Year XXXIII, 1991, Number 1 - Page 54
EUROPE AND THE UNITED STATES: THE LESSONS OF THE GULF
An enormous and continuous effort is required to make transparent what is hidden amidst the complexity of history. Transparency is difficult to achieve because what is complex is difficult to understand, but in war everything is more difficult and more complex because, more than ever, political and social thought is trapped by the ancient demon of nationalism.
Any interpretation of history and events that starts from a national viewpoint is deceiving and consequently the solutions proposed are inadequate: a world seen as a mosaic of various national components is an image that will never have a direct relationship with reality. Nothing distorts the real framework of events more than considering one’s country as the centre of the universe and seeing everything from this standpoint alone: history continues to be interpreted according to the old “ptolemaic” theory of natiocentrism. Thus wars that are supposed to be won, and the successive peaces that are certainly lost, are explained.
These distorting evaluations have prevailed in the analysis of a fundamental point in the vicissitudes concerning the Gulf (and therefore have surely not contributed to making them comprehensible, nor have they represented a good premise for the future): the connection between the role played by the United States and the role played by Europe, to be more precise that of the European Community. Besides the various nationalist positions, those of the Americans, the Arabs, and the West have also emerged, but that of the “European party” did not have adequate coverage from the press simply because the old, supposedly centrifugal national interests have in actual fact lacerated the extremely fragile and incomplete institutional web of the Community, which is practically inexistent as far as strategic aspects are concerned.
As the role played by the USA and the Community is fundamental to establish peace and the new world order, to re-establish the UN and ensure the transition to democracy and economic development of almost three fourths of humanity, it is worthwhile, now the clash of arms has stopped, to examine a few problems which have emerged after and in relation to the Gulf War: the reasons for the weakness of the response of the European Community to the Gulf emergency; the relationship between American peace, world balance and the institutional and social structure of the US; the need for a European government and for its effective presence in the new world structure; the means by which a European government can become effective.
The fragmentary political initiative on the part of the European Community in the tragic Gulf crisis and the substantial political weakness which underlies the solutions put forward when facing problems – those already existing, plus the new ones started by the war, such as the tragedy of the Kurds – are the most evident proof of the fact that the present institutional context is wholly inadequate: facing an emergency, the predominance of the European Council over every other Community institution merely leads to the renewal of attitudes exclusively inspired by short term national interests and prevents the appearance of a unitary European policy; this exposes the Europeans to accusations, threats and blackmail and drives the single countries to a mutual conspiracy of silence and to differing positions, resulting in collective action which is wholly irrational and ruinous for all: individual countries, Europe, the allies, and the whole world.
The UN had to decide on war or peace and frequently the French plan was in conflict with the English one, so in the end the American plan was approved. The Soviet Union took the peace initiative and the Foreign Ministers of the Twelve gathered in Luxembourg received it favourably; a few hours later, as soon as the position of the White House became clear, France and Great Britain contradicted themselves, aligning with the United States. London was only too pleased to be the latter’s European pillar and so, with the war as its accomplice, to re-establish its special relationship; but it was unable to obtain even the co-direction of military operations.
General De Gaulle must have turned in his grave: the French force de frappe under American command! What fact was more emblematic, concerning the national identity crisis, than Jean-Pierre Chevenement’s resignation? French public opinion was aware of the Europeans’ marginal role, due to their divisions, and considered the Israeli-Palestine conflict to be far more important than the fate of Kuwait. It knows that the country will have little say in the postwar re-organization and Dumas asserted that France could talk only with whoever has soldiers in the Gulf! Then they were there, waiting for the prize, but France and Great Britain will almost certainly come out of this crisis worse off than in 1956, although they are no longer considered colonialists, in the sense that individually they will completely lose the ability to have any remaining influence on events in the area.
Germany’s Weltpolitische Abstinenz and its monetary isolationism are not only signs of nationalist pride, of withdrawal into internal problems so that nothing upsets the unification process; how can one avoid seeing in this detachment from world politics also the difficulty of the country in overcoming the contradiction between economic giantism and political dwarfishness?
As for Italy, facts do not correspond to affirmations. It officially recognizes the “excessively timid European political integration”, confirms its commitment to the summoning of the Conference for Security and Co-operation in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, affirms that from now on the United Nations will not be able to judge by two different standards, asks for the reform of the UN (in an ambiguous way: a single seat for the Community or a seat for Italy too?), but no concrete political initiative is taken at the European level. After the result of the referendum in favour of the constituent mandate to the European Parliament and after the vicissitudes in the Gulf, what are the Italian proposals for the two current intergovernmental Conferences on Economic and Monetary Union and on Political Union?
Europe has lost the battle but it is not defeated. Nor can it commit suicide, because without its return into the mainstream of history the problems of peace, war, democracy and development will have no solution. The European Union of Federalists has taken a stand confuting the point according to which the lack of a clear Community policy during the period preceding military intervention in the Gulf would prove that the objective of establishing a European Union with foreign policy and security competences is merely an illusion. On the contrary, it has proved once more that, where the Community has clearly defined institutions and powers, some action has been undertaken.
The lack of democratic institutions in the sectors of security, foreign policy and defence has lead Europe to confusion and made it impossible for it to define its position. It has bowed to a strategy imposed in another framework, it has let itself be swayed without being able to control and now it runs the risk of having the role reserved for intendance. But if Europe is absent from important decisions, the near future will herald even worse emergencies: the governing of the world does not improve by going from a bipolar system to a unipolar one, but by establishing the multipolar system around the UN even faster. Therefore the political Union of Europe is necessary. How can it be achieved, along which road, and what is the starting point?
The United States of America is not made for hegemony. Moreover, left to itself it would transform every international problem into a kind of ordeal, gradually destroying its own system and leading the world to the precipice. In the current world situation, which is characterized by a dynamic charge of instability, we can borrow Ilya Prigogine’s image according to which “the beating of a butterfly’s wings in any part of the world can cause a slight breeze, which little by little will become a hurricane that will rage over the White House”.
With the USSR needing disarmament to assert perestroika, and 80 per cent of humanity waiting for economic development, there will always be someone to keep at bay and the new world order just coming into sight would be jeopardized if the reaction of the USA were that of hegemony: following this path the European establishment has collapsed twice this century; following this path the American establishment would collapse dragging the whole world with it.
Contrary to what Francis Fukuyama thinks, history is not finished and the world, even less than the states, cannot be governed with prayers. And the Americans are well aware, when they separate reality from rhetoric, that power in the new world order must be shared, and force subjected to law: they understand Montesquieu, when he warns that “a great empire presupposes a despotic authority” and if there is anything that is truly incompatible with the American system, in structural terms, with its federalist fundamentals – institutional, social and cultural – it is sheer despotism.
In the eighth of The Federalist papers, Alexander Hamilton acknowledges the decisive influence of foreign policy over domestic policy and concludes that a federal constitution, in other words the overcoming of the absolute sovereignty of the American states, is indispensable to avoid the authoritarian and centralizing influences that would derive from a situation of international anarchy. The politics of power, in the wisdom of the founders, goes along with the progressive abolition of freedom within the state, and the more exposed the position of the state itself, the more accentuated this process becomes: “... [even] nations the most attached to liberty [will] resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free”.
These are the roots of American isolationism and every delay on the part of Europe aggravates this American dilemma. The United States can live in world disorder even less than other countries and when they are left on their own to defend great noble principles, they encounter disasters such as Vietnam. They need the “Lusitania” or Pearl Harbor to come out of their isolation, and when the “red menace” becomes permanent they understand that the European pillar must be created: their leaders, like John F. Kennedy, when they have a wide vision of history, know that the real challenge with Europe is equal partnership.
Besides, the ultimate reference of the sentences of the Supreme Court is the Bill of Rights, which is supposed to defend the freedom of citizens with respect to the constitution, but which instead is mostly preoccupied with running the state. How can a democracy in which the leader must be elected every four years and retires after eight years at the most conceive a hegemonic project? Certainly Uncle Sam does not go to war for nothing, but the idealist component prevails, from Woodrow Wilson to George Bush. From opposite sides, William Fulbright and Henry Kissinger agree that security arises from broad understandings and from a solid strategic equilibrium, that domination is incompatible with American values, that particularly today the United States does not even possess the resources to attempt it, and that in any case the main point is that American hegemony could not last.
Just as the 1922 Empire Settlement Act did not stop the strategic and economic weakening of Britain, as neither did the 1926 imperial Conference with the creation of the Commonwealth, so a possible American imperialism would clash with the already decreasing yields of the military obligations the United States have in the world. On the other hand, if the answer to the fundamental contradiction between global interdependence and the realization of freedom and democracy in the world and the presence of one hundred and eighty national states were of the imperial-hegemonic type, American national egoism would open the way to the end of mankind.
To become aware of this, it is enough to consider, remaining in the modern era, Gleichgewicht oder Hegemonie (Balance or Hegemony) by Ludwig Dehio or The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy: every hegemonic aspiration within the system of states, from Charles V to Hitler, has failed. It is therefore necessary to overcome international anarchy to eliminate the fundamental root of the tendencies to authoritarianism and totalitarianism, otherwise the continuous tension between the hegemonic attempts of one pole and the reaction of the others to re-establish the balance could lead to a world nuclear disaster.
Over-extensions, both military and monetary, encounter the same limits: blood letting, which becomes negative in the first case, and the paradox of Triffin in the second. All of the current large world blocks – the USA, the USSR, China, Japan, Europe – and potential ones – India, the Arab countries, South American countries, Africa – have to face the old dilemmas of ascent and decline, the unstable rate of productive growth and technological innovation, changes on the international scene, the spiral of costs and the permanent alteration of every equilibrium, and none of them holds out or will hold out against the growing gap between systems which are over-exposed from a military point of view, whose economies are bound to tire (the United States and the Soviet Union), and economic dynamism which rewards whoever is not strategically hegemonic (Germany and Japan).
The UN is certainly an imperfect institution, but progress towards a World government is a necessity. It can be achieved “Popper-style,” through trial and error, but only if the door to the future is left open and if Europe is able to play its role of pacesetter and model for the other areas.
Peace in the Middle East cannot be administered by Bush alone, because it has implications that go far beyond the American role in this specific case, and which concern the relations between the West and Islam, between North and South, détente, the future of Israel and the unity of the Arab world, and the transformation to democracy of the UN. The United States have to prove that it was truly a UN war, and therefore that the peace should also be the UN’s. The Bush-Baker proposals for the Middle East have some sense if they are accompanied and joined to a “European peace Plan for the Middle East”, to remove the suspicion that it is a matter of oil problems and American hegemony.
With this premise a stronger and more democratic UN can come out of the crisis, in other words the United States can win the war; otherwise they would lose the peace within a short time. There can be no new order with an emperor at the summit and a pyramid of vassals and vavasours right down to the serfs. The era of solitary giants is over. Political democracy and economic liberalism are universal points of reference, and will remain and will become a universal reality only if they are not considered empty words.
To this end it is necessary to prevent the United States from having to assume the responsibility for preserving the existing precarious equilibrium. Europe must assume its historical responsibility of collaborating with them for the birth of a new, pacific, democratic and progressive equilibrium, and for the reform of the United Nations.
Schuman, when suggesting the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community on May 9th 1950, understood that “pooling together” the two strategic goods of France and Germany would immediately guarantee the first step towards a European Federation. Monnet, its inspirer, also understood that one cannot act along general lines starting from vague concepts and claims in which nationalistic flavour prevails; one must concentrate on a strategic point which determines all the rest.
Today what is the strategic point that would re-launch the European unification process and at the same time strengthen the UN?
It is becoming more and more evident that the link between Economic and Monetary Union and Political Union is solid and tight, as the progress of the work of the two intergovernmental Conferences shows. The European Parliament in December passed the Colombo Resolution for European Union, which lays the foundations for the project of a Constitution. The French-German proposals for a European security policy bring further valid contributions. Jacques Delors has made proposals in London concerning the commitment of the Twelve to defence and common foreign policy. The constituent mandate to the European Parliament and Parliament-Council co-decision are on the table. The idea of building Europe starting only from business, or waiting for the functionalist process to bear fruit is also slowly being re-considered because it seems to be a lengthy process.
Yet everything seems to have stopped. What is missing? The vision of the final organization is missing. The Bonn-Paris arm wrestle on the Europe of currencies implies much more. The French think that in its immense majority the present German population lacks the ambitions of previous generations (the choice of committing itself only at the financial level is characteristic). But this “lack of courage”, as Günter Grass says, cannot last for ever: economic power creates appetites. After all, Germany’s request to become a permanent member of the UN security Council is legitimate: “No taxation without representation.”
But when Mitterrand speaks, it is to reaffirm that the new world will continue to be forged by the winners of the Second World War! Thus French short-sightedness ignores Europe and produces castling around the force de frappe: consequently Germany is biding its time with the Deutsch Mark.
In fact, the new historical European entente lies in the monetary suicide of the Mark against the suicide of the permanent French seat at the UN, both in favour of the European Union. If France and Germany today renounce hurting each other using the Mark and the UN seat, as they did forty years ago by renouncing to use coal and steel in strategic terms, political vision becomes clear and the economic power of one and the military arsenal of the other, deprived of their harmful prestige, become a guarantee for peace.
And one can be sure now that Great Britain, behind the mists of the Channel, will also realize sooner or later that the climate has changed. Everything would start going in the right direction, with European Union as the first step towards a new organization of the world.
This entente changes the way the whole world political system works, concretely starts the re-founding of the UN, creates an equilibrium in which others are forced to take part – Japan, the Arab world, ACP countries, India – and which is more open, more democratic, and able to make new peoples participate in the governing of the world. It is therefore more suited to solving the new problems that the crisis of the world political and economic system poses, and reinforces on the Americans the importance of Europe.