You Decide: the next clash of civilizations will not be between the West and the rest, but between the United States and Europe?

The End of the West?

By Jamie Glazov | Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Is the end of the West approaching? That’s what Dr. Charles Kupchan believes. In his recent article “The End of the West” in the November 2002 issue of The Atlantic, Dr. Kupchan argues that the next clash of civilizations will not be between the West and the rest, but between the United States and Europe. In his view, “Europe is strengthening its collective consciousness and character and forging a clearer sense of interests and values that are quite distinct from those of the United States.” America and Europe, therefore, are on two diverging paths.

Is there any reality in this scenario? Will Europe truly represent a serious challenge – or “threat” – to the United States? How could this challenge/threat possibly be more serious than what we see in militant Islam or in the growing threat of China?

Will Pax Americana soon be over?

To discuss these and other questions connected to the possibility of the “End of the West,” Frontpage Symposium has invited Dr. Kupchan, the author of the article in question. Dr. Kupchan is a professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. His book The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century will be published this month. Also joining us are Dr. Angelo Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, a former naval officer, foreign service officer, staff member of the Senate intelligence committee, senior fellow of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and the author of numerous books; Radek Sikorski, the Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Executive Director of AEI’s New Atlantic Initiative; and Joel Mowbray, a reporter for National Review who writes a nationally-syndicated column which is distributed by Knight-Ridder Tribune and can be found online at

Question #1: Welcome gentlemen. So why don’t we just begin with a general question: what do you think about the “End of the West”?

Kupchan: The emerging rift between America and Europe has several sources. Perhaps the most potent one is geopolitical. Europe’s rise will inevitably mean more competition with the United States. But culture also enters the picture, with different political cultures fuelling the drift. Especially as political relations sour, cultural differences will become more salient, in part because politicians and analysts will focus more attention on them.

Codevilla: There is certainly a clash between the civilization of the elites who govern Europe and that of most Americans. On the other hand, a milder version of the same clash exists between the kinds of Americans who set the tone foe university towns, the media and entertainment business, the public employee unions, etc. and the rest of Americans. Clash of civilizations is not too strong a term. As always, civilization is defined chiefly by religion. In Europe, worship of God is dead – but not much more so than among certain American elites. These in turn are much more aggressive against religion than their European counterparts. By the same token, like-minded elites in Europe and America share another characteristic: the inability to generate military power. Note that in America, these elites take no part in military affairs. During my ten years at Stanford for example, only about 15 graduates out of 15000 entered military service. The ratio is higher in Paris’ 16th arrondissement.

Sikorski: While rivalry between Europe and America, particularly in trade and regulatory matters, has increased, to describe this as a ‘clash of civilizations’ is misleading. I accept Dr. Kupchan’s argument that the U.S. will increasingly be dealing with a Europe that can say no. This is surprising at a time when American military and economic preponderance has never been greater. But increasing European cohesion is also a fact, and something that American politicians have not fully grasped. ‘May your dreams come true,’ is supposed to be a Chinese curse. Well, the dream of having one telephone number to call when needing to consult Europe may be about to come true. The task of American statesmanship is to make sure that Europe adds rather than subtracts from American power. That’s why it is so vitally important to sustain NATO, the defense arm of our civilization, and to supplement it with the Transatlantic Free Trade Area composed of EU and NAFTA – so as to pre-empt trade disputes from endangering a split.

Mowbray: For any doubt about the rift between America and Europe, look no further than the debate over Iraq. Though it was close, Schroeder put himself over the top in Germany by running against the United States. There was a reason Bush only had Blair as someone with whom a tight alliance could be forged. But I don’t think Americans are oblivious to it. If anything, many Americans are painfully aware that the Europeans resent everything from our sophisticated technology to our seemingly not-so-sophisticated President. Yet most Americans would never consider trading our military might for the inept bunches across the Atlantic – and we certainly wouldn’t want any of their socialist or slightly right-of-socialist leaders.

Sikorski: If a few thousand votes went the other way in Florida and Germany, and we had Al Gore and Edmund Stoiber as respective leaders, I could make this argument in reverse – which shows you how inappropriate it is to make sweeping judgements on such a flimsy basis and how misguided it is to dismiss a whole continent on account of its alleged characteristics. The tone of disdain which some American triumphalists have adopted of late towards the rest of the world is a sign of hubris, which always ends in tears.

Mowbray: “What if” games can be played ad nausem, but the simple fact is that Stoiber and Gore both lost. The elections were close, but there is a distinct difference in both culture and philosophy – distinctions that run much deeper than a few thousand votes here and there. And I don’t mean to pick on the Germans – the French maybe – but if any group suffers from insufferable hubris, it is the Europeans, not the Americans. Sure, in America we make judgements against the Europeans, but it is precisely because we’re sick of the pretentious elites that, at the least, control the bullhorns across the pond.

Question #2: Of the main power centres in the world, is there one that is closer to America in shared history, constitutional and legal tradition, way of life, values and geo-strategic interest than Europe? If not, then how could Europe possibly every represent a threat to America? Isn’t a “threat” categorized by an enemy that has significant different values, such as a disdain for secular freedom (i.e. militant Islam) or for the free market (i.e. communism)?

Kupchan: I believe that power considerations in the end trump ideological and cultural affinity. That affinity is likely to ensure that the clash between Europe and America is not militarized. But we know from history that poles of power tend to compete with each other over prestige, influence, and status. Europe and America are not enough of a community to ensure that this competition will not ensure as the balance of diplomatic and economic power becomes more equal.

Codevilla: Europe threatens America only by its weakness. The silver lining to that cloud is that Europeans are so innocuous that they would be of no use against us were they to be dominated by a power hostile to us. Hence one of the basic premises of American geopolitics – keep Europe out of hostile hands because its potential for good or harm is great – no longer holds.

Kupchan: There is more to life than military power. If Europe and the United States part company, America will find the world a lonely place. We can sit with our unlimited number of carrier task forces and pout.

Codevilla: There is an old saying: “better alone than in bad company.” But I doubt that Europe would actually oppose America if America were resolute. Recall deGaulle’s most incisive ant- American remark: “Ils ne sont pas serieux.” Some European anti- Americanism surely reflects an accurate perception of unseriousness.

Sikorski: Indeed, a leader needs followers. And a good CEO sometimes gets better results by creating a sense of common purpose, even by charm, rather then by telling subordinates how pathetic they are. President Bush has been leading rather well of late.

Mowbray: As long as we have the world’s dominant military force, Europe will need us. It’s that simple.

In any case, maybe the shared history between us in a sense contributes to the resentment Europeans feel toward the United States. It’s an envy complex that they would not have if they didn’t feel that they should be as advanced as we are. Europeans are not a threat to the United States in the same way radical Islamic terror regimes are, so maybe “threat” isn’t exactly the right word. Europeans do, however, have a disdain for the free market, particularly the brand practiced in America. Europeans, in fact, resent so much of what America represents.

Sikorski: Indeed. Such talk reminds me of 19th century professors who beat themselves into a lather over the differences between Latins, Celts, Slavs, Germans, Anglo-Saxons or Magyars and how these tribes are supposedly locked into a Darwinian struggle for survival and domination. I hope that after the experience of the bloody 20th century, we are immune from such excitability. Reading foreign policy journals on both sides of the Atlantic you might never know that the majority of the populations on both sides overwhelmingly see the other as solid friends and allies.

Having said that, I must confess: from listening to this discussion, I cannot keep up intellectually with my American interlocutors. If Mr. Kupchan is right that Europe is the rising challenger of American hegemony then it cannot be true that ‘Europe threatens America only by its weakness.’ Could the American side please decide what the charge is before I have to make my case for defence?

Codevilla: Huh? Why would anyone demand unanimity?

Kupchan: Both perspectives are accurate — Europe is militarily weak compared to the U.S. and the asymmetry affects the relationship, often in less than helpful ways. But Europe`s economic and diplomatic strength is also part of the equation. We would not be having this exchange if Europe did not matter in geopolitical terms. If America and the EU part company, Washington will find the world a much tougher place to do business.

Mowbray: There is no challenge or threat — Europe doesn’t constitute either. Besides, in a world hopefully marked by free trade and free(er) markets, can’t we all just get along?

Question #3: Will a European Union really soon become more powerful than the United States? Will Pax Americana soon be over?

Kupchan: The question is not whether the EU will surpass the United States. It will not, especially in the military realm. But Europe is already emerging as a counterweight in the diplomatic and economic realms. As a result, America will be increasingly unable to have its way. The U.S. will be the key player for decades to come. But Europe, and eventually Asia, will take their places as alternatives centers of power, with their own logic and their own interests.

Codevilla: Alas, the pax Americana is the only pax we’ve got or are likely to have. Europe’s problems are of the insoluble, civilizational kind – demographics manifest them more than long vacations. Let us enjoy our European holidays while we can. Those of us who knew Europe a generation ago recall how much more pleasant, safe, clean, etc. its cities were. A generation from now our children may not want to go to see a bunch of locals in wheelchairs amid a cacophony of “extra communitaires.”

Kupchan: And what of America? Is all going so swimmingly here? What about the decline of civic engagement? What about a political system that remains hijacked by corporate finance and special interests? Before we write Europe off, let’s look in the mirror.

Codevilla: Yup.

Mowbray: Oh, please. The fact that we have a tug-and-pull between “special interests” on each side is a sign of the health of our system. And “hijacked”? No, our government is not perfect, but it is more responsive to the will of the people than any other on earth. And will Pax Americana soon be over? Let’s not get silly. Even acting in concert, the EU is a far cry from colonial America transitioning into the United States. Various European cultures go back many more centuries, and as a result, the EU process will be a bumpy one at best. But even with a smooth ride, it is most unlikely that a bloated socialist monolith could edge out American entrepreneurship and ingenuity.

Sikorski: Europe is indeed sleepwalking into a serious demographic crisis. On this side of the pond, Americans of European descent are little better at rearing children. They had better get used to having Hispanic majorities in major states within half a generation with all the political consequences that this will bring. Unless the ideology and practice of multiculturalism are replaced by a new patriotism that will integrate the new citizens culturally and linguistically, trouble is certain. This is another problem we face in common.

Codevilla: Hear, hear!

Kupchan: I agree with Mr. Sikorski. Europe has to take in more immigrants and do a much better job of integrating them into society. And the US needs to realize that the complexion of its society is changing and that the ethnic melting pot will not necessarily keep running without much hard work at social integration and the framing of common national identity and internationalism.

Mowbray: Sorry, I don’t buy the Pat Buchanan argument. The problem rests not with minorities, but with guilty white liberals who peddle the politics of division and class warfare.

Sikorski: Bismarck said of Russia that she is never as strong or as weak as she appears and I think this applies to the relative situations of Europe and the US. The American economy has experienced a long boom, but it was partly financed by inflows of foreign capital, which are never guaranteed in the future.

Confidence in the U.S. corporate governance is not what it used to be and not everybody knows, for example, that corporate tax rates are now lower in the EU than in the U.S. Europe has some world class companies while some US giants have proven to be Potemkin villages. As European companies achieve the economies of scale thanks to the single market and a common currency, Europe has a chance to catch up. It is fashionable at this point to say that Europe should do something about its social provisions, e.g. the outrageous six week holidays. I don’t know – perhaps there is a civilizational difference here, or perhaps I’m just getting old – but I don’t think we exist just to improve the GDP statistics. I liked my European holidays.

But overall I think the Pax Americana is here to stay for a good while yet – and a good thing too because the world has not yet seen such a benevolent hegemon. Europeans should be grateful that they derive benefits from the maintenance of the global trading system largely at America’s expense. If Rome is the model then I hope we are in the mature republican period.

Question #4: Aren’t the perceived differences between Europe and America just political cleavages – on legitimating the use of force, on free enterprise versus state control, on welfare versus self-reliance, on sovereignty versus collective action etc. Don’t these cleavages slice through polities on both sides of the Atlantic? If so, shouldn’t Americans nurture allies in Europe, rather than dismiss the whole continent?

Kupchan: Some degree of competition is inevitable — over interests as well as over style. But whether competitors become adversaries is very much up to the United States. If it makes room for Europe rather than dismisses Europe, if it practices restraint and compromise rather than unilateral swagger, then the relationship is likely to be in much better shape.

Mowbray: These are not mere “differences.” They go to the very essence of our respective worldviews. We cherish the individual and believe in peace through strength. Europe can – and should – be a vital strategic ally. But we do not need to gloss over our differences in the process.

Sikorski: I agree. There are plenty of people in the U.S. who would like to introduce a European-style welfare state here and plenty of Europeans who admire America’s swashbuckling capitalism. The party politics are out of sync – Europe’s largest country, Germany, is run by social democrats while U.S. voters have just reconfirmed their mandate for the Republicans and that is a large portion of the steam in the transatlantic debate. America has many friends in Europe and should be big enough to ignore sniping from the chattering classes. Think of the European establishment as a sort of New York Times writ large – annoying, but will probably do the right thing in a real crisis.

Codevilla: Mr. Sikorski’s answer suggests that Europe is suffering from a lack of democracy. That has always been true. America’s genius, which has drawn here the best of Europe, has been precisely that it empowers common sense. America, pace the New York Times, does not suffer wholesale from the intellectual and moral diseases that sweep over elites. In Europe, folk common sense does not have the same standing as in America. But note the efforts to drive common sense out of America, e.g. the banning of the Ten Commandments.

Kupchan: Come on.

Sikorski: I agree with Mr. Codevilla. The writing of the European Constitutional Treaty is probably the last chance to breathe life into EU’s alienated institutions. Unless healthy populism finds its expression within the European polity, radical parties will in future undermine the very legitimacy of the European project.

Question #5: Might it be good for Americans – and to transatlantic relations – to admit that they can occasionally learn something from their European cousins? Examples that spring to mind: Nokia phones, a privatised pension system in Poland, TGV trains in France, and British banks (where well-off Americans do not get turned down for a credit card because they do not have something called a ‘credit history’ as respectable foreigners do here).

Sikorski: I do object to being treated in the US as a cross between a college leaver and a released convict. I’ve had credit cards in Europe for twenty years and own properties on two continents but when I reply to one of those VIP ‘pre-approved’ credit card solicitations here, the response is invariably ‘insufficient credit history’. Is this a way of treating a friend and ally?

Seriously, I find it alarming when my American friends find it incredible and somehow offensive whenever I mention that some things abroad might be an inspiration. To think that nothing can be better abroad would be a dangerous illusion. Let me be blunt: JFK airport is a third-world abomination; a TGV between Washington and Manhattan would be a great improvement; range of mobile phones is better in Poland, let alone in Germany or England. And what’s the point of having six lane highways if you can’t, German-style, drive 100? Otherwise, I love living in America.

Codevilla: “The wise man loveth rebuke.”

Mowbray: Mr. Sikorski, sure, even a blind warthog finds an acorn every now and again. And when the Europeans accidentally allow capitalism to flourish (outside of Ireland, of course, where it already prospers), Americans should willingly embrace the resulting fruits of freedom.

Sikorski: Acorns, perhaps. But wouldn’t you love to drive a BMW? When the socialists in your congress allow you to privatise your social security, you can come to Poland or Chile for training. We will cheer on when – in this land of zero tolerance for socialism – your unions agree to the reform of Amtrac and you can move between Washington and New York as fast as we do between Paris and Brussels. One day, who knows, you might even fix public schools in your capital to perform at a standard which we take for granted. Now, will you admit that we need to fight some of the same battles on both sides of the pond?

Mowbray: Who doesn’t love the feel of driving a BMW? The difference between American and European strains of socialism can be best seen in the politics surrounding them. In America, politicians defending socialism either cloak the true nature of their policies or terribly demonize the market alternatives (such as with Social Security), but in Europe, politicians promoting free market policies are the ones who are reflexively defensive. As for Social Security, America didn’t think up that beauty of an entitlement – it was the Germans.

Kupchan: I think we can learn a great deal from Europe. How about junking SUV’s for starters. And their coffee is infinitely better than ours.

Interlocutor: Coffee? Okay, let’s talk about coffee on both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps this is the central issue and will help crystallize the essence of this debate.

Codevilla: Nothing in the world like Italian coffee. Marrons glaces (candied chestnuts) are even better. But they do not make up for the lack of SUVs (which the Europeans are aping as fast as they can, as fast as they have aped every other major comfort item of ours). Above all, the fine touches of European life do not begin to make up for the lack of citizenship and equality that an American feels when he sets foot in Europe today almost as strongly as John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson felt it two centuries ago. And today just as then, the flow of the most creative and freedom-loving is toward America, not Europe. Coffee and marrons glaces can be imported.

Kupchan: At least we agree on one thing — the quality of Italian coffee. When NATO is on its last legs — and we are almost there — perhaps Americans of different stripes can rally behind the Atlantic link to ensure imports of Italian coffee.

Sikorski: First, as someone who has just recently come off the boat here, I must say that I like the relative absence of envy in America. People seem to want one to succeed, which is liberating.

In terms of coffee, well, with the spread of Starbucks I find complaints about American coffee obsolete. Indeed, Hungary and Italy excepted, Americans now probably drink better coffee, on average, than Europeans. It’s tea that’s a horror. Not since living in Communist Poland had I drank tea made by drowning a tea bag in a cup of tepid water. Proper tea needs to brew in a pot, best wrapped in a tea cozy. Shockingly, most American homes don’t even have a kettle! However, once someone realizes this grim reality, you will no doubt have a chain of first class tea houses within half a decade. That is the genius of America: to take the best from the world, and democratize it though mass production. Splendid isolation wouldn’t suit you.

Kupchan: Tea is indeed an abomination. And I am less than convinced on the coffee front. One still gets warmed up dirty water in many an American eatery.

Mowbray: I love coffee, but as for tea, the best is authentic China green tea. No tea bags, just leaves in the bottom of your cup, drowning in hot water. How again did we get on to this topic?

Question #6: What is your interpretation of Russia integrating into Europe? Can Russia, with its double tradition of Westernizers and Slavophiles, ever become a Westernized nation? Is it a Western country, an Asiatic country, or a Euro-Asiatic country? What tendency is stronger? Putin appears to be going in the European direction because of the Chechen/Muslim problem, as well, arguably, because of the threat emanating from China.

Or is Putin playing a double game? What do you think of the future of Russia and is it of central importance to the future of Europe?

Codevilla: Vladimir Putin’s apparent choice of a St. Petersburg- oriented Russia is the finest news the West has had since 1991. As Napoleon’s mother told her son, “pourvu que ca dure.” (provided it lasts.)

Kupchan: A long historical process of democratization and pacification is gradually spreading from the northwest of Europe to the east and south. Britain, then France, then Germany, now Central Europe. Russia is next in line. It will take time, and there will be bumps in the road, but Russia will eventually take its place in Europe.

Sikorski: If I wished Russia ill, I would egg her on to proceed with her genocidal war in Chechenya – after all as the historian Norman Davies has pointed out, whenever Russia was at war with Turkey, Central Europe had a respite. But I wish Russia well, so I agree with those Russians who would prefer for its government to invest in its people. This post-colonial adventure is fatally undermining liberal society in Russia and keeps the fear of Russia alive. The key strategic question of this century is whether Siberia shall remain in Russian hands and it is there – for all of our sakes – where Russia would do well to concentrate its resources.

Final Question: Do we agree, that despite the competition that a future Europe might pose to America, the real threat to Pax Americana comes from militant Islam and, in the near future, China?

Sikorski: And they are challenges that we will face together.

Codevilla: No. All such dangers are nothing if the West remains itself. If not, recall Montesquieu’s point in The Greatness of the Romans…”There came a time when there was no one so small that they could not do them harm.”

Kupchan: Europe’s rise threatens Pax Americana, but not Americans. Militant Islam threatens Americans, but may do less damage to Pax Americana. And the threat posed by China is rather far off. China will emerge as great power only during the second quarter of this century. We need to be concerned about all three. But precisely because the relationship with Europe is usually taken for granted, both sides need to place careful attention on the profound changes taking place beneath the surface.

Mowbray: If you’re going to talk about threats, of course terrorism is the real “threat.” As much as I may have concerns about Europe’s actions and attitudes, to consider Europe a “threat” is just silly.

Interlocutor: Gentlemen, thank you. Our time is up. We’ll see you again soon on Frontpage Symposium.

18 thoughts on “You Decide: the next clash of civilizations will not be between the West and the rest, but between the United States and Europe?

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