Geir Lundestad Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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What are the themes that you focused on in your academic work? Your present role [involves] the changes in Europe, and that understanding has been side by side with an analysis and understanding of the United States and their relationship together. So, let's talk a little about Europe. What changes have you witnessed in your lifetime in Europe, and what does that tell us about Europe's role in the world?
I started out as a Cold War scholar and I did some books on the origins of the Cold War, but when the Soviet Union collapsed I felt we had a turning point. If I wanted to remain a Cold War scholar, I had to learn Russian, because the new interesting sources were Russian, and I felt it was just too difficult to learn Russian. So, I changed my research interests. I concentrated on American/European relations, and I'm very happy I did that change, because with the end of the Soviet Union there has been a decline in interest in Cold War studies and the big topic, of course, is American/European relations. I've just written a book on the United States and Europe since '45, [including] the Cold War years when supposedly there was very close cooperation. Not quite as close as we think it was, but clearly it was much better than we have seen recently.
You use the term in that book, "empire by invitation." Tell us what you meant by that.
This is a term I invented in the 1980s and which I have developed further. In 1945 the big concern in Europe, and even Franklin Roosevelt's big concern, was that the United States could possibly go back to isolationism. They all knew what had happened in the past, after World War I. They didn't know what would happen [now]. So, the Europeans issued invitations to the Americans to make them stay, to make them take a strong interest. First, they wanted economic assistance, and there were many, many bilateral loans from America to Europe in '45 - '46. Then there was the Marshall Plan where, of course, Marshall at Harvard presented the initiative, but it was developed by the Europeans.
Then the Europeans wanted political support and ultimately they wanted military support. We read in all these American books that NATO was founded by the United States -- not really true. It was very much a European initiative, primarily a British initiative. The British insisted that the United States had to be militarily involved. There had to be an Atlantic security organization, not a European security organization, and for reasons which I explained, Washington went from saying no to this to saying yes in the spring of 1948.
I pursue this theme further: on the one hand, tremendous American influence in Europe, but on the other hand, a very strong European interest in having American involvement, primarily, of course, for the obvious reason that the Europeans needed support against the Soviet Union.
I guess the old saw is the Europeans wanted the Americans in to keep the Germans down and the Russians out.
Yes, this is the famous quote allegedly by Lord Ismay, who was the first Secretary General of NATO. He said that NATO was founded to keep the Russians out, the Germans down, and the Americans in. The interesting things is that all of us historians have been trying to identify this wonderful quote but nobody has actually been able to find it; but this has consistently been attributed to Lord Ismay and I think that is really the best explanation of what NATO was all about.
Europe then benefited both on the security side and the economic side from this.
Very much so. Of course, the Europeans got first these bilateral loans, and Europe got even more economic assistance in the years before the Marshall Plan than during the Marshall Plan, but it was very differently organized under the Marshall Plan. Europe did get the security guarantees the Europeans wanted through NATO.
In a way, the empire part -- the American influence was very, very substantial, but Washington concentrated on its overall goals, keeping the Soviets out, integrating West Germany into the European framework, to some extent opening up the European market or at least connecting the European market to the Atlantic economy, opening up Europe to American culture. But it was a very flexible American rule. The best example of this is that the United States actually promoted European integration much more strongly than the Europeans did themselves. It's very unusual for a hegemon, to use a political science term, to actually try to build up a second center, if you will, within its sphere of influence, but the U.S. clearly did for many decades.
Now on the one hand, with the end of the Cold War and the beginning of this new post - Cold War world, there was a lot of momentum toward economic integration, and partly that seems to have been a change in Europe's attitude toward the United States, and also the forces of globalization which the U.S., in the way it managed the world economy, had set into place. So, some of the changes that we're now seeing in Europe are an effort to deal with that conundrum, for their national economies to relate to the global economy.
The U.S. had very strong reasons for its promotion of European integration. It was the spillover from the American model. This is the way in which America was organized, so this is the way Europe should supposedly be organized, a federal system of much larger units. And if Europe became more self-supportive, then the Americans wouldn't have to do quite as much in the way of economic assistance and military contributions.
European integration would solve the German question. That was very difficult. What do we do about West Germany? We cannot set them loose, but we cannot keep them down, because that will promote nationalism. The obvious solution was European integration. Limit their freedom of action but also limit the freedom of action of all the other participants.
Finally, of course, European integration was also the answer to the Soviet threat. The crucial assumption on the American side was always that European integration would take place within an Atlantic framework. This was never really questioned by the Europeans until de Gaulle came along. But de Gaulle was -- well, he was certainly a difficult ally, but he did not receive much support from the other Europeans, so Washington could keep up its basic policy. Only with Nixon/Kissinger was this policy even questioned, it was so self-evidently right. Eisenhower in particular wanted European integration to go very far indeed; so did the Kennedy administration, and I think you can argue that with the exception of Nixon/Kissinger, this policy lasted even through the Clinton administration, the basic support for European integration.
But there were also question marks about the Atlantic framework, would the United States be able to maintain that Atlantic framework for integration. What we're seeing now is that there is concern in Washington that the Europeans no longer take the Atlantic framework (which is a code word for American leadership) for granted. Therefore, the support for European integration has -- I wouldn't say disappeared, but it has been very significantly reduced.
You mean, in the United States?
In the United States.
The argument is often made that the Europeans were all so exhausted by fighting each other that they sought to resolve all the security concerns within Europe; but in doing it under the rubric of dependence on the United States and NATO, they failed to make the transition to a new era in which they must seize their rule as a unit to ensure the common security of the world. Talk a little about that. Is that a correct analysis?
I would argue that European integration has been very successful. I'm a professor of history, so what we've seen in the form of European integration is almost incredible. Think of what German/French history used to be like -- two world wars -- and then, starting with the coal and steel community in 1950, European integration has expanded. The EU has been able to combine geographical widening with a deepening of content, the six members, the nine, the twelve, the fifteen and now the twenty-five, the coal and steel community, the treaties of Rome, the single integrated market, an economic and monetary union. And now they are trying to establish a common foreign and security policy. It's almost incredible what has happened.
Of course, impatient people, like journalists and most Americans, think, "Oh, well, what's the EU? It's crisis after crisis and they can never get their act together." This is what you hear all the time. And in a short-term perspective I certainly understand this. But if you add it all up in a historical perspective, it's very impressive indeed what has been accomplished.
But the EU will never, ever, become the "United States of Europe" in the sense that it will become like the U.S. No.
Do you think that at some point NATO will have to become something other than it was during the Cold War, where the United States and its military are such a dominant force? Doesn't there need to be a European NATO that is not the American NATO?
NATO has already become quite different from what it used to be during the Cold War. There are many more members, and NATO has become much more of a political organization. There's less emphasis on Article V and the military side -- the Europeans have to cooperate more on the defense side, but this is very difficult, because to make this possible, Britain and France have to agree. They are the two most important countries in the EU, certainly militarily. They have the most significant military capacities. The EU will never be able to agree on any significant military initiative if these two do not agree. Obviously, this means that you cannot have the British policy of Europe aligning itself very firmly with the U.S. all the time, and you cannot have the French policy of having all this distance to the U.S. There has to be a compromise. I think that's rather obvious. The difficult thing, of course, is to hammer this out in practice.
The balance is shifting. Now, with the Central and Eastern Europeans who support the United States very strongly and are very, very interested in military guarantees from the U.S., the larger group within the EU is very supportive of the U.S.
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