U.S, Europe have chance to expand 'community of democracies,' historian says

Despite strained relationship, allies share vital interests on global issues like climate change, economic growth in Far East, he asserts

L.A. Cicero ash horiz

British historian and Hoover Senior Fellow Timothy Garton Ash spoke Nov. 16 on campus about the opportunities facing Europe and the United States. “We face more possibilities of further expansion of freedom. We don’t face nuclear armed totalitarian blocs as we did in the Cold War,” he said.

ash book

In his new book, Free World: America, Europe and the Surprising Future of the West, Timothy Garton Ash argues that the crisis in European-U.S. relations presents an important opportunity to expand freedom globally in the 21st century.

"The opportunity we face is to move from the free world of the Cold War—now an anachronistic and compromised term—toward a free world," Garton Ash said Nov. 16 at a lecture organized by the Stanford Institute for International Studies. "The opportunity is not to reconstruct the old Cold War West of Europe and the United States. … It is to move forward from the old West to a post-West, [to] a wider community of democracies, including India, Taiwan and the Latin American democracies."

Garton Ash, an Oxford University professor and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, based his talk, "A New Beginning? What the United States Can Do with Europe Now," on his latest book, which was published in this country on Nov. 9 to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The British historian is best known for writing about the collapse of communism.

"It is self-evident that it would have been easier to talk about a new beginning with a President Kerry," he said. "Some in the Bush administration believe they can afford to ignore Europe. I would argue that's a mistake."

Garton Ash divides the world into two 9/11s—the first one based on the European method of writing the day, month and year—9.11.89 or Nov. 9, 1989—and the second using the American method of placing the month first—9.11.01 or Sept. 11, 2001. He described the first date, which heralded the end of the Cold War, as the "9/11 of hope" and the second date, when terrorists attacked the United States, as the "9/11 of fear."

The deeper causes of the crisis in the West can be traced to the first 9/11, he said. "In the moment of triumph [were] the seeds of the disaster" because the end of the Cold War brought about two structural changes. First, he said, Europe and the United States no longer shared a common enemy in the Soviet Union, which had acted as the cement in the transatlantic relationship. Second, for the first time in 400 years, Europe lost its centrality in world politics, and the continent began to look increasingly marginal to U.S. foreign policy concerns.

As a result, analyzing the crisis today must take into consideration a world that has been completely transformed, the historian said. "In trying to describe that world, my own view is that 'the war on terror' as a simple shorthand for the world in which we live is very inadequate." Rather, he said, major challenges come from a combination of terrorisms, weapons of mass destruction and the existence of failed or rogue states.

In Free World, Garton Ash also lists challenges that he calls "The New Red Armies." These include the modernization, liberalization and eventual democratization of the wider Middle East, notably the 22 members of the Arab League. He discusses the rise or renaissance of the Far East, particularly China, Japan and India. "We are so used to assuming that most of the wealth and power in the West resides in the West that we sometimes forget that it has not always been so and that it will not always be so," he said. Looking forward, he said, the "extraordinary dynamism" of the economies of the Far East may bring about sweeping changes during the next 20 or 30 years. "China will be a world power of such size and scope it will then transform the geometry of world politics," he said.

Garton Ash calls the global divide between the rich North and poor South—and "the truly shameful fact that half of the world's population lives on less than $2 a day"—another challenge. And he lists the crisis of global warming. The world is already witnessing the effects of climate change caused by human agencies, he said, adding, "The summer of 2003 was the hottest summer on record for 500 years."

According to Garton Ash, the vital interests of Europe and the United States do not differ significantly regarding these challenges. Furthermore, he said, they cannot be successfully addressed without joint, coordinated action. "Essentially, coolly analyzed, our interests are clearly, overwhelmingly common," he said.

Nevertheless, the historian acknowledged that people on each side of the Atlantic don't see it this way. Robert Kagan, an American conservative, summed up the divide with the adapted phrase: "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus." Garton Ash argued this just isn't so. "Our societies, attitudes, values are much less different in aggregate than we believe," he said. "The truth is that we face not one great divide down the middle of the Atlantic but two divided continents." Garton Ash supported the argument that the United States is split between conservative "red" and liberal "blue" America, with the latter actually closer to much of Europe than to its Republican counterpart. Furthermore, he divided Europeans into "Euroatlanticists," who support working in partnership with the United States, and "Eurogaullists," who advocate creating a strong Europe as a rival to the world's only superpower.

To counter Eurogaullist trends, Garton Ash said the new Bush administration must send a clear message that it intends to work with the European Union as a whole to avoid any impression of a policy of "divide and rule" from Washington. "The United States [should] say that it considers European integration and its success to be in the American national interest," he said. Furthermore, the Bush administration should ask Europeans to help not just with the war in Iraq but also on an array of issues involving strategic common interests, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region and climate change.

According to Garton Ash, the crisis of the West, ultimately, will bring about great opportunities. He noted that in 1974, Freedom House, the nonpartisan, pro-democracy organization, counted just 39 democracies worldwide. Today, it lists 117. Although Russia cannot be included as a "meaningful democracy," he said, what is important is that 88 free countries are inhabited by 2.8 billion people—half of humankind. "That's never before happened in human history," he said. "Also, we face more possibilities of further expansion of freedom. We don't face nuclear armed totalitarian blocs as we did in the Cold War."

Garton Ash recalled the obstacles that Polish dissidents faced in 1978, when an early samizdat publication featured an editorial calling for an independent, democratic, free Poland. "In 1978, that seemed like aiming your bike at the planet Mars," he said. "Twelve years later, it came true—the walls came down, the impossible happened. If they were capable of that vision and that courage and that hope … we might have a little more vision [and] courage, and refuse the illusions of impotence."