Lord Patten Interview (2006): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Europe and the World: Conversation with The Right Honorable Lord Patten of Barnes, CH; Chancellor, Oxford University, former European Union Commissioner for External Affairs; January 30, 2006, by Harry Kreisler

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Europe and the United States

Europe and the U.S., and the world, face a number of challenges. I'm curious as to what you feel during your tenure was your greatest achievement, or achievements, in moving forward on a number of these challenges that you talk about in your book: the problem of demographic changes in Europe (although that wouldn't have been in your portfolio), the problems of globalization, the problem of global warming, the problem of looking at terrorism in light of the underlying conditions that produce the terrorists.

I think that the biggest achievements during my period were in keeping our policy in the Balkans on the road and developing a more sympathetic policy towards our neighbors. But if I look at some of the other problems that you mentioned, I couldn't hand-on-heart argue that we had been very successful, though maybe it was sufficient to protect the Kyoto protocol, to protect the International Criminal Court from the assault of the U.S. administration.

My period as a commissioner coincided with an extraordinary change in American attitudes to global leadership and to foreign policy. I've grown up in a world created in large part by that postwar generation of American political leaders -- the draper from Missouri, Harry Truman; Marshall, Acheson, and others -- a world which established rules that we all have to play by, the UN, the Bretton Woods institutions, and so on. It was a world which suited the United States extremely well, and it suited the rest of us extremely well, too. It was surprising, therefore, to find oneself dealing with an administration which appeared to want to throw over all that. I've argued in my book that, in my judgment, as soon as you see the word "neo," you know that it really means "non." So, neo-intellectuals don't read books and neo-liberals are very, very rarely liberal. Neo-conservatives are certainly not conservative, because the conservative thing for an American administration to do is to preserve an order which has worked for the U.S., worked for the rest of us, and not only legitimized American power but protected America from the world's envy.

I very much hope that, at a high cost, partly a cost paid in the thankless deserts of Mesopotamia, as Churchill once called them -- I very much hope that the United States, this administration maybe, certainly future ones, will return to a more sensible and generous-spirited approach to global leadership. We should do all we can in Europe by recognizing that we're partners, not rivals, of America, and to encourage that moment when it happens.

We should tell our audience that you are a man whose whole career is one that demonstrates very great affection for the United States, going back to your younger days when your father was someone who brought American music to the United Kingdom.

Yes. I only came into politics because of America. I was over here as a student and got involved in an American campaign in New York, in 1965, which shows how old I am. I've visited America with huge regularity. Many of my heroes are American, many of my cultural reference points are American, many of my best friends, ditto. And it comes as rather a shock to find oneself saying things which are very critical of U.S. policy. They're not critical, I don't think, of America. They're critical of a particular political caste in America.

A few years ago, when talking about the Balkans, Secretary James Baker said that "we don't have a dog in that fight," but when we see in America the debate between the assertive nationalists, the neo-cons, and the more traditional views on foreign policy, we know that we do have a dog in that fight.

You're a man who studies history, you're a man who studied politics. How do you account for this drastic change? What is your gut feeling about the factors that have led us astray?

I think that it's partly a consequence of a sense that the world is Hobbesian and brutish and that the only way of coping with it is by pulling the gates closed, occasionally foraying out in the world to beat up opponents, or potential opponents, regarding the world as a sort of barbaric Darwinian battlefield. That view is reflected in the notion of the sovereigntist, that anything which undermines America's ability to do whatever it wants at any particular moment must be against the U.S. administration's best interest. In other words, you can't depend on partners, you can't work through the UN without undermining America's God-given right to do whatever it wants.

That point of view was probably given -- unfortunately, tragically -- greater credibility by 9/11, which brought home in a terrible way the understanding that America might be invincible but was not invulnerable. I don't think what has happened since 9/11 bears out that sovereigntist argument. Indeed, I think that since 9/11, the policies pursued by the [Bush] administration have made the world today, and the world in which my children and grandchildren will grow up, a more dangerous place.

What's the answer? The answer, I think, is to return to a more traditional idea of working through partnership. It's terribly important for those of us who have historically been partners of the United States, and to show that we can make those partnerships work, that we're not simply copping out of the difficulties, because while it still is true that if you want something difficult done, you have to turn to the United States, it's also true that a lot of the things that America wants to do are easier to do if it can work with Europe.

One would have to suggest that another possibility here is hope that a balancer will emerge in the international system to balance American power, in addition to what you are suggesting. Do you see that happening in the midterm or in the long term?

Not entirely in the terms in which you suggest. It's been traditional to associate centuries with countries, and provided you're not French, a lot of people would regard the nineteenth century as being Britain's century, they'd regard the twentieth century as being America's, and they would say today that the twenty-first century is going to see a struggle between America and China for pre-eminence. I don't actually entirely buy that. I don't think China will, for the foreseeable future, ever be as great a military power as the United States. It's going to be the largest economy in the world this century, just as it's been for eighteen out of the last twenty centuries, and that's partly a result of the size of China, but it won't be as rich as America or Europe. It'll get old before it gets rich, and its per capita wealth will never be the same as ours.

Nevertheless, while not seeing China as a threat, while not seeing the future as being a struggle between China and America, what I do think is true is that America and Europe have to realize that almost any problem we want to solve will require that we work with India and China. Whether you're looking at nuclear proliferation, environmental hazard, epidemic disease, increasing global trade, whatever the issue, we need actually to work with China and India, and that doesn't just mean telling them what to do, it means actually involving them much more in global leadership.

I'll give you one example of in those circumstances, which I think is crazy. We're all going to be affected by China and India, but [especially] by China's energy requirements in the next few years. We're all going to be affected if China allows those energy requirements to so shape its political tactics and strategy as to make it difficult, for example, for the Security Council to deal with Sudan and Darfur. We have to be able to persuade the Chinese that failed and failing states are as much a problem for them as they are for us. How do you persuade the Chinese of those things? You treat them like serious citizens and you try to involve them in serious issues of the management of global resources. In those circumstances what on earth sense does it make to block the takeover of Unocal by a Chinese oil company? We should be bringing them into the game, not trying to shut them out of it.

Is it the problem that we can never decide whether we're in the new world of globalization, where we're all partners, or that old world, that Hobbesian world of anarchy and international sum-zero competition?

Well, it was America, more than anyone else, who taught us to turn our backs on the nineteenth century. I think you can perfectly, properly see Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points not only as his response to Leninism but his response to the way in which the European countries, and others, had been dominated by a Hobbesian view of international politics. It would, as I say, be ironic, now that we've learned that lesson from the United States, if the United States were to turn away from it. And I think it would be a tragedy if that happened. Even though the U.S. is the biggest, toughest, strongest culturally, as well as militarily, country in the world, even if we still, to a degree, live in the pax Americana, even despite all that, every problem that America faces, it requires partners in order to deal with it.

One piece of this puzzle about Europe's role in educating America -- not balancing, but convincing America that partnership is important -- is its capacity to develop a common foreign and defense policy. Has there been progress in that regard? Does more need to be done?

Yes, more needs to be done. You recognize that we're not trying to create a single foreign policy. We talk about a single currency but nobody's talking about a single foreign policy. There isn't going to be one foreign ministry and one foreign minister in Europe. But we should be able to do more in common, and here I come to a point which it's perhaps undiplomatic to say, if some of those who are listening [are] Spanish, or Italian, or Portuguese, or Polish, or Danish, or whatever: there isn't a European common position on a big issue internationally unless France and Germany and Britain agree. We haven't been lucky in the last few years in having Chancellor Schroeder, President Chirac, and even though I'll explain why I say this, Mr. Blair in the driving seat.

Chancellor Schroeder is now no longer with us. He's now in Mr. Putin's employ, running a company which I think has slightly dodgy antecedents when you look at some of those involved in it, but there it is. Money matters more to some people than to others. President Chirac will, God willing, return to the course next year, thanks to the electorate. Mr. Blair could have played a really important role in shaping a sensible partnership role for Europe with the United States, could have played an important leadership role, had it not been for the fact, I'm afraid, that by embracing the Iraq venture so enthusiastically he destroyed a lot of his credibility in the rest of Europe, and that's been his tragedy, and in a way, our tragedy as well.

So, now we must put a lot of faith in Angela Merkel. She's not a German Margaret Thatcher; it's unfair to both of them to suggest that. But she's a very canny politician who I think has Helmut Kohl's ability to distinguish between what's important and what isn't important, and Chancellor Kohl's ability to work for sensible and practical compromises. If I was an American foreign policy official, I would work very hard to get alongside Chancellor Merkel.

So, the problem of forging this common policy -- is that a problem for the Commission or a problem for the leaders in their meetings?

It's a problem for the nation states. It's a problem for the national leaders, the leaders of big countries. It's interesting. It's part of the phenomenon of doing business in Europe that the most successful presidencies of the European Union are nearly always small countries who don't bring a great bag-load of prejudices and positions with them, but simply want to conduct business efficiently.

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