THE BREAKING OF NATIONS
Order and Chaos in the 21st Century
By Robert Cooper
180 pages. Atlantic Monthly Press. $18.95.
Last year's trans-Atlantic tiff over Iraq appeared to vindicate Robert Kagan's famous quip that "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus." Is there any way to bring these planets into alignment? If anyone can pull it off, it is Robert Cooper, a senior British diplomat who has gone from being one of Tony Blair's closest foreign policy advisers to serving under Javier Solana, the European Union's putative foreign minister. Although he does not present it this way, his new book, "The Breaking of Nations," is essentially an attempt to bridge the ideological divide between hard and soft power. Both, he suggests in this short, elegant collection of essays, are necessary in today's messy world.
Mr. Cooper, director general of political and military affairs for the European Union's Council of Ministers, begins by dividing the post-cold-war world into three parts. First there is the premodern world, places like Somalia and Liberia where the traditional nation-state has broken down and left chaos in its wake.
Second there is the modern world, where "the classical state system remains intact." To the extent that there is peace in modern regions like the Persian Gulf or East Asia, it is because of a traditional balance-of-power or the presence of an outside hegemon like the United States.
Third comes the postmodern world, whose only full-fledged representative seems to be the European Union, although Japan comes close. Mr. Cooper does not believe that the European Union is turning into a nation-state but rather into a postnational entity where the dividing line between foreign and domestic policy is being erased, states are giving up their traditional monopoly on violence, and borders are increasingly irrelevant.
Many European analysts, having gotten this far, would then triumphantly proclaim the moral superiority of postmodernists (Europeans) over mere modernists (Americans). It is very much to Mr. Cooper's credit that he avoids such simplistic dichotomies.
In the first place he recognizes the continuing debt that Europe owes the United States: "If Europeans have been able to develop security through transparency, it is because at the back of this there stands America -- and security through armed force."
Second he recognizes that when the postmodern world is dealing with the premodern or modern worlds, it cannot take refuge in empty legalisms. When confronted with real threats, he writes, "Europeans need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era -- force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary for those who still live in the 19th-century world of every state for itself."
Did he say pre-emptive attack? That doctrine has come to symbolize for many Europeans what they consider wrong with the United States, but Mr. Cooper is willing to entertain its necessity. He notes that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the spread of international terrorism pose cataclysmic threats that cannot necessarily be dealt with by traditional remedies like containment and deterrence. If you wait for a rogue state to go nuclear, he writes: "By then the costs of military action may be too high. Hence the doctrine of preventative action in the U.S. National Security Strategy."
Nor does Mr. Cooper contend that old-fashioned realpolitik, which holds that nations should not interfere in one another's internal affairs, provides a useful guide for dealing with the premodern world. He endorses the multilateral imperialism that has been practiced during the past decade in places ranging from Kosovo to Afghanistan because "a zone of chaos can turn into a major direct threat to state security elsewhere."
But his friends in Europe need not worry: Mr. Cooper is not a closet neocon. However much he may be sympathetic to American aims, he cautions that pursuing global hegemony is a "task that may be too great even for the United States." He also warns that "the idea of a single country having unrestrained and unrestrainable power is not welcome." Not surprisingly, he suggests that the United States try to legitimize its authority through the United Nations.
At the same that the United States should act a little more postmodern, he says, Europe should act a little less postmodern by increasing its military spending or at least coordinating its military programs better to get more bang for the euro. To achieve the long-term goal of "a world ruled by law rather than force," he concludes, we need "both military power and multilateral legitimacy."
That appears uncontestable. But is it achievable? In many cases the answer is yes. The United States needs only a little prodding to act multilaterally when it comes to, say, complying with World Trade Organization rules. Europe needs only a little prodding to act forcefully when it comes to, say, stopping ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. The problems come in a handful of really hard cases.
It's difficult to imagine any American president who would forgo the right to use force without United Nations approval; even Howard Dean urged Bill Clinton to act unilaterally in Bosnia in 1995. It's also hard to see European states taking on the added military burden that Mr. Cooper says is necessary for them to act as serious partners for the United States. Germany has just announced plans to cut its military budget.
On the toughest issues, the trans-Atlantic divide really may be unbridgeable, at least until Tony Blair becomes president of Europe and installs Robert Cooper as his national security adviser.
Max Boot is Olin senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power" (Basic Books, 2002).