The Magazine

Old Europe, New Europe

Red Europe, blue Europe.

Oct 27, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 07 • By SETH CROPSEY
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The division of Europe into "old" and "new" parallels the blue and red state split of American electoral politics. In the Old Europe--synonymous with Western--defense and foreign policy thinkers and officials tend to see Barack Obama as a ray of hope for an America that reaches out in benevolent acceptance of European attitudes toward peace and how to achieve it around the world. In the New Europe--read Central and Eastern--men and women with the same expertise and official responsibility regard the possible election of Obama with deep concern. They worry about whether he can deal purposefully with Russia, about whether he instinctively grasps the importance to the West of an effective alliance, and about his ability to provide effective leadership at a time when so little is to be found in Europe and so much is expected from the United States.

Western Europeans see threats to their security in climate change, human trafficking, and a nuisance level of terror. They no longer think of NATO as an important club since their part of the world seems benign, nonthreatening, and assured of continued invulnerability so long as multilateral organizations can restrain the fitful compulsions of the American electorate. The Central and Eastern European states, on the other hand, see NATO and its security guarantees as inseparable from their continued independence. Even those who don't view Russia's invasion of Georgia as a return to military competition still see a growing threat from Moscow as it combines its energy resources with an aggressive foreign policy.

Germany is at the center of Western Europe's strategic blindness. Surrounded by pliant neighbors and reminders of past horrors, Germans are strongly motivated to avoid any repetition of such calamities. Placing their trust in multilateralism, further European integration, and a proto-Kantian expectation that the universal embrace of pacifism will unite the international community, they hope for nothing more than the benefits of a continued and expanding welfare state. The outside world has been reduced to a judgment of its immediate effects on domestic comfort. The editor of a large northern German newspaper observed to me, following the Georgian invasion, that his countrymen were less anxious about tensions with Russia than they were about the chance that such tensions could lead to a cutoff of Russia's oil and gas. (Russia supplies nearly 40 percent of Germany's oil and 43 percent of its natural gas.)

For Germans, a strategic partnership with Russia is good because it assures the energy supply. Strategic association with NATO is bad as it requires onerous defense expenditures, participation in distant missions, and association with the United States. Seventy percent of the public, according to a poll taken this year, object to Germany's noncombat participation in NATO's mission in Afghanistan. A German political expert I spoke with in August warned that if Berlin's popular mayor, Klaus Wowereit, and his coalition were to succeed on a national level, it might lead to German withdrawal from NATO. A German defense intellectual remarked to me that "people say that Germany is no longer a reliable ally. I can't blame them."

The weight of history presses with less violence on French public opinion, but the end result is not profoundly different. Increased European integration is the goal of France's external policies. In June, Nicolas Sarkozy did announce France's return to NATO, but that was only made possible by the alliance's new arrangement that "the mission determines the coalition," i.e., that NATO members are free to decide whether they want to participate in alliance missions. This was exactly what de Gaulle wanted back in 1966 when he withdrew France from NATO.

France is also shrinking an already small military, and the French public is far from supportive of military missions. As a professor at the University of Paris put it, "living standards are in trouble here because of the inability to control welfare expenses along with the spiraling costs of just about everything. This and only this is what people are concerned about, not security and surely not France's place in the world." As in Germany, there are loud public doubts about the American character, which raise serious questions about the ability of France and the United States to find agreement on future questions of common security. "What kind of people," asks a senior writer for the Nouvel Observateur, "could elect George W. Bush twice?"

Central and Eastern Europeans exhibit none of this strategic blindness nor the suspicion that America represents a threat to democracy and every other international good. A senior Polish diplomat told me that the United States should "stop tip-toeing around the Russians and end NATO's charade of political correctness in dealing with Moscow." Another saw "ominous consequences" in Russia's invasion of Georgia and argued that his nation needed to reconsider NATO's emphasis on expeditionary forces in favor of beefing up its own defenses against Russian forces. "The Russians," argued this experienced official, "have decided that the reassertion of great power status is more important than integration with the West." A Hungarian official similarly warned that "the new Russian imperialism has become a reality." He cautioned that if Russian policy succeeds in its traditional aim of dividing Europe, "you can say bye-bye to NATO."

Europe is as divided over the current American presidential election as it is over whether it faces serious external threats. French foreign policy and defense intellectuals openly admire Obama. One explained that his election would return the United States to "decency." A former national-level German politician argued that the United States "must reinvent itself in order to survive" and that Obama is the only one who can accomplish this.

Central and Eastern Europeans do not share this enthusiasm. They are more skeptical than enchanted. Poles ask about Obama's track record on Russia and his understanding of Central Europe's importance to the Atlantic alliance. They question whether his opposition to the surge in Iraq would find a parallel reluctance to take risks in defense of their own countries. They wonder, as a venerable and experienced Romanian government leader politely put it, "Who is Obama?"

In McCain, Old Europe sees a toughness and worldview inconsistent with its hopes for multilateral resolutions to international problems. New Europe sees the same qualities in McCain, but approves of them as appropriate to the world the next American president will face. One must judge for oneself which part of Europe sees the world as it is.

Seth Cropsey, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, served as deputy undersecretary of the Navy in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.