Of Paradise and Power Summary

Summary (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 20)

In the summer of 2002, a stunning analysis of the growing conflict between Europe and the United States began circulating among a trans-Atlantic audience of government officials, scholars, and other interested parties. Written by Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the analysis—in the form of an article in Policy Review—posited to readers a compelling answer to a timely question that grew more urgent as summer turned into autumn. Kagan’s piece attracted the attention of Europeans as much as their erstwhile American allies. Indicative of the article’s attractive power was that, thanks to electronically circulated copies, many participants at a conference of German and American political scientists and educators held in California early in October were well familiar with Kagan’s thesis.

Early in the new year, the article, now grown to more than one hundred pages, was published asOf Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. This slim volume did not so much open Pandora’s box as observe the progress and consequences of a festering sore. In the lurid light Kagan shed on trans-Atlantic relations (excluding the United States’ fellow Anglo-Saxon ally) the roots of woes already loosed upon the post-Cold War world by a growing fissure between various members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—in particular, France and Germany, along with their “valet” state, Belgium—were plain for all who wished to see them.

Consequences of the rift were already fully transparent in early 2003, as the United States and Britain battled France and Germany (among others) at the United Nations Security Council over policy toward Iraq. Soon, U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld named the United States’ adversaries “Old Europe,” and the name stuck. The American position on Iraq was supported by most governments of the new democracies (“New Europe”) of Central and Eastern Europe, though not necessarily by their populations.

What were the roots of the tensions between Old Europe and those who were once their allies in the New World? The main thrust of Kagan’s answer was that by the close of the Cold War period at the end of 1991, Europe and the United States had begun to think in qualitatively different ways, resulting in their living in two proverbial “different worlds.”

Old Europe proceeded with its long-standing program of integration by approving the Maastricht Treaty in 1991, creating the European Union. Former ways of power politics, Bismarckian “Blood and Iron” policies, bitter national rivalries (especially between France and Germany), and, above all, war as a means of conflict resolution, were relics of the past. Soon, the newly emancipated peoples once held in thrall as Soviet satellites were clamoring for membership. (Even Muslim Turkey wanted in, though Europe was not so sure it wished to accept what it might have conceived as an Islamic Trojan horse.) This newly formed tide of peaceful relations among European states Kagan summarizes as “paradise.” The realm of “perpetual peace,” summoned to view in Immanuel Kant’s essay of the same name (Zum ewigen Frieden: Ein philosophischer Entwurf, 1795;Perpetual Peace, 1957), had been reached at last. This was an event that called for more than celebration; it called forth as well a set of rules and institutions—the political and legal infrastructure of peace—as well as appropriate modes of conducting international relations, modes such as diplomacy and persuasion, emphasis on carrots rather than on sticks, as befits a world striding purposively toward a condition of universal amity as well as comity. In such a world, the “software” (or “soft power”) of logical argument and patient cajoling would eclipse the “hardware” of military might.

Across the Atlantic, a behemoth had arisen that in European eyes challenged its arcadian vision of things by periodically flexing its military muscle on battlefields around the world. When the smoke cleared from the Cold War, the Soviet Union was no more and the United States alone remained. Now it was the world’s only superpower, a fact of which it was only too well aware, in Old Europe’s view. Indeed, it was more than a superpower; it was, according to French former foreign minister Hubert Vedriné, a hyperpuissance, a “hyperpower,” which is to say, a holder of too much power. It needed to be controlled by the acolytes of peace in Paris and Berlin—balanced or blocked, persuaded or redirected—whatever tactic might deflect the American will to bend the world to American interests and values, and, like a mortal god, remake the world in its own image.

In the 1990’s, the United States had fought three wars, two of them (to Europe’s shame) on European soil, each time taking the lead and calling the shots, literally and figuratively. The shocking reality was that Europe was incapable of autonomously taking effective action in the absence of American will and might. That was the lesson of Bosnia, leaving Europe unsettled. The United States took the lead in defeating Iraq’s...

(The entire section is 2110 words.)