2003 April 19 Saturday
Europe Discovers The Limits Of Soft Power

Tony Judt has an essay in the New York Times on the limits to European power.

Generally, this has worked well, particularly for the earliest participants in the club (France, West Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries). But as the club expanded, from 6 countries to 9, then 12, then 15 and now 25, it has become an unwieldy bureaucratic organization with a geometrically expanding range of conflicting regional priorities. For a single country like the United States, power increases with size. But for Europe, growth may be a source of weakness.

One problem Europe faces is that its peoples speak a large variety of languages. Europe can not have a "national" debate in the same way that the United States can. People who do not share the same language are not going to think themselves members of the same common nation with deep shared interests. That problem is going to take a long time to go away.

Another long range problem for Europe is demographic. Their population is not reproducing. It will shrink in the next 50 years and become smaller than the growing American population. Europe will have fewer young people to work and pay the taxes to support an its elderly population. The higher taxes and a shrinking workforce of the future Europe will cause anemic economic growth and declining influence. At the same time, the biggest growing fraction of the population is not European in culture and is Islamic in religion. Therefore European politics may become divided over cultural and religious issues in ways that make similar debates in the United States seem mild by comparison.

From a US perspective probably the most important and, as yet, undecided question about Europe is whether the member states will be able to maintain their own independent militaries and foriegn policies. If the member states lose those fundamental attributes of a sovereign state then it will become impossible for the United States to ally with a subset of European states in the pursuit of US foreign policy. Most notably, the United States will lose Great Britain as an ally. A top objective in US foreign policy toward the European Union ought to be to prevent this outcome.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 April 19 09:45 AM  Europe and America


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