|New Technologies across the Atlantic: US Leadership or European Autonomy? (UNU, 1988, 170 pages)|
|5 The US strategy and the Alternatives for Europe|
Facing the US strategy, Europe is far from responding with a common voice and with a coherent strategy. The different reactions of European governments, firms, and societies have shown deep divisions both on the immediate responses and in the longer-term perspectives.
Just as America, the European position is characterized by a paradox. Its economy is by now too strong to let Europe fall behind the United States, with a new technological 'gap'. But Europe is too weak to challenge the US political leadership. Rather, it is Japan that is emerging now with the most powerful challenge to US economic and technological power.
The divisions and uncertainty within Europe have so far prevented the translation of its economic strength into political power, forcing a new international order and rewriting the rules of transatlantic relations. However, the US strategy itself is making more explicit the contradiction of a Europe that keeps improving its economic performance and, at the same time, is increasingly subordinated to US policies. A restructuring of Atlantic relations, both political and military is therefore inevitable, including a reconsideration of NATO and its strategy in the new East - West context. The problem is not if this restructuring will happen, but how.
Economic and political processes may combine in many different ways in drawing a picture of the future of Europe. The forces and strategies that have emerged in Europe in the 1980s have presented different alternatives, views of the future, political projects and possible scenarios that parallel those developing in the US.
In conclusion, four different perspectives and alternative projects for the European future are now outlined, in a necessarily schematic way. The aim is not a forecasting exercise but an attempt to identify the major directions and the possible outcomes of the economic processes, technological strategies and political relations that have, in the 1980s, characterized US-European relations.
The American Way
The first possibility to be considered is the success of the US strategy of 'Technological Star Wars'. Europe will become increasingly similar to the US in terms of economic structure, technological choices and political profile. With US governments still determined to restore their leadership, the American hegemony would be restored in an Atlantic alliance reorganized for the Star Wars era. The scenario of international relations outlined by this project would include, besides the development and deployment of SDI, a continuing nuclear arms race, aggressive military strategies, intervention in the Third World and the use of technological strategies as a weapon in international relations, with the European supporters of this project actively participating in the US strategy.
In political terms, Europe would experience a reduction of its political autonomy, of its ability to identify and pursue independently its own interests. In the economy, European and American firms would become increasingly integrated, as a result of the common processes of internationalization. Greater links will develop in the activities of production and research and development; many European innovative activities would be controlled by the US, and integrated in US technology, with its growing military orientation. Europe would indeed take the road of the US of military-oriented technical change; Britain, for that matter, can already be considered as an example. This means that Europe will cease to represent a challenge to US leadership. The American economic decline would be reversed, at least relatively to Europe, while Japan may still ascend to the position of a major power.
The roots and the strength that such a project has in Europe should not be underestimated. In fact, the American alliance has served as a key source of legitimation for a large part of the European ruling class. Wide sectors of the conservative and Christian-democratic political forces in various European countries have a culture and a view of Atlantic relations that, for reasons of political opportunity and ideology, are consistent with this solution. In fact, in the early 1980s, there were governments of this kind - which have associated themselves with the US strategy of a new 'Cold War' and 'Technological Star Wars' - in Britain, West Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The success of the US strategy can offer something to the European multinational corporations, that are expanding their ties with American companies, sharing with them also a crucial interest for open markets and free capital flows. A growing internationalization of the economy is a likely outcome also for Europe, with its possible domestic consequences of industrial decline and social polarization, if Europe follows the 'American way.'
Europe Great Power
The strengths of the domestic technological and economic base in some European countries, and the political determination to make use of it, have led to the vision of a 'European Great Power' with an increasingly assertive world role. Such a view has deep historical and ideological roots, in the latent European nationalisms and in the French 'Gaullist' tradition. Grown under the US leadership, such a Europe would try to become a superpower in its own right, relying on the German economic strength and on French (and possibly British) nuclear weapons.
The economic and political forces that may rely on such a project are strong, with a different spectrum in each country. In the economic strategy, mercantilist traditions and habits of control and protection of national markets converge with the technological policy of selecting and protecting 'national champions' in each industrial sector. Support for this strategy may come from both the European multinational corporations and the emerging European-wide 'military industrial complex' that has been created by the growth of joint military productions.
In this perspective, the US 'Technological Star Wars' strategy would be rejected only partially. It would fail as an attempt to restore US leadership over Europe, but it would succeed in setting the ground for the competition between the declining US power and the emerging European power. Without fully supporting SDI, Europe may join in some research, playing with the idea of its own strategic defence system, with a parallel expansion of its conventional defence. Such an outcome is also consistent with a new US government that maintains the East - West confrontation, while being aware of the limits of US power.
While the economic competition between the US and Europe would develop on a more equal basis, the key confrontation for asserting European autonomy would be on the political and military ground. Here the dangers of increasing instability should not be disregarded.
However, a European project that choses to compete with the US on the ground of the 'Technological Star Wars' in terms of military technology and power would face the only aspect of US policy where its power, rather than declining, has increased in the 1980s. The issue of technology is a clear example. If the European response to the US strategy is to concentrate their innovative resources in similar programmes to develop new military technologies, resources will be diverted from those very industries that have led to the rapid growth and specialization of European economies. Following this road, Europe risks losing the very economic basis of its claims to a 'superpower' status, and most likely will also lose its challenge to US power. The project of a 'European Great Power' seems destined to remain a dream, but it may still lead to new nationalist surges and to halting domestic changes in various European countries.
Growth and autonomy
An effective rejection of the US 'Technological Star Wars' strategy may lead to a strategy that, after economic stagnation and the new 'Cold War,' returns to pursue growth and détente. The roots of such a project are in the policies and the success in the 1970s of a wide range of social-democratic, moderate and left forces in Europe, that are still working in this perspective. The conditions for its emergence are a defeat, first of all in the United States, of the unilateralist strategy of neo-conservative forces, opening new opportunities for co-operation in a jointly managed world economy, rewriting the rules of international economic relations in the age of the American decline.
With a new phase of growth, Europe could address the persistent problem of unemployment, while a revitalized welfare state would provide the framework for a new social accord among governments, trade unions and industries on the way to favour a new cycle of growth and redistribute its benefits. At the core of such a possibility there is the capacity of European economies to expand their innovative capacities, specialization and international competitiveness. A large part of European economic forces could sustain such a strategy for the growth of international markets in a climate of stability. The problems to be controlled in this perspective are mainly the process of internationalization and the growth of the military sector, that are likely to erode the domestic economic base and innovative capacity.
The type of technological development that is necessary in this context is the rapid diffusion of original applications of new technologies in various industries, in ways that are not limited to 'labour-saving' in production. This is a road that represents an effective rejection of the 'Technological Star Wars' model, not only in its political project but also in its technological ground. A Europe that is able to show continuing growth of the economy and productivity, with high wages and welfare state, and rapid technological change in civilian areas, not only could increase its share in the world economy, but it would also assert its own autonomous model in the international order marked by the American decline.
At the international level, such a European strategy requires a renegotiation with the US of the rules of the international economic order, with a reduction of the role of the dollar and US economic power. In political terms, a new détente in East - West relations, that may well fit with the strategy of the new Soviet leadership, would allow Europe to play a major role for disarmament and détente. In a parallel way, a more progressive role could also be played by Europe in the North-South issue, addressing the problems of co-operation and development.
Even if this would fall short of bringing about radical transformations in the bloc system that divides Europe and in the economic structures, such a road would substantially reduce the risks of confrontation and instability in both political and economic relations. The American political and military assertiveness would be contained, contributing in turn to the development of new policies, of neo-liberal inspiration, also within the US.
The constraints posed by Atlantic relations, however, are likely to remain a major problem, as the US can still use its political and military power in ways that this European strategy could hardly challenge. Another problem of this strategy is the growing controversy over the notion of growth, criticized for its social and environmental costs and disputed also as a solution for the unemployment problem. Nevertheless, a new domestic consensus and international order could still be developed around the goals of 'growth and autonomy.'
A Rainbow Europe
A more radical departure, over a longer time period, from the present US - European relations would require a major restructuring of political and economic relations. The division of Europe in two opposing military blocs; the North-South divide; the economic structures and social relations, are the key issues that Europe would have to address in an original way after a rejection of the US strategy to restore its leadership.
The basic principle of this project would be the reassessment of priorities, both at the domestic and international level. The halt to the escalation of military production would be immediate, converting it to civilian uses. Co-operation would replace confrontation; a de-alignment process would develop; the international system would be shaped less by power and more by dialogue. Human rights, equal rights, political pluralism would be put on centre stage. Redistribution would replace growth as the main concern, quality would prevail over quantity in the search for new forms of organization of production that meet human needs in a socially and environmentally responsible way.
The economic base of such a development would be an economy that combines international interdependency and domestic needs, careful in the use of human and natural resources, able to liberate energies and innovative capacities. The necessary technologies for such a strategy are small scale and decentralized, they emphasize the existing know-how of people, are designed to enhance and not reduce human control. These different criteria do not imply a return to pre-industrial systems of production and they can make use of innovative applications of new technologies. The development of microelectronics, computers and telecommunications may well offer a social infrastructure that allows the economy to move in this direction.
The deep changes required in such a perspective do not make it an utopian dream. Even if this strategy is not in the programmes of European governments or in the investment plans of multinational corporations, it is not without strengths. In the years of the biggest US efforts to restore its hegemony, facing the acquiescence of European governments, the European civil society has responded with the growth of one of the strongest social movement of recent history, for peace and disarmament and against the bloc division of Europe. In the midst of the new 'Cold War' it has challenged the roots of the arms race and militarism.
Close to them, the ecology movement has continued to explain why development should not mean the indiscriminate pursuit of growth, destroying the environment and using nuclear power, even after the Chernobyl disaster. Areas of the labour movement have shown an increasing awareness of the new quality of the future challenges posed by social processes and technological change.
This range of forces, with many others that have shaken society and politics, have already introduced some changes in the political structure of Europe, in its culture and social relations; in various issues they have effectively influenced political forces and governments. This process will continue to grow in the future, changing the very terms of the debate, pushing toward a different technological and economic base and a new quality in international relations. In a 'Rainbow Europe' the colours of the new social movements could emerge, in parallel to the very similar processes developing in the US, where the 'Rainbow' has in fact become one of the symbols of the forces working in this direction.
If not inside the houses of power, certainly within society, the issues raised by these new social movements will be the questions Europe will have to answer, on its project for the future in the age of American decline.