America Takes the European Union in Hand: Conquest by Stealth from Ronald Asmus

Pour les américains du camp Néoconservatrice leur domination de l’OTAN ne suffit pas; il faut encore impliquer l’Union Européen dans la projection de force dans le monde sous une tutelle américaine. M. Ronald Asmus nous donne l’explication du mécanisme par lequel les Etats-Unis peuvent donner une politique étrangère manquée à l’Europe.


Une Note par Gilbert Doctorow


America Takes the European Union in Hand: Conquest by Stealth from Ronald Asmus

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.



It is not enough for the US to dominate NATO and use the alliance like a tool kit to provide manpower for America’s ‘war on terror’ or ‘axis of evil’ missions around the globe. No, that falls far short of what can yet be achieved through Transatlantic cooperation even given the Old World’s reluctance to send its boys out into the world on military missions. If only the European Union will allow the U.S. to take it in hand and provide it with a missing foreign policy dimension, then vast resources can be put at the disposal of America’s master plan for the world in the form of state-building, training militias and non-combatant support while the U.S. does the ‘heavy lifting,’


That, in a nutshell, is what Ronald Asmus, neoconservative ideologue and executive director of the Brussels-based Transatlantic Center is telling us in his latest article, “New Purposes, New Plumbing: Rebuilding the Atlantic Alliance,” published in The American Interest, the November-December 2008 issue.


Asmus gives no credits in this writing to his intellectual sources, but it is perfectly clear that he has been drinking at the well of ultra-conservative Sam Huntington (Clash of Civilizations) when he argues that the declining share of the world’s population, economic and geopolitical power of Europe and North America in coming decades means they must seek closer cooperation to carry weight in the future. After all, he says, echoing Huntington, Europe and America share a “common civilization” a remark that would be humdrum if it did not imply the existence of other “civilizations” in the 21st century, which is highly contentious. His remarks on the fading of Europe’s dream of ‘global Kantian peace’ come straight out of the writings of the American Neoconservative Robert Kagan, who happens to be another expatriate based in Brussels with a shared interest in European politics.


In Paradise & Power, Kagan demonstrated that Europe was from Venus and the U.S. was from Mars, that they had different views about the use of military force versus diplomacy to resolve international issues due largely to Europe’s weakness and America’s strength. But whereas Kagan sought to persuade Europeans not to get in the way, not to preach to the U.S. about a rules-based world order and just to acquiesce quietly in American worldwide hegemony, Asmus proposes to take in hand this pathetic Europe and make use of it insofar as humanly possible for the common cause. Whereas Kagan had assumed back in 2004 that the age of American unilateralism would last indefinitely, Asmus accepts that it went out with the Bush administration, and he offers in its place a cheery bonhomie among parts of the world with broadly shared values.


The purpose of Asmus’s proposed combined effort between Europe and the U.S. will be the same as envisioned by Kagan and other Neoconservatives: the expansion of American power eastward from Europe across Eurasia via its southern corridor, across the Black Sea, through the Caucasus, onward to Central Asia. This is the latest version of the concept of Manifest Destiny that has driven U.S. imperial ambitions for the past 200 years.


The curious fact about the geography of the new West as defined by Asmus is the absence of Russia. Indeed, the states which the Atlanticists want to draw into their orbit are precisely the former republics of the Soviet Union ex-Russia. Having picked off the Communist Bloc of Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and incorporated them into the EU and NATO during the 1990s, the new ambition is to pick Russia clean of its area of privileged interest, the ‘near-abroad.’. It is not for nothing that Asmus has been awarded the Republic of Poland’s Commander Cross, the Republic of Lithuania’s Order of the Grand Duke Gediminas, the Republic of Latvia’s order of Three Stars and the Republic of Estonia’s Order of the Cross of St Mary’s Land.


The justification for excluding Russia, in Asmus’s terms, lies precisely in its not sharing our values and in its becoming “more authoritarian, revisionist and hostile” by the day. Yet, the very policy by which the West directly undermines Russia’s security interests, turning its backyard into our client states, is the single major cause of growing Russian hostility and the encouragement to nationalist, indeed authoritarian tendencies in Russia. There is no accident here or lack of comprehension on the part of Asmus and his fellow-thinkers on the far Right of American politics: an enraged, ‘resurgent’ Russian bear is the perfect bogey man to keep Europe loyal and under American tutelage. A Russia that is brought in under the roof of the ‘European home’ would put in question the necessity of American predominance in European security matters.


In Asmus’s grand vision, Transatlantic cooperation would not merely create an area of co-prosperity and security stretching out to Central Asia, but it would also jointly address problems in Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear program, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and…managing relations with rising China and East Asia. That is to say, it would have global impact.


For this new, closer Transatlantic cooperation to come about, Asmus says there has to be a new architecture, a new ‘plumbing’ put in place, meaning new institutional relationships between the U.S. and the European Union. The problem with this is that the EU lacks the political will to forge a common defense and foreign policy today if left to its own devices.


So what is to be done? The U.S. can run NATO because it not only has a seat on the board but also holds the place of honor. Within the EU, the U.S. has no seat at all. However, the mechanics of EU decision making show the way forward. In fact EU policy tends to be created when a small number of member states get together and develop a consensus. These caucuses typically involve some major players plus smaller members with special interests. Once they reach agreement on some issue, they take their ideas to the Commission and the other EU members through the Council, where a full consensus is reached. The diplomatic challenge now before the U.S. is to quietly become part of that informal consensus-building process. Put in less glossy terms, this amounts to: “Use political pressure from above to overcome differences and facilitate a common policy.”


In addition, Asmus proposes that the annual U.S./EU summit be raised from its current level of technocratic consultations largely on trade matters to a level of strategic consultations that are held back-to-back with the annual NATO summit. In this case, the U.S. President and Cabinet members could engage their European Union counterparts and take the talks across the whole waterfront of common interests including homeland security, energy and intelligence. Working groups and task forces would be created to drive cooperation. The back-to-back meetings would help to remove barriers that exist between NATO and the European Union.


The problem with this very nice solution for America’s lack of resources to enforce its worldwide hegemony is that it ignores the reasons why Europeans so far do not have and do not want common defense and foreign policies. It is ironic to note that past meddling by the U.S. to prevent the formation of a world-class competitor on the international scene contributed mightily to this state of affairs. But today, in the greatly expanded and still very heterogeneous European Union, there are totally indigenous forces working against such common external policies, namely the great divergence of interests and outlooks between Old and New Europe. This will take decades to clear. A whole generation of revanchiste politicians in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States holding views warped by the decades of Soviet domination will have to depart the political stage before progress towards a united foreign policy can be achieved. In the meantime the best that can be hoped for will be revival of the notion of a two-speed Europe, with greater integration of foreign and defense policies among certain core countries of Old Europe.


One lesson to be learned from Asmus’s writings is that the Transatlantic Center and the German Marshall Fund in which he has responsibility for strategic planning are not merely think tanks or research institutions where scholarly papers are exchanged. They are nests of lobbyists, at least some of whom are seeking to change the structure of European Union institutions to suit American, not necessarily European interests. It is high time that a spotlight was directed at their activities and their contacts among European Parliamentarians to ensure they are visible and not subversive of the European order.


© Gilbert Doctorow 2009



G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University. His latest book  Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12 is scheduled for publication in April 2013 and will be available from Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.