Without doubt the United States still see themselves as the center of the world, as the only remaining superpower. The optimistic take goes like this: A new century is dawning that shifts the American focus from the Atlantic (and Europe) to Asia and the Pacific region. The weakness of the US Dollar comes at the right time to cheapen exports. A boom economy is possible – and not limited to trade with China, India or Japan. Peru and Chile are on the rise. Australia has increased its military expenditures to secure marine trade routes. Down Under is becoming a regional power while Germans still cling to an image of Australians as former convicts who populate the beaches for a beer and a nap. Indonesia and the Philippines will also benefit from the new power center around the Pacific Ocean.
On a world map, Europe is relegated to the far edge. The centerfold is now occupied by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, flanked by America on one side and by Asia and Oceania on the other. Of the European states, only Turkey is of strategic importance to the US. It is said that Obama has spent as much time on the phone with prime minister Erdogan in recent months as he has with Merkel, Cameron and Sarkozy combined. One thing is clear: The strategic importance of the Old World is declining. That does not mean that the emotional bonds of the transatlantic relationship must fray. But Europe is dropping down on the list of priorities.
The relationship between Europe and Turkey is a discussion topic in Washington as well. How can the German welfare system survive without young Turkish immigrants, I am asked. Obviously, the person who asked me assumes that the future of the European continent can only proceed towards closer integration, where anything from welfare transactions to defense spending are decided collaboratively in Brussels. From Washington, our European debates sound so marginal and close-minded: Do we want economic integration? Are we willing to cede budget authority to the European parliament? In the eyes of many Americans, those questions have already been decided.
What does Europe have to offer in the 21st century? The worst-case scenario would be a continent that is reduced to a tourism paradise. In Venice, almost no locals are living downtown anymore. The situation is similar in Prague. In the future, cities like Siena, Salamanca or Strassbourg will serve as illustrations of a bygone civilization, frozen in time by the cameras of tourists.
When the newspaper DIE ZEIT printed a speech by former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates two weeks ago, many were outraged that he criticized Europe’s inability to defend itself. “Military”, they cried? “We don’t want that. We don’t need that.” A German president was forced into retirement after he linked German military engagement to economic interests. And the leftist establishment continues to spew their toxic feel-good pacifism. But the truth is: We do need a military.
I hear that Europe doesn’t like to talk about military matters because we have no striking power. But we blind ourselves when we act as if this wasn’t an important topic. It is already evident that we will one day have a European army, where German soldiers serve alongside their French comrades, or where different members fulfill different tasks. Until then, the US are the only Western power able to guarantee Europe’s safety. But even Americans have shifted their attention to the Pacific. One day, the only people with an interest in Europe will be American tourists.