Donald Rumsfeld infamously made a distinction between Old Europe and New Europe. He has been scored ever since for his sweeping and impolitic language, but he wasn’t sweeping enough: In geopolitical terms, all of Europe is old, the world’s most tourist-friendly museum piece.
For the future of high-stakes U.S. diplomacy and of great-power politics, look no further than Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the U.S. It is Asia that should occupy an outsized place in our strategic thinking, and it is Europe that should be the relative afterthought, not the other way around. The media and foreign-policy establishments haven’t yet gotten their minds around this, which is why the Bush administration’s giving Dominic de Villepin a case of the vapors has gotten so much more attention than its shrewd work of making friends in Asia.
Europe obviously still matters. It has an economy roughly as large as ours; a bigger population; and more men under arms or at least wearing nice uniforms. America needs to remain the leader of the united West, which means working with Europe, no matter how annoying that is. But in our mind’s eye, Europe should be hung with an enormous sign: “The future used to happen here.”
Europe’s stasis is a benign and even enviable one, peaceful and relatively prosperous. The continent’s grand project of creating a European Union superstate to rival the United States has, fortunately, foundered. Recent elections in Germany and Italy have produced sullen deadlocks. And student protests in France show how vested even the youth are in the status quo, in contrast to the electric dynamism of India and China.
India has been shedding its deadening Fabian socialism, an import from Europe, and is a burgeoning economic power. China has created a kind of ramshackle free-market economy – in a bizarre shotgun marriage with a communist state – that is producing robust growth. Both countries are on the rise. Japan has been in a decade-long rut, but is still the world’s second-largest economy. The trend lines in terms of economic and military power all say “Asia.”
The future is happening there, for better or worse. If we offend Europe, it still putters, and sputters, on. The stakes in Asia are much higher. Taiwan could be an occasion for a war. India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed adversaries. China could break up into feuding fiefdoms. Then, there’s the psycho-state of North Korea. Given the region’s importance and potential pitfalls, Bush-administration diplomacy should get more notice.
President Bush has hitched a rising India to the U.S. At the same time, he has forged a close relationship with India’s historic rival, Pakistan. The U.S. alliance with Japan has never been stronger, and relations with China are relatively friendly, too. The administration has been firm in its defense of Taiwan’s de facto independence, while keeping the island from any unnecessary provocations. Diplomatically – putting aside the intractable North Korean nuclear problem – this is as close as it comes to running the table.
The strategic goal is to create a sustainable balance of power so Asian countries can continue to liberalize. As Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations argues, if the focus is exclusively on China’s rising power vis-a-vis the United States, the historic model is Europe circa 1914, with China in the role of Germany. If the focus is widened out to include Japan and India – as Bush has sought to do – then the more congenial model might be Europe circa 1815, with a balance between several powers and the United States as Britain, which maintained that balance at very little cost to itself.
All of this means our lingering Eurocentrism is out of place. We should care less about Jacques Chirac taking offense at our latest alleged gaucherie and more about what Dr. Manmohan Singh – the prime minister of India – thinks of attempts in Congress to torpedo the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. Europe is yesterday’s news; Asia is tomorrow’s.
Rich Lowry is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected] nationalreview.com.