In the Transatlantic Gap
No. 4 2004 October/December

The March
2004 parliamentary election in Spain caused a further widening of
the much-discussed gap between the U.S.A. and the member states of
the EU. The decision by the new Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero
to pull out from Iraq the nearly 1,400 Spanish troops – a
controversial, yet highly popular, promise fulfilled only two
months after the election – re-opened the rift which developed
between Washington and a number of West European capitals, most
notably Paris and Berlin, in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion
of Iraq.


deciding to abandon the U.S.-led military operation, the Spanish
voters not only questioned the legitimacy of this particular war,
they also brought back to the agenda a much more fundamental issue.
Most basically, this issue is about worldviews. It is about the way
in which international politics is conducted. It is about means and
ends. It is about the definition and use of power. And it is about
the position of other states within this debate.




transatlantic gap has been best captured perhaps by Robert Kagan’s
now-famous metaphor – that “Americans are from Mars and Europeans
are from Venus.” As a result of its continuous military decline
begun with the outbreak of World War I, so Kagan argues,“Europe is
moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules
and transnational negotiation and cooperation. Meanwhile, the
United States remains mired in history, exercising power in an
anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are
unreliable, and where true security and the defense and promotion
of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of
military might.”


For Kagan,
this uneven growth in military capabilities is both cause and
consequence. It happened as a result of European weakness but the
process was further accelerated as the states involved in the
post-World War II European project decided to take full advantage
of the U.S. military superiority, allowing them to adopt an
inward-looking posture. As the U.S.A. developed and maintained its
security umbrella, the West European states introduced and
gradually reinforced their own and new approach to the
understanding of security, war and peace, conflict prevention and
resolution and, essentially, to the conduct of interstate


This EU
approach is what Robert Cooper has referred to as “the postmodern
order.” Among the defining elements of this world is a breakdown of
the traditional foreign-domestic policy separation, an increase in
the monitoring of and interference in each other’s affairs, a
growing irrelevance of state borders, a rejection of the use of
force to settle disputes as well as a deliberate increase in mutual
dependence and vulnerability.


suggests that this process has caused the U.S.A. and Europe to
drift still further apart. Other writers agree with this. They also
find two different worlds separated by conflicting and rivaling
approaches to a whole list of other issues related to policymaking
as well as to the fundamental nature of the relationship between
state and citizen: from basic economic principles over social
welfare systems and the responsibility of the individual to crime
and punishment and political discourse.


As seen
from Western Europe, the U.S.A. is a country of unrestricted
laissez-faire capitalism, large and unjustifiable income
inequalities, an untamed consumer culture, an unjust and cruel
penal system as well as “cowboy” rhetoric of black and white. As
seen from the U.S.A., Western Europe is an area in which
centralization and excessive state control rule, where incentives
are not provided for personal initiative and growth, criminals are
hardly distinguished from their victims and the discourse is built
on meaningless “Euro-speak” designed to avoid any kind of




Where does
all of this leave Russia? Cooper is not fully sure how to answer
this question. As he explains it, “Russia poses an important
problem. Is it going to be a pre-modern, modern or postmodern
state? It embodies all three possibilities”, adding that there
clearly are “postmodern elements in Russia trying to get out.”
Whatever the signs of an earlier Russian regression toward a
pre-modern world characterized by chaos and a lack of central
authority, this undoubtedly has been more than fully reversed by
the strengthening in recent years of the institutions of the
state.  This leaves us, then, with the
modern and the postmodern worlds or, put differently, with the
worlds of Mars and Venus, respectively.


Writing in
International Affairs in 2003, Vladislav Inozemtsev also identified
a divide – and even an increase in tension – between the U.S.A. and
the EU member states and he suggested that for Russia, “the time
has come to choose.” In Inozemtsev’s view, the choice is easily
made – it will have to be the EU. When taken, this step will
“confirm [Russia’s] readiness to abandon [its] hegemonic aims and
to pursue [the] peaceful and balanced policy that the European
Union is consistently realizing.” In other words, since Russia
basically has a “Venus-like” identity, it should align itself with
the EU.


I doubt
this. As Cooper, I see “postmodern elements … trying to get out,”
but I also see strong evidence of a modern world. It is important
to point out that this is not meant to imply that Russian policies
are less “right” or more “wrong” than they would have been if
framed in a different way. In his work, Kagan explicitly warns that
“the incapacity to respond to threats leads not only to tolerance.
It can also lead to denial.”


It is
clear, for instance, that a failure on part of the EU member states
to recognize different kinds of threats – and, as a consequence of
this, a failure to deal with them – can obviously do great harm. To
illustrate, following the Nord-Ost tragedy in October 2002,
commentaries appeared in the Russian media suggesting that Europe –
with the notable exception of the UK – has developed a habit of
turning a blind eye to the threat of international terrorism. And
what is even more, instead of recognizing the problem, postmodern
Europe actually takes the liberty of criticizing other states, for
instance Russia and the U.S.A., for actively addressing the


To Russian
critics, this interpretation seems even truer after the September
2004 terrorist attack on school No. 1 in Beslan. After the
unsuccessful rescue operation, the EU presidency, in the second
half of 2004 held by the Netherlands, expressed its condolences but
then added that it “would like to know from the Russian authorities
how this tragedy could have happened.” Not surprisingly, the
Russian Foreign Ministry reacted with a combination of horror and
disbelief, labelling the EU statement “blasphemous.”


On a
number of key points – power, the national interest and state
sovereignty – I believe that Russia has more in common with the
U.S.A. than with the EU member states. Most central, perhaps, is
the understanding of the concept of “power.” As Daniel Nelson makes
it clear, for the U.S. public and policymakers, it “still tells it
all.” This is why the U.S.A. exercises its overwhelming power,
defined here most importantly as military capabilities but
including also, for instance, economic strength, with little
hesitancy if it finds that the situation requires so. Moreover, it
is perfectly willing to “go it alone,” that is, without the
legitimacy of a UN resolution or even without the support and
understanding of its allies.


This is
not the approach of the EU member states. They rely instead on a
complex web composed of institutions and the norms underlying these
to solve current crisis situations and to prevent future outbreak
of conflict. And they see these institutions as ultimate bearers of
legitimacy. This serves to explain the strong opposition among some
of the EU member states to the war in Iraq. Without a UN mandate,
so the well-known argument goes, the U.S.-led coalition which
toppled Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath regime not only was
illegitimate – what is worse, it undermined the authority and
influence of the UN, our best hope for a world order based on law
rather than power.


Russia joined these critics in their opposition to the war, its use
of the same argument about the need for the UN to sanction any
military operation against other states rang a little hollow.
Russian involvement throughout the CIS space has been far from a
complete reflection of this principle. On the contrary, if national
interests are believed to be at stake, as has been the case, for
instance, when Chechen terrorists have found refuge in the Pankisi
Gorge, Russia has also proven itself willing to go against the
international community by undertaking unilateral military


policy of pre-emption was first codified in the Military
Modernization Strategy unveiled by President Vladimir Putin in
October 2003 – a year after the U.S. National Security Strategy had
also made pre-emption a cornerstone of Washington’s approach to the
post-11 September world. The new document warns that a situation
may develop where Russia will have to launch pre-emptive strikes
against military threats developing in weak and unstable states
around its borders. And the strategy of unilateralism was given
even greater attention after the Beslan siege when the defense
establishment announced that Russia reserves the right to “use all
means in the destruction of terrorist bases in any part of the


While this
announcement sparked a heated debate within the country, it is
important to note that what is being discussed is not so much the
ethics of a universal pre-emption strategy as the feasibility of
it. The question, in other words, is not whether Russia should but
rather whether it can do this.  This
should not surprise us; there is, indeed, little doubt that if
strikes were carried out against targets identified as threats to
the security of the state – in the style of the 1981 Israeli attack
on the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor or the recent wave of
assassinations of Palestinian militants – a large majority of
Russians would support this.


While this
would seem to suggest that the Russian population is more
“trigger-happy” than its neighbors in postmodern Europe, the point
that should be made is rather that, despite all the problems of the
post-Soviet era, it still has the “approach and psychology of the
strong and capable.” As late as two decades ago, Russia formed the
core of the other superpower and this experience of unprecedented
power has left a line of thinking which is much more American than
it is European. Russia, to put it differently, is a reduced state
with the mentality of a much greater power.


This links
to the second point – the understanding of “the national interest.”
In the U.S.A., a relatively clear idea exists of a hierarchy in
which “vital” is placed at the top. This view lies behind the
objective of the U.S.A. to preserve its present lead in the world
by frustrating any attempt by any potential challenger to weaken
that position of almost unrivalled dominance. The objective is
first and foremost to ensure that the U.S.A. cannot be

or economically.


In Europe,
by contrast, this traditional hierarchy does not exist anymore.
There, instead, the national interest is defended through the
promotion of multilateral institutions, the strengthening of
supranational decision-making procedures and, essentially, the
weakening of state sovereignty. The philosophy behind this is
simple – the participating states agree to tie each other down,
thereby reducing the political freedom of all.


This can
hardly be described as the Russian way. As in the U.S.A., a
hierarchy topped by “high politics” still seems to exist. The
National Security Doctrine does talk at great length about
non-military issues but there is still a feeling, for instance,
that the economic development identified as a key priority serves a
purpose larger than merely social wellbeing. This means that while
economic prosperity is important in itself, its ultimate value
depends on the extent to which it can be translated into power and,
as part of this, into military capabilities and economic strength.
Luxembourg has a per capita income nearly seven times that of
Russia but its voice can hardly be heard on the international
arena. The state has to be admired, respected or perhaps even
feared. In short, it has to make a difference in the life of


the policy of voluntarily raising mutual dependence and
vulnerability also runs counter to basic Russian thinking about
policymaking. It is in the interest of the state to maintain, if
not to maximize, its freedom of action, not to hand it over to
other states. A central pillar of this postmodern policy is a
fuller division of labor whereby states specialize in areas where
they enjoy a competitive advantage and then leave it to others to
develop industries where they are less competitive.


Putin has
repeatedly emphasized the need for Russia to join more unreservedly
the international division of labor in order to secure economic
growth but at the same time it is clear that there is a
limit.  The line is hard to draw but
an indication was offered when Sergei Karaganov, true to his
realist core, in early 2000 advised the then-acting president to
work for an “intelligent integration of Russia into the world
economy.”  To paraphrase Robert
Gilpin’s well-known warning against international cooperation, for
Karaganov it is clearly not without importance whether Russia
“produces computer chips or potato chips.” The line has to be drawn
before Russia grows too dependent on others or becomes too
vulnerable to external changes. Again, it is not in the national
interest to allow a situation to emerge where other states can
apply pressure to influence policymaking in Russia.


links, then, to the third point – the understanding of “state
sovereignty”. Here the difference between the worlds of Mars and
Venus is well-illustrated by the controversy over the establishment
and jurisdiction of the ICC. The U.S.A. is not a signatory to the
treaty – in fact, in the Senate the bill failed to find even a
single vote of support – and from the UN Security Council it later
secured immunity for its peacekeeping troops from prosecution by
the Court. Demonstrating this Martian character even more clearly,
when in June 2004 the U.S.A. had to give up its hopes of having the
immunity clause renewed in the Security Council, the U.S. House of
Representatives immediately passed a bill threatening with
sanctions on economic aid those states that still reserve the right
to try American citizens at the ICC. This adds to a similar ban on
military aid passed in 2003 – and it shows that the U.S.A. is
willing to flex its muscles even in sensitive cases where its
allies are working for a different outcome.


contrasts sharply, of course, with the strong support among the EU
member states for the ICC. In fact, when in 2003 the UN Security
Council decided to grant immunity to the U.S. peacekeepers for one
year, both France and Germany abstained. It was, so a German
diplomat explained, “a matter of principle.” That principle is the
postmodern vision of a world where states not only allow but even
welcome outside interference in the belief that shared sovereignty
will reduce the likelihood of conflict. And although the draft
constitution released in 2003 was a disappointment for European
federalists, with suggestions about an increase in majority voting,
an expansion of the powers of the European Parliament,
harmonization of social rights, the creation of a single legal
entity and even hints that the Union should develop its own tax
base, the future will clearly see more, not less,


Russia, such a development is anathema. The CIS has never reached
the stage of pooled sovereignty and it seems highly unlikely that
Russia would ever put itself in the situation of the “Big Three” –
France, Germany and the UK – each of which faces the risk of being
pushed around by a combination of smaller European states. Not even
if, potentially, it could bring rewards in the form of greater
control over the CIS space. In fact, so Fyodor Lukyanov recently
pointed out, Russia guards its sovereignty with such jealousy that
it may even impede the development of a closer Russia-EU
relationship. Today’s Russia, so he explains, will not “share its
sovereignty with anyone (…), it does not intend to adopt European
legislation to any significant extent and it will not make human
rights a policy priority.” It is clear, so the conclusion says,
that Russia and the EU “envision different political and economic

When seen
in this light of fundamental differences, the Russian opposition to
the ICC is a minor issue. It still carries symbolic weight,
however, as it illustrates the modern thinking of the country.
Russia signed the Statute of the ICC already in 2000 but it has
remained unratified as critics have warned that the lack of
immunity for individual figures – principally in the executive and
legislative branches – could prove damaging. This fear, needless to
say, primarily links to the Russian military conduct in


It could,
of course, also be suspected that Russia is simply waiting “to
sell” its ratification of the ICC Statute by linking it to
concessions received elsewhere – not unlike the apparent strategy
of stalling the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol until adequate
compensation has been offered. Such a policy would, of course,
strongly contradict the policymaking principles of the postmodern


these speculations, the possibility that the ICC should one day
open cases related to events in Chechnya indeed is very small.
Russia is insisting still more adamantly that the international
community should not interfere in what is seen as an internal
matter – especially since the outside world is found to
misunderstand both the background to, as well as the dynamics of,
the campaign in Chechnya.


criticism has been heard especially among states forming part of
the EU. For some, this is proof of the superior worldview and
organization of the postmodern state where “the individual has won”
by pushing the interests of the collectivity and the state itself
into the background. For others, it is a clear indication that the
postmodern state simply occupies a different world. This world, to
return to Kagan’s description, is “a post-historical paradise of
peace and relative prosperity.” And it is a world that is seen to
be quite unlike the scene on which a majority of Russians play out
their daily lives.




There is a
possibility that Russia can actually benefit from the gap between
the U.S.A. and Western Europe. This development, however, seems
preconditioned on one thing – that the two parties do not formulate
requests of absolute homogeneity between themselves and the states
with which they cooperate.


Such a
tendency has been observable and this is something that is worrying
for most states, not just for Russia. Thus, the 11 September
attacks led U.S. President George W. Bush to famously declare that
“either you are with us or you are against us,” a clear indication
that in this new security environment the U.S.A. is judging other
states by the extent to which they share Washington’s
interpretation of what constitutes “good” and “evil,” “right” and
“wrong.” At the same time, as the 2004 enlargement drew closer, the
EU began to criticize a number of states, including Russia, in more
direct terms. And this suggests that Brussels is now looking to
raise the threshold for what it is willing to see as “acceptable”
behavior. The U.S.A., in other words, is emphasizing the importance
of power (as well as the legitimacy of the use of it) while the EU
member states are stressing the need to act within a multilateral
framework and to observe agreed-upon rules of behavior,
domestically as well as internationally.


struggle over who will set the international agenda is between two
dominating centers of power but it is important to keep in mind
that without additional support both will stand alone as the rules
of the international game are laid down. The above scenario in
which third states are forced to either “follow the lead or face
the consequences“ therefore seems more likely to be replaced by one
in which there is still some room for maneuver. As shown in the
Iraqi war (build-up, fighting and aftermath), neither side is
impervious to criticism. Moral support – especially from major
states within the international system – may help legitimize the
worldviews being advocated.


Russia, this promises to offer opportunities. As key elements of
the modern identity are shared with the U.S.A., cooperation with
this state should be less problematic. This is even more so since
Washington is clearly struggling to convince the international
community, firstly, that the Iraqi war was a just war and,
secondly, that in the post-11 September security environment,
pre-emption and the use of force without the backing of the UN
Security Council are both defensible.


possible rewards may come in a wide range of shapes and sizes –
from missile defense concessions over economic cooperation and
support for Russian WTO membership to silence over Chechnya and the
so-called ‘managed democracy.’ Of particular interest here,
however, would be a recognition that Russia is not an international
‘misfit.’ In the West, the past decade has witnessed strong
attempts by critics on the right (motivated by a fear of Russian
influence) as well as on the left (motivated by a dislike of
liberal democracy) to stigmatize Russia. The country has, simply
put, been excluded from Western ‘normalcy.’


however, two prominent U.S. scholars, Andrei Shleifer and Daniel
Treisman, openly declared that Russia is now “a normal country.” By
itself, such a statement is not a guarantee that in the future
Russia will also be regarded as such. What it does suggest,
however, is the development in the U.S.A. of a more positive
assessment of Russia. There are three main reasons for this – two
rationalist and one ideational.


for Russia, this recognition would be a valuable and
much-appreciated reward for its support in the fight for the
principles of the modern world.

since the U.S.A. is also fighting for the same principles, it has
an obvious interest in equating these with ‘normalcy.’ The modern
world, in other words, has to be presented as fully equal – in
terms of legitimacy – to the postmodern one. And the greater the
number of states subscribing to the postmodern principles, the
easier this task will be.


The final
reason is that Russia simply appears more ‘normal’ when viewed from
the U.S.A. than when viewed from Europe. Since key characteristics
are shared by the two states, the Russian approach to policymaking
is more in tune with the U.S. understanding of the “acceptable”
behavior mentioned earlier. Moreover, it could be added that in its
internal set-up (politically, economically and socially), Russia is
closer to the U.S. model than to the consensus-seeking,
state-controlled cradle-to-grave system found among the EU member
states. And so, while these latter remain critical of the ‘Russian
way,’ with a growing U.S. stamp of approval, they may find it still
harder to insist that Moscow should follow their lead. As the
U.S.A. is put on the defensive, the EU is gaining strength. While
this would seem to suggest that the member states be more adamant
about the principles on which they rest, thereby raising even
higher the demands made in relations with third states, they still
have to deal with at least three important limitations.


as a postmodern entity, the EU is bound by the rules which follow
from this identity. The member states apply both sticks and carrots
in their dealings with ‘non-compliant’ states but there is no doubt
that of the two policies, the latter is strongly preferred. This
means that relations may deteriorate as the member states find that
Russia is violating the norms of the postmodern world (to which it
does not yet belong) but only until a certain point. In the EU
manual, socialization is achieved not through punishment but
through cooperation. Dialog is preferred to faits


This is
even more so, secondly, since Russia is of critical importance to
the EU. It is so in different ways, but most fundamentally it is
about location and size. The Russia-EU border – now even more than
before the May 2004 enlargement – represents a relatively clear
dividing line between the modern and the postmodern worlds,
respectively. Whatever the EU member states decide to do in their
relationship with Russia – for instance, to raise the requirements
for cooperation – they will remain situated next to a giant of a
different world. And this world – and even more so, the pre-modern
one – they feel uncomfortable with. One of the next major
challenges for the EU is to close this gap and this is not done by
sharpening the postmodern profile alone. Constructive engagement
will have to be based, partly at least, on mutually acceptable
grounds. Thus, some of the principles being implemented in and by
Russia today will have to be recognized by the EU member states as
a starting point if the two parties are to develop their future
relationship together.


and also most importantly when we talk about possible benefits, the
widening of the transatlantic gap has led to renewed calls within
the EU for the strengthening of the CFSP. As German Foreign
Minister Joschka Fischer recently explained in an interview, “the
division over the Iraq conflict has tended to further the
realization among the Europeans that the strategic dimension must
be given substance.” And, so he added, “the development of a
European security policy, and especially its military capabilities,
figures very importantly in this context.”


reflects the disagreement over policymaking between the two worlds.
As a result of this disagreement, the EU essentially is looking to
project its postmodern identity and policy approach still further
beyond the borders of the Union – and, if needed, with military
support even. For this to happen, however, the CFSP will not only
have to be further developed, this development will also have to be
acknowledged by other states. It cannot realistically be developed
in isolation from the actors which it is designed to influence.
Since the CFSP can easily be interpreted as a tool with which to
challenge the U.S. hegemony and the principles of the modern world,
it is of course very unlikely that Washington will provide the
acknowledgement needed. Moreover, in the U.S.A., the supranational
level of the EU is not taken seriously. The important policies are
made not in Brussels but in the individual capitals.


As a great
power colleague and a leading European state, Russia can play an
important role in the process of extending recognition to the EU as
the CFSP is being developed. By a twist of irony, then, as the EU
is working to both bolster and to extend the reach of its
postmodern identity, for critical support it has to look to one of
the states which has been strongly criticized by Brussels for not
being willing to leave the modern world.


Signs of
this process were seen quite clearly in early 2004 when Defense
Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that Russia is now willing to
contribute troops to the European Rapid Reaction Force and to set
up joint military exercises. For the EU, such demonstration of
support for and confidence in the CFSP is of vital importance as
the member states struggle to make it operational. The failure to
meet the military headline goals set at the 1999 Helsinki European
Council puts into doubt the ability of the member states to move in
the direction suggested by Fischer, at least on their own. However,
a Russian contribution to the CFSP, political as well as military,
may very well prove to be the external “push” needed to bring
forward also this EU policy field. By being too inflexible on
Russia, the EU member states risk losing this support, essentially
damaging their own postmodern cause.


As noted
earlier, the conflict between the modern and the postmodern is
first and foremost a conflict between the U.S.A. and the EU – the
principal representatives of the two worlds. Russia is a secondary
player. This means that even if both parties, and especially the
EU, have occasional disagreements with Russia, the latter is
unlikely to draw negative attention. On the contrary, if the
transatlantic gap widens even further, the two sides should be
expected to eye each other still more intensely, working to
undermine the position of the other. In this situation, the support
of Moscow promises to be much coveted and, as argued here, positive
attention and benefits are likely to be won.