly because of his proper concern about its impact on opinion in the Arab world. Prime Minister Anthony Eden retired to the Caribbean, and then a manor house in Wiltshire; Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan ("first in, first out") succeeded him at Downing Street; I went back to cricket and Conan Doyle.


Excerpted from Cousins and Strangers by Chris Patten. Copyright © 2006 Christopher Patten. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1Happy Families1
2Now We Are Sixty30
3Not Tuppence for the Rest55
4National Sovereignty and the Descent of Conservatism77
5Poodle or Partner?104
6From Brussels to Istanbul133
7Strong Nouns, Weak Verbs166
8Neighborhood Watch191
9Invincible but Vulnerable221
10Meanwhile, Asia Rises246
11An Education to the World271

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