America and the Euroweenies
The Future of the Transatlantic Relationship
About This Event

On June 5, Josef Joffe led a lively exchange of views on the current divide in U.S.-European relations. Joffe, the copublisher of the Hamburg-based Die Zeit, defined transatlantic tensions as resulting from an imbalance of power. His advice to the United States: America, contain yourself. The following is a summary of the event.


12:15 p.m.




Radek Sikorski, NAI


Josef Joffe, co-publisher of Die Zeit




Event Summary

June 2002
America and the Euroweenies: The Future of the Transatlantic Relationship

Josef Joffe  
Josef Joffe
On June 5, Josef Joffe led a lively exchange of views on the current divide in U.S.-European relations. Joffe, the copublisher of the Hamburg-based

Die Zeit, defined transatlantic tensions as resulting from an imbalance of power. His advice to the United States: America, contain yourself. The following is a summary of the event.

The sixty-year alliance between the United States and Europe has proven extraordinarily successful: a healthily competitive trade relationship, robust intelligence sharing, and a remarkably adaptable North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Addressing the issue of NATO, Joffe described the dramatic change the alliance underwent between 1991 and 1994: "NATO I," an alliance to defend Europe from the Soviet threat, transformed into "NATO II," a security coalition supporting America, most recently in Afghanistan. (There are now more European troops than American on the ground in Afghanistan.).

NATO’s evolution in the early 1990s coincided with (and in some part, grew from) the death of the Soviet Union, long a counterweight to American power. The resulting imbalance of power is astonishing, unprecedented in recent history. Consider that the annual U.S. military budget of about $384 billion is more than double that of all of its European allies’ military budgets combined. The United States now has the ability to fight wars in remote parts of the world single-handedly, mobilizing its forces rapidly. It can invade Iraq without European help, gain control of the Middle East, and reshape that region according to its will.

Oddly, the stark imbalance of power between Europe and the United States has not yet prompted Europeans to coalesce as a counterweight. To the contrary, each state continues to act alone, and the voices of Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair, and Gerhard Schroeder carry much further than the voice of, say, Javier Solana. Where Europeans can agree, it is in their desire to constrain American power through international institutions such as the International Criminal Court and the United Nations (most vocally, the United Nations’s Framework Convention on Climate, which agreed to the Kyoto Protocol). Within such frameworks, the one-country, one-vote structure neutralizes U.S. power.

Thus far, however, the European strategy of constraining the United States has been a manifest failure, and has boomeranged on the European powers. The growing American mistrust of international organizations has translated into a "don’t call us, we’ll call you" approach, particularly within NATO. Resentments within NATO coupled with recent U.S. trade decisions, notably new farm subsidies and steel tariffs, mean that Europeans have been provoked unnecessarily at a moment when much of what the United States needs and wants to do requires allied support. In general, American unilateralism is interpreted abroad as the United States taking more from the international system than it is giving.

The United States thus risks the formation of a more traditional alliance driven by balance-of-power concerns. Eventually, European and other countries will see little choice but to align themselves against America. Joffe’s advice to the United States: self-containment and a return to U.S. diplomacy of 1950s and 1960s, when America saw that it could best help itself by helping others.


Part of the new American hostility to international institutions that so angers many Europeans, some argued, results from the fact that the institutions themselves have changed. Once, such institutions were intergovernmental organizations in which decisions were made unanimously (the successful General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, for example); now they tend to be supranational and often consist of nongovernmental organizations unaccountable to voters. Such decision-making bodies, while appealing to Europeans accustomed to diffuse lines of authority, are anathema to many Americans.

America is behaving like a classical dissatisfied power, seeking to acquire even more power (vis-à-vis Russia, for example) rather than take the more logical approach of preserving the status quo as the British once did. But America cannot enjoy the security past empires did - the September 11th terrorist attacks proved that the U.S. is vulnerable even considering the yawning gap between the U.S. and other countries in military and technological capabilities.

Other areas of disagreement with Europe - differing perceptions of threats such as Iraq, for example, were explained in a variety of ways. The discussants largely agreed that Europeans are often passive, certain that America will act if they do not. Europeans, throughout the 1980s on the front lines of terrorism, fear a harsh stance against states like Iran and Iraq will violate an unwritten non-aggression pact with such rogue states and Europe would once again become a target.

The fundamentals of the transatlantic divide, Joffe summarized, come down to the United States as a driving force of modernity. The nation-state as an independent actor and the primacy of individual freedom challenge the traditional construct of centuries of life in Europe. (Interestingly, Joffe included Israel in his discussion of the "modern" state, addressing why Europeans often divide their hostilities between Israel and the United States.) The assertion was contradicted by some, who pointed out that Western European states might be considered "postmodern" only if the situation of Muslim and non-European minorities within their borders is overlooked.

Finally, the common values that form the bedrock of the alliance between the United States and Europe are not, in reality, weighted equally. The upstart new world, in the end, values personal freedom over tradition, whereas Europeans treasure their traditions over the constant change that fuels the American way of life. Americans must not, many warned, underestimate the menace Europe feels from American individualism and American power. One day they will fear it enough to come together and fight it.

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