Friday, April 15

Diversity for me but not for thee: American Atlanticism vs European Continentalism

The following conversation at RT's CrossTalk (moderated by Peter Lavelle), featuring Michael Vlahos, George Szamuley and Richard Sakwa, can be a little hard for non-European readers to follow unless they're a close student of NATO-European affairs -- or faithful listeners to John Batchelor's Tuesday night talks with Stephen F. Cohen during the past three years. But if you stick with the 24 minute discussion, you'll be able to look back a year from now and realize you were in on the ground floor of the defining geopolitical-philosophical development of the present era.

I have one quibble with Vlahos's observations. He terms the American geopolitical view as the application of "American exceptionalism" and claims that this exceptionalism has meant America demands that other countries submit to its viewpoint.  I wouldn't call that exceptionalism; I think "totalitarianism" is a bit closer.  

But whatever one wants to term it, the defense/foreign relations of the U.S. government has been to promote a mixture of economic policy (often called neoliberalism or the Washington Consensus) and a 'freedom agenda' that while hailing 'human rights' actually steamrolls diversity. Eastern Europe, as Vlahos (and Sakwa) explains, is a case in point. The region has been reduced by the American defense policy mindset from a place of incredible geopolitical and cultural diversity to "free" or "relatively unfree" and "economically developed" or "underdeveloped."  

The big news starting to emerge in Europe, as Richard Sakwa's part of the CrossTalk discussion makes clear, is that Europeans are now looking hard at how America policymakers look at them and starting to realize that being part of NATO has meant supporting "American Atlanticism" at the increasing expense of "European Continentalism." 

It was the Ukraine crisis, NATO and specifically America's very large part in creating it, that finally prompted the rest of Europe to confront a situation they'd staved off dealing with since the end of the Soviet Union.    

That's enough introduction beyond noting that I haven't seen the specific Guardian article by Sakwa that Vlahos credits but this one, published at the Guardian in March, serves as an introduction to Sakwa's book, which seems to be getting a great deal of attention in Europe and Russia. Vlahos's interest in it suggests it's also getting attention from deep thinkers in defense circles on this side of the Atlantic. (Vlahos is American.) So you might want to read the article before watching the Crosstalk discussion.  

Finally, I think the CrossTalk discussion has disturbing implications for America's approach to Syria -- for America's approach to problem-solving, period, when it comes to other countries. Diversity is fine for Americans, but if countries don't want to do things the American way, then diversity translates for them into U.S.-instigated balkanization.         

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