Fastest Gun in the West

Robert Kagan's new book illuminates the current power relations between the United States and Europe: The former favors force and the latter, negotiation. What can Israel learn from this new world order?

"Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order" by Robert Kagan, Knopf, 2003, 112 pages, $18. Translated into Hebrew by Atalia Silber, Am Oved, 144 pages, NIS 64

The dizzying success of Robert Kagan's book is indicative not only of the quality of this short work but also the current political style that prevails in President George W. Bush's America, which the book reflects precisely.

As is the nature of a fashion that replaces its predecessor swiftly and decisively, this fashion too - that of the cowboy - is obliterating its predecessor. Few today remember that Bush Junior was initially considered a president who lacked all interest in foreign policy and did not know the names of most of the world's capitals - never mind how to spell them. Today Bush is conducting a worldwide crusade against the "axis of evil" and is proving himself as a faster gun, more effective than John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. It is no wonder American foreign policy is being run by the principle Clint Eastwood established in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly": "If you want to shoot, shoot; don't talk."

Europe never liked Westerns and most of its political and cinematic heroes are better known for emotional monologues that for shooting from the hip. Kagan argues this is a significant cultural difference between a culture of force and a culture of negotiation. When you have a hammer, he says, all problems begin to look like nails; in other words, when you have force, you suddenly see all the problems that force can solve. When you don't have force, in the best case you look for alternative ways to take action and in the worst case, you ignore the problems that require attention.

Ever since World War II, Europe - which lost its military might - has been looking for nonviolent ways to take action. It has become a disciple of international arrangements and agreements that replace military might as far as it is concerned. The United States, however, has not only accumulated might but has also become, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the only superpower in the world. Therefore the U.S. looks for ways to use its might without taking into account the rules that international bodies (which the U.S. itself helped establish during the years when it had less power) or other countries try to set for it.

These rules protect the weak and limit the strong, so it is no wonder that the former want them and the latter despise them. Those who are unable themselves to take unilateral action, says Kagan, naturally seek a mechanism to control those who can. Thus, the United Nations Security Council, the International Court of Justice and international covenants serve the Europeans as a substitute for the might that they do not have. From Europe's point of view, he writes, control by the United States is perhaps fairly benevolent, but as long as its actions delay the coming of a world order that contributes more to the security of the weaker powers, it poses an objective risk. Thus, this is a struggle between interests, in which each side naturally adopts the policy that serves its personal interests.

The statement that the interests of the U.S. and of Europe reflect the power relations between them is a trivial statement that no one will dispute. The interesting question is how these power relations developed and why Europe did not develop a large military force that would allow it to strive to regain military leadership, or at least its status as a very influential player in the power game.

The answer resides in the lesson Europe learned from its own bleak history. Europe learned the price of unbridled force, and decided to consistently and consciously distance itself from it. The European Union is the product of a terrible century of European warfare. Therefore it has adopted for itself the educational mission that is aimed at teaching the world how laws, rules and bureaucracy can serve as a substitute for military might - a mission that is threatened by American policy.

Europe rejects the American policy of might, but it neither wants to nor can defend its paradise and guard it against being threatened by a world that has not yet accepted the law of moral consciousness. Europe, then, has become dependent on the willingness of the United States to use its military might to deter or defeat anyone who still believes in the politics of force. Thus, the United States has become the guardian of the portal, the angel with the flaming sword who guards the European paradise from invasion by undesirable forces and even - as was proven in the conflict in Bosnia - from internal ethnic conflicts.

The European dependence on American defense comes at the price of its international weakness. The war in Iraq taught Europe and the entire world an unambiguous lesson: There is no country or organization today that can restrain the might of the United States. The fate of the world now lies in the hands of an enlightened dictator.

How is Israel supposed to act in this new international reality? Traditionally, Israel has seen itself as a United States in miniature. Israel, in terms of Kagan's metaphor, acquired a very strong hammer at a very high price, and it makes every effort to turn all the problems in the region into nails. With all its military might, however, Israel is learning the European lesson that today the entire world is functioning under the auspices of the "big hammer" - the United States.

If this is the situation, then it is possible that it may be worthwhile for Israel to undertake a revolution in its way of thinking and adopt a European strategy: to take shelter openly under the defense umbrella of the United States and direct greater resources to welfare and economic growth. Israel is not becoming "the Europe of the Middle East" for one reason only: It wants to maintain for itself the ability to act contrary to the will of both the United States and Europe. Therefore it continues to enslave itself to security policy, while neglecting welfare policy.

It is worth reading Kagan's important book, thinking about the structure of the new world and re-examining Israel's security policy. Israel will then find out what Clint Eastwood, like any other mythological gunslinger, has long known: The rule of the Wild West, "If you want to shoot, shoot; don't talk," applies only to those who don't need to ask permission to shoot. Everyone else would do well to talk.

Prof. Yuli Tamir is a Labor Party Knesset Member.