|New Technologies across the Atlantic: US Leadership or European Autonomy? (UNU, 1988, 170 pages)|
|2 Between decline and restoration|
The analytical framework so far developed provides the basis for an interpretative hypothesis on the role of technological strategies in the US attempt to revive its hegemony within the West in the 1980s. The focus here is on the US initiatives and their impact on the relations with the other advanced capitalist countries, Western Europe in particular. The specific bilateral relations among countries are not considered here, nor is the articulation of policies within Europe. The term 'Europe' will be often used to refer to the countries of the Western half of the continent; twelve of these are part of the European Economic Community (EEC); among these, only Ireland does not belong to NATO, the military alliance between the US and Western Europe, while France and Spain are part of the 'political' structure of the alliance and not of the military organization. The differences among European countries and the problems of their co-operation and joint action are not considered here.
Figure 2.3 summarizes the interpretation that is suggested; it applies the theoretical framework previously outlined to the case of US - European relations in the 1980s. In this hypothesis, the 1980s have seen a deep change in the relations between the US and Europe. A new US domestic hegemonic bloc has led to a dramatic reorientation of national policies and, in the international arena, it has tried to reverse the American decline. New strategies have been developed, aiming to restore a leadership role that had been eroded over the previous decades by the higher European economic growth and political autonomy.
Initially, this strategy has led to a 'shock treatment' in the areas of military and monetary relations, with the deployment of the 'Euromissiles' and the rising US dollar. Then the US strategy has developed a more complex design, that has used in particular technological strategies to reorganize the relations between the most advanced capitalist countries, on the bases of economic structures consistent with maintaining US power.
In the economy, the US strategy has focused on monetary and financial relations, where a degree of control greater than in trade and industry was possible. The steady rise of the US dollar until 1985 has become the main form - and the symbol - of the new US role in the world economy. The flows of goods and capital have been diverted towards the US economy. The forms of regulation of the world economy have moved from the consensual management of the previous years to more unilateral US attitudes. While this process has developed serious contradictions within the US economy, it has temporarily succeeded in restoring a major US role in the world economy.
In military relations, the position of the US as the superpower of the Western bloc has never been questioned. The greater European economic and political strength has never weakened the military ties to the US maintained by NATO. In the 1980s, with the emergence of a new 'Cold War,' NATO became a particularly effective instrument for reinforcing the US hegemony over Europe. The deployment in Europe of a new generation of US nuclear missiles, the Pershing II and cruise, became a test of political obedience by European government and parliaments, in spite of large public opinion opposition.
The new strategies and weaponry developed by the US and NATO, including the 'Euromissiles,' the 'Follow-on forces attack' (FOFA) war-fighting strategy, and the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), have led to a greater power of the US in the Alliance, without any control by the European allies. The success of the deployment of the Euromissiles and the lack of opposition to other US military programmes have marked the success of this US 'military offensive' against its European allies. It has also provided another symbol of the revived US hegemony over the West.
The economic and military strategies of the US in the early 1980s have thus been focusing on (and symbolized by) 'dollars and missiles.' These are the most 'abstract' variables of international relations, a direct expression of power and strength, symbols of the accumulation of value and destructive power. It is along these two variables that the positions of the US and Europe have been reshaped, by precipitating a crisis in the economic and military relations across the Atlantic.
Effective as they may be, 'dollars and missiles' cannot, however, increase forever. They have worked as a 'shock treatment,' to discipline reluctant allies, but they are unable to create a new permanent order in the West. They may reinforce but not consolidate the hierarchy of states; they may revive the US hegemonic role but not its economic strength; they may impose US power over its allies but not restore a broken consensus.
In this perspective, what is going to replace 'dollars and missiles' in the US hegemonic strategy for the end of the 1980s and the 1990s? Technology may be the answer. The development of new technologies - microelectronics, computers, telecommunications, biotechnologies, space and new materials - is a major economic and military priority for the US government and corporations and is an increasingly important factor shaping the new international relations.
In the military sphere, the development of high-technology weapons has been at the core of the US military strategies to regain superiority in the East-West confrontation.
In the economy, facing the problem of regaining a lead over the European economies and Japan, the development of new technologies offers to the US the possibility of containing the growing international competition and to create new comparative advantages and new activities, influencing at the same time the direction of innovation in the most advanced countries.
The 'Star Wars' programme of the US Strategic Defence Initiative can be considered as the symbol of this new strategy. SDI is the largest research programme ever financed by a Western government. Its objective is the creation of a new generation of 'defensive' military technologies that may provide the US with a new superiority, qualitative as well as quantitive, in the arms race. Within NATO it has the effect of concentrating the control over the development and deployment of weapons in US hands, with a further reduction of the control and autonomy of the European allies.
The US government argues that the results of SDI research will have extensive applications in other areas, with the promise of a high-technology future for the US economy. While the validity of these arguments has been seriously disputed, SDI certainly represents an important attempt of the US to direct the future technological progress towards sophisticated military technologies. This is the area where the US already has a remarkable advantage, putting under pressure the innovative strategies by the other advanced countries. In this way the US can keep an overall control over the advance of new technologies, now that Europe and Japan have developed technological capacities similar to those of the US, with a greater orientation towards civilian products and markets.
In the US technological strategy, SDI is only one part; there is a whole set of new policies that share the same objective of using technology as a weapon in international relations. The restrictions on the international transfer of technology; the growing regulation and active intervention in key areas such as semiconductors and telecommunications are only the most evident examples of a combination of strategies by the US government and corporations to regain technological power.
With such characteristics, the US attempt to restore its hegemony could be defined as a strategy of 'Technological Star Wars' against the other advanced capitalist countries, Europe and Japan. It is a strategy that is not limited to the SDI programme or to the military aspect of the development of new technologies. Rather, it aims to direct the technological competition in these areas where the US has the better positions, thus reproducing a technological advantage of the US on its most direct competitors.
In order to succeed, such a strategy does not require that these technologies be able to generate a new 'long wave' of growth of the world economy; in other words, a technological and economic success is not required. A political success will be enough. It will stop the erosion of the US technological lead, set the ground for the competition in the areas most favourable for the US, such as in military technologies, where the US has the greatest comparative advantage.
The consequence for Europe will be the imposition of the same technological model, strongly oriented towards military-related sectors. This is an outcome that can be favoured by the strict military and political link between the two sides of the Atlantic and that would lead Europe to renounce choices of greater technological originality, economic growth and political autonomy. Europe would return, just like in the immediate post-war period, to be a junior political partner, with an economy lagging behind the US and dependent on it for key technologies.
If the 'Technological Star Wars' strategy is the result of the current policies of the US government and of many US corporations, it also opens up deep contradictions for its costs, dangers and consequences, that make it a controversial strategy even within the US leadership. European reactions have been confused and contradictory. Governments, corporations and the civil society in Europe are deeply divided on the key issue of the changing US-European relations. No coherent European response has so far developed, but a number of alternatives have already appeared for the future of Europe.
This is the interpretative hypothesis guiding the analysis of the following chapters. Next, in Chapter 3, the economic processes will be reviewed, showing the relative decline of the US economy and the strategies to reverse it. In Chapter 4 the technological performances of the US, Europe and Japan will be analysed, with the strategies of corporations and the US government. Finally, the conclusions, in Chapter 5, will draw a final picture of these contradictory processes of decline and restoration of the US hegemony, and of the alternatives for the future of Europe.