Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew School of International Affairs, has written a stern piece on how Europe just “does not get it” in three strategic areas.
The greatest strategic challenge to Europe is the Islamic one. It exists within the body politic of many European societies. And the fastest-rising Islamic demographic is on Europe’s doorstep. Europe should, therefore, see it in its long-term interest to defuse Islamic anger. Instead, it has shown moral cowardice on the Israel-Palestine issue, refusing even to admit that an unbalanced American policy will hurt European interests more than American interests. No major European leader has the moral courage to speak truth to power on this issue.
Europe’s second error is to ignore its No. 1 strategic opportunity: Asia. [Asians] do expect Europeans to treat them with respect, not cultural condescension. This is another thing Europeans do not get. The protests in European capitals before the Beijing Olympics, the efforts to dictate human-rights clauses in the India-E.U. cooperation agreement and the obsession with Burma show both a lack of sensitivity and of strategic thinking. If Europe does not act fast, it will miss the boat on Asia.
The third strategic error is to remain obsessed with the transatlantic relationship. It is difficult to capture in a few words the strange mix of European attitudes towards America: admiration and resentment of American hyperpower, respect and condescension towards U.S. culture, dependence on and discomfort with American leadership. At the core of this is a deep European belief that culture is destiny and that the common Judeo-Christian heritage and common Enlightenment values will ensure an eternal commonality of interests. America will always put Europe first because Europe, not Asia, exists in American hearts.
Over the long run, geography — when combined with economic shifts of power — determines destiny. America’s interests in Asia are rising while its interests in Europe are declining. A growing Hispanic population will make Latin America more important. This is why the time has come for Europeans to think the unthinkable: the “natural” transatlantic partnership may someday come to an end.
The question now begs, is the perceived decline in European power in the global geo-political sphere a result of actual power decline, or simply a lack of nuance and strategic foresight when it comes to soft power management?
As an example of our limited soft power, consider that when I ask people around the world, what ‘Europe’ means for them, I am always surprised how little they mention social democracy, or human rights, or even ‘the good life’. Overwhelmingly, the most common response is a memory of European colonial rule, and an abiding sense of our satisfied self-superiority. While Europeans mark history by 1918, 1945, and 1989, the rest of the world still remembers 1842, 1857, and 1884, and always will. Many opportunities have come and gone to draw a line under the past, yet many see Europe as a closed fortress offering few opportunities for integration or innovation.
And does it require a shift of attitudes from self-satisfied superiority that extends to the way it interacts with the rest of the world?
What the wretched of the earth want is not our money, but our respect. We pay out aid unrelentingly, but barely consider whether the money is spent effectively, or the distortions we introduce into local politics, and this demonstrates an even greater contempt than to give nothing at all. We have yet to learn the lesson of China’s diplomatic success in Africa, which is that developing nations are less interested in process than achieving results.