Few would doubt that there have been significant changes in the world power structure since, say, the unilateral declaration of American economic independence on August 15, 1971, or even the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Yet what does such a statement mean? Power may be a relatively clear concept, describing the capacity to assert interest effectively, or more simply, to make others do what one wants them to do; but the reality of power is much less clear. Indeed, the same phenomenon occurs both within societies and between nations: those who feel that things are happening to them believe that somebody must have done them and must therefore have the power to do them; whereas those who are thought to have this power realize that much of the time things simply happen. Circumstances and constellations are more important than intentions and actions. Those who feel constrained suspect the hand of those in power; those who have power sense, above all, the constraints under which they are acting.

It may be as well therefore not to pursue any further the theoretical question of what international power is and how one can describe its shifts and changes - except to say this. It is my thesis in this analysis that we are going through a period in which power is more diffuse in the international community than ever before. It is a period in which a past pattern which we know and a future pattern which we may suspect are intermingled. Such mixtures make for instability, for unexpected explosions and unpleasant surprises. It is at least doubtful whether anybody is prepared for this condition. And this is especially true for Europe, from the perspective of which this analysis is written.


Most Americans find it difficult to understand what "Europe" is about, and it would be cant for a European to blame them. After all, what exactly is Europe? Is it the participants in the Conference on Security and Cooperation (CSCE) in Europe? Yes it is; and this shows that there are at least two Europes, and that both are part of alliances which include non-European countries as well as European powers, or at any rate, powers in Europe. Is it the members of the Council of Europe? Yes it is; and thus it becomes apparent that the nations of Northern, Western and Southern Europe share little else than the (important) respect for human rights. Is it the members of the European Community? Yes it is; but what is this European Community to which many of its members stubbornly refer as a Common Market, Marché Commun, Gemeinsamer Markt?

The ambiguities of Europe, and of the European Community in particular, have given rise to two conclusions which have informed the foreign policy of powers, including the United States; yet both conclusions are wrong.

One conclusion is that since there is a European Community, however imperfect it may be, it is this Community rather than its individual members which must be regarded as a natural partner. In a pentagonal pattern of world power, "Europe" occupies one of the corners, and Europe as such means Brussels. The President of the United States greets the acting chairman of the Council of Ministers of the European Community not only as the head of his country's government, but also as the "leader of Europe." This not only embarrasses the man, but is also a manifestly incorrect description of somebody who holds an office for six months when it is his turn in the alphabetical order of countries. The leader of Europe may be a Monnet or a Spaak, a Hallstein or a Luns, and even a Churchill or a de Gasperi, but this is entirely a matter of an individual and his moment. There may be rare moments when the institutions of Brussels actually embody "Europe," but by and large such incarnation is a matter of charisma rather than position.

There is, however, another and in some sense the opposite mistake. It is true that the Nine, the members of the European Community, usually find it difficult to reach agreement; it is true also that there are many European countries aside from the Nine. From this it may appear that there is no identifiable entity called "Europe" at all, and that all that exists are individual nations. In some contexts, and for some countries, the inference is not incorrect. France has chosen a peculiar position vis-à-vis NATO; there are still traces of the "special relationship" between Britain and the United States, especially in the nuclear field; Germany has become a natural partner of the United States not only in international economic relations. But while this is so, and while the governments of the day may like to protest their national sovereignty and glorious independence, the fact remains that, more often than not, as Europeans they find themselves in the same boat and guided by the same attitudes, whether such community has been organized or not.

This then is the position of Europe as a world power - now you see it, now you don't, but it exists. At times its existence becomes manifest through the institutions of the European Community, at other times through other institutions (e.g., the Council of Europe, the Euro-Group of NATO); but more often its reality is latent, informing the attitudes and actions of governments as well as the general climate in which governments act. And despite the obvious weakness of European institutions, this Europe has become more rather than less real in recent years.

Such statements must sound metaphysical, or at least metapolitical, unless it is possible to say what the invisible Europe stands for. What is the specifically European contribution to the patterns of power in the world and their changes? This is no small question; it is in fact the question of what is the European interest. Perhaps the following five elements may be regarded as relatively widely recognized and clearly important.

1. Europe neither includes a superpower nor is it a superpower itself. While most countries of Europe have had their day as superpowers of past centuries or even decades, few if any serious politicians today entertain such dreams. There are some, to be sure, who like to think of Europe as a superpower; this, in fact, is the Gaullist dream, one which is held by some in Britain as well; but such a view is neither dominant nor particularly plausible. In fact, Europe consists of small and medium-sized powers. If it ever forms a community, it will have to be based on respect for small powers. This has restrictive consequences: in a world of superpower warfare, Europe will not be able to defend itself. It also has useful consequences: in a world of power dissipation, Europe is more likely to understand, and be appreciated by, other small nations than the superpowers, actual or potential.

2. Small and medium-sized nations cannot rely on a free-floating power game; they need institutions and international organizations. Direct relationships between centers of power always presuppose a degree of self-sufficiency. Small powers are not self-sufficient; they are interdependent with others in almost every aspect of their existence. This means that in the end the only guarantee of their survival is in the creation and observance of rules that bind nations. The countries of Europe may find it difficult to build their own community; but in so far as they have succeeded, such constructions were and are based on equality of all members. Europe has a natural interest in strengthening all other institutions in the field of economic and political relations, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

3. Europe's geographical position gives it a special interest in terms of security (and this applies to Europe in any sense of the term). Not being able to defend itself, it has to be protected by a superpower. Such need for protection, however, remains coupled with the desire for independence. This is why there is, in Europe, a manifest interest in détente both in the specific sense of superpower agreements on disarmament (with mutual and balanced force reductions [MBFR] high on the list), and in the general sense of the creation of a climate that extends the room for maneuver for individuals and for countries. This makes for a tense mixture of interests, and will do so for some time despite the changes in world patterns that are the main subject of this paper.

4. The countries of Europe vary widely not only in their tradition and culture, but also in their social, economic and political condition. This is clearly true in terms of the great divide of systems; but it is true on either side of the great divide as well. West European societies include the market economy of West Germany, the old étatisme of France and the new socialism of Britain as well as Scandinavian brands of social democracy, South European conflicts between traditional ruling groups and their subjects, and other variations. Recent economic developments have moved these countries further apart; the exchange rates tell the story. Indeed, it is conceivable that their internal variations will lead to what is sometimes called the balkanization of Europe, with individual arrangements in the absence of a recognized community of interest, a Bonn-Washington axis, an alliance of Latin socialists and communists, a strengthened Northern union, and Britain in self-imposed isolation. There is another, equally likely possibility, and that is that Europe will understand that there are many ways to happiness. Europe will thus provide a model of plurality against the natural inclination of the superpowers to dogmatize their own experience.

5. Europe's colonial past can be and has already been turned to advantage. Perhaps it can be said that the colonial experience of the European nations has now been superseded by an active development policy of the European Community. The agreements - first of Yaoundé, now of Lomé - are clearly on the credit side of European integration; they show that combination of understanding of the requirements and even the idiosyncrasies of developing countries with an insistence on economic viability that is most likely to be successful in a difficult period of North-South relations.

This then is the kind of syndrome that makes up the European interest: recognition of the role of small powers, the need for international organizations and institutions, desire for détente, appreciation of socioeconomic pluralism, and a special contribution to the world problem of development. But before I look at Europe in a wider perspective, a note of caution is in order. Power is more than interest; it is the will and the capacity to make one's interests felt, recognized, and eventually realized. Such will and capacity are still missing in Europe. While Europe was under conditions of continuous economic growth and persistent military threat there were signs of effective integration; détente and the recession of the 1970s have been accompanied by signs of disintegration. Since 1970, and even more so since its enlargement in 1973, the European Community has been stagnant and ineffective, except in protecting special interests. To some extent, the system of political cooperation that emerged from the Hague Summit of December 1969 has taken its place; but even political cooperation remains tenuous and unpredictable. While there is a European interest, it is expressed only sporadically and often in unexpected places. There was such an expression at the first CSCE at Helsinki, but not at the North-South dialogue at Nairobi; Europe makes itself felt at many U.N. occasions, but only rarely in the IMF; and sometimes, as at the recent London economic summit of world leaders, it is present without being allowed to speak. In short, Europe is still no more than a potential force in world politics.


But then, the world is not pentagonal, a neat pattern of five powers, which can arrange everything among themselves; nor is it a bipolar system any longer. It is, rather, a fluid field of (at least) two superimposed patterns. Perhaps it might be possible to describe this field as a process, as the gradual replacement of one pattern by another. But while the two exist side by side, the condition of world affairs is not only fluid, but also full of expected and unexpected dangers as well as opportunities. The two patterns that I have in mind are, of course, the familiar ones of the East-West conflict, which may be the war of the past, and the North-South conflict, which is likely to be the war of the future.

Before I pursue the analysis of this phenomenon any further, let me stress that I would not claim any scientific status for my argument; it is no more than one attempt to make sense of a confusing reality. The approach underlying my analysis is this: periods of history are dominated by particular themes and arenas of conflict. The theme of the last three decades has been military and political rather than economic; the arena was the battlefield of the cold war from Potsdam to the CSCE in Helsinki and now in Belgrade. However, history does not progress by the resolution of conflicts; even wars do not resolve conflicts; nor does "convergence" or any other mechanism. What happens is that a new conflict and a new arena emerge, begin to overshadow the old, and gradually reduce its relevance. While we are still - and rightly - discussing détente, we can already see many signs of a new economic theme of world conflict, and the arena is going to be that which is so misleadingly called North-South. (The geographical terminology betrays the degree to which our thinking is caught up in East-West categories; yet it is the very nature of the new conflict that there are no clear centers of power, quite apart from the fact that the majority of people in underdeveloped countries live North of the equator, and a few of the advanced industrialized [or OECD] countries, as well as most of those on the threshold to development, are in the South.) The period between two dominant patterns of conflict is particularly difficult to describe. There are those who would like to regard the new conflict in the old terms: development as a struggle between East and West for domination. There are those who ignore the old conflict at their peril, although it remains virulent. The attempt to avoid both pitfalls may not succeed.

The process of transition from the military to the economic theme of international relations is familiar, although its precise history has yet to be written. Ironically, it reached its first climax in connection with a military event, the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Whatever this war is remembered for in the Middle East, the rest of the world is more likely to think of the oil embargo, the rise in the price of energy, and the consequent aggravation of the impending recession. But the ascendancy of international economic relations began earlier, perhaps on August 15, 1971, when the United States gave notice to a system that had depended on its readiness to lead the rest of the developed world economically as well as militarily. The first rumblings of the North-South conflict should not be overlooked either: the second U.N. Conference on Trade and Development in 1968, for example, when there was the modest and only moderately convincing offer of generalized preferences to developing countries; the enlargement of the Club of Ten in the IMF into a Club of Twenty; the first skirmishes of the current GATT round of tariff reductions when it soon became clear that it could not be another Kennedy Round.

In the meantime, and in the shadow of such new developments, the old conflict between East and West continues to smolder. Indeed, in many parts of the world, the struggle between different social, political and economic systems is still the main issue. In Europe, the borderline between the systems remains tense and important, as a glance at the map shows: Berlin, dissidents ("Chartists") in Poland and Czechoslovakia, Hungary's relative independence, the future of Yugoslavia, Romania's walk on the tightrope, and Finland's for that matter. More generally, SALT II and MBFR, and even CSCE II, appear and are as important as the next step in UNCTAD, the follow-up of the world meetings on population and on agriculture, or even the North-South dialogue in Paris. And let it not be forgotten that there are overlaps between the patterns, not only because the East tends to vote with the Group of 77 in the United Nations, but also because it often aligns itself with them in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Yet I think that the basic thesis has much to support it. For 25 years, international relations were dominated by the conflict between two ways of getting rich: the (successful) way of offering incentives and trusting the market, and the (less successful) way of relying on force and trusting the plan. The incentive method led to the creation of affluent societies based on individual happiness and the opportunities offered by material prosperity. The force method has led to organized societies in which the good of the whole, as defined by small ruling groups, is put first, and individual welfare is contained by self-inflicted scarcity as well as the cost of bureaucracy and other "public" purposes. Both methods have turned out to be vulnerable, though it can be shown that the vulnerability of communist societies is much greater than that of liberal ones: suppression breeds revolution, democracy allows change. Still, it could be argued that both methods of getting rich carry the seeds of their own destruction within them.

However that may be, and even while the two processes continue, the scene and the theme of action change. Suddenly, the question is no longer how to get rich, but why the poor are poor. This is a familiar question, of course, familiar at least within societies. And it is not irrelevant to look back to the answers that were given in the middle of the nineteenth century: God wanted it this way, said the Calvinists; it is their own fault, said liberal moralists; and the Darwinists added that, after all, society, like nature, is a struggle in which the fittest must prevail. Before the 1880s, there was little indication of any genuine understanding of the problem posed by the poor to the whole of society, and the only instrument used to resolve it was consequently charity - development aid? The analogy may be misleading; most analogies are. But there is a sense in which we are moving from a struggle between two types of ruling class to an international class struggle between rich and poor, and that also means, from a struggle concerned with the instruments of power, domestic and external, to one concerning the basis of power, economic and political.

How did this shift of theme and arena of conflict happen, and what are its implications for the international distribution of power? I have already mentioned the oil shock of 1973. However, the roots of the process run much deeper. They lead us to the strange staleness of the nuclear stalemate, and to the explosive nature of economic development.

The United States and the Soviet Union each has the power to destroy mankind, and perhaps the planet on which we are living. This ultimate power will continue to be with us (and it may well fall into less responsible hands). But it has two important limitations. One is that its very ultimate character makes it impossible to use, indeed forces its holders to seek arrangements that will make it unnecessary to use it. The other limitation is that since this power is ultimate, it is a thing apart. The power to destroy the earth does not imply the power to run the earth. The possession of nuclear weapons on the superpower scale does not mean that the war in Vietnam can be won, or Egypt can be controlled, much less does it imply an economic order dominated by the dollar, or indeed the silent obedience of small and apparently powerless nations. The very extraordinary character of destructive weapons opens the ground for other types of international conflict, for example, limited wars, but, above all, for economic struggles.

This is where the explosive nature of economic development comes in. It is a familiar observation that Marx was wrong when he assumed that revolutions happen at the moment of greatest poverty and impotence of the suppressed. In fact, such extreme suppression creates lethargy. Revolutionary energies are released when things begin to improve, and when improvement raises some hope in the minds of those in need. It is, of course, an open question whether such social theories can be applied to the international scene as well; but they seem to account for otherwise surprising phenomena. As the poor countries emerge to some kind of minimal status by being recognized as nation-states and admitted to the United Nations, as the rich countries accept some responsibility for helping them, and as some of them begin to achieve a modicum of economic prosperity, they begin to demand more. To some extent, these demands are phrased in specific terms: a proportion of the GNP of the rich to go into aid, generalized tariff preferences without restriction, a fund to compensate for fluctuating prices for raw materials. Increasingly, however, specific demands are replaced by apparently more extravagant, though more serious demands for recognition. The struggle between richer and poorer nations takes on a more absolute character; it becomes a struggle for power.

So far, the results of this incipient struggle are scattered and indecisive. Clearly, the new pattern of international relations has diminished the role of the Soviet Union. In terms of international economic relations, the Soviet Union is almost irrelevant, because while it is counted among the rich by the developing world, it has neither the wealth nor the will to contribute to effective solutions of the problem of development. (In terms of the superimposition of two patterns of conflict, it may be argued that this makes the Soviet Union more incalculable, more likely to employ its means, especially arms, in cases of limited significance but great nuisance value.) In a sense, the new pattern has also diminished the role of the United States. While still the greatest world power, even in economic terms, it differs in degree rather than dimension from some other countries. It could be argued that former Treasury Secretary John Connally's wish of 1971 has come true, and the United States has become a country with the same rights and obligations as others.

However, the main result of the process of a historical change of subject is diffusion, and perhaps confusion. The old conflict is beginning to lose relevance, although it is still there and will be for a long time to come. The new conflict has no clear protagonists. China is too unlikely a leader of the small and the poor. In fact, the position of the poor is rather like that of Europe; sometimes they are represented by Libya's Qaddafi, sometimes by Venezuela's Perez Guérrero, sometimes by Tanzania's Nyerere, and there are many other candidates. Nor is the position of the other side very clear. When the leaders of the Big Seven industrialized countries meet, they discuss their domestic problems first and the North-South dialogue second. With respect to the latter, they have no very clear, and probably several different views. The structure of international power is thus neither bipolar nor pentagonal, but amorphous, although one can discern the forces which are likely to move it into a new pattern.


The only unambiguous conclusion that can be drawn from this analysis is almost too trite to state: there will be more conferences. Before it is said that one does not need much analysis to reach this conclusion, let me add one or two considerations to underline the prediction that the style of international relations in the years to come is not going to be one of direct diplomacy of an overall character. The number of actors is large, the degree of their cohesion is small, the definition of the situation is imprecise. Under such circumstances two things can happen. One is local or localized wars, "direct diplomacy" of a limited character. Since we are no longer concerned with one overriding military conflict between two superpowers, the repetition of the painful and useless experiences of Europe's history in other parts of the world is by no means unlikely. But this apart (or even included, if one considers some recent examples), multilateral negotiation is likely to be the style responding best to the circumstances described. While a cynical view of international organizations and conferences is spreading, both among those who have a lot to lose and among those who feel that they have not gained enough, this method of dealing with international conflict is in fact becoming more and more important.

To speak of many actors in this context, and indeed of an amorphous field of power, is a useful overstatement, but still an overstatement. Actors can be grouped in certain ways, and the characteristic problems of these groups analyzed notwithstanding the fact that the new distribution of power is not as clear and easy to understand as the old one was. There was the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact and its sphere of influence; there was the United States, its military alliances, and its sphere of influence; and there were the non-aligned nations, rarely very influential, largely bent on preserving their independence.

I am going to argue that the emerging pattern of power in an economic era of international conflict also has three main actors. Giving them names is more than a little misleading; I shall nevertheless do so and speak of the OECD countries, the threshold countries (many of which are members of OPEC), and the countries of the Group of 77. Membership of these groups overlaps to some extent; the differences within them are in some cases greater than differences between them; yet they are indicative of three types of positions in international economic relations: that of countries which have made it and achieved a high level of economic development and prosperity; that of those which have started along the road of development and have found resources to continue; and that of countries which still have a long way to go and may not get very far without major changes. Not all OECD countries are rich, nor are all rich countries in OECD, particularly if one includes the socialist countries in this category. Not all OPEC countries are nouveaux riches, and not all threshold countries, i.e. countries on or near the threshold to full development, are in OPEC; but the concept symbolizes a combination of potential and underdevelopment. Finally, the Group of 77 is quite a ragbag of nations, although it includes nearly all the poor countries of the world.

This is not the place to attempt any detailed analysis of the three collective actors of international conflict, or even of the conflict itself. But in order to assess the probable nature of patterns of power, it may be useful to identify one major question with which each of the groups is faced. The various specific issues, as we shall see, are related, and they add up to an alternative, which many are not yet taking seriously but which is probably going to occupy us for many years to come - the alternative of cooperation on the one hand, and confrontation on the other.

The notion of the Group of 77 in this context stands for countries that have not got the resources themselves to advance their economic, social and general development to any great extent; depending on demographic conditions, their socioeconomic situation will either be barely stable or improve very slightly; their relative position is in any case going to deteriorate in the foreseeable future. This group includes many African countries, the whole of South Asia, some Latin American countries, and a few islands. One need but list them to recognize not only the enormity of the problem, but also the differences in tradition, condition and even their prospects. It is clearly not possible to overlook these differences, but if it is permissible to ignore them for the purpose of this analysis, there is one question that all these countries will have to answer individually or collectively: will it be possible for them to find a gradualist way forward to better social and economic conditions, or will they (have to) choose revolutionary, i.e., confrontational and often violent means to assert their claims?

Perhaps this question should have included a third alternative, that of lethargy. On the face of it, it is not impossible that some of the Group of 77 countries, at least, will become a kind of international lumpenproletariat, too poor to fight, too hopeless to be of any systematic interest, a disturbing reminder of weaknesses of the system but not a force to be reckoned with. It seems unlikely, however, that this will be the position of many, let alone the majority of the countries in question. The more likely course is that most of them will find a relatively stable basis for growth, with a minimum level as a starting point, by a combination of external influences (on population, in technology), external aid, and internal force. (I have chosen this term deliberately here, as I did when I contrasted incentive and force earlier; whether there are non-socialist ways of creating the stable basis for growth in these countries must be at least doubtful, although of course there are degrees and mixtures.) From that minimum level, countries can either find opportunities for steady and noticeable improvement, or else they are likely to become a force for unrest and confrontation in international relations, allying themselves with whoever attacks the chosen enemy, and producing a revolutionary situation on a global scale. I realize that some leaders of Western countries take the view that developing countries are too weak and too dependent ever to take such a stance with any degree of conviction; but it may not be wrong to ponder the possibility before one gets too self-assured.

In what I called the old conflict, the third group of the nonaligned was really weak and defensive. In the new conflict (the patterns of which I am extrapolating as much as describing), the third group, or threshold countries, is both assertive and crucial. The threshold countries may hold only limited power today - although OPEC has shown that this has considerable factual and nuisance effects - but their choices will determine more than any other development what the world of tomorrow and the day after looks like. And these choices will revolve around one fundamental question: will the threshold countries gain access to the Club of the Rich and play a leading positive role in developing the world order, or will they find it necessary to form the vanguard of confrontation with the old rich?

The threshold countries have one thing in common apart from their condition of potential development, and that is that they are almost all, though in varying degrees, rather disagreeable in their political attitudes and circumstances. Although there are exceptions such as Venezuela, there is hardly a democracy among them, and there are few that respect the rule of law as we would like to see it respected. They are more likely to be neo-feudal states or military dictatorships accommodating large transnational firms and combining incentives for the chosen few with discipline for the unasked many, than to be either liberal or socialist. They betray in their political order the mixture of potential and actual conditions characteristic of their economic circumstances. Yet they are not only potentially rich, but also potentially powerful, for example, possible future members of the nuclear club as well as owners of petrodollars: Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, Algeria, to mention but a few.

So far, indications are that the threshold or OPEC countries want to join the Club of the Rich, occasional confrontations notwithstanding. Indeed, rapid growth with large profits in the hands of a few, but some improvement for all, is the order of the day in many of these countries. Their support for what I called the Group of 77 consists of words and conscience money. But then, the Club of the Rich is ambivalent in its attitude toward these countries; and their domestic social circumstances are in every case tense and fraught with explosive potential. Contrary to the Group of 77, the threshold countries doubtless realize that they have the weapons to make life very unpleasant for the OECD world. Conditions are conceivable under which this would lead some, or all of them, to choose a confrontation course that would be welcomed by the Group of 77, however divergent their objectives may remain. If the threshold countries become members of the Club of the Rich, this is likely to be accompanied by internal changes and to hold out opportunities for development for those who have not yet reached the threshold. If, on the other hand, this path should turn out to be too difficult or even blocked, the ensuing conflict could lead to clashes compared to which the history of industrial relations is child's play.

I have thought for some time that the most important practical task for the OECD countries is to sort out their attitude toward the threshold countries, without hypocrisy but without misplaced moralism as well. This, however, is merely a part of the more general question with which the OECD countries are faced in a new pattern of world power: will they find it possible to accommodate changes even if these detract from their monopoly of wealth and power, or will they turn protectionist and defensive and thus contribute to making a tense situation explosive? Like the other groups, the OECD countries are by no means homogeneous. For one thing, they have themselves crossed the threshold to development at quite different times, and some of the Latin European countries are not that far removed from the more advanced threshold countries. For another thing, a new debate about first principles is raging in the OECD countries, with incentive systems being criticized, while discipline systems are rejected; this is one of the internal problems that is going to contribute to the answer given to the question I have raised here.

At this stage, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the OECD countries behave like most monopolists: they defend their power and give way only under duress or where they feel that this is on balance in their favor. This leads to apparently paradoxical attitudes, such as the demand for rights for transnational companies coupled with a rejection of the transfer of certain technologies, or the insistence on more development aid coupled with resistance against generalized preferences (which, of course, especially benefit the threshold countries). Such inconsistencies cannot last very long, especially if their hidden rationale is to keep the doors to the Club of the Rich closed. In the long term, and even in the medium term, it may be a matter of survival for the OECD countries to apply to the international conflicts of the future the openness for change which they have so effectively used to regulate their internal conflicts.

But these are large and speculative questions. Many of them are, as I have indicated, extrapolations from present conditions. Differences have been ignored, if not overlooked. Above all, this anticipation of the new conflict seems to contradict the main thesis of this paper, i.e., the amorphous and fluid state of international affairs at a time when several areas of conflict overlap, and local and worldwide clashes occur side by side. If conferences are the style of international relations in the years to come, their substance is likely to be confused. Probably the questions raised in this section are going to be an element in them, but so are East-West issues, and several others. Perhaps this is a time in which the world, like Europe, needs people who manage to define the situation in a manner which offers opportunities for development, so that we do not slip into explosions which nobody has desired, but which nobody can control either.


The upshot of this analysis must look like an ironic reversal of some of its assumptions. It is that, in all the amorphousness of patterns and confusion of trends, the one power on which responsibility falls to an unusual extent will be the United States of America. The United States is still the only identifiable center of gravity in all respects. America will not dominate the world, but it will color its developments in one way or another. America will not be able to determine the course of things, but the course of things will unfold around its position. The United States will be, in the years to come, a power sine qua non.

To make this conclusion plausible, let me take another look at the position of Europe. At first sight, Europe is a more likely candidate for the crystallization of a new power than the United States, let alone the Soviet Union. Contrary to both of them, it is not tainted by a history as a superpower; it is likely to understand the needs and demands of many small and medium-sized nations; it is bound by interest to trust international rules and arrangements; it has a traditional understanding of the plight of development. The European interest looks almost tailor-made for the condition of the future.

But, as I set out to explain, power is more than interest; it is interest used. And here, Europe has signally failed to make its mark. More than that, the history of the last decade is one of decreasing rather than increasing integration in Europe. The reasons for this are many. They have to do with the Cartesian quality of the original construction of Europe, which was bound to founder one day on the more Humean qualities of reality. They have to do with the end of a long period of economic growth, and the reawakening of protectionism and nationalism under pressure. They have to do also with a remarkable lack of imagination and will among Europe's leading politicians. But they have to do, above all, with Europe's inability to work out its relationship with the United States - an inability, to be sure, which is not simply the failure of individuals but built into the condition of the partners.

This is not the place to recount the tortuous story of events that led - or rather, should have led - from a partnership with an undisputed senior and an equally undisputed junior partner to one of fundamental equality on the basis of complementary strengths. It is a story as rich in dramatic incidents as it is poor in political substance. The more important question in our context is what went wrong in this process. Why is it that Europe and the United States have been unable to develop a mature and firm partnership? There is one fundamental answer to this question: different European countries have interpreted their interest (the European interest?) in relation to the United States differently. But it is important to pursue this answer into the problem areas of the relationship.

There is, first of all, defense. A mature partnership would imply recognition of the fact that an alliance is the basis of European security in which the United States will continue to be the senior partner for a long time to come. Germany has seen and accepted this fact, not least because it is most immediately involved in what I have called the old conflict. France must have seen the facts but has insisted on a dangerous prestige game with the alliance, which gave the appearance at least of a basic doubt of the need for the senior partner. It is not irrelevant in this context that numerous European idealists, including most recently the Belgian Prime Minister Leo Tindemans in his report, have toyed with the old idea of a European defense community, without apparently realizing fully that under modern technological conditions a NATO structure, which recognizes the special interest and contributions made by Europe, is the most one can sensibly hope for.

Then there is the question of the OECD economic order, that is, the politico-economic rules by which the developed countries themselves feel bound. The Kennedy Round was probably the last occasion at which the OECD world displayed a common interest, and the interest was common because of the economic climate of the 1950s and 1960s. Since then, such a community has been hard to bring about, and I would include the unloved Smithsonian monetary agreement in this statement. While Germany and the Netherlands are free traders (within limits and with the certain exception of agriculture), France and Italy are not, and Britain is well under way from the former to the latter position. At times it seems that European countries can agree on international economic matters only if defensive solutions are proposed: the protection of textiles, the demand for restraint by Japanese electronics exporters. The division between members and non-members of the monetary "snake" is deeper than any delimitation of interest between Europe and the United States.

Such differences obviously spill over into issues of development aid, and development policy generally. It is striking to what extent domestic socioeconomic considerations are reflected in this issue, as are straight political interests. Like the United States, Germany insists on the value of the market mechanism for all, including the poor raw material producers. France, on the other hand, finds it easier in terms of its own economic tradition to understand the desire on the part of developing countries to have security rather than the chance of unusual profits in good years. This led to the confusion reflected at Nairobi, and in the North-South dialogue, barely papered over by occasional agreements on formulae or even on funds.

The result of such European divergences is familiar from other analyses: the countries of Europe are moving further apart rather than closer together. Let me leave no doubt about my own view in this matter. I believe that there is not only a genuine European interest, but that it would in fact be in the interest of the countries of Europe if they defined their position toward the United States in defense, international economic matters, and development problems together and jointly. It is not unlikely that such a joint definition would be closer to the present French position than to that of Germany, although I would hope that it would be genuinely mature, that is, free of unnecessary prestige games and irrational hostilities. In theory at least, the United States and Europe could be the two pillars of the free world, pursuing in their different ways goals that are compatible in essentials. But in practice that is not what is happening. With exchange rates, growth rates and inflation rates, the political attitudes of European countries are moving apart. The idea of Europe moves more and more into the realm of fiction, of dreams.

In international terms this means of course that some European countries, and notably Germany, enter into an even closer relationship with the United States than existed in the past. It is a senior-junior partnership, to be sure, in which the junior partner asks the senior not only to defend him but also to keep the dollar stable. Other European countries drift away into a kind of intermediate socioeconomic condition with only occasional and localized political influence in the world.

There is, as a result, much instability in Europe. Eurocommunism threatens an orthodox Soviet view of communism as much as a traditional Western view of Europe. In some countries, the desire to opt out of alliances altogether begins to grow. I have always understood balkanization to mean that a relatively small geographical area is split up into many parts that find no common denominator and, therefore, tend to go in all directions in unpredictable ways, thus presenting a picture of extreme volatility. This, as I said earlier, is certainly a European possibility today.

The conclusion I anticipated at the beginning of this section will now be understandable. The old conflict, which is no longer dominant but still with us, was military and political and had the United States and the Soviet Union as its main actors. The new conflict, which is not yet dominant, has the OECD countries and the developing countries as its main actors. Neither side is as yet clearly organized, but the disorganization of the OECD countries is such that no mature partner for the United States has emerged, nor is one likely to emerge in the foreseeable future. One may regret or salute this fact, but it means in any case that the United States is in a position of unusual responsibility in both patterns that determine the future of international relations - not perhaps a super-superpower, but an unmistakable power tous azimuts. It is therefore a matter of much more than local interest whether that great country will effect the transition from the arrogance of power in the 1960s to the responsibility of power in the 1980s.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Ralf Dahrendorf has been Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science since 1974. He was a member of the Commission of the European Communities from 1970 to 74, Parliamentary Secretary of State in the West German Foreign Office in 1969-70, and previously Professor of Sociology at various universities. He is the author of The New Liberty: Survival and Justice in a Changing World, and other works.
  • More By Ralf Dahrendorf