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Is America Vital to European Peace?

Mark Sheetz
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

March 10, 2004

Europe is at peace, its nations partners in a security community where the notion of war among the members is unthinkable.

How has this occurred? The conventional wisdom is that the key has been the American military presence, which created a security blanket. This logic says that the NATO troops in Europe make security competition unnecessary, resolving the security dilemma and transforming a zero sum world into a positive sum one. The security blanket pacifies national fears about relative gains. It follows that the United States needs to keep its troops in Europe to keep it pacified.

Many prominent realists subscribe to this view. It is a theoretically sound argument. But it was not United States power but uncertainty about its permanence that allowed European cooperation.

The US presence in Europe has been distinguishable by its evanescence. The Europeans did not want to rely on American security guarantees; they believed in self-help. Europe faced terrible risks from both Soviet expansion and American miscalculation. Europeans feared that the United States might let Europe fall or provoke a nuclear holocaust. They feared that the United States might not have been willing to trade Boston for Berlin, or that it might engulf Europe in flames for reasons not directly related to European interests, like missiles in Cuba. They also feared the United States might arrive at understanding with Moscow and abandon Europe. Hence, fear of the Soviets created dependence on the United States, but fear of US miscalculation created cooperation.

Using theory and evidence, this talk will show that the prevailing theory about the US security blanket are wrong and present an alternative explanation. Both theories will be used to generate hypotheses, which will be tested in five cases. These cases deal with US- Franco-German relations between 1948 and 1963.

1. The creation of the European Coal and Steel Community under the Schumann Plan.
2. The creation of the European Defense Community.
3. The creation the European Economic Community, specifically the emergence of a common market in 1957.
4. The 1957 Franco-German decision to embark on joint fissile materials development.
5. The creation of the 1963 Friendship and Cooperation Treaty between France and Germany.

Why focus on the Franco-German relationship? It has always been the core of the European community. Prior to 1948, the states had hostile relations, but relations were friendly by 1963. So something happened during these years to change things. France wanted to disarm, divide, and dismember Germany after World War II. De Gaulle said Germany shouldn't be fully rebuilt, but in 1963, De Gaulle signed the Friendship and Cooperation treaty.

Two other serious explanations for the European Union's peace are basically unaddressed here. One, institutional and regime theory, says institutions have causal power. The second explanation, using constructivism and democratic peace theory, points to culture and identity. These are taken up in the book manuscript but not here. Even so, it can be said that there is not much historical evidence for institutions being the driver of integration. Most of the key negotiations toward integration in this period occurred in bilateral deals. When multilateral cooperation failed to produce progress among the six original members of the European Community, talks went bilateral. If cooperation succeeds outside institutions, it's hard to say institutions were causal. Cultural theory struggles with tautology and endogeneity. It's hard to measure the variables. Causes and effects are jumbled and the hypotheses of constructivist theory hard to test.

The theory of America as a pacifier is a derivative of hegemonic stability theory. This theory says stability requires a hegemon that supplies security with preponderant economic and security leadership. The hegemon can look after the public good and drive collective action. The theory says public goods are underprovided for without a hegemon because of free riding. But the hegemon benefits from public goods. The hegemon dampens power competition and removes states from the security dilemma. Stability in the second half of the 20th century rested on a Pax Americana, like the Pax Britannica in the 19th century.

This theory says the post Cold War era should not diminish the US role in European stability. American power remains essential in this view. The United States has to continue to protect Europe to make sure politics do not renationalize. The hypotheses from hegemonic stability theory follow:

A. Cooperation should vary in direct proportion to American hegemony.
B. West European nations should no longer worry about shifting alignments, fear of entrapment or seek to balance each other.
C. West European nations should not fear relative military and economic gains.
D. We should see divisions of labor to create efficiencies based on comparative advantage.
E. The states should accept dependence on the hegemon.

My theory comes from balance of power theory, from the nature of the anarchical system. This theory says that without a sovereign, commitments cannot be trusted. Fear of relative gains precludes cooperation. States focus on the risks, not the benefits, of cooperation. States want to lessen dependency. Balance of power theory says Europe will eventually force American withdrawal from the continent. The hypotheses from balance of power theory follow.

A. Guarantees will be seen as uncertain.
B. States will remain sensitive to relative gains.
C. States will avoid dependence on other states.
D. There will be no evidence of a division labor to create efficiencies.
E. Cooperation should vary in inverse proportion to US hegemony.

The Cases
We can't go in depth into the cases due to time. The following is an overview based on excerpts from the archives.

The European Coal and Steel Community was born of French insistence on structural reductions in German power. France wanted international control of the Ruhr and annexation of the Rhineland. They feared America would leave them to face the Germans, so these were matters of life and death. Many thought any America defense against the Soviets would be based on North Africa. One American plan was to liberate Europe after Soviet forces had overrun it.

So the French had to turn to Europe for their defense, which required some kind of partnership with Germany. NATO did not reassure the French. They feared that rearming Germany as part of NATO might lead to a German deal with the USSR to achieve reunification. Germany might play off east and west to make itself the arbiter between the superpowers. The Schumann plan was thus a preemptive move to control German power. Jean Monet thought it was the only way to control German rearmament.

Konrad Adenauer, the West German Chancellor, had little faith in American resolve. He feared that the US might use Germany as a pawn. In the summer of 1950, after the beginning of the Korean War, Adenauer feared that Russia might try a similar gambit against Germany, especially Berlin, using Polish troops, so as to avoid a US nuclear response. He thought that nuclear weapons would be like poison gas in World War II, potentially available, but unused.

When Dean Acheson, US Secretary of State, proposed German rearmament in 1950, France rejected the proposal. The French then offered a European Defense Community instead of NATO, disregarding two arguments for German rearmament. The first was that German ambitions would be easier to control in an environment with US and British troops. The second was that leaving US forces out the fold might encourage the US to withdraw.

Theoretically, NATO should have done what the French wanted - kept the US in Europe. But Schumann saw NATO as a temporary solution and a European army as a longer-term answer. He believed American and British forces would eventually withdraw, potentially leaving France to face a rearmed Germany alone, again.

By the summer of 1951, even the US favored the European Defense Community (EDC) option. At that point both Acheson and Eisenhower (not yet President) believed that American forces would eventually have to withdraw. But when the US showed an interest, the French backed away, guessing at American motives. The NATO option won.

In 1953, the French decided to build the bomb. But alone, they lacked the wherewithal to do so. They wanted a European effort to produce fissile materials. France and Germany feared becoming a nuclear battlefield. The French believed that nuclear weapons would make them a great power partner, rather than a US satellite. Nuclear weapons were thus for interests, not prestige. The French began to realize that they sat in the same boat as Germany, threatened by Soviet invasion and American miscalculation.

Adenauer accepted this logic. He knew Germany could not be a power alone, but could remain at the great power table through cooperation. The US, he reasoned, had been generous, but generosity ultimately comes to those who help themselves. It would be unwise to rely forever on the US, whose interests would not be the same as Germany's forever.

After the Suez crisis in 1956, France and Germany become more skeptical that US power would protect their interests. The USSR's threat of a nuclear attack on France had accelerated their push for European defense cooperation and nuclear weapons.

In October 1956, Adenauer said that the world needed a third power center. He worried that the US might trade Berlin for peace, or withdraw from Germany and allow it to be Finlandized. When Adenauer met with the French Premier in 1956, the central theme of the discussion was uncertainly about the US nuclear umbrella, and hence the imperative for a European block and the need to balance against US unilateral tendencies. At this meeting, the leaders removed all remaining obstacles to a common market.

The launch of Sputnik in 1957 showed the US's vulnerability to direct missile attack. The French dispatched their minister to Bonn to share fears that US guarantees to defend Europe were no longer reliable. The French pushed the need to combine efforts toward nuclear arms production. The Italians had already agreed. Adenauer said yes, saying Germany couldn't rely for its survival on decisions made in Washington or London. The US thought the effort was a wasteful and duplicative, leading to cancellation of the joint effort in 1958.

Germany worried about American commitment and wanted some degree of independence. De Gaulle agreed, worrying that the superpowers would divide the world or crush all others in their contention. A united Europe could establish its own ties, reducing these possibilities. At Rambouillet in 1960, De Gaulle said that France couldn't rely on the vicissitudes of American politics for its defense. He doubted that the US would defend Europe with its nuclear weapons. He reasoned that the US would only listen to European voices if they were united. Adenauer and De Gaulle questioned the Kennedy administration's ability and mocked Kennedy's advisors and their (primarily academic) experience. They worried that Kennedy might sell Berlin down the river and were concerned by the American idea of flexible response. De Gaulle told Adenauer that America might only aid Europe once the Europeans were all dead, noting that America didn't enter World War II until France was defeated and America had been attacked. In January 1963 Germany and France signed that Elysee Treaty for Friendship and Cooperation.

It was not American reassurance that allowed European integration and peace. It was fear that reassurances would not be honored that drove unity. Suez accelerated economic cooperation. Sputnik drove nuclear cooperation. The Cuban Missile Crisis threatened Europe with what one Frenchman called annihilation without representation, quickening the pace of integration. France was haunted by the idea of a West German separate peace with the Soviet Union, and Germany feared a French - Soviet entente.

There should be little fear of a double cross in a world of a protective hegemon. If that theory held, Britain, France, and Germany shouldn't have worried whether the US security umbrella was real. Europe was a common front to escape both sides - the fact that the Soviets were too close and the US too far.

What about now? If the US was not vital to European security in the early Cold War, why now? There is a new structure in international relations, but still no singular great powers in Europe who could compete with the United States or Russia or even a China or India that fulfilled its potential. Today there is no need for NATO, and it will fade away. But the EU is still crucial in world politics. The hegemonic stability theory would say that without NATO, the EU would collapse.

Mark Sheetz is a Fellow in the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. He was previously a John M. Olin Fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University, and a Fellow in National Security Affairs at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies in Harvard's Center for International Affairs. Dr. Sheetz received a Ph.D. and M. Phil. in political science from Columbia University, a Master of Arts in international relations for the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a A.B. in Government from Dartmouth College. Dr. Sheetz is currently revising his book manuscript, Continental Drift: Alliance Politics and European Security, for publication.

Rapporteur: Ben Friedman

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