Year XLI, 1999, Number 3, Page 145
How Europe Can Help the United States
In the past, the United States constituted a vast social laboratory for the experimentation of various forms of civil cohabitation; as a result the values of freedom and democracy have, with a firmness that is not matched in any other Western society, become an established part of American customs and morality. In the Second World War and the first few decades following its end, the United States, fulfilling a crucial function, served as the bulwark of these values against the threat originating from the Soviet Union. Indeed, the United States made, until recent times, a historical and inestimably valuable contribution to the process of the emancipation of the human race. But nowadays, there can be no escaping the fact that the current global hegemony of the United States is distancing American society from the behavioural models on which its historical greatness was built.
In truth, the decline of democracy in the United States is a process that has been under way for some time now. During the Cold War, the United States was obliged, through its contraposition to the Soviet Union, to head an alignment of countries that constituted almost half the entire world. Since the assumption of leadership also involves the assumption of responsibility and, as a result, the capacity to mobilise forces and consensus, the undoubted greatness of American politics derived from this role. But it also had markedly negative consequences: when the role of leader begins to be too burdensome for a country and becomes too protracted over time, it inevitably eats into that country’s moral and material resources. Thus, the United States has been driven, in a manner increasingly evident with the passing decades, both to centralise its levers of power and aggrandise its bureaucratic structure (at the same time strengthening its military apparatus), and to adopt, in the area of foreign policy, more and more openly imperialistic positions, even going so far as to support and fund — in the name of freedom and democracy — regimes which were clear negations of these values.
All this could not fail to weaken the foundations underlying the American people’s consensus for their government’s politics — a trend which was strongly aggravated, moreover, by the collapse of the Soviet Union, a turning point whose significance must be evaluated in terms of how it affected both the ideological contrast between East and West, and the power situation. The end of the Cold War meant the disappearance of the enemy that had allowed a series of American governments to justify (albeit on the basis of increasingly weak and contradictory arguments) the nation’s foreign policy and to mobilise, under the banner of a great moral mission, the consensus of its citizens. In the wake of the collapse of communism, the United States has been left with the task of guaranteeing world order and as the only force with the responsibility for containing the disintegrative trends that are emerging just about everywhere. It is a huge task for which the resources of a single country, however rich and powerful, can never be anywhere near sufficient, but it is one which the United States is finding itself required to take on, intervening in each single instance wherever crises flare up, without a general design that might allow the American citizens and the governments of America’s allies to feel that they are involved in a great, common, historical task.
In these conditions, nationalism remains as the only foundation on which the consensus of the American people towards their government can be based. It is not by chance that aggressive and arrogant attitudes, foreign to the traditions of the United States, have been emerging with growing force in American society in recent years (without, as yet, becoming virulent enough to threaten its democratic institutions). They are attitudes which are taking the place of the optimistic and open form of “constitutional patriotism” traditionally generated by the capacity of the melting pot that was American society to join men and women from the most diverse cultural and national backgrounds in a single people united by a common respect for the democratic institutions of the country in which they live. And alongside this trend, another is emerging which, despite being destined to remain a minority position, is equally dangerous: isolationism, or the flight from responsibility.
All this is being reflected in a progressive modification of the United States’ relations with its allies. While, in the past, the USA’s international alliances were cemented by a common commitment to the defence of the West against communism, now they are based on the most fragile of ties, in other words, on a resigned acknowledgement and of the crushing military superiority of this hegemonic power.
If these changes in the orientation of public opinion in America are viewed alongside the progressive depletion of the democratic institutions and the increasingly acute crisis of consensus that are emerging in the European states, one can hardly help forming the impression that the industrialised world as a whole is involved in a process that can only be described as a decline in the quality of civil cohabitation. And this at a time when the huge problems in the rest of the world are assuming increasing importance and urgency: the struggle against forms of religious fundamentalism and the ethnic disintegration of the state, the difficult democratisation of China, the social emancipation of the people of India and the modernisation of Africa. While these problems must, in the first instance, be tackled by the peoples concerned, the industrialised world could make a decisive contribution (material and moral) to their solution. It can only do this, however, if the governments of the developed countries prove able to stand before the rest of the world as centres of responsibility, committed to a great design for the economic development and unity of all peoples.
And let us be clear about one thing. If none of this is a reality, the fault certainly does not lie with the United States. It is not as a result of choices made by America’s governing class that the United States now finds itself with the difficult job of policing the world, but of objective factors. America’s role is the inevitable result of an international situation in which there exists, in a highly fragmented world, only one major power equipped with enormous financial resources and a strong and modern military apparatus. This is the reason why the United States is urged, forcefully, to intervene whenever a crisis erupts in any of the world’s hotbeds and why it then finds itself the target of harsh criticism as soon as it complies. It is important not to forget that the global hegemony of the United States is, and continues to be, the discharging of responsibility; and if this discharging of responsibility takes on brutal guises, this is merely the consequence of the solitude in which the United States has been left and of the inadequacy of its nevertheless considerable resources to cope with the size if the task with which it is faced.
Therefore, it all comes down to the sharing of responsibility, or rather, the diffusion of power: the creation of a world with a number of centres of power — a world in which the resources available in industrialised countries can be used to tackle, at root level, the problems which generate conflicts rather than (often unsuccessfully) to limit them once they have erupted. Today, there is only one region in the world in which there might emerge a democratic power with the necessary economic potential and the capacity to relieve the United States of a considerable share of its burden of global responsibility, and by doing so, to establish an order far more stable and peaceful than the current one, channelling its resources — thanks to the regionalisation of its influence — into the medium-term objectives of development and cooperation, rather than into the short-term one of containing regional conflicts through the use of force. This region is Europe. Taking advantage of the security and stability guaranteed by America’s leadership of the world, Europe has, until now, managed to grow rich while remaining free from global responsibilities. But this phase has now come to an end. The correspondence between Europe’s and America’s short-term interests, which provided the basis for the process of European unification, no longer exists. Europe must now create, by itself, an independent political framework, whose absence was previously compensated for by the protection guaranteed by the United States: in other words, it must unite into a federal state with the capacity to play an active and progressive role on the world chessboard, and to provide a point of reference for all the other processes of regional unification already in progress in the world, and for the modernisation and democratisation of the continental-size states that already exist.
The process leading to this end will be difficult and conflictory. The necessary relinquishment of sovereignty and assumption of responsibility will be traumatic. Equally, relations between Europe and the United States cannot be expected to evolve smoothly. Upon the birth of the European federation, the United States will lose both its status as sole world power and the privilege of funding the exercise of its own hegemony with other countries’ money. What we should really be focusing on, however, is not the immediate interests of one power group or another on one side of the Atlantic or the other, but rather on the common future of the American and European peoples, and with them, of the entire human race. Today, all this hinges on whether the Europeans prove able to unite and, by so doing, to help the Americans to free themselves from the restrictions imposed on them the role on the world stage, thereby allowing them to breathe new life into their democracy.