Year XXXI, 1989, Number 3, Page 237
US HYSTERIA AND EUROHYSTERIA*
IRA L. STRAUS
The Atlantic alliance is threatened by a dual hysteria. Where once, at its beginning, the alliance provided mutual reassurance, now for some time mutual accusations have been accumulating on both sides of the Atlantic. Negative attitudes on one side are picked up on the other where they fuel suspicion, and vice versa. Present political arrangements, which confine serious public discussion to within each allied country, only exacerbate the problem.
I will start with the American side.
The US has with great suddenness fallen into a hysteria against its allies. This is a delayed reaction to the decades-old decline in its ability to lead the allies unilaterally. It is sparked at this moment by fears over its economic standing in the world, renewing the feelings of decadence that have been latent ever since the war in Vietnam. An enormously popular, melodramatic discussion of “the decline of the American empire” has sprung up. This has been given an aura of respectability by a best-selling book by Prof. Paul Kennedy, whose extraordinary leaps in logic and self-contradictions have generally been overlooked by sympathetic readers plowing through his 700 long pages of prose.
The US has actually grown economically relative to all its allies (Europe, Japan, etc.) taken together since 1980, yet practically all Americans are convinced of the exact opposite. Starting from this completely erroneous premise, Americans are blaming the allies for damaging the US economy through unfair trade practices, exploiting the US defense guarantee in order to get a free ride and concentrate on economic growth, and now “buying up” America. (Most Americans would be completely dumbfounded if they had any inkling that Europeans have been blaming America through most of this decade for ruining Europe’s economy by sucking off Europe’s investment capital to finance America’s budget deficit.) The lack of economic merit in the American perception does nothing to slow its wildfire spread. A “blame the allies first” attitude has become all the rage, especially among those who used to be accused of a “blame America first” attitude.
This “US Hysteria” is leading America step by step, as if sleepwalking, down the stairs into the universally dreaded terrains of a breakdown over burden sharing and a trade war.
a) Disputes over burden sharing are a traditional graveyard of alliances. They are unresolvable within the framework of national sovereignty. Europe is already spending huge sums on defense, hidden somewhat by its low-paid conscript armies. If Europe and America were paying a joint graduated income tax for defense, to fund a joint army raised and paid in a uniform manner, Europe would be paying little if any more than it is today. But as long as Europe remains militarily unintegrated, its military capabilities and global projection will be far inferior no matter how much it spends on defense, and Congress will accuse it of not spending enough with little regard for the relevant facts. If Congress carries out its growing threats to withdraw US forces, the alliance is likely to fall apart in recriminations. This would be a catastrophic loss for real US power in the world.
b) A trade war, if started against Japan, would probably quickly spread to Europe. In it, allies would treat one another’s production and prosperity as an enemy force rather than the common inheritance it really is. This would make a mockery of the ritual affirmations of mutual commitment in NATO. It, too, could well dissolve the alliance.
And yet, if present trends in American national discussion continue, a trade war is all too likely an outcome. Japan is already being widely described as America’s main enemy in the world.
There has been a respite from radical protectionism since October 1987, when the stock market crash — sparked by fears of a trade war — was taken by Congress as a warning signal. But the underlying mood of the nation has turned so sour that the long-term consequences are likely to be grave. Congress has already enacted substantial elements of “procedural protectionism”, meaning procedures that will leave little room for presidents to avoid following rigid protectionist policies, into law in the new trade bill. The respite from the consequences of the hysteria is no cause for complacency, but it does give space and cause for proceeding with deliberate action on the deep roots of the hysteria.
The deep root of procedural protectionism is that economic discussion and interest aggregation flow mainly through national channels. Congress itself, with its logrolling methods for aggregating local interests, is structurally incapable of consistently standing up for America’s true national interest in reaching and consistently implementing wide ranging agreements with its partners abroad. Procedural protectionism is only one aspect, a subset, of the nationally-focosed procedures for handling international problems. This indicates quite clearly what is needed to replace procedural protectionism with procedural free trade: joint procedures strong enough to channel through themselves the main flow of economic discussion and policy-making.
It would be hard to imagine a more bitter travesty of America’s tradition of wishing well to her friends, than the attitude that allies should be treated as economic enemies. America has achieved unprecedented diplomatic successes through her unique capacity for recognizing in the prosperity and progress of her friends an addition to her own prosperity and progress. This tradition of good-will is one of her national treasures, raising her above the ordinary self-defeating approach to the world. Now, in a fit of fear of decadence, she is on the verge of mortgaging it in favour of the mean spirit of jealousy that has guaranteed the eventual decadence of ordinary countries.
The seriousness of this may be clearer if it is noticed that unimproved power politics has not previously been a live option for Americans; the two live options have been isolationism from the main line of global power politics (tempered by the virtue of holding up the light of democracy and federalism to the world, while allowing pursuit of narrow interests on the side) and involvement in the global power struggles with a democratic federal goal in mind (whether conceived clearly or dimly, regionally or globally, imminently or ultimately). This is why the great waves of American involvement in world struggles have coincided with — in large part been pioneered by — federative movements such as the League to Enforce Peace and Federal Union, and have led to the League of Nations, the United Nations, and (finally gaining some effective force) the Marshall Plan, NATO, OECD, North Atlantic Assembly, Summits/G-5/G-7… The presumption of partnership among free people, along with the goal of ultimate union which has justified that presumption, has required an optimistic but not unrealistic view of America’s significance in the world; it is incompatible with a morose pessimistic spirit of inevitable decline, to be managed by balance of power manoeuvres. Since it is this presumption of partnership which made possible America’s support of European federation, European federalists have a deep interest in its survival: in its absence, America would revert completely to traditional balance-of-power divide-and-rule modes of thinking.
Belief in Decadence as a New Phase in the Crisis of US National Sovereignty.
The new national belief in “American decline” shows that the crisis of national political thinking in America has entered a new phase. It is easy to show that the belief is an optical illusion, even a national hysteria, but such illusions and hysterias are unavoidable when political thinking is dominated by the categories of fixed territorial nation-states while real concerns have transcended national borders.
The degeneration of national political thinking was long predicted by federalists in view of the growth of interdependence among nations, whose problems can no longer be resolved by national power or national policy, coupled with the continuing focus of political debate on attempts to win national power and shape national policy. Political effort on ever more critical problems is channelled through authorities incapable of solving them, giving rise to ever greater distortions in political thinking, eventually to hysteria. This crisis has now arrived in America.
The feeling of national decadence, of being at the end of the tether of national greatness, flows out of the structural gap between national thought and international problems. It usually widens this gap in turn: as long as remedies are attempted only within the framework of national policy, they are doomed to fail, driving countries to maniac-depressive swings. Countries grow destructive, and self-destructive, in their drives for national regeneration. This leads to genuine decadence, as was seen in Germany and Japan in the first half of this century.
True regeneration is possible only by breaking through to the transnational level. Since 1945, the Atlantic-Pacific alliance system has reduced reliance on national action, partially regenerating democratic world leadership, partially restoring sanity. The fragility of this alliance system is the fragility of sanity itself. The turn of the discussion of American decline toward bashing America’s main allies as if they were the main threat to America in the world — an orientation that is palpably self-defeating, brazenly destructive of America’s real power and influence in the world — is a warning sign that sanity is once again in danger of cracking.
On the positive side, the discussion of American decline has made Americans aware that the US can no longer sustain its past hopes and greatness on its own. The decay of US postwar hegemony over Europe and Japan, which occurred decades ago, has finally hit home. This gives the US two actual options: to join more profoundly with those who share its aspirations, or destroy its own hopes by lashing out against its allies in a vain attempt to recover unilateral leadership. The crisis of national politics, a crisis whose acuteness in Europe has led many wise international federalists to focus on starting there, has now matured and grown acute in America as well. A public orientation toward deeper union has become a matter of urgency, and an actual union in a proximate future a matter of necessity, in order to avoid regressive nationalist reactions to problems and secure the alliance system on which America’s future depends.
Eurohysteria is the unbalanced suspicion and heavy-handed cynicism that many Europeans display when interpreting US policies and motives, e.g., accusing the US of trying to drag Europe into war when it was installing INF, and again when it was withdrawing INF. Its roots are: resentment of dependence, and the impossibility of ever fully trusting a foreign power, with separate interest-aggregation and decision-making processes, to defend one’s vital interests as its own. Its effect is: to lead Europe to bungle its actual needs and opportunities in Atlantic relations. It is right now leading Germany to talk itself into walking step by step, as if in a trance, down the very path it most fears: denuclearization, then possibly neutralization.
Hysteria has been stimulated since 1980 by Europe’s economic decline vis-à-vis America, which many Europeans blame on the US budget deficit for sucking capital and jobs out of Europe. Hysteria is now being reinforced by the belief — fueled by US rhetoric on “American decline” and “the Pacific century” — that the US is reorienting itself toward the Pacific and leaving Europe. Many Europeans deduce that America will inevitably grow ever less reliable as a partner for Europe.
Public opinion polls (by Gallup and Eurobarometer, 1987) confute these widespread views. They show that interest in the Pacific has not been at Europe’s expense, and that, if anything, the shoe is actually on the other foot: Europeans (in the EC area) are disturbingly nonchalant about Americans.
— 86 per cent of Americans say US-Europe ties matter a great deal (a number that has increased since 1973). Only 60 per cent of Europeans agree, despite their dependence on America.
— 53 per cent of Americans want to strengthen ties with Western Europe, 31 per cent to continue as at present, only 11 per cent to reduce ties. 70 per cent support having US troops in Europe as a necessity. The Americans are not withdrawing — not yet, anyway.
— 81 per cent of Americans have warm feelings toward Western Europe (most mentioning family roots and a high regard for European culture); only 52 per cent of Europeans think well of the US.
— 65 per cent of Americans (71 per cent among élites) support European unification, and think their Government does, too; only 49 per cent of Europeans think the US does.
While the hysteria is unjustified, it could act as a self-fulfilling prophecy and drive the US away from Europe: Europeans can sometimes engender the very unreliability of which they accuse America. But for now it is America that is the more reliable partner, and European countries that are the more prone to reversing policies in midstream at the expense of their allies. America’s continued interest in Europe is no cause for complacency, just as the respite from protectionism is no cause for complacency; there remain severe underlying problems in the Alliance which are eating away at its vitals. What it means is that there is time for addressing the problems at their root, in a deliberate manner, without the frenzy, feuds and reversals which usually confound efforts at a solution.
A Five-Point Plan to Cure the Hysterias.
A serious plan of attack must include:
1. Pushing European integration forward at a pace relevant to the onrushing course of history. Such good temper as exists in the Atlantic relation flows largely from the strong prod the US gave to European integration in the 1940s, thereby identifying America with the hopes of Europe. Many Europeans, addicted to power politics interpretations, refused to believe this was for real. Some still make a point of hinting darkly that maybe America is really against European unity or maybe European unity is not really in America’s interest.
At present the “America in (economic) decline” mentality is leading many US officials to join in this misperception of US interest and to behave suspiciously toward the EC’s “1992” program. Nevertheless the US Government still believes it supports European unification, and does strongly support European military unification as a key to finally resolving the Alliance’s ominous imbalances in conventional defense, burden sharing and military and political capability. These imbalances leave Europe hypersensitive about its dependence on America and are the main sources of Eurohysteria.
2. Carrying out somewhere in the world a joint policy involving active mutual support — visible, public, warm, wholehearted support.
This policy could simply be, to build new and stronger institutional links across the Atlantic.
Thanks to NATO’s success in stabilizing its own region, it has suffered from an almost total absence of live mutual military support. Wherever there has been live military action — Suez, Vietnam, Grenada, Chad, Libya — mutual dissociation has been more visible than mutual support. Yet an Alliance must be based on a spirit of mutual support.
3. Making a psychological reality once again of the aging doctrine that “an attack on free Europe would be the same as an assault on the United States; …the core of our foreign policy and of our national security is our permanent partnership with our fellow democracies in the Atlantic Alliance” (President Reagan, 29 February 1988), by renewing movement toward integration of Alliance territory.
No one defends someone else’s territory quite as one’s own. Throughout history allies have abandoned one another in the crunch.
Once the initial flush of NATO enthusiasm wore off after 1949 and the growth of Soviet nuclear forces eroded “extended deterrence”, one could not convincingly equate European territory with American’s own territory, except by doing something to make this a common territory. Europe’s fears of abandonment have festered ever since, confounding Alliance diplomacy.
NATO’s common Allied Command and American forces in Europe have done much to bridge the gap in confidence. But de Gaulle pulled France out of the NATO Command for want of reassurance on the nuclear level. The entire INF melodrama was motivated by a need to provide this nuclear evidence of political commitment, not by any intrinsic military need. The last decade has proved the impossibility of reaching any mutually satisfying posture on INF within the present political framework; every posture proves more unsettling than reassuring.
Refinements of military policies and postures are not enough. What is needed is a political solution, through closer integration of the territory: deep integration of conventional forces (which would allow a real conventional defense and reduce dependence on nuclear postures), a common area of free economic intercourse, common elections, common citizenship. Only this can make the partnership visibly permanent and end Europe’s fears of abandonment.
4. Deeper joint policy-planning processes; stronger joint implementing structures.
This is necessary for complicated policies; intergovernmental consultation at the summit of national policy-making processes is not enough. NATO works at all only because the main line of common policy within Europe was settled decades ago, under the pressure of crisis, and has long been implemented under hegemonic American leadership. Resentment and resistance to American hegemony, however, confuse all the new joint diplomatic efforts which the established joint policy inevitably requires. For sound diplomacy, and for serious efforts outside Europe, a stronger common authority is needed.
The common authority will need political roots in a common directly elected legislative body. This could be formed by adding a directly elected chamber and a decision-making role to the North Atlantic Assembly.
Today the allies do not really interpret together what they are doing; rather, each retreats to within its own national discussion to make up its real mind as to what its allies are doing. Within national discourse there is a premium on drawing tribal lines and viewing allies with suspicion. Consultations and pro forma common statements are not enough to change this reality; in intergovernmental councils, national élites naturally play their interests off against one another. The resulting agreements usually serve the disparate national public relations needs of élites more than common security needs of nations. This means the alliance has sunk to the level of a mostly symbiotic relation among élites.
Only a common elected assembly can escape symbiosis and instead weld together a genuine synthesis of the interests and perspectives of nations.
5. Democratizing the conduct of the common business.
If NATO’s military and diplomatic circles, which have achieved a certain distance from parliamentary supervision, lack the wisdom to see how much they would gain by subordinating themselves to common democratic authorities, such authorities should be established anyway to stop the slide toward trade wars.
America might invite her main partners abroad to send representatives to Congress — and send US representatives to their parliaments. This would reflect our valid interest in what allied countries do that affect us, and their valid interest in what we do that affects them. National constitutions would permit such delegates to join in debates and committee votes, but not in the final floor votes. This would establish the principle. But it would be too complicated. It would be useful at most if a country initiated this for transitional purposes, to pry the door open for more serious and systematic thinking about the problem.
There is only one enduring solution: a common congress among the allies, empowered to supervise the common business in trade. Let the allied peoples be freed to meet together in this way, rather than being set against each other through national logrolling systems, and they will surely free themselves to trade with one another in a common market… and then go on to take authority over NATO and establish fair joint taxation for defense. The people can thus lift NATO out of the shifting sands of national hysterias and place it on common terra firma. In the end they alone can save the alliance.
* This heading includes interventions which the editorial board believes readers will find interesting, but which do not necessarily reflect the board’s views.
 Inevitably some of the allies are growing faster than the US, but more of them are growing slower than the US. The US GNP pulled ahead by 5.9 per cent vis-à-vis the European Community from 1980-1987, slipped 10.0 per cent vis-à-vis Japan, and so gained 1.8 per cent vis-à-vis the non-US members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as a whole. The relevant statistics are supplied monthly by the OECD in Main Economic Indicators; e.g., May 1998, p. 40.
 This shows the danger in the overestimation by some European Federalists (for understandable tactical reasons of ideological convenience, through its seemingly realistic guarantee of the positive significance of European Federation) of the virtues that will flow from the further development of multipolarism, an overestimation which has even led some of them into mistaking the “US in decline” mentality for a favourable trend. If reversion to old-style power politics becomes a serious long-term option, the light of American federalism will go out before the light of European federation has matured to replace it. And if development toward multipolarity proceeds within an intercontinental framework which fails to grow at the same time toward being a closer, more reliable partnership or community, the intercontinental relations will degenerate toward balance of (sovereign independent) power relations, not rise toward world Older or ultimate world federation, and American thinking (and probably European thinking too) will degenerate into plain old-fashioned power politics thinking.