Wednesday, March 21, 2007

William Pfaff - The Triumph of Venus

"The Venus of Urbino"
Titian - Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
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This is by far the best piece I've read yet about the European Union's 50th birthday. It's not by chance that it is written by William Pfaff, for me the best international affairs columnist writing in English. I just can't take the chance of my readers missing such a fine article.

Certainly the values of the "West" are far better defined and defended by European Union of today than by the United States of today. Fortunately for the US the EU model is there to admire, as America seems to be losing its way and needs some fresh ideas. DS

William Pfaff - The Triumph of Venus
Next Sunday, March 25, the European Union celebrates the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which in 1957 established a customs union, common market, and institutions of economic cooperation among six European states – now become 27.

Last Monday there was another anniversary. The United States, its coalition allies, and Iraq noted the beginning of the fifth year of combined international and internecine war in Iraq, initiated by Washington to establish peace in the Middle East.

I link the two anniversaries to make an overlooked if controversial point, suggested by a weekend in Brussels at the annual plenary meeting of the Trilateral Commission, the private North American, European, and Asian group formed in 1973 to examine international affairs and commission studies of major international issues. The European Union anniversary was prominent in the discussion. The Belgian hosts of the meeting, together with the European Commission and Parliament in Brussels, were determined to celebrate to their foreign visitors the EU’s achievements.

The “Europe” the hosts put on display is the one that in little more than 50 years has transformed a political terrain ravaged by genocidal war, totalitarian politics, torture, secret police, and a devastated human generation, into a zone of peaceful cooperation, rejection of war, political and economic progress, social advance and institutional altruism without precedent in the history of the nation-state system.

The influential Washington writer Robert Kagan, meaning to be condescending, called this Europe “Paradise” in his 2003 book, “Of Paradise and Power.” He suggested that it existed only thanks to the United States, otherwise known as Power.

Europe was “Venus,” he also said, basking in complacent peace, progress and prosperity, while “Mars,” a vigilant and self-sacrificial United States, kept these Europeans safe from what neo-conservatives like to call the Hobbesian external world, red in tooth and claw, lusting to ravish Venus. His book was meant to make Americans feel good about themselves, a manly race protecting their lessers, and to shame Europeans into doing more to help the United States in its invasions, wars, kidnappings, extra-legal assassinations, torture and secret imprisonments, directed against terrorist or rogue nations such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and failed nations like Afghanistan and Somalia, as well as al Qaeda, the bearded assassins of Hamas and Hezbollah, and their fellow Islamic extremists in nations spanning the planet.

These Europeans instead had been preoccupied with training and subsidizing the states formerly under Soviet dictation in the Baltic region and in the Warsaw Pact, many of them with particularly tormented histories of foreign or national oppression, or domestic ethnic conflict, to develop the democratic institutions and progressive economies that would fit them to become members of the European Union. Today, most of them are already members of the EU of 27, and more are on the way to membership.

The year 1957 was not the real start of what became the European Union. That was the Treaty of Paris in April 1951, when at French initiative, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy and France placed their war-making industries under common control. The purpose was to make peace in Europe permanent.
Two years before, in April 1949, NATO had been formed with the same purpose, binding the United States and Canada to the West European democracies in mutually defensive military alliance.

The two institutions succeeded far beyond what most then could have imagined. By 1990 the Soviet Union was history, the Warsaw Pact states free. What did it?

Fundamentally, the EU did it. NATO proved to have been a necessary precaution – it would have been madness not to recognize in 1949 the possibility of Soviet aggression. But what we know now of the period suggests that a deliberate Soviet attack on the West was never seriously contemplated.

What destroyed the Soviet system was its moral as well as political and material decadence and decline. It was discredited politically and internationally by the European Union’s transformation of Western Europe.

The European Union, more than any other single factor, was responsible for the defeat of the Soviet Union in the cold war. It was not American arms that did it, necessary as they may have been to the Soviet Union’s intimidation, and to its eventual recognition that matching U.S. arms expenditures was impossible: that there had to be another way to go.

It could in the end turn out that the most important single event in ending the cold war was that summer, during the years of d├ętente, spent by Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife on vacation in the south of France, witnesses of a peaceful and progressive Western Europe. That, more than the arms race, represented the competition the U.S.S.R. had already lost.

Venus won. But alas, where today is Mars?

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