In Other Words

Europe’s Blurred Vision

International Affairs, July 2000, London Superpower status confers many privileges, but one, certainly, is to be sublimely indifferent to what the rest of the world thinks or says. While few Americans say it openly, many quietly wonder why they should bother with all that foreign stuff on foreign affairs (especially if it is written in ...

International Affairs, July 2000, London

Superpower status confers many privileges, but one, certainly, is to be sublimely indifferent to what the rest of the world thinks or says. While few Americans say it openly, many quietly wonder why they should bother with all that foreign stuff on foreign affairs (especially if it is written in German or French).

But those who agree that a European tour outside the laager can be useful should peruse International Affairs, published by Chatham House in London. Under its current editor, Caroline Soper, the journal has developed into a lively and accessible forum for debate on a whole raft of new problems, from biodiversity to globalization.

Contributors to the July issue wrestle with the question, "Europe: Where does it begin and end?" William Wallace of the London School of Economics poses the query in graphic fashion: How far east and how far south will Europe eventually go? There are no easy answers, but as Wallace points out — more in sorrow than anger, one suspects — most of the significant thinking about the future shape of the Continent over the last 10 years has not been done in Europe but in the United States.

Martin Walker, former U.S. bureau chief of the London Guardian and current public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C., furnishes proof of Wallace’s particularly contentious (but unfortunately accurate) thesis. In a wonderful piece that combines historical sweep with insider knowledge of the Clinton administration’s thinking about Europe, Walker says more about transatlanticism in a few pages than most academic texts do in hundreds.

His article, "Variable Geography: America’s Mental Maps of Greater Europe," argues that at least six "mental maps" of Europe have dominated Washington’s view of the continent since 1989: a security map, an economic map, a cultural map, a religious map, a geographical map, and a political map. These different but overlapping ideas suggest that a "Greater Europe" is emerging — but also that Europe today remains a work in progress.

Certainly, "Variable Geography" makes for uncomfortable reading, especially for the French, but also for those many Europeans who assumed the 1990s would be their decade. Walker’s message is clear: The United States not only remains firmly entrenched in Europe but is more dominant than ever. A combination of the war in Yugoslavia, the decision to expand NATO, and the decline of the fledgling euro has put paid to many a European fantasy, according to Walker.

Walker also rebukes Clinton haters, ever so gently. What critics see as policy incoherence in the White House, Walker reveals as a flexible style of management that more often than not produced reasonably sound decisions, from choosing to participate in the North Ireland peace process after 1993 to pushing the boundaries of the NATO alliance eastward. The process may have been "chaotic" at times, but it allowed disparate players in the administration with different perspectives on Europe to promote their views "without feeling that their advice had been frozen out" — including, most notably, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, whose "personal conversion to the cause of NATO enlargement proved crucial to its promotion as a central initiative in the Clinton years."

If complexity defines the decision-making process in Washington, then asymmetry defines the underlying power relationship between the United States and Europe. Until balance is restored, says Walker, then any talk of a new European order is moot. But even though policymakers in Washington might encourage European efforts to develop a common foreign and security policy, one suspects they prefer a Europe dependent on U.S. largesse to a Europe singing from its own hymn sheet.

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