Of Paradise and Power

No matter how my position on the ideas embraced by American writers is, what I like about reading them is that their arguments are clearly stated, well-organized, and convenient-to-read. In our class, we have learnt how Huntley, Mearsheimer, and Mandelbaum, for example, present uniquely diverse and contrasting perspectives enriching our understanding of global system and security in such a way. Though the main camp of the discourse is only two, idealism and realism, they can show us cleavages that they can fill, presenting arguments from left to right in different levels of similarities and differences.

Our today’s book, Of Paradise and Power, is another smart, fluid, and concise argument — characters forged by the limitations of space in writing a column for newspaper — explaining the relations between the now super power, the United States of America, and a union of the world’s ex-super powers, the European Union where Britain, French, Spain are its members. Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, takes the long-avoided question on the current relation between the U.S.A. and the E.U. “Stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world… Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.” (p.3), he said. Kagan’s argument is simple, straight-forward, and maybe heart-hurting for Europeans: they are now different because Americans have power and Europeans not; Americans have hammer and European not; Americans have gun and Europeans do not. This basic power-gap sharpens the way Americans and Europeans think about themselves, about the world order, and about how to deal with world’s problems.

How “Marsy” then, if I may put it, are Americans and how Venusy are Europeans? Kagan’s use of these two popular terms, coined by John Gray in his Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, easily situates the reader to anticipate how America behaves (like a man) and how Europe behaves (like a woman). Like men and women in John Gray’s, they agree on little and understand one another less and less. 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, friends and enemies; while Europe see a more complex picture. America uses coercion (the stick), rather persuasion (the carrot); while Europeans insist they approach problems with greater nuance and sophistication. Notwithstanding possible exaggeration in such statements, the undeniable fact is that they are somehow different, and the more important question to answer is “why” they differ?

Power, here all begin

To some extent, Kagan’s explanation refers to the classical explanation of security studies: behavior of a state is driven by its military power. However, unlike the realists, Kagan does not claim that all great power politics pursue hegemony and seek to be dominant of other states. He is close to the camp of realism but he follows idealism paths in significance way. Indeed, he weaves his realist argument with the idealism sentences.

He begins with a realist explanation: the logic of power politics. American and European behaviors are necessarily a result of the power gap. He acknowledges nothing new in the explanation of this first argument. All knew that Europe, since the consecutive world wars, have lost their domination and military power (destroyed by European internal powers). The empire their once established and maintained for almost four centuries had one by one gone with the wind of history. They had lost control over almost all colonized territories in the East.

Furthermore, the very wars likewise destructed not only their material capital, for which Marshall Plan was designed to solve, and military, but also their self-confidence as the world hegemons. Psychologically speaking, they are loser now. Since the end of the World War II, it has been the United State who gradually replaces their position: governing the world and policing its security. The most obvious case showing how weak Europe military has been is the Eastern Europe conflicts, occurring in its own backyard. The Balkan conflict at the beginning of the 1990s revealed European military incapacity and political disarray; the Kosovo conflict at the end the decade exposed a transatlantic gap in military technology and the ability to wage modern warfare (p. 22). Once placed their military power throughout and to control the world, the Europe now had limited resources even to guard their home from disturbances.

To Kagan, the American dominance in those wars troubled Europeans in two ways. On the one hand, it was shocking blow to European honor, “[the U.K.] which prides itself on being a serious military power, could contribute only 4 per cent of the aircraft and 4 percent of the bombs dropped”, said a British analyst. For Europeans, the Kosovo war had only “highlighted the impotence of Europe’s armed forces.” (p. 46). On the other, European dependence on American military power gave the United States dominant influence not only over the way the war had to be fought but also over international diplomacy before, during, and after the war (p. 47).
The Implication

Being different in military power, the two can no longer think and behave in the same way. The United States has now become Mars and the Europeans Union now is Venus. Strong powers view the world differently than weaker powers. “When you have a hammer, all problems starts to look like nails,” and Kagan agrees on this. Likewise, he said, “When you don’t have a hammer, you don’t anything to look like a nail.” (p. 29).

The best example is the way the two see threats posed by the deviant states. Bush calls them “the axis of evil” because of their real threats to the world order. Europeans, on the other hand, see those states, more calmly, as “failed states” rather than “rough state”. Having a hammer, the U.S. simply thinks they are nails, which possibly hurt us when we walk around and need to be smack down. The Europeans, having no hammer, simply see them as a badly-implanted nail over the cupboard. Those states may not be in proper condition; still, they are not as dangerous as the U.S. think.

To be sure, the European leaders do not think like that openly. Instead, they have found a justification not to think in power politics: “opium” of postmodernism manipulates them to be happy in a non power politics way. Europeans believe that they have gone beyond “power politics”, finding a new way to behave as a “post modern” state. In post-modernism, as we knew, the analysis of power relation focuses not only on the “hard” power politics, but also more importantly on the soft power of knowledge and of what then they call “governmentality”. Knowledge functions a powerful manifestation of power no less than power politics.

If I were stay on a power perspective, I would have call it “opium” instead of paradise, because Europe, as Kagan shows, actually wants to have military power. The idea of going beyond power politics merely covers their failure in establishing alternate military power. In the end of 1998, the UK and French proposed an establishment of European military force independent of NATO. Blair and Jacques Chirac at that time won European approval for building a force of 60.000 troops that could be deployed far from home and sustained for up to a year. But the proposal remains a paper. The European Union has never had military power, independent of NATO, until now.

Kagan believes that the answer of this failure lies in the realm of ideology, in which Europe succumbs to the idea of multinational government, and a possibility to live in harmony and cooperation, rather than competition leading to hurt one another. But, the case may be not like this. Instead, this idea of post-modernism is mere opium to relieve their paint of their impotence; it is not a paradise to where they fleet from the power politics to a peaceful world of harmony.

The Dangers of Neocons

To the point that we look at the American behavior from the power perspective, I agree with Kagan that Europe’ reluctant to use power politics necessarily related to the “security service” the U.S. has provided for them since the World War II. I argued in the same way when I was criticizing Katzenstein for relying too much on cultural explanations while overlooking the security service the US provides for Japan. Without the US security’s guarantee, I argued, Japan would follow the basic behavior of states: developing its own military power. Since it is “cheaper” to purchase the alternative security goods, it is better for Japan to “buy” them rather than spend more expensive budget. If there were no cheaper alternative, they would have thought twice about having no military power and, at the same time, to live among dangerous neighboring countries such as China, Russia, and North Korea. Kagan’s argument, that European states have been reluctant to spend a budget for security because the presence of American force, simply shows another case to explain the seemingly peace-minded states like Japan. American power is not a factor, rather the factor influencing very much the idealist behavior of states.

However, I disagree with him when coming to the point of what power is for. It seems odd to me when Kagan changes the nature of power in the case of the U.S. Almost similar to Mandelbaum’s idea of the U.S. as a government of the world, Kagan also points to this benign nature of American hegemony. He puts another name for Mandelbaum’s Goliath: a behemoth with a conscience (p. 41), “it is not Louis XIV’s Franch or George III’s England. They don’t claim the right of the stronger or insist to the rest of the world, as Athenians did at Melos, that ‘the strong rule where they can and they weak suffer what they must.’” Why does American power differ? Simply because to Kagan, “The united States is a liberal, progressive society through and through, and to the extent that Americans believe in power, they believe it must be a means of advancing the principle of a liberal civilization and a liberal world order” (p41). To me, this messianic statement is simply a shift from power to idea, from realism to idealism. Because now Kagan believes that liberal ideas of Americans can control their own power over the rest of the world.

I would insist that power is power, whether it belongs to Louis XIV (over his subjects) or the U.S. (over the rest of the world). And the nature of any power, as Lord Acton puts it, “…tends to corrupt.” The single power that the U.S. has today is not less vulnerable to corruption than the power Athens has, regardless they literally worship different beliefs. And the corruption has begun even in his book: a corrupting and dangerous idea of the US power. Let me quote his arrogant belief to make the case, “The only stable and successful international order Americans can imagine is one that has the United States at its center… If it this is arrogance, at least it is not a new arrogance.” (p. 94) Thus, what is the difference between his words about American power and the Athenians to Melon? If the world is divided between good and evil, where does arrogance stand? If the evil arrogance is justified in this way, it is just a matter of time to have a devil oppress others in the name of justice.

This combination of realist and idealist ideas is more dangerous than those who rely on mere realism or mere idealism. The realist is like a gentleman in a fight because he warns others that he has a power to be used, whether it is for his own good or not, others have to prepare to fight against him or suffer . Athenians are “good” example how to be a realist superpower. The idealist, on the other hand, is a pious who preaches justice and equality. He believes that values are more important than power and that power has to succumb to values, to the international law. Europe, if we had not analyzed them from power theory, could have been be an example of this idealist approach.

Combining two positions is what Kagan does in his book. Let’s notice his afterword where he argues fully in the realist way: demystify international order and multilateralism, justify preemptive war, and finally sweetly justify the legitimacy of liberalism. This combination would result in a fascist idea possibly driving a state to justify its arbitrary and unlimited power not in the name of power but in the name of ideal values. It doesn’t declare a war but it cowardly kills others from behind. And for all these dangers, we should take care of this neoconservative doctrine. (*)

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