Europe doesn't want to be American anymore

Article published on Oct. 22, 2002
community published
Article published on Oct. 22, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

One year after September 11th, the fight against the 'axis of evil' seems less consensual. The occasion presents itself for Europe to affirm its will and its future as an independent power.

The odious events of September 11th 2001 seemed to shed a light on the existences of an unforeseen bloc opposed to the 'axis of evil', the target being terrorists and those that harbour them. The American president George W. Bush wanted that light to be blinding and undeniable, reflected by eminent western figures firmly condemning any State that did not support this new war. It was to be a case of if you aren't with us you're against us. The unity of the bloc was made legitimate by solidarity for the American nation, which the cry 'we are all American' had given an evocative power. The new coalition of justice then tested its solidarity in the war in Afghanistan, a war it is not easy to call a success. Aims were vague, results were unequal, and designated culprits such as the mollah Omar or Osama Bin Laden were not punished. Many more civilians were killed than during the attacks on New York. And now? One year on, the victims of the two towers must of course be commemorated, and the act condemned afresh, yet the new bloc against the 'axis of evil' is not as solid as it was. Actually, European scepticism over some American choices, although sometimes portrayed as betrayal, certainly appears to be an element of independence; a prelude to the power of a future united European policy.

No longer are we 'all American'

If Europe did not hesitate to fulfil her duty of solidarity after September 11th, one year later she no longer wishes to be assumed to join when speaking of an attack on the latest victims in the axis of evil, Iraq. Only Tony Blair has brought any real support to the American president's wish to launch the alliance into deposing Sadaam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator. Other European leaders know that public opinion will not welcome further attacks. They know who the real victims are. In fact, anti-globalisation organisations and independent observers have long since proved that the embargo on Iraq kills more Iraqi women and children than Sadaam Hussein ever did. This opposition to an American strike makes the slogan 'we are all American' ring false. There is no longer unity, and the legitimacy of the means used to retaliate against the attacks are debated and challenged. It is not impossible that the United States attack Iraq alone, nor that their allies join them despite wrangling. But either result would be a massive failure for international co-operation.

Yet it is in examining co-operation between different members of world society that the ambiguities of the post September 11th world appear. Some, disciples of Samuel Huntingdon's Clash of Civilisations theory, wish to see a rejuvenated West, a bloc united in its defence against against the incursions of other civilisations. Others saw more the need to reinforce capitalism that it may underline and complete its victory. It must be recognised that the truth lies elsewhere, in some grand evolution impossible to label as clearly going one way or the other. An evolution that will spawn international institutions of collective and political action which will stop savage deregulation and neo-liberal globalisation to restore effective control to the citizens of the world on the choices that concern them. It is in this sense that Europe should provide the example. Europe can show the world that it can oppose American choices like the strike on Iraq. From this assurance will be born its influence on global institutions building.

A different world IS possible

Actually, Europe can make a great contribution. The world after September 11th shows that the West is not an indivisible bloc and that its components argue bitterly over their different visions of the world. This to the discontent of the Americans who hoped for greater unity to face their ever more strained relations with the Islamic world, as illustrated by the current tensions with Saudi Arabia. The disagreements between Americans and Europeans are well known, from hormones in beef to the protection of the environment. On these subjects, Europe is against the authoritarian dictates of America, but lacks the authority and the power not only to make their opposition accepted, but above all to make it institutionalised at the heart of international instruments. This is the crux of the problem. After September 11th, American leaders called for a unified, indivisible West. But unity and indivisibility in the American definition meant submission to American interests, notably economic. Then, they noticed that European societies were criticising this unilateral domination. The critique took the form of Europe's defence, especially by Romano Prodi's European Commission, of certain international treaties supposed to make up the basis of international law. In this way the Union continued to ensure, by condemning the United States more or less openly for not sticking to, the creation of an international war crime tribunal, and the ratification of the Kyoto protocol which would force measures to protect the environment. Without doubt we can see here that the two powers have different attitudes to international law. The United States are loath to sign a treaty contrary to their short-term economic aims, and consider any international institution to be subordinate to States' wishes. Europe, on the other hand, educated by its experience of supranational policy making, promotes the creation of a global political society regulated by political institutions whose legislation is imposed upon States. It is through being the advocate of such a project that Europe can have an influence on the destiny of the world, and it is through giving the example of a strong and well-armed political system that it can be credible. This is really what is at stake in the world after September 11th.

Therefore, the Union must equip itself with a real institutional democracy that will help it to overcome its still evident weaknesses when faced with American interests. It will be able, once delivered from its obsession with competition and limitless liberalisation, to be the true partner of the third world development - a move it would never repent of. It will then be capable of attracting the interest of its own population, currently forgotten, to a political debate at the Union level. Ideological and military retaliation have failed; Europe must show that, as the organisations against neo-liberalism in Porto Allegre clamour for, another world is possible.