Towards a Post-American Europe: A Power Audit of EU-U.S. Relations

Executive Summary

We are now entering a “post-American world”. The Cold War is fading into
history, and globalisation is increasingly redistributing power to the South
and the East. The United States has understood this, and is working to replace
its briefly held global dominance with a network of partnerships that will
ensure that it remains the “indispensable nation”. Where does this leave the
transatlantic relationship? Is its importance inevitably set to decline? If so,
does this matter? And how should Europeans respond?

In this report we argue that the real threat to the transatlantic relationship comes not from the remaking of America’s global strategy, but from European governments’ failure to come to terms with how the world is changing and how the relationship must adapt to those changes. Our audit (based on extensive interviews and on structured input from all the European Union’s 27 member states) reveals that EU member states have so far failed to shake off the attitudes, behaviours, and strategies they acquired over decades of American hegemony. This sort of Europe is of rapidly decreasing interest to the US. In the post-American world, a transatlantic relationship that works for both sides depends on the emergence of a post-American Europe.

During the Cold War, European governments offered solidarity to their superpower patron in exchange for security and a junior role in the partnership that ran the world. This arrangement gave them at least a sense of power, without much weight of responsibility. But 20 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, the persistence of the assumptions that underlay the Cold War dispensation are distorting and confusing their thinking about the transatlantic relationship.

Among the illusions that European governments find hard to shake off, we identify four which are particularly damaging – the beliefs that:

  • European security still depends on American protection;
  • American and European interests are at bottom the same – and apparent evidence to the contrary only evidences the need for the US to pay greater heed to European advice;
  • the need to keep the relationship close and harmonious therefore trumps any more specific objective that Europeans might want to secure through it; and
  • “ganging up” on the US would be improper – indeed, counterproductive – given the “special relationship” that most European states believe they enjoy with Washington.

In this report we aim to show how these illusions induce in European governments and elites an unhealthy mix of complacency and excessive deference towards the United States – attitudes which give rise to a set of strategies of ingratiation that do not work. Such attitudes and strategies fail to secure European interests; fail to provide the US with the sort of transatlantic partner that it is now seeking; and are in consequence undermining the very relationship for which Europeans are so solicitously concerned.

We contrast this situation in matters of foreign and defence policy with the altogether more robust relationship that now exists across the Atlantic in many areas of economic policy, and we argue that fixing the wider problem is not a matter of institutional innovation, but of altering Europe’s fundamental approach. European governments, we conclude, need to replace their habits of deference with a tougher but ultimately more productive approach.

We seek to illustrate what this new approach could mean in practice in relation to three specific issues of current importance: Afghanistan, Russia, and the Middle East. Finally, we suggest how, building on the expectation that the Lisbon Treaty is at last within reaching distance of ratification, the upcoming Spanish Presidency of the European Union (EU) should try to stimulate the necessary change of mindset and of approach.

Read the full report » (external site)