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In an age of terrorism, guerilla and total warfare the medieval doctrine of Just War needs to be re-defined. Moreover, issues of legitimacy, efficacy and morality should no longer be confused. Legitimacy is conferred by institutions. Not all morally justified wars are, therefore, automatically legitimate. Frequently the efficient execution of a battle plan involves immoral or even illegal acts. As international law evolves beyond the ancient percepts of sovereignty, it should incorporate new thinking about pre-emptive strikes, human rights violations as casus belli and the role and standing of international organizations, insurgents and liberation movements. The edifice of the “international community” and the project of constructing a “world order” rely on the unity of liberal ideals at the core of the organizing principle of the transatlantic partnership, Western Civilization. Yet, the recent intercourse between its constituents — the Anglo-Saxons (USA and UK) versus the Continentals (“Old Europe” led by France and Germany) — revealed an uneasy and potentially destructive dialectic.


The mutually exclusive choice seems now to be between ad-hoc coalitions of states able and willing to impose their values on deviant or failed regimes by armed force if need be — and a framework of binding multilateral agreements and institutions with coercion applied as a last resort. Robert Kagan sums the differences in his book — really an extended essay — Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order:


“The United States . . . resorts to force more quickly and, compared with Europe, is less patient with diplomacy. Americans generally see the world divided between good and evil, between friends and enemies, while Europeans see a more complex picture. When confronting real or potential adversaries, Americans generally favor policies of coercion rather than persuasion, emphasizing punitive sanctions over inducements to better behavior, the stick over the carrot. Americans tend to seek finality in international affairs: They want problems solved, threats eliminated ... (and) increasingly tend toward unilateralism in international affairs. They are less inclined to act through international institutions such as the United Nations, less likely to work cooperatively with other nations to pursue common goals, more skeptical about international law, and more willing to operate outside its strictures when they deem it necessary, or even merely useful.


Europeans . . . approach problems with greater nuance and sophistication. They try to influence others through subtlety and indirection. They are more tolerant of failure, more patient when solutions don’t come quickly. They generally favor peaceful responses to problems, preferring negotiation, diplomacy, and persuasion to coercion. They are quicker to appeal to international law, international conventions, and international opinion to adjudicate disputes. They try to use commercial and economic ties to bind nations together. They often emphasize process over result, believing that ultimately process can become substance.”



Kagan correctly observes that the weaker a polity is militarily, the stricter its adherence to international law, the only protection, however feeble, from bullying. The case of Russia apparently supports his thesis. Vladimir Putin, presiding over a decrepit and bloated army, naturally insists that the world must be governed by international regulation and not by the “rule of the fist”. But Kagan got it backwards as far as the European Union is concerned. Its members are not compelled to uphold international prescripts by their indisputable and overwhelming martial deficiency. Rather, after centuries of futile bloodletting, they choose not to resort to weapons and, instead, to settle their differences juridically. As Ivo Daalder wrote in a review of Kagan’s tome in the New York Times:


“The differences produced by the disparity of power are compounded by the very different historical experiences of the United States and Europe this past half century. As the leader of the ‘free world,’ Washington provided security for many during a cold war ultimately won without firing a shot. The threat of military force and its occasional use were crucial tools in securing this success. Europe’s experience has been very different. After 1945 Europe rejected balance-of-power politics and instead embraced reconciliation, multilateral cooperation and integration as the principal means to safeguard peace that followed the world’s most devastating conflict. Over time Europe came to see this experience as a model of international behavior for others to follow.”


Thus, Putin is not a European in the full sense of the word. He supports an international framework of dispute settlement because he has no armed choice, not because it tallies with his deeply held convictions and values. According to Kagan, Putin is, in essence, an American: he believes that the world order ultimately rests on military power and the ability to project it.


It is this reflexive reliance on power that renders the United States suspect. Privately, Europeans regard America itself — and especially the abrasive Bush administration — as a rogue state, prone to jeopardizing world peace and stability. Observing U.S. fits of violence, bullying, unilateral actions and contemptuous haughtiness — most Europeans are not sure who is the greater menace: Saddam Hussein or George Bush. Ivo Daalder:


“Contrary to the claims of pundits and politicians, the current crisis in United States-European relations is not caused by President Bush’s gratuitous unilateralism, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s pacifism, or French President Jacques Chirac’s anti-Americanism, though they no doubt play a part. Rather, the crisis is deep, structural and enduring.”


Kagan slides into pop psychobabble when he tries to explore the charged emotional background to this particular clash of civilizations: “The transmission of the European miracle (the European Union as the shape of things to come) to the rest of the world has become Europe’s new mission civilisatrice . . . Thus we arrive at what may be the most important reason for the divergence in views between Europe and the United States: America’s power and its willingness to exercise that power — unilaterally if necessary — constitute a threat to Europe’s new sense of mission.”


Kagan lumps together Britain and France, Bulgaria and Germany, Russia and Denmark. Such shallow and uninformed caricatures are typical of American “thinkers”, prone to sound-bytes and their audience’s deficient attention span. Moreover, Europeans willingly joined America in forcibly eradicating the brutal, next-door, regime of Slobodan Milosevic. It is not the use of power that worries (some) Europeans — but its gratuitous, unilateral and exclusive application. As even von Clausewitz conceded, military might is only one weapon in the arsenal of international interaction and it should never precede, let alone supplant, diplomacy.


As Daalder observes: “(Lasting security) requires a commitment to uphold common rules and norms, to work out differences short of the use of force, to promote common interests through enduring structures of cooperation, and to enhance the well-being of all people by promoting democracy and human rights and ensuring greater access to open markets.”


American misbehavior is further exacerbated by the simplistic tendency to view the world in terms of ethical dyads: black and white, villain versus saint, good fighting evil. This propensity is reminiscent of a primitive psychological defense mechanism known as splitting. Armed conflict should be the avoidable outcome of gradual escalation, replete with the unambiguous communication of intentions. It should be a last resort — not a default arbiter.


Finally, in an age of globalization and the increasingly free flow of people, ideas, goods, services and information — old fashioned arm twisting is counter-productive and ineffective. No single nation can rule the world coercively. No single system of values and preferences can prevail. No official version of the events can survive the onslaught of blogs and multiple news reporting. Ours is a heterogeneous, dialectic, pluralistic, multipolar and percolating world. Some like it this way. America clearly doesn’t.

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