The World According to Harvard – Part I

Share Button






My colleague Richard Rosecrance (an occasional guest blogger here at Rising BRICSAM) has had an interesting recent debate with fellow Harvard colleague Stephen Walt.  The debate/discussion/dialogue – whatever?  ( Walt at Original Blog Post and  Response; Rosecrance’s Policy and Power posts  Original Response and Rebuttal) between these two well known IR scholars  has centered on two issues:  First. whether the EU has seen its best days already and whether the EU political Project is waning?; and then secondly whether the US needs to employ a balance of power strategy relying in part on the EU in order to constrain a growing rivalry in Asia with China.

Now the “World According to Harvard”, no matter which voices, always includes a large dollop of “grand strategy”.  These two Harvard colleagues don’t disappoint – lots of grand strategy.  Paring back some of the 30,000 foot language, however, Walt argues that Europe’s period of global influence is on the wane and more particularly – and he admits he may be wrong here – we’ve already seen the high water mark of European unity.  Walt suggests:

Today, European integration is threatened by (1) the lack of an external enemy, which removes a major incentive for deep cooperation, (2) the unwieldy nature of EU decision-making where 27 countries of very different sizes and wealth have to try to reach agreement by consensus, (3) the misguided decision to create a common currency, but without creating the political and economic institutions needed to support it, and (4) nationalism, which remains a powerful force throughout Europe and has been gathering steam in recent years.

While Walt then admits that these challenges may well force the EU member-states to come together, the behavior of the core actors France and Germany to date in their efforts to deal with the large and continuing debt crisis – Greece in particular – give little reason for optimism.  So Walt concludes – “Hence my belief that the heyday of European political integration is behind us.”

Now Dick Rosecrance will have none of it.  As he argues, the European Union is “the strongest economic unit on earth with a GDP larger that that of the United States.” This EU is not the Europe of the days of General De Gaulle.  And as he says in his response to Walt’s response (I hope this thread is not getting too confusing) the historical record:

…shows that far from declining, the EU overcomes its differences and continues increasing its GDP and military strength.  Steve is right that the EU is not going to become a “United States of Europe,” but it will likely evolve into a fiscal union because Germany and France remain committed to assisting weaker partners.  Further, the EU is expanding with five to ten would-be members waiting to join the enlarged Union, ultimately reinforcing NATO.

It is true that the European project has gone through periods of quiescence or lethargy only to be revived with a new accord – Maastricht or Lisbon.  But the European project through stealth has – it would seem to me – run it’s course and growing popular skepticism has replaced a facile “Europeanness” (see Andy Moravcsik at Princeton for deep analysis of European integration).  Here Walt’s rise of nationalist feeling in Europe is I think closer to the point.  European politicans have little appetite to propel the federalist project in the face of growing nationalist publics.  In the face of the sovereign debt crisis, European leaders have been unwilling to act boldly.  They certainly have been unwilling to take steps – EU bonds for example – that ramp up economic integration.  None other than former German foreign minister  and vice-chancellor Joschka Fischer raises the prospect of disintegration of the European project:

Slowly, word is getting round – even in Germany – that the financial crisis could destroy the European unification project in its entirety, because it demonstrates, quite relentlessly, the weaknesses of the eurozone and its construction.  Those weaknesses are less financial or economic than political.   … The euro, and the countries that adopted it, are now paying the price.  The eurozone now rests on the shaky basis of confederation of states that are committed both to a monetary union and to retaining fiscal sovereignty.  At a time of crisis, that cannot work.

So while Dick Rosecrance may be right that the EU in the face of this continuing debt crisis may evolve into a fiscal union I am not prepared to take a bet on it.  The past is no compass it seems to me in describing the future.

So if the EU is not likely to be the partner that Rosecrance is wishing for, what then of the US need to balance China and if so – with whom or what. Stayed tuned for Part II.

Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons


Leave a Reply