The Next Superpower?: The Rise of Europe and Its Challenge to the United States

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The Next Superpower?: The Rise of Europe and Its Challenge to the United States by Rockwell A. Schnabel and Francis X. Rocca. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005, 199 pp.

I share the views espoused by Dr. Henry Kissinger—“whom do we call when we want to talk to Europe?” The Next Superpower? is the perfect title, asking that specific question. Rockwell Schnabel was born in Europe, moved to America, served in the military, ran a large business, and served at the highest levels of government. He is imminently qualified to answer the question and does it in extraordinary and unbiased manner. This book is a must read for anyone who deals with international issues, whether in the public or private sector.

Schnabel explains the European Union (EU) from its meager roots as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) to the European Economic Community (EEC) to the European Community (EC)—what it is, why it matters, then finishes with why and how America should deal more effectively with it. Before delving into the intricacies of the EU, it is important to establish what a makes an entity a superpower. Is it military or economic might, cultural influence or a combination of all three? What is a geopolitical power and how does it differ from a superpower, if at all? Should the EU be viewed as a counterweight to the influence the United States throughout the world? Should the EU be aligned with the United States as a proponent and defender of Western culture? Should the EU strive to be a force among equals among the global powers of China, India, and the United States? The author explores and answers all of these possibilities in a well written, cogent, and unbiased manner.

The EU can trace its lineage to post-World War II American aid, to include the currency of the realm that would eventually evolve into the Euro, the second most influential international financial instrument next to the dollar. “The American-funded Marshall Plan was an important first step towards integration, since it required the participating nations to trade freely with each other and to adopt temporarily what was in effect a common currency.” Rebuilding the European economy required the reestablishment of German industrial capabilities, revitalizing French agricultural production, putting unemployed people back to work, and creating a single market for goods produced by all.

The bridge to bring former enemies back into the “company of respectable nations” was Jean Monnet’s goal of the proposed ECSC, from which Germany ostensibly had nothing economically to gain except for the acceptance of other ECSC participants. “Once nation-states and their leaders find themselves bound by rules, infringement of which will destroy common policies that are to their advantage, these institutional bonds will serve not only to inhibit the occurrence of conflict, but also to mediate it if it does occur,” Monnet observed. The basic EU membership elements known as the Copenhagen Criteria require members or prospective members to meet stringent requirements concerning law, human rights, and orderly economic structure in order to enjoy the benefits associated with belonging to the EU.

Can the EU in its present form be considered a superpower? According to Schnabel, in 2004 the EU had the second largest economy in the world, and the prospect for future growth appears bright with the influx of 10 post-Communist countries and the highly-educated, low cost workforce and ambitious entrepreneurs they bring with them. Economically, the EU can leverage superpower clout in the form of market access and convincing other trading partners to adopt its policies in the form of EU industrial standards. How much convincing is shown by prominence between the dirigiste (economic control and planning by the state) and liberal (relies on market forces) economic model policies emanating from the EU. Economic globalization is forcing businesses within the EU to compete head-to-head against the rest of the world’s best businesses so a balance must be struck between the two schools of economic thought, so as not to put EU interests at a competitive disadvantage.

What of European culture and military might? Where does the “moth to a flame” draw of wanting to be a part of European culture fit into the arsenal the EU as a cultural superpower? Schnabel defines culture as, “the broad area of human activity that includes but is not limited to religion, the arts, education, popular entertainment, sports, folk customs, manners, and food.” Can the current predominantly Christian Europe assimilate numerous non-Christian nations and still maintain a European culture and identity? That question remains to be answered. Education and integration of the differing aspects of member nation’s cultures must be achieved for the EU to continue to prosper and grow more affluent. The author correctly observes that “Perhaps with time, as Europeans deal increasingly with each other in a single market and grow used to living with each other in a common polity, they will rediscover their shared cultural past.” Prospective member nations are willing to change many aspects of their system to qualify for membership. The EU has a reputation and a history of using mediation and diplomacy in dealing with foreign policy issues, but sometimes the carrot (soft power) doesn’t work and one must resort to the stick (hard power).

Europe economic strength lends leverage in dealing with most law-abiding nations, but not all. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) contains many of the EU members but does not conduct military operations for or act as the military arm of EU foreign policy. Although two of the 27 member nations are nuclear powers, the EU does not possess a standing military organization. According to the EU Web site, “The idea that the European Union should speak with one voice in world affairs is as old as the European integration process itself. But the Union has made less progress in forging a common foreign and security policy over the years than in creating a single market and a single currency. The geopolitical changes following the collapse of communism led EU members to redouble their efforts to speak and act as—with some positive results.” The EU has participated in peacekeeping duties in relief of NATO forces and is fielding battle groups composed of 1,500 troops capable of deploying up to 3,700 miles away on 5–10 days’ notice.

The key to Europe’s security may reside in the ability of EU’s organic forces to interact with and replace NATO as the primary security force for member nations of both organizations. Europe could not be considered a true geopolitical superpower without the security umbrella provided by NATO, of which the United States provides the predominant share of manpower and equipment. European nations have been unwilling to dedicate increased spending on national defense, which has effectively allowed them to invest those savings to develop their economic powerhouse. The EU and its individual member nations should mirror their economic integration model to bring security capabilities to the same level as their economic acumen. Without parallel military clout to supplement their economic clout, the EU will not be considered and cannot perform as a true geopolitical superpower.

So what is the nature of the EU? Is it an economic superpower, a military superpower, an American partner, a partner of China and India, a partner with Islam, or a counterweight to all of the above? Most pundits would agree that it is in the EU’s best interest to partner with as many of the players mentioned above as feasible. Maintaining contentious relationships squanders resources and benefits neither party. Integration at all levels, by all players, is essential to cultivating mutually beneficial alliances that allow both members and nonmembers of the EU to participate in the growing global economy and contribute positively in the geopolitically stable world. Mr. Schnabel details all aspects required to achieve success and ponders the results of failure in a factual and very readable fashion.

Maj Charles Sammons, USAF

C2 Branch 8AF/OV

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."