European Union Emerging As a Rival Superpower

Besides love, what the world needs now is a second superpower. The central feature of the New World Order has been the United States as “the world’s only superpower,” a position in which it has barely earned a passing grade. There have been moments when the United States has looked like the world’s only superbully. On the days when George W. Bush is threatening anyone and everyone on the planet with God and sudden death, it is evident that America is not up to being the only global power.

Bill Clinton and the Marines were bad enough, lurching here and there across the planet in Mr. Clinton’s aimless armed escapades. He pales, however, in comparison to George W. Bush, who has taken on the role of a latter-day Peter the Hermit, calling for crusades against the “axis of evil.” The top elected official of the world’s only superpower is besotted with the idea that he can say and do anything without fear of any consequences, because nowhere in the world is there a set of teeth which can come back to bite him. You’d think that the catastrophe of Sept. 11 would have taught him better.

In the bad old days when the Soviet Union was around to be the other superpower, it and the United States thought twice about what they said and did. It was the age of two scorpions in the bottle; then one of the scorpions died, and the one that’s left acts as though it has nothing to fear or to gain from the rest of the world. The single superpower’s foreign policy is that it can damn well do whatever it likes.

The globe needs a second superpower to restrain the first. America needs one, too, before it makes an irremediable, catastrophic mess somewhere. Some people look to China to play the superpower role, but China isn’t global. It’s strong enough so that the United States is loath to mess with it in its own sphere, but outside its region, China’s influence is and will be slight for many years to come. Russia is out of the superpower business, perhaps forever.

There be may be, however, a new superpower aborning: the European Community. American solipsism prevents our noticing that the E.U. exists. If there are more than 10,000 people in this country who even know that there is a European Parliament-one whose members are directly elected by the peoples of Europe-I would be happily surprised. When we do notice the E.U., it is to check it out as a possible rival and wish it bad luck. Our attitude is always negative. We greeted the astonishing feat of the creation of a single currency with suspicion, and then with ill-becoming satisfaction when the new money traded at less than even with the dollar. The announcement that the E.U. has taken the first steps to establish its own armed force outside of NATO has elicited little more than grrrs from Washington.

Thus, America has been either mildly antagonistic or oblivious to the coming of what may be the most beneficent geopolitical development in 500 years. Why, just imagine: a superpower that doesn’t practice capital punishment! A superpower not given to vain boasting and tasteless displays of national egotism. A superpower that takes its place in the world without trying to run it. A vast democracy so different from our own we fail to recognize it, much less pay it any heed, save when we have one of our many clashes with the E.U. over trade policies.

One of the reasons the E.U. may not have registered on the American cerebral cortex is that its development has been so different from ours. The E.U. doesn’t have a Declaration of Independence, nor was its political framework carpentered together once and for all by people meeting in a hall. The E.U. has been half a century coming into existence, and its development is far from completed. It is a new nation being built in slow stages, beginning with a lowly trade agreement about steel and coal.

Now it’s come along to the point that Europeans are already complaining about the bureaucracy in the E.U.’s executive. It’s in the midst of its first reform upheaval, but what an achievement nevertheless. Americans might learn something about nation-building, about cooperation, about working through impossible difficulties and about diversity from the E.U., a quasi-nation with no less than 11 official languages, from Greek to Finnish.

The E.U. isn’t a finished job. It could still come apart, but let’s pray that it doesn’t, because it can be the hope and the model for the world. For centuries, Europe resembled present-day sub-Saharan Africa; now look at it, as memories of the wars and attendant horrors fall away into an unreal past.

The world needs the E.U. as a second superpower-a non-loudmouth, non-aggressive one, and not one to play second scorpion in the bottle. The two superpowers do not have to be competitors for power, influence and advantage. The history of the nations that comprise the E.U. is the story of what a fool’s game such competition is. The idea isn’t to rule the world, but to make it whole and healthy.