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Why the gap?

Just as controversial as the existence (and nature) of a gap, is the issue of what has caused it - to the extent that it exists at all. The often quoted and best-known proponent of the Transatlantic Gap thesis, Robert Kagan (2003), opened up his book on this theme stating upfront that 'It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world ... Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.' (Kagan, 2003: 4) He then added 'When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways.' Kagan offered an easy explanation: the United States is a military super power and Europe is not and both have adopted views of the world and the fundamental facts of international politics that legitimize their own perspectives.

The British sociologist Martin Shaw has expressed the situation somewhat differently and has coined the phrase 'post military' to describe the phenomenon of west European societies which have become essentially pacifist while maintaining small, if still sometimes quite lethal, professional armed forces, while the US clings to traditional concepts of power politics and warfare (Shaw, 1991).

A quite different view on the alleged differences between Europeans and Americans is given by Tony Judt (2008). Due to much smaller losses in earlier 20th century wars compared to other countries, he argues,

The United States today is the only advanced democracy where public figures glorify and exalt the military, a sentiment familiar in Europe before 1945 but quite unknown today [ ... ] I believe it is this contrasting recollection of war and its impact, rather than any structural difference between the US and otherwise comparable countries, which accounts for their dissimilar responses to international challenges today. Indeed, the complacent neoconservative claim that war and conflict are things Americans understand - in contrast to naive Europeans with their pacifistic fantasies - seems to me exactly wrong: it is Europeans (along with Asians and Africans) who understand war all too well. Most Americans have been fortunate enough to live in blissful ignorance of its true significance [ . .. ] For many American commentators and policymakers the message of the twentieth century is that war works. Hence the widespread enthusiasm for our war in Iraq in 2003 (despite strong opposition to it in most other countries). For Washington, war remains an option - on that occasion the first option. For the rest of the developed world it has become a last resort. (Judt, 2008: 18)

A comparable view is taken by James Sheehan (2008). He describes how military power is no longer the most important raison d'etre of European states who had a long history of having to be prepared to fight wars with one another. European nations defined themselves by their willingness and ability to fight each other. Following the horrors of two world wars, however, the European sentiment of what it means to be a citizen has fundamentally changed. Having lost their former imperial roles and their colonies and having survived the Cold War under the protection of the American umbrella, European countries have become 'civilian countries'. Those who continue to be willing to shed blood are no longer seen as 'idealists, heroes or saviours', but as 'criminals, fanatics and maniacs'. Where Americans continue to see war as an acceptable cure to political problems, Europeans are more likely to choose 'civilian options'. European states, he says, 'have retained the capacity to make war but lost all interest in doing so'. This appears the case in particular with regard to the 'war on terror', which is seen in Washington as a job for soldiers, while Europeans tend to see it as a matter for the police and justice officials, not because they are principled pacifists, but simply because they no longer believe in the efficacy of military power (Sheehan, 2008).

These claims, like so many others on the same theme, need to be backed up, however, by more solid evidence than can be supplied in an essay. This book aims to contribute to that very goal.

 
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