Europe’s choice

By John Williams

Atlanticism versus European federalism: the choice between consolidating United States global hegemony and restoring global balance-of-power

The British political establishment’s habit of giving precedence to the mythological Anglo-American “Special Relationship” over the acceptance of integrating itself into Europe reflects its maladjustment to the post-cold-war era. By the same token, Europe’s failure to assert its international role in a manner commensurate with its economic power reflects its dependency upon an outdated cold-war frame of reference to conduct its post-cold-war collective international relations, namely Atlanticism. Assuming that there is such a thing as historical objectivity for the sake of argument, the following can be viewed as an objective historical summary of Atlanticism:

1940s United States opposition to European Colonialism;

1950s United States dictates Anglo-French withdrawal from Suez, symbolising the end of European colonialism and the assertion of United States colonialism;

1960s Failure of supra-national transatlantic defence project symbolised by French withdrawal from Nato’s military command;

1970s transatlantic conflict over Middle East oil;

1980s transatlantic conflict over Siberian oil pipeline and European grass-roots opposition to deployment of United States missiles on European soil;

1990s Escalating transatlantic trade conflicts failing to be suppressed by crisis management;

2000s Escalating transatlantic trade conflicts failing to be suppressed by crisis management, transatlantic conflict over global environment management, European opposition to United States intelligence surveillance of European commercial interests, transatlantic conflict over Europe’s assertion of its security and foreign policy independence.

In other words, the post-second-world-war period in international relations has been the exception rather than the rule. Created in exceptional and questionable circumstances, Atlanticism has contributed as much to destabilizing Europe as it has to the stabilisation of Europe.

A Chicago Global Centre survey of American public opinion discovered that, although Americans rated Europe as possessing greater importance to the United States than Asia (42% versus 28%) in 1994, a year later there was a fourteen point shift in favour of Asia. These statistics cannot be dismissed as exceptional. Hugo Young, reflecting on the mid-term elections to the US Congress and Senate, extracts their geo-political logic in terms of the increasingly divergent bi-partisanships of the respective American and European party political systems. Not only do the respective party leaderships have less and less ideologically in common, according to Young; the electoral agendas presented to the respective electorates are increasingly divergent. Substantive polling evidence also indicates that the Republican mid-term success stemmed primarily from the American electorate’s empathy with the Bush Administration’s conduct of foreign policy overriding its traditional concern over economic issues. If true, this substantiates the diminution of Euro-centric content in Washington’s foreign policy, a pivotal factor that cannot be denied when considering its probable ramifications in the evolution of transatlantic relations.

Such diminution of Euro-centric commitment of the foreign policy establishment is inevitable. For instance, John Lloyd, despite his staunch yet sophisticated Atlanticism, graphically illustrated this . Conveying his impressions of a recent visit to the US, he observed:

“‘Tens of thousands of American lives were lost in Europe’s wars in the first half of last century. Bosnia apart, none are likely to be at hazard there now.”

Such an observation would have been even more accurate without the qualification, given that Washington’s commitment to the Balkans was designed to minimise the commitment of American ground troops. The real pertinence of his observation, however, lay in his remark that:

“Those who tend US foreign and security policy – Colin Powell at the State Department, Condoleezza Rice at the National Security Council, president George W. Bush himself – are preoccupied with the other spokes. European leaders will still be closer to them by tradition and philosophy. But they do not routinely route their policies for the more turbulent countries and regions at the end of the other spokes in the wheel – the Middle East, China, Russia, India and Pakistan, Latin America – through Europeans to get their advice and assistance.”

Taken as a whole, Lloyd’s self-evident observations highlight Atlanticism’s mythological basis.

The resultant centrifugal pressure upon the alliance is inevitable, indeed logical. Given the inevitability of this logic, the question confronting the European political establishment is, can Europe afford not to challenge, undermine and destroy the on-going, and probably increasing United States global hegemony of power?

Stressing the urgency of implementing federalist solutions to European problems, the Italian Section of the World Federalist Movement opens its contribution to the summer 2002 issue of The Federalist Debate Papers, thus:

“There are moments in history when it is necessary to make radical choices. In Europe, where national governments have resigned themselves to making foreign policy in the shadow of the American super-power, politics has forgotten the harsh distinction between good and evil, between peace and war.”

Although one might question the moral absolutism, this statement equally applies to the received wisdom of European federalism’s implicit acceptance of American hegemony over the development of Europe’s common foreign and security policies. It is a statement that, deliberate or not, pinpoints the urgency of questioning long unquestioned Atlanticist dogma. For instance, it focuses attention to the fact that the fall of the Berlin Wall should have been the siren call for European federalists to demand Nato’s replacement with a radically reformed and expanded Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, excluding the United States and Canada for geo-political coherence. Possessing an undeniable geo-strategic, geo-political and democratic logic, this demand would have established the credentials of federalists to represent not just Europe’s, but the world’s, best long-term interest beyond doubt.

This post-cold-war security alliance, founded upon a cold-war frame of reference that was questionable even at the time, doesn’t just militate against federalist logic; it militates against medium to long term European security. Russia’s apparent acquiescence in Nato’s expansion, far from proving political pragmatism’s triumph, is a hostage to Europe’s security fortune. Thus Vladimir Putin’s secrecy over the components of the nerve gas to resolve the October 2002 Moscow siege, brutal in its detachment from humanitarian considerations though it was, had an undeniable long term realle politique logic in the context of Washington’s global hegemony consolidating itself by Nato’s expansion. Indeed, this realle politique stance was legitimatised almost immediately after the event by the Guardian’s revelation of Washington’s massive development programmes in bio-warfare and chemical weaponry.

Symptomatic of bi-partisan behaviour in Washington, such developments guarantee the destabilisation of international relations. Just as with the British maladjustment to European integration, the European political establishment’s failure to assert Europe’s potentially constructive global role stems from nostalgia for cold-war Atlanticism increasingly outdated in the post-cold-war era. Consolidating the provocative global hegemony of the United States by the acceptance of its unnecessary governance over European security, such European nostalgia destabilises international relations still further.

This article was contributed by John Williams, a member of the committee of Federal Union and of the Federal Committee of the Union of European Federalists, who may be contacted at The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union. First edition, Tuesday, 19 November 2002.

About the Author