Growing as Superpower


Europe is getting ready to pull out again for public viewing one of the fundamental but little-spoken-of purposes for its creation—to act as a counterweight to the American superpower.

Since the Second World War, the EU-U.S. relationship has been an evolving one. It began with the U.S. largely playing the role of benefactor to a weary and war-torn Europe. But since then, numerous factors have helped the EU come into its own as an emerging world power—its huge collective economy and its single currency, the euro, as well as aggressive political leadership (in particular from Germany) and new diplomatic ties with other nations around the world.

As unification intensified and EU nations gradually came to speak with a more unified voice, rumblings of disagreement with American policies grew over more and more issues, including fundamental ones like the Kyoto environmental agreement, the International Criminal Court and policies on the Middle East.

But differences which used to be handled gingerly and with tact are now being dealt with openly and more aggressively in a manner not seen in the past 60 years. As the International Herald Tribune points out, “even strongly pro-American leaders like the British prime minister, Tony Blair, and the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, are openly differing with America with a public bluntness that would have been unthinkable five years ago—or in the weeks after Sept. 11” (July 22). The EU seems to have suddenly grown teeth.

The differences now run deep, and America, which in European eyes not so long ago was an indispensable support (the U.S. has been a stalwart supporter of European unification since its inception), is now being viewed as a bully instead of a benefactor by a Europe increasingly determined to do things its own way.

Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says, “It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power—the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power—American and European perspectives are diverging” (Policy Review, June-July 2002).

Even militarily, the one area in which the EU cannot yet hope to compete with the U.S., strides are being made to begin trying, and “some Europeans are talking about finally putting their money where their mouths have been for so long on defense spending, understanding that the superpower in Washington will only take them seriously when they can project hard power to back up their foreign policies” (op. cit.).

Raised up out of fragmentation and economic weakness after World War ii, the EU is now weekly re-discovering its own strength. The international conglomerate that has been pushed and pulled along, with the intention that it eventually begin to serve as a counterweight to the U.S., is now doing just that, if not yet militarily, certainly politically and even economically and diplomatically.

Now bold with the strength of its newfound political clout, the EU has already started turning a cold shoulder to the nation that, more than any other, helped it to grow into what it is. Watch for the tensions between the EU and U.S. to grow stronger and more divisive still before the EU finally turns to bite the hand that once fed it.