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Power And Weakness By Robert Kagan

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Study of the essay "Power and Weakness" by Robert Kagan

Robert Kagan, American neoconservative scholar and political commentator created an international sensation in 2002 with his essay "Power and Weakness," that he later expanded into a bestselling book entitled Of Paradise and Power. His essay announced that "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus."

Here is a summary of his essay and the different steps of his analysis of the deteriorating US-Europe relationship

According to Kagan, a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Europe has begun. Indeed Europe is hiding from power beyond laws and rules, whereas United States is using power because laws are not reliable enough. This results in a difference in the way to lead Foreign policy. The United States are less patient with diplomacy; they want to solve problems quickly. This leads to unilateralism in international affairs.

Europeans are more tolerant, preferring negotiation, diplomacy. They use economic ties to unite nations together.

What is the source of these differing strategic perspectives?

For Europeans the peaceful strategic culture is pretty new. The power has shifted

200 years ago when the United States were weak, and practiced the strategies of indirection, now that the United States are powerful, they behave as powerful nations do and European countries see the world through the eyes of weaker powers.

1. Power gap: perception and reality

Europe has been militarily weak since World War II, but it remained unnoticed because of the unique geopolitical context of the Cold War: it was the strategic pivot between the United States and the Soviet Union. With the "new Europe", in 1990s, everybody agreed that Europe will restore its power. However, the Balkan conflict revealed the European military incapability. The United States carried out the decisive phases of a military mission and led to a stable situation. This isn't a surprise when we know that average European defense budgets fell below 2 percent of GDP.

Meanwhile, the collapse of the Soviet Union has increased America's relative strength to the rest of the world. It made the US more willing to use force abroad whereas Europeans become more and more unwilling to use force.

2. The psychology of power and weakness

"Today's transatlantic problem is a power problem": the United States are more willing to use power thanks to their strength, and the European Union is unwilling to, because of its weakness. Europe doesn't believe in a world where "Man is a wolf to man" (Hobbes), because every country should be equally protected by international lows. And this is common sense because in an anarchic world, small powers always fear they will be victims. This results in the today's transatlantic disagreement concerning the problem of unilateralism. The Europeans fear American unilateralism because it would carry on a Hobbesian world in which they may become more and more exposed. That's the reason for the current principal objective of Europe as the "multilateralising" of the United States.

The United States and the European Union still have the same ideals : "more orderly worfd system based not on power but on rules". However, they don't give to power the same role in international affairs. Moreover they disagree on what constitutes a tolerable or an intolerable threat. Europe is more tolerant to threats because of its relative military weakness. Concerning Saddam Hussein, Europeans concluded that the thread was more tolerable for them that the risk of removing him.

Europe has been enjoying American security guarantee, and neither Iraq nor Iran nor North Korea are European primarily problems, but American. Indeed the United States is the most powerful; hence it is the primary target.

3. The origins of modern European foreign policy

The European Union developed a different perception of power in international relations, due to its historical experience since the end of World War II: now they entered the "postmodern" era and emphasis on diplomacy, economic ties and reject the harms of European past: the hegemonic ambitions of individual states resulting in an awful century of European warfare. The European integration was intended to control these "hegemonic ambitions". Fisher thinks that Europe moved toward a new system preserving peace in international relations. Americans judge it too idealistic. Diplomacy and commercial ties were the tools of the Franco-German rapprochement and made the European integration possible. Today Europe believes that it has a role to play in world "governance", a role based on replication the European experience on a global scale. In the mean time, the American will to exercise its power represents a threat to Europe's new mission.

Concerning the overseas military missions, Europeans are engaged so long as the missions are limited to peacekeeping. Moreover, they don't look to be really concerned about issues outside of Europe.


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