FROM THE COLD WAR TO THE WAR ON TERROR OR WHY THE TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONSHIP MAY NOT BE INEVITABLE
In a brilliant and original study on the state of the western alliance written in the early years of the 21st century (see Parsi 2005), Vittorio Parsi advanced the unfashionable thesis against critics of the Alliance that however much the unity of the West may have been tested by the Bush administration’s decision to go to war against Iraq in 2003, in the end what united Europeans and Americans would always trump that which divided them. A combination of shared values, overriding security needs, the logic of globalization, and last but not least, European dependency on the United States in an international system that was bound to remain unipolar, effectively meant that the two were bound together for the foreseeable future. The ocean dividing the two might have seemed wide. Separation however was not an option. Nor according to Parsi was it in anybody’s interest for this to happen. Indeed, as he noted in an aside, it was high time for certain core groups to recognize that neither continent could flourish without the other’s support. Nor of course could the world as a whole. As he pointed out, friendship between Europe and the United States was just not an option or a luxurious add-on, but the very foundation stone upon which global peace and global stability rested; and the sooner this was recognized – by Europeans Gaullists as much as by those in the United States who believed American could go it alone – the better it would be for everybody. No doubt some difficult times lay ahead. But these would be better navigated together rather than apart.
The argument that the Atlantic relationship is more likely to remain intact than fall apart is undoubtedly one that must bring some comfort to those in high places. It is also a view based on an extraordinarily long record of success. Indeed, the relationship until now has been one of the most successful in history. Supporters can also draw some comfort from a much wider literature regarding the character of alliances in general. This literature however lays less stress on the positive factors that have helped make the West – the core of Parsi’s thesis – but rather the dangers that have confronted (and united) it in the past and those that confront (and will unite) it now. The argument has been cast in many ways but rests on three simple assumptions. The first is the broadly realist one that threats will always sustain alliances in ways that nothing else ever can (see Liska 1962). This in turn leads to the second proposition: namely that the principal raison d’etre of the West over the past century has been war and conflict, no more so than after 1947 and before 1991 when the Alliance was forged in the context of an extended Cold War with the USSR. The Cold War however came to an end posing some very real problems for the Alliance (see Rodman 1999). Fortunately though ‘help’ was at hand in the shape of the new global menace known variously as ‘Islamic international terrorism’, ‘Islamism’, or more specifically as Al Qaeda. This it has been argued has not only been the wake up call the democracies needed after that extended ‘beach holiday’ known as the post-Cold War period. It has compelled the West to pull together lest it wished to be hung separately (see Sarotte forthcoming). The West would survive therefore. To paraphrase the title of one very well known book on the early Cold War, since 9/11 we have been ‘present’ at a new ‘creation’ with an identifiable enemy around which we could now group our forces. Admittedly the risks were great. But so too were the potential benefits. The West would be safe for at least another generation (For an alternative view see Cox 2005).
There would be little point here attempting to deal with the many complex arguments advanced by the different branches of the Atlanticist family in favour of the Alliance, only to make the self-evident point that until critics can come up with a serious or viable alternative then the relationship is bound to persist. To this degree those who talk like Parsi of an ‘inevitable’ Alliance are quite correct to do so. That said, it is still worth exploring some of the very real problems that the relationship now faces. To do this I will not begin with the present but the past, and in particular with the Cold War and the several parallels that have been drawn between the Cold War and war on terror. As I will show, the Bush administration has raided the archives of the Cold War fairly frequently. However, as I go on to point out in the second section of the essay, such efforts have not been especially successful [The Bush administration has raided the archives of the Cold War fairly frequently. However such efforts have not been especially successful]. Certainly, the argument often advanced over the past few years that the war on terror will have a similarly unifying impact on the transatlantic relationship as the Cold War is not sustainable. Finally, I will conclude with a few brief arguments about the future of the transatlantic relationship. Here it is difficult not to fall into the rather obvious trap that has bedeviled such prognoses in the past: that is of adding up all the factors that continue to unite Europeans and the Americans (shared values, economic interdependence and institutional overlap), setting them alongside all those things that apparently divide them (conflicting conceptions of sovereignty, differences in power capabilities and the like), and then arriving at what on paper at least looks like a balanced conclusion. My conclusion will be anything but balanced, for I suggest two things here. One, that as the war on terror unfolds with probably more attacks on Europe than the United States itself, the divide between the two will grow; and two, that in an era when US leadership is under the most intense scrutiny in Europe, there is little chance of the two uniting or coming back together again. Divorce between the two may not, and for important reasons, cannot occur. To this extent some kind of transatlantic bargain holds. However, as the clash with radical Islamism intensifies, and the political and moral influence of the United States in Europe diminishes (with little in the medium term to arrest the process), the two are likely to drift further apart. Consequently, some very challenging times lie ahead. The alliance may well be ‘inevitable’ as Vittorio Parsi has suggested. But it is an alliance that will find it hard to unite around a clear and present danger as some feel it did in the years between 1947 and 1989.
1. George W. Bush and the Lessons of the Cold War
The attack of September 11 caused many things to happen but one was a rather desperate rummage by policy-makers and academics alike into those two historical baskets labeled ‘lessons’ and ‘analogies’ (see Record 2007). No doubt because it was the first attack on the American homeland since the beginning of the nineteenth century something – though not much – was made of the war between Britain and America when the former had the temerity to burn down the White House (see Cox 2002) Much more of course was made of Pearl Harbour, a ‘surprise attack’ if ever there was one carrying the important message to others that when ruthless men do unspeakable things to the United States they had better beware the consequences (‘The Pearl Harbour of the 21st century took place today’ Bush noted in his diary on the night of September 11th 2001. Quoted in Woodward 2002, p. 37) [The Pearl Harbour of the 21st century took place today’ Bush noted in his diary on the night of September 11th 2001]. But it was the Cold War in the end that was compelled to do the heaviest lifting of all – so much so that in a remarkably short space of time a number of pundits were already beginning to talk of the ‘war on terror’ as representing something akin to a new Cold War: some because it was the conflict they remembered best (see Lieven 2001), a few because most of Bush’s key advisers were old cold warriors themselves (see Mann 2004), and a good number because national security was now back at the top of agenda in much the same way as it had been between 1947 and 1989 (see Lieven-Hulsman 2006). For all these reasons, and no doubt a few more, it was not at all unreasonable for writers to think of this new and uncertain present in terms of a known past.
Within the Bush team however the purpose of such analogical thinking was less to reflect seriously about the past and more to establish some framework within which it could legitimize its own actions. In the process it did what all administrations since the end of the Second World War had done: that is derive the lessons it wanted to draw and ignore those that complicated the telling of a particular tale. That said, the tale it went on to narrate had its own appeal starting with the end of the Cold War itself. Here the Bush administration was uncompromising. The defeat of Soviet communism it argued represented a massive victory for freedom that had left the United States in a position of unrivalled primacy. On the other hand, the events between 1989 and 1991 had had the altogether unfortunate consequence of leaving the United States without a purpose. As one well known American historian close to the White House pointed out, the US had won the Cold War but as result become a nation lacking a grand strategy (see Gaddis 2002). Now, at a stroke, the vacuum had been filled by the challenge of global jihad, the almost perfect antidote to western sloth and what some around Bush viewed as an America grown decadent and flabby in an era personified by Clinton and exemplified by a foreign policy that wandered aimlessly between various missions that rarely touched upon America’s vital interests. Some were more explicit still. Without a clear and present danger – similar to that which had existed before 1989 – the United States was more likely to decline than lead. Indeed, in their view, the end of the Cold War had been marked by a serious ‘threat deficit’ and no amount of clever talk about promoting democracy and spreading the virtues of liberal economics could hide the fact that the United States had lost the capacity to define the international agenda. It may have had most, if not all of the power, as writers like Charles Krauthammer suggested (see Krauthammer 1991). It had no serious rival worthy of the name (see Ikenberry 2002). But there was very little it seemed to be able to do with all this spare capacity. To all intents and purposes it had turned into a superpower – perhaps even an empire – without a mission. Now, because of 9/11, it appeared to have discovered one (see Cox 1995).
If 9/11 provided a solution to what some regarded as America’s strategic vacuum, the Cold War more generally offered the Bush White House a ready-made supply of easy arguments about what to do next (see Buzan 2006). Naturally, Bush himself was highly selective in terms of what he chose to learn and from whom. However, the fact he felt compelled to learn something however says a lot about the power of the past and the hold it had on a President of even his limited intellectual powers (see Shapiro 2007). Unsurprisingly, the one Cold War President from whom he clearly tried to learn most was Ronald Reagan – republican hero, enemy of the original evil empire (no coincidence of course that Bush himself later talked of an ‘axis of evil’) and ultimate reason according to many on the American right as to why the Soviet Union was finally consigned into the proverbial dustbin of history. Reagan seemed to be the almost perfect role model for Bush. Like Bush he entered office after what he regarded as a period of foreign policy drift (Reagan often talked of the 1970s as a “decade of neglect”). He vowed to make America strong once again. There were many around him who were anything but ‘realist’ in international outlook. And he saw the US being opposed by a dangerous global threat which if not checked could easily threaten nuclear Armageddon. Naturally, there were differences. Reagan took over with a fairly clear idea of what he wanted to do abroad; Bush did not acquire such an outlook until after the attack of September 11th. Reagan moreover was heir to an ongoing Cold War, not facing what many around Bush felt was something quite novel (see Cox 2002). Bush though was not deterred. In Reagan he not only saw someone willing to challenge the status quo by employing American military power, but a leader of rare courage who was not afraid of discussing international affairs in moral terms. Indeed, as Bush noted when praising one particularly influential book (Sharansky-Denmer 2005) that drew parallels between Reagan’s successful struggle against the Russians and Bush’s war on terrorism, Reagan conducted his affairs abroad in a distinctly no-nonsense American way, and as result brought about regime change in the USSR in much the same way as he was about to do in those states which had hitherto sheltered the West’s main enemies. The so-called Bush Doctrine may have appeared entirely novel in terms of the American foreign policy tradition. But as Bush and others pointed out, with its focus on transformation rather than order, and its attempt to frame American policies in terms of more general universal principles, there was something very Ronald Reagan (and by extension something very Cold War) about the war on terror [there was something very Ronald Reagan about the war on terror] (see Leffler 2003).
But if Reagan served as important positive point of reference for Bush, so too in a more general sense did one very important part of the wider US foreign policy tradition: that which saw a direct connection between US security and the promotion of democracy. Here again America’s larger role in the world after 1947 served to inspire and guide those whose job it was to conduct the war against terror. Of course, critics might argue that the US was driven then as it was motivated now by less exalted goals: preserving the balance of power, maintaining stability and securing America’s access to key commodities and markets. But as a number of realists like Morgenthau and Kennan discovered during the Cold War (and others of a similar persuasion discovered after 2001) US foreign policy was not merely driven by realist calculations of interest but rather (or equally) by a desire to change the world and by so doing achieve security. Thus when Bush talked in grand, if not always eloquent terms of defeating Al Qaeda by sowing the seeds of liberty in the Middle East this was not merely rhetoric. He was drawing from a Cold War vocabulary that believed that America’s ‘fundamental purpose’ – to paraphrase NSC-68 – was not just to contain its enemies but to eliminate them altogether, and there was no better way of doing this than by holding firm to its liberal principles.
One final lesson that the Bush team drew from America’s great foreign policy past more directly concerned Europe and the ‘Europeans’. The Europe they had in mind however was not that normally portrayed in standard Atlanticist discourse. This was no partner waiting in the wings ready to share the burden of world leadership at a critical juncture. On the contrary, in the administration’s view Europe was more nuisance than ally; less serious friend than possible rival in some eyes (see Halper-Clarke 2004). Indeed, Europe, it was felt, not only remained stuck where it had been for the duration of the Cold War – weak, dependent and divided – but now even seemed to be opposed to the outlook of the new team: wedded to treaties, infatuated with the United Nations, almost completely indifferent to military power, and constantly seeking to tie the United States down through a complex variety of regulations and international laws, there was something distinctly un-American about the ‘Europeans’. Furthermore, in spite of all of its fine words and almost daily declarations of Atlantic solidarity (quite common in the Clinton years and made concrete once again when Article 5 was invoked after 9/11) it neither had the means nor the will to act as a solid partner in crisis situations, as its miserable performance in Yugoslavia during the 1990s revealed only too tragically. Why then should the United States bother to listen to Europe when the US was confronted with issues involving its national security, possibly even its very survival? In this way the ground was prepared for America’s declaration of unilateral independence which demanded that it alone would determine military policy towards Afghanistan, and a little while later take the crucial decision to go to war against Iraq – with certain willing Europeans if they could be so persuaded; without them if they could not.
2. New threats: old threats
This then brings us to the ‘war on terror’ proper and whether or not it has successfully forged a new sense of purpose and cohesion across the Atlantic as some believe it must and a few insist it already has. There is certainly no lack of optimism in official circles. Here the general line since 2001 has been that whatever might have divided the Atlantic community for a while – and nothing divided it than Iraq – is bound to be outweighed by that which unites it, and what unites it most obviously is the simple fact that it is confronted by the same opponent with the same ambition: to destroy the West. This of course is why the Europeans and the United States are standing together under the banner of NATO in Afghanistan, why intelligence services on both sides of the Atlantic are working closely together, and why in the end they will remain allies for the long term. Nor is something opposed by ordinary people. On the contrary, opinion polls on both sides of the Atlantic seem to indicate a very great degree of convergence when it comes to the ‘Islamic’ threat in particular and Moslems more generally (see Transatlantic Trends, Key Findings, 2006, p. 4 and 7-8). They also show a very high level of intolerance towards anybody who either supports or shows sympathy for the activities of jihadists world-wide (see Hoese – Oppermann 2007).
There are no disputing these very solid facts. Nonetheless, they do not tell the whole story. Nor can they account for something that has been obvious from the outset: that there remains a good deal of transatlantic confusion about whether we are in fact at ‘war’ with something called ‘terror’. As Michael Howard early pointed out in an influential critique, the idea of a ‘war on terror’ was a most dubious one that not only lent legitimacy to Al Qaeda but presupposed an extended conflict that would continue almost for ever. The notion he argued was also strategically incoherent. No state or group of states he observed can declare war on a method (see Howard 2002) [The notion of a ‘war on terror’ is strategically incoherent. No state or group of states can declare war on a method]. Nor should it try to do so. The debate did not end there of course. Indeed, as time passed, the critics grew in confidence - to such an extent that some Americans (and at times Bush himself) began to experiment with other ideas and at one point even replaced the more dramatic notion of a global war against terror (GWOT) with the apparently less offensive idea of a ‘long war’. At one level this mattered not a lot. However it did point to at best a lack of strategic clarity, and at worst a lack of confidence in what the US and its various allies were supposed to be doing. It also compared rather unfavourably with what happened during the Cold War. As we now know, there was a great deal of debate in the West about the Soviet threat, where it was most likely to arise, and how best to deal with it (see Cox 1992). Indeed, no less a person than Kennan raised a whole series of critical questions about it that challenged western policies to the core. But at the end of day, once governments had decided that there was a threat of some kind they did not question or challenge the idea. Once a consensus, always a consensus it seemed – until that is Gorbachev began to change the rules of the game after 1985.
This in turn raises a second more theoretical issue about whether or not it is possible to sustain an alliance against or around something as nebulous as terrorism? Here the comparison with the way alliances have been forged in the past, and the way this new alliance is being constructed, bears serious comparison. As the literature suggests, alliances may be formed for many different reasons, not all of them having to do with the presence of a clear and unambiguous threat. In fact, there is a large non-realist literature which insists that threats alone are never enough to maintain cooperative alliances over the long term (see Risse-Kappen 1995). Yet even the most constructivist of readings of the past in general, and of the Cold War in particular, would agree that having a threat certainly helps. The issue then is how credible the threat actually is. Again there may be very different answers to this, but even members of opposing theoretical schools would find it difficult to disagree with what realists have had to say on this issue: namely, that it is very difficult to construct or sell any kind of threat unless the threat in question has serious capabilities, which under modern condition means that it must be a state of some form (see Snyder 1997). Thus the USSR could be viewed as a threat not simply because it had an opposing ideology and was not a democracy (though both things helped) but because it had a massive amount of territory, had successfully industrialized after 1929, had a large manpower basis, and happened to have the largest army in Europe after World War II, and all this within the framework of a very well-defined state created since 1917. Take all of this away, as Morgenthau suggested, then it is unlikely that a Soviet Union with say minimal capabilities and a weak state – however aggressive its ideology and repressive its polity – would have produced the same level of concern it did in the West after the war (see Cox 2007).
Viewed within this framework it becomes perfectly easy to understand why the war against Islamic-inspired terrorism has not been anywhere near as successful in forging a new sense of purpose across the Atlantic as the Soviet threat. As Buzan has observed, ‘while serious, the terrorist threat’ simply lacks the ‘depth of the Soviet/communist one’ (Buzan 2006, p. 1112). If nothing else, without a clear and present danger taking the form of a real state, it becomes extremely difficult for governments to sustain a sense of true danger. Hence while transatlantic publics may agree that there is something out there (or at home) that threatens them in general, if nothing serious happens then concerns about terrorism begin to fade rather quickly. Indeed, one the features of the period since September 11th is that threat perceptions have risen and fallen with alarming speed and regularity. Thus immediately after the London bombings of 2005 British opinion was decidedly hawkish; later however it began to return to ‘normal’ (see Transatlantic Trends, Key Findings, 2006, p. 4). Meanwhile in other countries in Europe where no such attacks had occurred (with the exception of Spain) views ranged from the complacent to the decidedly war weary. Even in the United States public opinion has not been consistent, something that poses a very real problem that security services there have tried to resolve by repeating the refrain that just because there have been no outrages since 2001 this does not mean they are not being planned.
To complicate matters even more there is a strong and possibly growing opinion – on both sides of the Atlantic – that there are those in power who are merely using the tensions caused by the current security situation to further their own political ambitions. The fact that the war on terror helped get George Bush re-elected in 2004 hardly helps generate consistent, across-the-board support for US goals, especially in Europe (see Jenkins 2007). Nor do scandals that challenge core liberal values. This is why Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo proved to be so disastrous, and why the United States is facing such problems legitimizing what looks increasingly like ‘its’ war, not only to a large number of its own citizens, but to an ever larger percentage of Europeans, even those not known for their left-wing sympathies and who ultimately see al-Qaeda as a serious threat to the ‘civilized’ world (see Wilkinson 2005, pp. 17-18, 24.25).
Threat perception is thus a most delicate thing, and if ordinary citizens – not to mention influential opinion-formers – feel that they are either being sold something phony or likely to undermine their notion of what constitutes the good society, then it makes waging the war all the more difficult. Which brings us inevitably to the question of Islam itself, ultimately the problematic ideological source of ‘jihad’. Here again the global war on terror involving the wider Atlantic community faces some near insurmountable obstacles in generating a clear point of reference around which to unite. There are at least three reasons why. First, Islam, unlike communism, has only limited ideological appeal. It is not in other words a universal threat. Second, the overwhelming majority of Muslims (unlike the overwhelming majority of communists during the Cold War) do not seek the overthrow of the various states under which they live. And thirdly because in attempting to contain radical Islam, the West has been compelled to appeal to the very religion that also happens to be the source of inspiration for those seeking the West’s destruction. To make matters even more complicated for the West, it has been forced by the logic of the ‘war’ to seek alliances with at least two states – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – members of whose elites either happen to be closet supporters of the terrorists, sources of funds for the ideology that inspires them, or, more cynically, willing to use them for their own political or strategic purposes. The ‘complex’ relationship that bin Laden himself had with the House of Saud until they finally decided to cast him adrift has already been well documented [The ‘complex’ relationship that bin Laden himself had with the House of Saud until they finally decided to cast him adrift has already been well documented] (see Wright 2006). We also know how close some sections of the Pakistan ISI are to the Taliban (see Zahab – Roy 2004). The Cold War was not without its complexities. China after all did after 1978 support the American “imperialists” against the USSR, orthodox communists did appear to regard dissident members of the communist movement as being even more dangerous than the international bourgeoise itself, and the Soviet elite did at times make deals with its capitalist enemies. But even these gyrations cannot compare to the complicated, and in the end debilitating, maneuverings now involved in fighting the war on terror.
Finally, the current conflict is occurring in a world that in many ways is a lot more complicated than the world which existed during the Cold War. As Halliday reminded us some time ago, the very great success of the Cold War in mobilizing support and forging accord between potentially fractious and competitive states was not because the USSR was more powerful than America. Rather it was because the United States as leader of the West was able to construct the world in such a way that other critical issues were either seen as being secondary or were successfully folded into the larger East-West competition (see Hallyday 1984). This nesting of issues has not been so easy over the past few years. Here again opinion polls tell a most interesting story. That people in Europe and the United States are together concerned about terrorism is clear. But it is not the only or possibly even the most important thing they are concerned about. In fact, what polls reveal is a hotch-potch of various concerns ranging from rising China, the spread of nuclear weapons, organized crime, through to what many now see as being the biggest danger of all: namely, global warming (see Stern Review 2006). Nor should we ignore the potent impact that rising economic problems have had upon transatlantic opinion, especially (and perhaps most critically) in the United States itself. As one of the more innovative US Think Tanks pointed out at the beginning of 2008, ‘no matter what the issues were yesterday’ – and here it was evident they were thinking of foreign policy and the larger war on terror – it was becoming clearer by the day ‘that the economy’ would become ‘the biggest political issue’ in the United States from now on. This was not only likely to impact on transatlantic unity (people who were hurting economically were less likely to be concerned about the views of outsiders). It was also beginning to shape the presidential race itself. Presidential hopefuls might still utter important words about the world. They could hardly do otherwise. But none any longer were prepared to make foreign policy a priority – and for good reason: the American people had in large part lost interest in the narrative that had defined the Bush administration since September 2001 (see New America Foundation 2008).
In this chapter I have asked and tried to answer a deceptively easy question: namely whether or not the Atlantic community could be recreated, restored or revived by possibly the oldest strategic device of all: that is of having an enemy (or in Schmittian terms) an ‘other’ standing outside or inside the gates of the polis posing a fundamental threat to its continued existence? As I have tried to argue while the new international conjuncture has clearly changed the world in very important ways, it is most unlikely to recreate some golden age – if ever such existed – of transatlantic unity. Here I agree with Tim Garton Ash. As Ash has convincingly argued, it is just possible that the new menace posed by Islamism may one day result in a sharp revival in what he calls the ‘geopolitical unity’ of the West. But this has not happened yet, and outside of an attack of devastating proportions on both sides of the Atlantic, it is unlikely to do so any time soon (see Ash 2004, p. 234).
Naturally, critics of this view could, and often do, respond by pointing to NATO’s new collective role in Afghanistan. The more subtle still could also point – and again do – to the fact that both the United States and the European Union now tend to sing from the same political hymn sheet about the need to do something about global terrorism. Indeed, the well publicized EU document dealing with ‘grand strategy’ published in March 2003 mentions terrorism on several occasions. But again one has to exercise some caution. Take the example of Afghanistan. It is true that the war there has given NATO a new sense of purpose. But it has also exposed some very deep fissures too. Indeed, this expanded mission – inconceivable only a short while ago – has not only revealed profound differences between the Americans and the Europeans on the ground (see NATO Briefing: Afghanistan 2006, p. 10), but between those Europeans who are committed to fighting and making sacrifice on the ground and those who are not (see Nato in Afghanistan 2007). The same is true in the broader area of global security. Here differences in outlook persist between a militarily preponderant America and a rather ill-equipped Europe, as the publication of the European Security Strategy (ESS) in 2003 tellingly revealed.Brought out to prove that Europeans took security seriously and should thus be taken seriously in Washington, the ESS only proved how wide the gap between European and the US really was. Most obviously, did not even view the world’s major problems as arising from terrorism. Instead it talked at length about globalization. Furthermore, the world order described in ESS seemed to owe more to liberal theories of international politics than it did to an American doctrine of exceptional power. If anything, the ESS appeared to reject altogether the very American notion of unipolarity altogther insisting that in an interdependent world where all things were connected there could be no unilateral solution to any single problem (see Shepherd, Berenskoetter and Giegerich 2006).
Where then does this leave the Atlantic relationship in the future? The answer to this will depend in large part on a whole host of fairly concrete factors other than threats, including in no particular order of importance the changing structure of the Euro-Atlantic economy, the future evolution of Russia, whether or not Turkey gets admitted into the European Union, the role of opinion formers, and – never to be underestimated – which politicians happen to get elected in either Europe and the United States. It will also depend on what words get uttered about each other and what words don’t. But of one thing we can be sure however: there is no way of returning to some presumed golden past of allied unity using the vehicle of something so ill-defined as an ‘Islamic threat’ to hold the alliance together [there is no way of returning to some presumed golden past of allied unity using the vehicle of something so ill-defined as an ‘Islamic threat’ to hold the alliance together]. This might not spell the ‘death of the West’ as such. However, in the absence of some common purpose it is reasonable to suggest that the West is likely to become – as it has tended to become overall since the end of the Cold War – a more fractious place.
This I conclude would not matter much if it were not for two other things. One is the growing feeling in Europe that what the United State began in terms of declaring a ‘war’ on terror will in the end cause more problems for Europeans with their 13 million Muslim inhabitants than it will for the US itself. The fact there have been attacks in Europe and not the United States since 9/11 is at least one measure of the extent to which the United States with its more integrated Moslem population and Europe with its more marginal and increasingly alienated Moslem peoples could be pushed apart in the future. The other issue concerns the by now irrefutable, but unfortunate fact for old-style Atlanticists, that trust in the United States and American leadership has plummeted across the European continent, from the rugged fjords of once loyal Norway (see Lundestad) to that very special floating aircraft carrier standing off the European mainland known as the United Kingdom. This I would suggest could prove critical. Alliances after all do not just happen; they are made. However, they rarely flourish without a sense of direction being provided by an ‘indispensable nation’ whose words are trusted and views respected by those it is trying to gather around it. It is one thing having no uniting enemy. It is bad enough when the risks look as if they are not being shared equally. But when the leader begins to lose the right of command, then we can be sure that the relationship is in deep trouble.
- Tim Garton Ash, Free World ( London: Allen Lane 2004).
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