Europe, Britain and America’s Fading Primacy

US B52

US B52

America’s quest to spread its freedom, abundance and security has ended up reducing its freedom, abundance and security.

By Freddy Gray September 2, 2016

Who wants to be policeman of the world in the twenty-first century? America has tried the role, bless it, and the results have yielded little joy. The greatest military machine mankind has ever seen can’t seem to win a war. The conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq all proved to be great wastes of American treasure and blood. Even the apparently successful U.S.-led interventions, such as in Libya in 2011, have led to disaster. What the historian Andrew J. Bacevich calls America’s “War for the Greater Middle East” has proved to be its unmaking as the world’s undisputed superpower. America’s quest to spread its freedom, abundance and security has ended up reducing its freedom, abundance and security.

The age of American primacy, as we know it at least, is approaching its end. The “unipolar moment,” which followed the Cold War, was always fleeting. The American super-supremacy of the 1990s and early 2000s has faded. A strange, arguably “post-polar” world order, in which nothing is as it seems, has emerged in its place. The United States, under the presidency of Barack Obama, has adopted the strategy of “leading from behind”—much to the chagrin of neoconservatives everywhere. But what Obama really meant was America still trying to lead from the front, as before, but with added reluctance. China the rising giant, but its economic growth international ambitions are mysterious and opaque. Russia is often said to be a diminishing force—its economy too reliant on outdated fossil fuels—yet it is achieving its strategic goals where every other major power is failing. Thanks to a sophisticated information machine, the Kremlin’s soft power is more potent than at any time in the last thirty years.

One apparent constant is the decline of Europe. The European Union, paralyzed by debt, is suffering a major political crisis. Populist, anti-Brussels parties are thriving across the continent. On June 23, the British surprised everyone—including, perhaps most of all, ourselves—by voting to leave the EU. The Union remains, for all its problems, the second biggest economic force in the world, but for hard power it relies almost completely on American goodwill and military might.

How long can—or should—America continue to favor Europe with such a benevolent hegemony? Donald Trump may be a disastrous presidential candidate, but his position on NATO is coherent, even if it is not a message impoverished Europeans want to hear. Like President Obama, he asks why should Uncle Sam continue to protect Europe’s strength—when America pays the “lion’s share” (about 75 percent) of NATO defense spending. “NATO is unfair, economically, to us, to the United States,” says Trump. “Because it really helps them more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share.” That’s a good point. It’s not as if Europeans—or the rest of the world—are particularly grateful for America’s generosity. Social Democrats everywhere sneer at Uncle Sam and call him names behind his back. We don’t jump to condemn nations that call the United States the “Great Satan.” And yet, whenever trouble brews, anywhere, we expect the indispensable nation to sort it out.

America could afford to put up with such an inconstant and ungrateful allies when its primacy was beyond doubt. Now, not so much. Rebalancing, or even abandoning, NATO would upset a lot of pundits, special advisers, and security contracts, but it makes more sense than the status quo. America’s relationship with Europe’s leading powers has for too long been held together by a sentimental sense of Western progressivism, and the “special relationship” with Great Britain which has endured, for better or worse, since the end of the Second World War.

Now, however, Britain appears to be on its way out of the European Union, and the EU itself is in for a tumultuous future. Realpolitik should dictate that America, whether it is lead by Trump or indeed Hillary Clinton, continues the Obama’s strategy of demanding more from European powers in the worldwide defense of democracy. America might instead look to Germany, the EU’s major economy, as its first diplomatic port of call in the coming years. (Trump has promised Britain that we would be first in queue if he becomes president—he meant it as a rebuff to Obama’s warning that we would be last if we voted to leave the EU—but most people know not to believe him, and assume that anyway he won’t be president.)

America redefining its relationship with Europe would involve many diplomatic difficulties, but it need not mean a substantial deterioration of relations. Here in Britain, we might grumble about betrayal—especially since we, unlike our European partners, followed the United States into the folly in Iraq—but we should learn to live in the twenty-first century. America’s interests cannot be conditioned to suit British pride—or anybody else’s.

Moreover, perhaps the British and the Europeans might learn to stop taking America’s support for granted. That, in turn, could lead to a renewed respect for the world’s leading power, and return of a different and stronger American primacy.

This is the ninth in a series of essays on the future of American primacy. You can read the previous essay, “The Era of American Primacy Is Far From Over” by Hal Brands, here.

Freddy Gray, deputy editor of the London Spectator, is a regular contributor to the National Interest.

Source: National Interest “Europe, Britain and America’s Fading Primacy”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


3 Comments on “Europe, Britain and America’s Fading Primacy”

  1. Hiro Watanabe says:

    Obama and Washington may insist but I highly doubt the Europeans want American overlordship. Just look at the TTIP : It’s dead even before it can begin. Yes, America’s primacy is unravelling. They didn’t even bother to ask the European or the rest of the world’s permission. Bribery and blackmail can only be effective for a short time only.


  2. Joseph says:

    The idea of police and policing came from different interest in China and in the West. In China, the idea of police is those who are in charge to exert authority and maintained order as dictated by the law. In the West, police were originally just a bunch of goons to enforce the will of their lords or baron who operated not unlike Chinese mountain bandit kings. Even iff they have written laws, there are lots of alternative sanctions for every group of people, which they exercises at their own discretion. Even in their own countries, many people cry out injustice and unfairness, such as Black and White, man and woman, religious and sexual orientation. And such people is ‘in charge’ of policing the world? They are more like internationalized goons who wish to rule the world. And like all goons, they are usually bullies and cowards with big weapons, be it blade or gun. They act big only to those without means to fight back. Take those weapons away, they are nothing more than goons who would cower and wet their pants in the prospect of fair fights.


  3. Steve says:

    The whole article omitted the fact that the super primacy of the US was built on the foundation of genocide, illegal invasion of sovereign countries, supported rebellion to overthrow Governments that act contrary to US Western policies and hegemonism to maintain it’s world’s leadership. The UK, and Canada has pivoted to China for economic support and partnership, but Germany should not be hoodwinked by the US for its worldwide support of Western democracy. Just look at the refugees filtering into Europe. Germany supported the coalition in the Iraq war of the US/UK sponsored genocide and invasion of Libya, now paying the price for its refugees influx across Europe. In fact, Germany should be the next economic Superpower of Europe. The US has no choice, but to maintain it’s status quo in Europe to contain Russia.

    Instead of saying ‘America’s quest for spreading freedom, abundance and security……’, should have being read as, America’s quest for spreading hegemonism, military dominance, abundant lies and deceit, has ended up by being exposed to it’s corrupt regime of starting illegal wars, overthrowing of legal sovereign governments, looting of oil fields (Iraq), militarising and promoting insecurity in regions such as the SCS and falsifying invasion on the pretext of democracy and WMD.