STATE OF THE UNION

STATE OF THE UNION - The charges, like the recriminations of a couple who can no longer remember why they were ever together, are well-rehearsed.

by NICK DENTON, in New York, starting his third business;www.nickdenton.org
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The charges, like the recriminations of a couple who can no longer remember why they were ever together, are well-rehearsed.

The US has a president who conforms to the gun-toting cowboy stereotype. Europe's diplomats are too sophisticated to have any moral sense. US foreign policy is dictated by the Zionist-columnist complex. European sympathy for the Palestinians is, of course, a disguise for endemic anti-semitism.

Americans are simplistic. Europeans are devious. Warmongers. Wimps. And so on, insults confirming the other's worst prejudices.

There is not much point in wondering how we got here. Europe and the US are drifting apart. But both are avoiding the inevitable conclusion. It is time western Europe, too long a resentful satellite of the US, declared its independence.

And I mean more than a barcode identity designed by Rem Koolhaas, waffle about a common security policy, and Romano Prodi musing about possible superpower status. A resumption of European sovereignty means the withdrawal of US forces from Europe, closure of bases, the dissolution of Nato, a Franco-British nuclear deterrent, intelligence-gathering satellites, an invitation to Russia to join a European Union that stretches from Lisbon to Vladivostok, and maybe even a little robust jostling in the Middle East.

Europe may not have the will to match the lavish defence spending of the US, but it does not need to. The US military is indulged, wasteful and complacent. Europe need not compete with it in expensive manned planes for spoiled flight jockeys, bases in the districts of influential congressmen, tank divisions unsuited to third-world conflicts, and sci-fi research projects that are the delight of the military-industrial complex.

A rapid-reaction force, mass production of cruise missiles and drones, and fuel-air bombs dropped from converted Airbus planes: that'd be enough for Europe to show military clout.

Sure, this is a fantasy. Europeans have no common identity beyond a shared resentment of the US, soccer rivalries and Ecstasy-fuelled clubbing in Ibiza. A superstate would be an enlarged version of Belgium: a dysfunctional entity with the worst of French pretentiousness, German officiousness, Italian anarchy and Austrian denial. And most continental countries have seen too many wars to retain an appetite for the use of force. Yet an independent Europe would be good for the world.

Take Europe itself, for a start. Its moral posturing is empty as long as it depends on the US to take action, as in the former Yugoslavia. The US suspects that European multilateralism is a devious way to inhibit its power; it might better respect open rivalry. And Europe has distinct interests, particularly in the Middle East; better to pursue an independent foreign policy than sublimate those interests in resentment.

Second, the rest of the world would benefit from balanced competition between the major powers. The longest period of global stability and growth - in the 19th century - was secured by a balance between the major powers. The Cold War may have perpetuated conflicts in the developing world, but it also allowed countries such as Cuba and Egypt to play off one superpower against the other. The US might be more generous towards Latin America and Asia, and more cautious in the Middle East, if it felt it was again in a contest for influence.

There is a broader point. The West has progressed through competition between nation states. Europe's squabbling but dynamic princedoms overcame the various Islamic empires. The US may indeed be the ultimate expression of Western civilisation, but it would not hurt to have a backup, and a modicum of diversity.

For the US, a European rival would provide a useful prod. While paying lip service to the virtues of competition, the US has become over-confident in its role as the sole superpower, and the universal template for economic and political development. It hardly bothers any longer to persuade. An effective European model - in which the balance between the state and the individual is subtly different - would at the very least provide a benchmark for American performance.

An assertive Europe would also be a more effective partner for the US. Both powers believe in the free market, democratic decision-making and a predictable rule of law. When those values are under threat, from Islamic fundamentalists or totalitarian China, the US and Europe can still be expected to respond in concert.

Those are the reasonable arguments. But there is also a childish case for a declaration of European independence. It would be a satisfying slap in the face for America's overbearing pundits and policy-makers. They despise Europe's passive-aggressive undermining of US policy; let's see how much they like honest and effective opposition. That'll show them.

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