At a hastily arranged conference here organized by the American Enterprise Institute’s New Atlantic Initiative and the Aspen Institute Berlin, I got a chance to take the temperature of the European (especially German) response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Europe is all right — not great, but all right.
As is well-known to American government officials of both parties and to a lesser degree the American public, the United States has been and remains responsible for guaranteeing security in Europe (as, indeed, it does in Asia, the Middle East and in our own hemisphere; it’s an ambitious security agenda). And, obviously, this has been a tremendously successful arrangement, in that postwar Western Europe, and now the larger post-Cold War Europe, has been a place of unprecedented peace and growing prosperity. This very success, however, contains a danger of its own. It is the diminishment over time of a clear-eyed view of the conditions underlying and continuing to ensure European peace and prosperity — in particular, the engagement of the United States. There has been a tendency emerging within European elites to think that Europe has outgrown the U.S. security commitment, that the commitment no longer means as much as it did and that Europe no longer especially depends upon it, having gone far (especially in the creation and growth of the European Union) in its ability to manage its own affairs.
There is much truth in this. Europe truly has come far, and it is truly inconceivable today that a misunderstanding between France and Germany, say, could lead to war, let alone that a war party bent on conquest could emerge in either country. The problem is that what is true of Europe is not necessarily true of Europe in relation to the rest of the world. This fact came home for Europeans in the former Yugoslavia, where Europe without the United States was unable to deal with the arrival on its doorstep of a dictator straight out of the 14th century.
European elites would, with time, like to rely less on the United States or even get past the need for the involvement of the United States. Some (especially our French friends) aspire to a Europe that balances the power of the United States. That’s fine, actually. To the extent that Europe becomes stronger and better able to manage matters of concern to it, the United States is better off as well. And we can deal with attempts to balance us when these amount to something more than theoretical aspirations.The danger, however, is a Europe that thinks it has already made its way past the need for the involvement of the United States — and accordingly, is offended and considers itself hamstrung by the tendency of the United States to throw its weight around internationally, the result of which, in this view, is a United States making unnecessary trouble for Europe.
When the twin towers came down, matters were put to a test: Would Europeans regard this as an appalling attack on the civilization Europeans have in common with Americans? Or would they take it as an attack on America purely and simply, for reasons having to do mainly with the United States and the resentments its power and policies cause throughout the world?
Now, as it happens, there is no shortage of anti-Americanism in Europe, and left-wing intellectuals here adopt such a stance in the manner of the acquisition of a union card. The more serious question arises concerning European governments and European public opinion. And both are all right — again, not great, but all right.
Not much more than a week before I was standing near the Brandenburg Gate, 200,000 Germans gathered there at a rally to show solidarity with the United States. Selfsame declarations of solidarity are the first thing out of the mouths of the German political elites as well. No, this does not mean that they or other Europeans are going to form up into a cheering section for every aspect of U.S. policy. But it does mean that they feel threatened by this attack as well.
Indeed, in some respects and in some cases at the conference here, I would say that our friends are taking this even harder than we are. The civilized world of their perceptions and imaginings in recent years, especially Europe itself, has been so pacific as to make it possible to forget or dismiss the possibility of a violent disruption. That’s not unrelated to the growth of the sense of U.S. power as more a nuisance than an essential element of their own security.
Fortunately, we knew better, even if we were getting complacent ourselves. That is why we could swing into action quickly. Some, having harbored greater illusions about the political world, are still in shock.