Dmytro Lakishyk. The key factors of european caution towards american interventionism.

The collapse of the bipolar system of international relations had led to significant changes in the interdependence paradigm, which had been an essential principle of the era of globalization. The United States had begun to act from a position of dominance in the international arena. As a consequence, there had been growing European anxiety about US international political adventures, and specifically, their potentially adverse impact on the bi- and multilateral transatlantic relations.

During the Cold War period various actions of the American interventionism had generally taken into account the European allies’ positions. In the years leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union the dominant principle of political interdependence between the US and the European countries had seen practical implementation. However, the US foreign policy in the post-bipolar era does not appear to be bound by such a commitment. Coinciding with the period of presidency of R. Reagan, this geopolitical shift in power had conditioned notable changes in the content of the American interventionism. Gradually acquiring signs of independent decision-making and actions, the US international policy changes have been formalized as Reagan Doctrine.

The interventionist zeal in Reagan’s plans and actions was perceived in Europe as one regressing America, and perhaps the whole world, to the militarist historical past of mankind; at the beginning of the XXI century, something similar occurred in the European assessment of the foreign policy of the 43rd US president George Bush.  In order to deepen our understanding of caution among European societies and politicians towards American interventionism, this article examines the emergence of the Reagan Doctrine and the evolution of its key aspects in the post-bipolar era.

Keywords: USA, Europe, the Soviet Union, the Cold War, interventionism, foreign policy, Reagan Doctrine.

The pinnacle of the American interventionism during the Cold War falls on the presidency of Reagan, whose uncontainable anticommunist attitude prompted and fueled European perception of increased threat of a global war. On one hand, US position has considerably strengthened on the international arena, especially since it was set against the backdrop of critical weakening of the Soviet Union.  On the other hand, we argue that Europe’s worldview was being shaped by their interpretation of the new global security context and strongly focused on the perceived dangers of the increased uncertainty and volatility of a major nuclear power – USSR.

As a radical neo-conservative, Reagan sought to achieve consensus among the political, strategic and moral elements of foreign policy, following the path of unilateralism without active involvement of NATO allies, exerting political and cultural influences on the basis of exceptionalism of American values, and making decisions based on impetuous assessments of the current issues. This approach is similar, and, in some cases even analogous to that of the 43rd US President George W. Bush, albeit implemented under different historical circumstances.

The international doctrine and the US strategic behavior in the era of Reagan had been initially accepted by the European allies.  The possibility of weakening of the USSR (a key opponent to the common Western values) and the prospect of diminishing of the constant threat to stability on the continent resonated with the European political leadership.  However, the were also feelings of caution, related to the fact that state leaders and political experts acknowledged a possibility of uncontrolled developments in the bi- and multilateral relations of transatlantic community with the USSR [1, p.1–10].

The Reagan Doctrine takes its informational and ideological roots in the past US policies, was characterized by the general principle of deterrence, which suited the Europeans. However, Regan’s position had introduced a major condition to the above mentioned principle,  which entailed possibility of active countermeasures in the regions and countries where Soviet Union had violated the terms of deterrence by introduction of Soviet military units or imminent plans to do so [2]. In fact, it was also recognized by the Soviet leadership, which commented on Reagan Doctrine as an attempt to stop the advancement of socialism in the world.

Furthermore, the doctrine’s position of extreme anticommunism adopted a new angle towards the European allies as well. For example, US President completely disregarded the opposition of the European leaders to the US deployment of missiles “Pershing – 2” in Western Europe in response to the similar Soviet deployment in Eastern Europe.  Reagan aggravated the situation further, when he proclaimed the Soviet Union “an empire of evil” [3, p.104], ignoring the position and intentions of the European allies. Europeans had largely interpreted this as perspective of violation of basic principles of the Monroe Doctrine, which until then had been a fundamental constant in the formulation of the US foreign policies. In general, we can argue that Reagan in fact had solidified the interventionism dimension of the US foreign policy, which would become the source of many future disagreements among the members of transatlantic community.

Another example of how Regan’s far reaching ambitions threatened relationships with European allies became declaration of Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative program. The plan for placement of anti-missile systems in space had worried Europeans, who grew weary of radical deterioration of relations with Moscow; experts realized that the Soviet attempt to enter into competition with the US on this issue would ultimately destroy the already weakened Soviet economy [4, p.52–53].

Historians erroneously attribute Reagan Doctrine to 1985. While formally, the date of signing of the National Security Strategy is in 1985, there is an important and highly consequential trait of the 40th US President – his actions significantly predated the formal international policy doctrine. So, de facto, we have a paradoxical situation: first appeared a political strategy, which was immediately implemented by the foreign and special services of the United States, and then it acquired all of the familiar signs of a political doctrine. In support, we note that in summer 1981 (four years before the formation of doctrine) in order to increase secrecy of the discussions and strategic decision-making, President Reagan created National Security Planning Group. In addition to the president himself, it included a total of six people: Vice President, Secretary of State, Minister of Defense, The CIA Director, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces, and the Advisor to the Presidential on national security. This group met weekly with the President and defined the agenda for the National Security Council meetings, reviewed covert operations abroad and documents on long-term international relations planning [5].

The new strategy in Washington towards the Soviet Union was fully formed on March 17, 1983, when Ronald Reagan signed a directive NSDD-75 “The attitude of the US towards the Soviet Union” (US Relations with the USSR). It declared a departure from the previous policy of containment towards the Soviet Union and a transition to a focused strategy of fundamental change of the Soviet system. The basic tenet of the directive was the revival of the principle of peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union and communism, along with the confidence that it can be coerced to transform by external pressure. The directive for the first time united measures of political, ideological, propaganda, military under a single strategic objective [6, p.255–263].

Such examples of strategy and actions predating a doctrine in the era of Reagan are numerous. But many of them find an explanation and justification by the fact that that the 40th president was guided by a well-established American foreign policy tradition, which in various forms has been defined by the preceding  doctrines and concepts, laws and resolutions, decrees and decisions. Accordingly, the US president should step up his action in response to emergence and in cases of of specific threats to the national security . Soviet intervention in several parts of the world was interpreted by Reagan as such threats and, more importantly, had found support in US society.

We could even argue that the registration of Reagan Doctrine in special documents likely wasn’t based on a practical need for foreign policy, but by the desire to document and save the history of US foreign policy, which had promoted radical changes in the international system.

A key element and the impetus for its development can be attributed to several successful implementations of Reagan’s ideas in some regions of the world. There are grounds for concluding that withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan was due to US interventionist strategy that followed Reagan’s format, and Moscow was forced to abandon its policy of ideological expansionism. It is also important to consider that Americans confirmed in practice that they have no intention to capture foreign territories, only facilitate the removal of alien forces from sovereign countries.

In general, the practice of Reagan Doctrine had gone through three stages in its evolution. The first stage during 1981 – early 1985 lies in that US foreign policy existed and was implemented without a formal doctrine or as a separate document. Of course, such “independence” of the American President could be associated with authoritarianism, which could be unsuitable for Europeans. The first formal implementation of the key aspect of the doctrine manifested in the US decision to help Cambodian rebels. Prior to Reagan’s residency in the White House, the US foreign policy was based on massive condemnation of American aggression in Vietnam. For Europeans it seemed paradoxical that Reagan supporters took advantage of this fact to justify interventionism in Cambodia.

The second phase falls on 1985–1987. In essence, it boils down to spreading and more active use of force as a solution of the same problems – preventing Soviet influence against the backdrop of gradual weakening of the communist regime in the Soviet Union and negotiations with Gorbachev. This spreading had created another cause for circumspection in European capitals. At least this can be said for experts and analysts who feared an uncontrollable course of events with a possible escalation into serious conflict [4, p.147–149].

The third phase (1987–1989), which covers the last 3 years of Reagan’s second term is associated with the so-called Gorbachev’s new thinking, which gradually dissolved the core arguments for following Reagan Doctrine. Indeed, US Secretary of State G. Schultz mentions in his memoirs that during Reagan’s second term the “Soviet behavior in relation to the world events had changed profoundly. Brezhnev Doctrine had died”, in particular as a result of the introduction of Reagan doctrine [7, p.95–97]. Consequently, the American operations in Nicaragua and Mozambique, previously positioned by Washington radicals as a response to the Soviet threat, were no longer finding an explicit and unconditional acceptance in Europe.

However, the most significant catalyst of negative sentiment in bilateral relations with Europe in this period became the flagrant independence of decision-making and implementation by the US administration. All major US foreign interventions (direct or indirect) during Reagan’s administration had never expressly considered point of view or sought input from European allies.

After two decades, the same absence of consideration of European interests had been noted in George W. Bush democratization doctrine. Lack of any coordination (not even at a declarative level) had been perceived by many analysts a fundamental conflict in relations among US and countries of EU.

This independence trait was present throughout most of American official assessment of the incentives and motives of the response to the developments in different regions states, as well as practices after Soviet Union exit from the world arena. Thus, we consider it as one of the most fundamental causes for the abovementioned caution among European societies and politicians.

Additionally, we should take into account the impact of more than sesquicentennial US isolationist tradition on the world perception of this democratic state. In this sense, after the collapse of the USSR and in the absence of real threats to peace and stability, the Europeans had a sufficiently strong reason to believe that America would logically return to at least ‘limited’ interventionism [8, p.156]. After all, the threat of war hindered most Europeans from supporting radical interventionist US policies.

Another aspect that should be taken into account in trying to understand Europeans, is that post-WWII Europe had not yet experienced any traditional threats to national security (i.e., threats to the territorial integrity and sovereignty). The European community didn’t see the grounds for engaging in direct and continued participation in the so-called peacekeeping operations, without sufficient reasons, such as as humanitarian nature. Meanwhile, the American political establishment, tends to intervene even when the threat is neither clearly identified nor confirmed. This substantial discrepancy in world view of transatlantic allies was confirmed during the crisis in the former Yugoslavia (1991–1995), which was widely considered by Europeans as one requiring intervention on humanitarian basis and involvement of the UN peacekeeping forces. Lack of effectiveness of the initial European mediation and their inability to resolve the conflict on their own had substantiated the US involvement. As a result, in Western Europe sharply intensified scientific and political debate about the need  and rationale for the new approaches to collective security on the continent, in addition to alternatives offered by NATO [9, p.35–46].

On the other side, following the collapse of the USSR the US side almost blindly adheres to a completely different concept of international security, propagading the liberal-democratic principle of human rights and freedoms to the level of bi- and multilateral relations. Additionally, according to political scientist Z. Brzezinski, the United States with their imperial actions become sharply different from all previous superpowers, in that they dominate the world practically alone, without any powerful opposition [10, p.ix]. On one hand, Europe is busy expanding challenges, first of all, adapting to new conditions of life of the European Union required in connection with accession to countries with relatively low levels of economic development. On the other hand, the United States further favor foreign policy actions with interventionist nature, which they see as an essential element of keeping peace and stability in the world and assuring the security of their citizens. However, the US administration does not regard the opinion of Europeans, despite mounting pressure from US public opinion to do so [11, p.63–69].

In the post-bipolar era, the interventionalism of the US policies aquires a global nature, becoming the so-called American globalism. Caused and formalized due to objective reality that the United States become a single global superpower of the modern times, it has become one of the fundamental causes of the European alertness. Elevating of the globalism philosophy to the level of US international relations has led to the emergence of another political and psychological barrier in bi- and multilateral relations.  It stemmed from the historical tradition of “pillars” in European policy, based on century-long leadership of states like France or Germany in both the European and international communities.  For example, the French elite at the time was clearly concerned about Europe possibly experiencing a technological lag, as well as irrevocable imbalance in the quality and quantity of arms compared with the United States [12].

The next key driver of disagreement originates in the argument outlined above and lies in that immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States arbitrarily took over a number of functions that for several postwar decades had been a subject of exceptional functional authority of the UN and several other international organizations created after 1945. Effectively the presidency of George Bush Sr. began «legalization» of the new principles US conduct in the world: American leaders are no longer restricted by the confrontation with another superpower, which was the Soviet Union, and therefore can make interventionist decisions independently [13, p.7]. While two-term President Clinton used this principle very cautiously, George W. Bush, as president was practicing virtually unrestricted strategic decision-making in anything that concerned fighting international terrorism or the global expansion of the Euro-American model of democracy.

Another reason for conflicts and contradictions in our view, lies in the fact that the first stage of the post-communist or post-bipolar system of international relations US administration clearly determined that interventionism continued to be necessary. Furthemore, copying elements of the Reagan doctrine and sometimes artificial attempts to apply experience of the bipolar system in the new conditions became regularity of the 90’s not only in the foreign political but also in the economic sphere [14, p.iii]. Whenever an action allowed to reach such goals as ensuring economic or political benefits for the United States, the decision to implement it would be taken regardless of the position of the Allies. It is clear that the assessment of American interventionism by Washington officials and experts  as a form of securing economic interests of the US in global and regional markets could not be acceptable to Europeans. From their side, US explained its economic interventionism as a factor promoting emergence of new market economies or accelerated growth of those at their later stages of development.

It is important to note that Euro-American economic disagreements after the collapse of the USSR had not evolved to fundamental contradiction and not been politicized to dangerous levels. However, lack of general “consensus” regarding the introduction of new global economic rules remains to be a significant component of Euro-American differences regarding democratization, anti-terrorism and other forms of interventionism.  Europeans and Americans have often disagreed and even expressed opposite attitudes towards programs of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, “Group of Seven”, the Davos forum, etc. [15, p.49–56]. The desire of Americans to play a leading role everywhere causes a natural resistance from Asian countries, whose side is sometimes supported by the Europeans.

The next element of the Euro-American differences regarding US interventionism and lack of active involvement of Europeans in corresponding American actions should be framed through official Washington’s attempts to take on the mission and role of a catalyst of the global democracy [16, p.83–94]. Being a birthplace of the democratic political thought and the corresponding standards of social relations from the beginning of the era of globalization, Europe cautiously treated statements made by American leaders, like Bush’s statement about the new US strategy of global democratization and its active implementation using interventionist technologies. By and large, we can see a clear expression of European caution when we compare position of Washington to those of Brussels and other European capitals regarding the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. In general, European political thought still does not agree with the «dictatorship of democracy» when it comes to US influence on other states and societies.

Another aspect relevant for examining of causality between American interventionism and the position of European allies lies in a special relationship of the parties to the current nature and future venues of development of the international system [17, p.44–79], in particular, including threats of escalation of “third” country conflicts from national or regional to a level that would pose a danger to the transatlantic alliance or its specific participants.  It should be noted that despite the end of the Cold War, majority of ethnic and religious disagreements and conflicts remained or continued to spread.  However, specific conflict doesn’t always affect European and American interests equally. There have been cases when even some European states differ in their assessment of the parties involved in the conflict (prime example – a special position of Germany towards Croatia at the breakup of Yugoslavia and the civil conflicts among the former republics of the federation) [18].

Finally, contradictions between the US and Europe also include the following elements: EU claims to the role of global superpower; relatively more cautious position of Europeans towards politicization of Islam and its connection to terrorism; differences in relation to the rate of expansion of the EU and NATO to the newly independent states; and, the issues of global environmental safety [19, p.79–101].

The American administration has ever-increasing opportunities for the promotion of efficacy interventionism, despite existence of different assessments by European allies. The paradox of the situation is that the US gains from their interference is becoming increasingly difficult for Europeans to forecast.  Thus, the establishing and providing rationale for its existence is often perceived by Europeans as pressure on allies and partners in international organizations.

Keeping this state of affairs will lead to a steady growth of burden on American taxpayers.  The financial costs wouldn’t be the only type of costs.  This is not the expensive finance are rare. US should also expect to pay a political “price” for the global interventions to counter terrorism, imposition of  Euro-American democracy model in countries that do not have proper political, cultural, historical and traditional foundations to adopt ideals of others. In the conditions of globalization of information, any impropriety or tragic event related to the US interventionist action immediately appears on TV, is discussed in print and online, becoming another reason to spread anti-Americanism and, therefore, anti-globalism.  Europeans are not at all interested in becoming another key recipient of anti-globalization protests.


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