The New Atlantic Order

Henry Kissinger believes “an international political regulatory system” is imminent.

The financial collapse of 2008 and the subsequent global economic downturn have left American prestige badly damaged. For years its free-trade rhetoric dominated debate within fora like the World Trade Organization and urged second-rate powers to privatize and reduce tariffs. Whatever its political course, American economic leadership seemed unchallenged. It was the era of the Washington Consensus.

Today, the American economy lies in shambles and eight years of George W. Bush have obliterated a great amount of the international leverage and respect that the country could previously count on. American management of globalization is contested as is American predominance on the world stage. Rising powers as Brazil, China and India and old world players as Europe and Russia all demand a place in the Obama Administration’s “multilateral” game.

Serious attempts are made in that direction. The G20 is a fine example of what Henry Kissinger called for last January in “The chance for a new world order“: “creating an international political regulatory system with the same reach as that of the economic world.” A promise that the United Nations has never been able to fulfill, the G20 now revives by shaping the political and financial framework of the future.

There is still bad blood between the Atlantic power blocks however. In spite of their feverish admiration of President Barack Obama, European leaders haven’t forgotten the past decades of American unilateralism. Indeed, as Kissinger notes:

it […] has become an alibi for a key European difference with America: that the United States still conducts itself as a national state capable of asking its people for sacrifices for the sake of the future, while Europe, suspended between abandoning its national framework and a yet-to-be-reached political substitute, finds it much harder to defer present benefits.

With Europe moving slowly toward further political integration, recently electing a president and something of a common foreign secretary, what will it work toward abroad? asks Robert D. Kaplan in “Let’s Go, Europe.”

Unlike the United States, most European countries are pacifist with a great public reluctance to go to war hampering any sort of foreign intervention. Besides France, Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom, all European NATO members spend less that the required 2 percent of their GDPs on defense while countries as Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain elect to invest very much in but one of their armed forces: their navies. What’s to blame? Not just the continent’s “ethical awakening following centuries of war,” according to Kaplan, but “a new strategic context in which Europeans simply face no credible security threat.”

That is not to say that the Europeans cannot be convinced into waging war at all. In fact, the United States rather needs to do so, for as it focuses on the Pacific, drawing Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea into its camp to counterbalance China’s global ascendancy, it will have to rely increasingly on European forces to cover the Atlantic and Africa.

The way the world is shaping up, America will have no choice but to yank Europe kicking and screaming into conflict zones […]

In this regard, the stable naval power of many European partners is an advantage. “Sea power is inherently less threatening than land power,” notes Kaplan.

Moreover, future military operations will be all the more about rescue and disaster relief as populations continue to grow and climate change continues to upset fragile regions across the globe. As much as the Europeans might hate war, coming to the world’s rescue is something that politicians will have less trouble selling to their electorates at home.


  1. Quite, Kaplan is partly right; Europe has faced no real internal war for the past 60 years or for that matter, external threats. The Cold War didnt run hot. This bit about “ethical awakening following centuries of war,” is a bit silly, there’s no reason to suggest that this, more than structural changes, the tethering of coal and steele industries, US investment and presence, and an external threat, was the cause for peace in Europe.
    This part about navies is also questionable. European powers’ navies are all un-unified middle-band and lower band navies which even together do not have the capabilities of a single US fleet.

    “Moreover, future military operations will be all the more about rescue and disaster relief as populations continue to grow and climate change continues to upset fragile regions across the globe.”

    only if the world breaks a habit of a life-time and peace breaks out for many, many decades. Those aren’t military operations those are relief operations using some military equipment and personal. This Kaplan bloke comes across as just a patronising C***. His only redemption lies in his acceptance of Colin S. Gray. The fact that he talks about Greece and Turkey fighting each other, and that different states do maintain different levels of military capability within Europe (but variations on the same, it must be stressed, there’s yet to be seen any credible movement to the idea that each state takes on a different role to the others in a European divisional system) bellies the point that Europe cannot be treated as one homogenous unit when it comes to current and near future defence matters.

  2. Britain has been in more wars since 1945 than any other state on earth, and at every level within her armed forces there is a desire to fight if there’s match on. Certainly within operational and strategic commanders within the British Army, there’s a willingness to carry out any and all operations which the Americans do. Constraints for British troops certainly, are more material than political. Mr Brown’s small commitment of 500 troops IS partly political balancing of being seen to do something whilst not committing more troops than would make the public squeal, but in actuality much more could be committed without detriment. Fact is the British armed forces, as with those of most other states, in Europe, are tiny and often mismanaged. Political will does count for much continental reluctance to enter the fray, less, I suspect than this fellow claims, but capabilities also play their part. There’s only two ways to examine how ‘Europe’ fights and that’s either as individual states with varying capabilities and willingness/reluctance to do their duty, or as a fictitious whole with an armed forces capability which hasn’t even been looked at in such a manner for 4 years now, even within the halls of the EU. The draft for ‘Eurocorps’ lost respect years ago and didn’t get it back. What’s the use of having a foreign affairs minister if he’s got nothing to conduct ‘unified foreign policy’ with?

  3. I suppose the thinking in Brussels is that when you appoint a EU foreign minister, you’ll eventually get to draft EU foreign policy.

    The pacifism and reluctance to go to war is something that is not very common among armed forces personnel of course. That goes for all countries. It’s the political leadership that much more exhibits these characteristics than their counterparts across the pond. And the populace too. If you compare popular support for, say, the recent wars in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, approval numbers in the US are much higher than in Europe, even today.

    Kaplan may be a bit ambitious when he writes about Europe taking on such a unified, military role abroad, but would it be unrealistic to presume this happening in the next ten to twenty years?

    Note than when I mentioned “future military operations”, I meant, future military operations that the West will be involved in. As Kaplan sees it (and I think he may be right), we’ll continue to be involved in peace-keeping and we’ll be more involved in disaster relief, and less in actual combat.

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