Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century
The passive-aggressive superpower
By Steven Martinovich
If you've lived long enough you're probably aware that every few years a country is nominated to be the next world leader. Generations of Canadian school children were taught Wilfrid Laurier's assertion that the 20th century would belong to Canada. For years Americans feared Japanese or German economic dominance. These days we're told that China or India will be the next world superpower.
It will come as a surprise to most, however, that it may be the European Union that comes to dominates the political and economic landscape. That's the assertion that Mark Leonard makes in Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century, an offering that argues Europe is quietly remaking the world in its image. The world is slowly evolving, he writes, into a place that will no longer be under the sway of a hegemonic America. We will live in interconnected unions of nations that practice soft power, rather then the misguided hard power of today's nation-states.
This will come about, argues Leonard, because the European Union model is becoming increasingly attractive to smaller nations seeking a voice on the world stage. It is also a kind of tar baby: In order to deal with the EU one must accept its rules. Once economic and political ties are made, it is difficult for a nation to withdraw. As the EU grows and becomes more prosperous and influential, other nations will want to join the club and the stickiness of the union's rules and regulations will ensnare them as well.
Europe is managing this feat of extend and embrace, writes Leonard, by promising no grand vision other than peaceful trade and engagement with other member nations. Unlike Americanism, which Leonard argues entails dominant-submissive relationship; Europe prefers a decentralized network of states which freely accept European standards. Where Europe sees everyone as a potential friend, America sees any powerful, independent nation as a potential enemy.
Recent history would suggest that Leonard is correct. The EU's success in integrating central European nations suggests that the model is attractive to nations on the outside looking in. Europe also seems to have some influence in parts of the world that can't explained away as merely relationships with former colonies. Nor does it force any nation to deal with it. Nations are invited to play by its rules and those that do enjoy the benefits of trade with one of the world's largest integrated economies.
None of these arguments, of course, will be of news to those who follow the debate over issues of sovereignty and transnationalism -- the intellectual battle between those that are devoted to the nation-state and those who no longer subscribe to Westphalian notions of sovereignty. Leonard's passion for the later, unfortunately, seems to have blinded him to the reality of the world the way it is, not the way Europe's army of technocrats wishes it to be.
While Leonard takes to task American unilateralism, he admits that American power is necessary to solve those problems that are beyond Europe's abilities -- though to be used only multilateral acceptance. Embrace and extend may work with nations like those of central Europe, but its efficacy remains to be seen with rogue nations like Iran and North Korea which continue to promise that they will live up to international norms but fail to do so. Cynics are right to wonder if Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Iraq if Europe had taken the lead on Iraq.
Also not standing up to serious scrutiny is his belief that Europe is a bastion of enlightened foreign policy, a respecter of international law and human rights. Iraq's biggest arms suppliers were, contrary to popular belief, European nations. Germany and France's so-called principled opposition to the Iraq war seemed more rooted in their desire for Iraqi oil. Many nations, particularly in Africa, are not treated as equals but rather paternalistically, with intervention in internal affairs carried out at the whim of their former colonial masters.
Leonard's willful blindness is nakedly displayed when he turns to the issue of China, whom he believes is following Europe's lead when it comes to regional integration and engagement. While it is certainly true that China is beginning to engage its neighbours in a more responsible manner, one must wonder if this is due to European influence or Chinese pragmatism. Attempting to explain China's recent moves as being the result of European ideals will probably strike the reader as a bit of wishful thinking. China is a unique case and demands to be explained in unique terms, not to have a European template imposed on it.
While Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century is indeed a thought-provoking effort, Leonard makes the same mistake that many Americans do when they write about the exercise of global power: they only see the world through the eyes of their country. Leonard is correct when he writes that Europe is a unique body in the world. It is not, however, the only game in town -- as China and India will likely remind them in a few years time. Europe's soft power approach will be forced to adapt as the rise of new nation-states remind them that not everyone likes the rules of their club.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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