America, A European Power

Courtesy Reuters


President Clinton made four trips to Europe last year. This commitment of presidential time and attention underlines an inescapable but little-realized fact: the United States has become a European power in a sense that goes beyond traditional assertions of America's "commitment" to Europe. In the 21st century, Europe will still need the active American involvement that has been a necessary component of the continental balance for half a century. Conversely, an unstable Europe would still threaten essential national security interests of the United States. This is as true after as it was during the Cold War.

I do not intend, of course, to suggest that nothing has changed. The end of the Cold War, which can best be dated to that symbolic moment at midnight on December 25, 1991, when the Soviet flag came down over the Kremlin for the last time, began an era of change of historic proportions. Local conflicts, internal political and economic instability, and the return of historical grievances have now replaced Soviet expansionism as the greatest threat to peace in Europe. Western Europe and America must jointly ensure that tolerant democracies become rooted throughout all of Europe and that the seething, angry, unresolved legacies of the past are contained and solved.


Only three times since the French Revolution has Europe peacefully reshaped its basic security architecture. Today, the continent is in the middle of nothing less than the fourth such moment in the last two centuries. The first post-Napoleonic security architecture for Europe, designed in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, helped prevent all-out continental war for 99 years. The young United States, having fought two wars with England in only 40 years, successfully kept its distance, but for the last time.

In the second period of redesign, at Versailles in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson played a central role, but the United States withdrew almost immediately from the very structures it had helped create, thereby weakening them and thus virtually guaranteeing the tragic resumption

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