To the Editor:
John Mearsheimer, despite prodigious use of the word "probably," presents a wholly implausible view of the security dangers allegedly looming in Europe and Northeast Asia ("The Future of the American Pacifier," September/October 2001).
Only from a great distance could Northeast Asia appear "stable and peaceful," with "benign" power structures in place -- so great a distance that North Korea, in particular, would altogether disappear from the picture, as it in fact did from his article. Nor does Mearsheimer's image of today's Europe as bipolar, "with the United States and Russia as the poles" bear any closer resemblance to reality. Could Russia, with a life expectancy equivalent to that of sub-Saharan Africa and falling, be regarded as a pole of anything now or in the foreseeable future? This is 2001, not 1981.
There is more than a whiff of Cold War thinking in Mearsheimer's infatuation with nuclear weaponry as the supposed determinant of power and security -- an infatuation happily not prevalent in Europe or, more important, China and Japan. According to him, "if the United States removed its security umbrella from over western Europe, Germany would likely move to acquire its own nuclear arsenal," for its "elites" allegedly recognized nuclear weapons as an excellent deterrent during the Cold War. The opposite is true: German and other western European elites recognized nuclear arsenals as the problem rather than the solution and have learned to act accordingly.
If the "American pacifier" of Europe is removed, Mearsheimer maintains, "Germany would probably increase the size of its army and certainly would be more inclined to try to dominate central Europe" to prevent its domination by mighty Russia, whereupon France would gang up with Russia and increase its own defense spending to protect itself from Germany. Is this the France that has come so close to Germany as to have the same currency? Will it finance its defense spending with loans from the European Central Bank in Frankfurt? The European Union, too, is notable in Mearsheimer's analysis for its absence, as is NATO. There are enough real problems with the security of Europe and Northeast Asia to concern the United States; it need not worry about imaginary ones.
Senior Research Fellow, Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and National Security Archive