Start of a beautiful friendship?
A union of Europe and America might stand up to China, but how realistic is it, asks Phillip Blond
For the first time in several hundred years the West is on the losing side of history. This is the thesis of Edouard Balladur, the former French Prime Minister who in a recent essay argues that "history is starting to be made without the West and perhaps one day it will be made against it".
The 78-year-old statesman believes that Western values are so threatened that the only way to defend global democracy and the rule of law is for the US and the EU to consider a real political, economic and cultural union.
Like many he fears that the West is in cultural decline and unable to face the challenges that confront it. America and Europe, economically stagnant and unable to innovate and prosper in the face of Chinese and Indian economic success, face new shared dangers in Islamic fundamentalism, and the rise of hostile independent states such as Iran and Russia.
For Balladur, the West must undergo a revolution in thinking and come together and defend its common values in the face of unprecedented global threats.
This is more than the delightful delusions of an aloof French aristocrat. These ideas are taken seriously at the highest level. Nicolas Sarkozy is certainly listening: the current President of France, a close confidante and political ally of Balladur, is intrigued by the prospect of a renewed Western project with France at its centre.
Moreover, the British elite have long been seduced by the idea of a transatlantic free-trade pact. While Angela Merkel, the German PM, wants to extend the traditional trans-Atlantic military alliance into new cultural and economic agreements based around common values and beliefs.
Looking at it objectively, Balladur expresses unmistakable geo-political truths. The age of Western dominance is clearly over. America may still be a superpower but within a generation it will be equalled by other nations both economically and militarily. Similarly Europe may delight in its own expansion, but national governments and shallow self-interest still call the tune. As such, Europe's soft power is never really taken seriously by its adversaries: Russia, for instance, derides the EU and sidelines it diplomatically and economically.
Thus the reasoning goes that Europe needs the hard power of American military might. Moreover, America now recognises its limits; it knows it can no longer risk unilateral military action. The US needs the soft power of persuasion and the many friends that the EU represents.
And there I think this little daydream should end. There is no real chance of a Western Union because an alliance implies an equality of partners. The Europeans may well be prepared to pool sovereignty in the name of common values - but the Americans certainly aren't.
America, despite its vision and idealism, remains a deeply nationalist and supremacist nation - and such countries do not and cannot form a union of equals. The only real alliance the US has is with Britain and Israel. Because the former is painfully subservient and the latter utterly dependent, neither offers a model for a common Western future.
That said, there is a real common Western heritage that is worth defending - one that upholds the idea of the dignity of the person and the belief that power and wealth are not the ultimate values. This is the legacy of Plato and Aristotle, the Jewish prophets, Christianity and the Renaissance. It lies also in the enlightenment's refusal of absolute authority and the struggle by ordinary people to shape their lives and gain a just share of wealth and happiness.
However, these great Western achievements were attained by a high civilisation - whereas Europe and America are now at a cultural low, obsessed with consumerism and celebrity.
If Sarkozy (left) can help revive a high European culture, and a new American President can restore a genuinely liberating American vision, then there might, just might, be a union of the West worth pursuing after all. ·
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