Europe and the United States: two different visions of the world, by Paulo Duarte

Where was Europe when the American power was injured by September 11? Where were the Europeans at the moment when the United States needed them? The answer is found, for example, in Robert Kagan, when he says that “it is time to stop doing as if Europeans and Americans shared the same vision of the world or even if they were living on the same planet” (2003: 9).

We can only understand the Europe’s ‘inaction’ by its psychology and its context. In fact, Europeans like peace and multilateralism. They want to solve their problems through diplomacy and law, in cooperation with the various actors. At the same time, this way of seeing the world fits well into Kant’s ideal of eternal peace that contrasts with the Hobbesian “anarchy” (Kagan, 2003: 9).

This last is rather the world where Americans live, a planet where reigns the chaos and where they believe to be the only ones able to eliminate by force. Furthermore, hobbesian systems are hardly compatible with multilateral strategies, which are doomed to failure in an anarchic world (Almeida, 2003: 4). The Americans are suspicious of others, of their willingness to cooperate, of diplomacy. For example, the United Nations becomes a useful institution sometimes, but also an obstacle to circumvent, by unilateralism (Iraq is a good example).

The Americans design the world in terms of calculations, they try to predict the behaviour of suspicious nations, as well as the best strategy to annihilate the opponent and expand their hegemony. It is not surprising that Americans were afraid because they seek it through an aggressive foreign policy towards the weakest. As said by Barber, “fear is the only weapon of terrorism, but it is far more powerful against those who live in hope and prosperity than against those who are languishing in despair and have nothing to lose” (2003: 21).

If Europe and the United States rise from two different worlds, as we have just seen, it should be noted that Europeans may differ among them in the area of international relations. It is the same among Americans. Thus, the French defend the point of view that for the world to be stable, we should create a multipolar system able to provide resistance to American hegemony. But the English believe that relations between Europe and the United States should be strengthened to prevent any American unilateralism and to ensure global stability (Laidi, 2003).

In conclusion, Americans and Europeans seem to be facing areas where they disagree, including foreign policy: choice between multilateralism and unilateralism, between recourse to law and diplomacy or to force. Certainly, all want peace, but the methods to achieve it differ: unlike Europeans, the Americans are likely to often use the war to have peace.

Moreover, the geographical configuration also helps to explain the differences in points of view regarding what the Europeans and Americans consider as new threats. As such, Kagan says: “Americans have an unreasonable demand for total security, no doubt because they have lived for centuries protected by two oceans. On the other hand, the Europeans, they know what it is to live with evil, because that is what they have done for centuries” (2003: 51).

But no matter their natures and their challenges, Europe and America cannot do without one another. The economic power, on one side, completes military force on the other. The links between them are favourable not only to themselves, but also to the global system that needs stability and a leader. And if Europe does not truly have a military force, as is the case of Japan, it has influence. On the other hand, if it comes from Venus, as Kagan believes, then it has a particular sensitivity, capable of guiding its American ally to a better perspective for the future (2003: 51).


ALMEIDA, João, Hegemonia americana e multilateralismo, Espaço online de Relações Exteriores, 2003,

BARBER, Benjamin, L’Empire de la peur : terrorisme, guerre, démocratie, Paris : Fayard, 2003, 281p.

KAGAN, Robert, La puissance et la faiblesse : les Etats-Unis et l’Europe dans le nouvel ordre mondial , Paris : Plon, 2003, 160p.

LAIDI, Zaki, La question multipolaire, CERI/CNRS, septembre 2003,

Paulo Afonso Brardo Duarte is a PhD student in International Relations at Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas ISCSP, Lisbon. (

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