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A New Superpower?

I've recently been reading The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy by T.R. Reid which is, in essence, the breezy and journalistic version of the dry and academic argument in Charles Kupchan's The End of The American Era. Both posit that the unipolar moment of American hegemony is coming to an end, and that the rival power is not one of the usual suspects rising in the East (Japan, China, India, ...) but a Europe that is not so much getting stronger as simply pooling a strength that is already considerable. This amounts to a rather strange sort of superpower, since even if European Defense Integration proceeds quite gingerly, the EU will still be a military dwarf compared to the United States. I believe Foreign Policy ran a rather silly article a few months back referring to the EU as being, in this sense, the "metrosexual superpower." In short, by combining into a single trading bloc, the EU has enormous economic leverage. Yet by remaining a whole bunch of separate sovereign states, the EU gets tons and tons of votes in multinational organizations, making it quite the diplomatic heavyweight.

What to make of all this, I don't quite know. But I think one thing we've clearly seen happening over the past few years is that the United States is putting much more emphasis on raw military force as a policy instrument than it traditionally has. One way to think about this is as a response to the rise of Europe (and, to a lesser extent, the big Asian countries) as economic and diplomatic forces. Increasingly, raw force is where our comparative advantage lies, so we find it increasingly useful to define international politics in terms of force. The trouble is that -- as we're seeing in Iraq -- even with 50 percent of the world's military spending, our overwhelming military preponderance accomplishes rather less than one might think.

November 14, 2004 | Permalink


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Tracked on Nov 16, 2004 8:35:30 AM


The rise of the EU as an economic and political competitor to the U.S. got exactly zero attention during the presidential campaign.

The new EU power, however, was one of five foreign policy challenges I highlighted back in June in a piece called "The End of the Unilateral Moment: Five Global Challenges for a New American Internationalism."

The Reid and Kupchan pieces sound like must reads. Any comments from folks on the The End of the Unilateral Moment over at Perrspectives would be greatly appreciated.

Here's the section on the EU:

2. Accommodating European Union Economic Power

Almost unnoticed in the United States was the May 1 expansion of the European Union to 25 countries. While the Bush administration has derided “Old Europe” of France and Germany, the new EU is now the world’s largest trading bloc and consolidated economy, with a market of 450 million people and a Gross Domestic Product of over $10 trillion.

The next American president and his countrymen won’ be able to ignore the EU any longer. While its political integration proceeds in fits and starts, the European Union will be both America’s geo-strategic partner and a growing economic competitor. The continued strength of the Euro relative could well jeopardize the dollar’s unique role as the world’s reserve currency. If the United States does not manage its out-of-control trade and budget deficits, it could lose the leadership role – and benefits – that the dollar denominated world economy has offered Americans since World War II. Working with our European counterparts to accommodate EU economic power and guide the global economy is essential to American economic security.

Posted by: Jon | Nov 14, 2004 11:36:01 PM

As a patriotic American, my reaction to the growing power of Europe economically and politically is...GOOD!

The idea of an America unfettered by strategic power struggles seemed a wonderful opportunity at the dawn of the post-Cold War era. Now, with a bit of history under our belt, I think we cannot be trusted. Just as companies need competitors in a free economy, countries need competition as a check on their ambitions. A stronger Europe may serve as a moderating influence to American hegemony, and if it comes as a quirk of the fact they remain sovereign states (akin to the quirks of our Electoral College), that may be poetic justice.

Posted by: JJF | Nov 14, 2004 11:50:13 PM

Matt, you should read Gwynne Dyer's latest book, Future: Tense. He argues (very convincingly) that the biggest problem for America in the 21st century will be learning to be just another country. In this light, the problem for America is not that China (or anyone else) will be poweful and hostile, but that America will have to learn to negotiate again, something it hasn't had to do for quite some time. At the same time, it's leverage will be quite a bit less than it is now.

Posted by: John | Nov 14, 2004 11:51:18 PM

Matthew is too young to remember, but this book is actually a sequel. The original volume was written about 25 years ago, and Japan was the main character. (Actually, THAT was a sequel too; about 10 or 12 years before the Japan volume, we had a volume in which the USSR was the main character.)

I wonder which country will be the next up-and-coming challenger to the US's superiority? China? India? ... Iraq?

Posted by: Al | Nov 14, 2004 11:57:08 PM

er, '25' means 15

Posted by: Al | Nov 14, 2004 11:57:46 PM

Matthew is too young to remember, but this book is actually a sequel

You're right, although not for the silly reasons you mention. Chapter 1 involved the military dwarf known as pre-WW2 USA.

Posted by: felixrayman | Nov 15, 2004 12:07:12 AM

I haven't read either book, but it seems to me that demographic trends mean that reports of Europe's rise are greatly exaggerrated. You cannot sustain the rate of economic growth necessary to finance a massive military buildup with a rapidly aging and contracting population -especially if you have the commitments to social spending that the EU does.

To me it seems that the most likely long-term scenario is a return to balance-of-power geopolitics, with China, India and the U.S. (maybe also Brazil and Mexico) competing and co-operating much like the European states in the 18th and 19th centuries. The principal challenge will be creating a set of institutions and practices that will allow these states to resolve their differences without resorting to armed conflict. This will mean the end of U.S. hegemony, but it's a far cry from being "just another country."

Posted by: El Gringo Loco | Nov 15, 2004 12:12:40 AM

Well, personally, I'm going to reserve comment on the book until I actually read the book. Some commenters don't believe in that principle, it seems, but then, some commenters are dishonest scumbags.

Posted by: JP | Nov 15, 2004 12:12:49 AM

I'm not talking about Gringo Loco, obviously, just to avoid any misunderstanding. Heh.

Posted by: JP | Nov 15, 2004 12:13:27 AM

Are we supposed to surmise that this "series" is a failure because it proposed the USSR as a competitor for the US? As I recall, it had a pretty good run at that.

Posted by: Davon | Nov 15, 2004 12:13:51 AM

The problem is not that America shouldn't use its military power, it just needs to work on the balance of the mix between diplomacy, military and economy. America's big advantage was that its flavour of democracy meshed with its sense of expansionist capitalism. But as the rest of the large countries in the world approach democratic market economy models they eat into the American hegemonic lead. America could cement this leadership with strong capable diplomacy hand in hand with strong capable military power, but America seems to be unfulfilled with quieter smaller diplomatic advances and wants simpler metrics to measure 'winning', thus the need to kick ass.

Posted by: cynical joe | Nov 15, 2004 12:15:30 AM

"You cannot sustain the rate of economic growth necessary to finance a massive military buildup with a rapidly aging and contracting population -especially if you have the commitments to social spending that the EU does."

Is immigration inferior to native population growth in some manner of which I am ignorant, or are you forgetting that Europe has more immigrants knocking at its door than it can handle?

Posted by: Davon | Nov 15, 2004 12:16:12 AM

"Is immigration inferior to native population growth in some manner of which I am ignorant, or are you forgetting that Europe has more immigrants knocking at its door than it can handle?"

Nope, just considering the fact that there is very little evidence (of which I'm aware) that Europeans are willing to accept the cultural challenges that will come with letting in the particular people who want to immigrate. Though anti-Americanism may be the once force strong enough to make them overcome their inveterate racism and sense of cultural superiority.*

*Not that the U.S. doesn't also suffer from these particular character flaws.

Posted by: El Gringo Loco | Nov 15, 2004 12:24:25 AM

John Wayne once said, I think in "The Shootist":

"Son, what makes a great gunfighter ain't the speed or the accuracy, but the willing."

It may not happen, it probably should not happen, but under the right conditions we have a lot more military potential than even we can dream of, or others can compete with. We are not such nice people.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 15, 2004 12:26:52 AM

I was just reading the Salon article on this book & another similar one:


and will need to read them, I think. Based on the article-- as mentioned, I haven't read the book cited either-- it looks like Europe is relying on economic muscle & foreign aid (they give more than we do, and influence other nations that way) instead of military might, which explains Matt's second paragraph. The Salon author, though, notes the resistance to immigration & the aging population as potential problems, although even scaled-back European benefits will be extremely generous by our standards.

Posted by: latts | Nov 15, 2004 12:31:47 AM

I don't know is America the great military power we're always told it is? I mean in conventional terms, not nukes. Russia is a big deal if you count nukes.

We spend 100s of billions and we can't keep a lid on a 3rd rate ex- and probably future tinpot dictatorship.

Granted we haven't mobilized. We haven't committed to total war or anything, which appears to be a deliberate policy choice of the Bush Administration post 9/11 ("go shopping"), but while we're great and blowing stuff up from the sky, on the ground we don't seem all that hot. We've got a lot of flash and no staying power.

Maybe there's a future for the EU as the non-theocratic, reality based, and yet western alternative to the US. I think theocracy is a direct threat to our power and prosperity. Theocracies aren't too hot at science, technology, all that stuff.

Posted by: Brian | Nov 15, 2004 12:37:38 AM

It may not happen, it probably should not happen, but under the right conditions we have a lot more military potential than even we can dream of, or others can compete with

And in November, 1941, both Germany and Japan had far more military potential than the US could compete with. Some people think pre-season games matter, some people don't think twice of waking sleeping giants, some people are just plain stupid.

Posted by: felixrayman | Nov 15, 2004 12:41:59 AM

I call it the EUrabian Fourth Reich. Basically a continent of antisemitic Jew-hating Nazis lead by the pro-Baathists of Socialist Germany, Socialist France, and fascist Nazi Belgium.

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Nov 15, 2004 12:51:33 AM

"I call it the EUrabian Fourth Reich."

Oddly enough, it doesn't seem to be catching on. Wonder why.

Posted by: Davon | Nov 15, 2004 1:14:49 AM

We have met the enemy and he is us.

Posted by: epistemology | Nov 15, 2004 1:26:51 AM

Leaving aside the demographic problems, the EU has two real difficulties:
1. The decision-making process operates as a sort of bureaucratic sludge, made up of the civil services of the national and European levels, where everyone gets a piece of the action. This sort of system cannot produce the real decision-making capacity needed for effective foreign affairs, military or otherwise. For that, a more centralised system would be needed. Without a change, EU diplomacy will remain a one-club golfer, based on EU enlargement.
2. The growing alienation of European voters from their own political systems, caused in part by apparent lack of democratic influence over their own governments as well as the bureaucratic sludge in Brussels and in part by the traumas and dislocations to EU civil society from the Euro and successive EU enlargements.

Solving 1. is likely to make 2. worse.

Posted by: Otto | Nov 15, 2004 1:35:21 AM

While I would look forward to the day when buck toothed girls in Luxembourg might somehow overrule our worst instincts, the rather primitive divide and conquer strategy of Mr. Bush seems to have neutered the incipient gaullist beast.

What will undo America is what is undoing America, which is not Europe, but America.

Posted by: Green Democrat | Nov 15, 2004 2:27:11 AM

From the rather unique perspective of a scientist studying things unrelated to cancer and homeland security -- I can safely say that the EU is now more than a match for our NSF. Coherent Europe-wide science funding, dwindling federal science budgets in the US (not keeping up with inflation), eccentric US science goals (mars and missile defense), immigration rules discouraging foreign scientists from entering the US for graduate work or post docs, etc. have all had a negative effect upon our country's status at the fore front of science research.

Cutting edge research groups in the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, and France are attracting US citizens for post docs at a very high rate.

The new brain drain doesn't lead toward the US.

I don't think our plutonium reserves are going to maintain us as the world's only superpower. It's science, education, and the economy that are critical to maintaining our power. I figure the new SS reform and tax reform measures will bankrupt us all the way down to Jesusland.

Posted by: fle | Nov 15, 2004 2:51:08 AM

Hi all -

Sigh. I've been living in Europe for 24 of the last 20 years (1980-86, then from 1990 onwards), working in Switzerland and in Germany. Married to an Austrian, I run industrial models and analyse CREIFs in Germany.

A few comments have been "ignoring the demographics...". Stop. You *can't* ignore the demographics, since this is where Europe has its severe structural problems that prevents it from growing the way it could.

Remember the phrase "Eurosclerosis"? It didn't disappear or go away, but remains the fundamental problem that is facing Europe and will continue to place virtually insurmountable barriers to any sort of European resurgence in world politics.

Europe today is also increasingly corrupt: the parliamentarians of the European Parliament have virtually institutionalized a system of exploiting the system to enrich themselves and view this system not as a problem, but as an entitlement (hiring your family as aides, your lovers as advisors and having taxpayers foot the bills for absurdities such as flying the lowest fares but putting in the voucher for first class); the French have a President who would be arrested for fraud, extortion and embezzlement if it weren't for his political immunity in office; I can go on and on, but this gets away from the point.

Immigration has been a catastrophe in Europe. Germany has one single functioning immigration policy, of allowing ethnic Germans in, where there is an attempt to assimilate them into German society. But that affects only a small minority of immigrants: the rest are deliberately ignored. Someone born in Germany isn't automagically German, but rather only those born to a German parent are (ius sanguis).

The Germans don't want immigration: they want unskilled labor cheap. They want these people to go home when they don't have a job anymore, but oddly enough most refuse to do so, since life in Germany on unemployment is vastly preferable to life in Turkey even with a job, let alone unemployed. The German political system refuses to deal with the problems that the country has with immigration and will continue to do so as long as Germans refuse to recognize that the German economy, and with it Germany, is no longer capable of stronger growth because there is no growth in domestic demand.

If you look at the German economy - and I speak here of Germany as representative for most of Europe - domestic demand is nothing less than moribund. We're talking *at best* consumption growth rates of between 1% and 2%, with little or no likelihood for that to improve: this means that the moment that export-driven growth declines for Germany, the domestic economy is unable to pick up any demand.

Why is domestic growth so slow? Because the average German is getting old. People have their cars, their houses, their clothes: older people don't buy the things that younger people do. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to find out how terrible German demographics are: the German social security system is bankrupt *today*, or actually it's been that way for a decade, propped up by increasingly high taxes on gasoline that, according to the German laws establishing that tax, is only to be used for the building and maintenance of roads.

I'm going to stop here, since I feel a right and proper rant coming on.

Suffice to say: European demographics *will* prevent Europe from gaining any more stature than it currently has on the world stage. Demographics can't be simply changed and reversed, but are the result of decades of development. They can't be ignored.

And for the chap who thinks that the brain drain is from the US to Europe: think again. Talk to the German professors who watch the best and the brightest leave Germany for the US and the UK, since the German university system cannot offer them the future that they can achieve in the US.

I've completed degrees both in the US and in Germany: there are advantages and disadvantages to both systems. But Germany and Europe currently don't rate on the international scheme of things, and hoping that they might one day is, to a large degree, wishful thinking.

Enough for now...

Posted by: John F. Opie | Nov 15, 2004 4:58:49 AM

John is fairly correct. Another point is that beneath the meaningless posturing of the EU institutions, Europe is becoming less united rather than more. Forming a rival to the US for global supremacy is popular in some circles, but it is most popular where there is least economic growth.

"Tons of votes in multinational organisations" does not make the EU a diplomatic heavyweight, it makes the multinational organisations irrelevant.

Posted by: Andrew McGuinness | Nov 15, 2004 5:25:09 AM

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