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American views on Europe’s geopolitical clout

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What have American politicians had to say about Europe, its role, significance or insignificance and its relationship with America? Naturally, the USA has had different views of Europe over time: early in its history when it was a colony; later, as the weaker and less developed half of the western world watching Europe colonize the world in awe or with contempt; and, later still, as a global power shielding Europe from the Russian threat.

Our concern here is with the present and the recent past, the post-war period. In an excellent book, John L. Harper, professor at Johns Hopkins University, compares the visions of Europe of three influential American statesmen: President (1933-45) Franklin D. Roosevelt, the diplomat and political scientist George F. Kennan and  Secretary of State (from 1949-53) Dean Acheson. [1] The views of these three men on Europe’s significance and role and thus about US foreign policy show striking contrasts. Roosevelt’s vision reflected America’s Euro-phobia. He believed that Europe’s time was over and the old continent belonged in a retirement home. Roosevelt was almost as hostile to France’s aspirations to play an independent role as to Nazi Germany. He was also opposed to Churchill’s idea of a United States of Europe on the grounds that an integrated Western Europe with all kinds of independent aspirations was not in America’s interest. Roosevelt saw the world as a quasi-unipolar one in which the USA controlled international politics, nominally within the United Nations framework, together with China, Russia and the UK, but in reality as the unquestionably dominant actor. There were some contradictions in Roosevelt’s views: he would have liked a weak Europe but did not want to station US troops on the continent, simply because he did not consider it strategically as important as the Middle and Far East. The President was convinced that, with WWII, Europe had virtually written itself off and become irreversibly irrelevant. At this time, the idea of European integration and a European Union existed only as thought experiment in a handful of minds.

The main champions of the other fundamental US approach to Europe in the 20th century were President Eisenhower and the eminent diplomat George F. Kennan (the author of the famous “Long Telegram” from Moscow of 1946, which helped to galvanize awareness of the dangers posed by the Soviet Union). Their position was directly opposed to Roosevelt’s: they were convinced that Europe should be strengthened, not weakened, therefore it was essential to maintain an interim US military presence on the continent and encourage its economic and political integration. Only a reinforced Western Europe could resist the Soviet Union in the long run. Only a strong and prosperous Europe could solve the problem of a divided Germany and lure the satellite states of central and Eastern Europe with its positive example. But they insisted on the temporary nature of a US presence, arguing that eventually Europe should provide for its own defense: Europe should not get soft and used to the idea of having America protect it in any situation. As Eisenhower put it in the fifties: “It is not possible, and most certainly not desirable, that Europe should be an occupied territory defended by legions brought in from abroad…” The task of the USA was to encourage the emergence of a third great power bloc which would. become America’s friend and help it solve the international problems of a multipolar world order. But even the pro-Europe Kennan found it difficult to tolerate France’s vehement geopolitical ambitions to build a Europe keeping an equal distance from the USA and the Soviet Union. As he once quipped: I was a Gaullist before de Gaulle.

Dean Acheson’s Europe policy was a synthesis of the previous two, the one to subordinate Europe and the other to restore its strength and make it an equal partner. Acheson believed that the fate of Europe was too important to the US to be left to Europeans alone. And this would have been true even if the Soviet Union had not existed. Consequently — and this was in line with what he was hearing from most realistic European politicians — a Western alliance was needed in which Europe did not play an equal role with the USA. In other words, instead of a tripolar world order, Europe would become part of America’s western empire by invitation. The Acheson view, which became the predominant one from the 1950s onwards, was based on the following key assumptions: a certain degree of (Western) European integration was useful for the West and opposing it would trigger an anti-American reaction, nonetheless, US hegemony had to be maintained to guarantee that Europe could withstand Russia’s pressure. NATO was the key western institution of this setup as the guarantor and executor of America’s dominant role.

Harper calls this world order a semi duopoly, in which Europe recognized that it could not guarantee its own geopolitical position and security and the USA recognized that it needed Europe as its key ally to maintain this world order. It was within the framework of this paradigm, which existed for decades, that the European Union carried out its internal construction. Naturally, the end of the Cold War forced a reevaluation of many things, including the international order and EU-US relations in it. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the western world lived in euphoria for years. For a brief while it was even believed that the “end of history” had come, inasmuch as Professor Fukuyama’s theory was widely accepted that western liberal democracy, as the final form of human government, had claimed the ultimate victory. The United States had won the Cold War, which for Europe meant a significant devaluation of its geopolitical importance: the USA could finally turn its attention to emerging parts of the world and start consolidating a new unipolar world order. Europe could continue its ever-closer integration, introduce the euro as a single currency and allow in the former satellite countries of Central and Eastern Europe as fully-fledged members of the EU. The USA became intoxicated by unipolarity and allowed its frustration over grievances (for example during the Iraq conflict) to lead its relations with European countries to deteriorate. The paradigm of semi-duopoly was replaced by the unipolar worldview of the neoconservative Bush era. In other words, America no longer felt the need to have Europe by its side to manage the world’s affairs.

The contemporary neoconservative view of Europe is influenced not only by geostrategic considerations but also by moral value judgments: Europe is becoming objectively weaker, on top of which its leaders are seen the same way as those soft and feeble Europeans who appeased Hitler in the 30s and watched with their arms folded while the Nazis extended their power. Europe is a decadent society living in a postmodern dream world leading to complete decay. In addition, Europe continues to sabotage the international policy and ambitions of the USA, the only remaining standard bearer and defender of western civilization (just think of America’s sense of mission). Naturally, the post-9/11 atmosphere of revenge present in American political circles and society greatly contributed to the dominance of neoconservative principles. Much of Europe responded to various US military actions coldly, with rejection or sabotage, which stirred in US government circles a degree of anti-Europeanism unseen for a long time. The opinion of Richard Perle, an influential neocon political advisor, reflects these sentiments well. He once said that Europeans were unwilling to invest in the defense industry because they were only interested in their own comfort. Europe’s wariness of excessive American power, however, pre-dates the neocon era; it developed gradually in Western Europe, especially France following World War II. The contemporary French critique of the United States as a “hyperpuissance” did not begin during the Bush administration but was already to the fore during the Clinton administration, which maintained friendly ties with Europe. Its main outlines were strongly marked in Gaullism and indeed the historical roots are deeper still: as early as 1817, John Quincy Adams, who went on to become US President, forewarned that Europeans would one day see the USA as a “dangerous nation”.

Although they may not admit it, neocons are bothered by the fact that Europe rejects a foreign policy based on sheer force and presents an alternative approach to the world and its problems. The neoconservative era had brought about one psychological novelty for Europeans: their covert anti-Americanism has been an almost natural element of trans-Atlantic relations but, during the war in Iraq, they experienced the same resentment from the side of the USA. The election of President Obama seemed to hold the promise of a fresh start in trans-Atlantic relations, not only because of the President’s personality but also because his advocacy of a new rulebook for the new world order would necessitate close cooperation between the two western power blocs.

How do American politicians and commentators see Europe’s present and future geopolitical role and relations with the USA? Once again, there are plenty of theories to choose from.

Fareed Zakaria, the prominent foreign affairs columnist, believes that Europe could greatly contribute to the world’s stability by accepting Turkey’s bid for EU membership, but as it holds Turkey in limbo (with an eventual “No” more likely than not), it contributes to increased international instability. But above all, Europe is missing the opportunity to regain its status as a key geostrategic actor to be reckoned with.

Robert Zoellick, former deputy Secretary of State and President of the World Bank since 2007, is a popular figure in Europe. He is convinced that Europe’s worldview is distorted by its own self-identity. International negotiations and consultations are a successful means of solving problems in an EU context but do not always work in every case elsewhere in the world. The innate European attitude means a clear preference for maintaining the status quo, whatever the international issue. This attitude makes it difficult to adapt to a rapidly changing world. Europeans are convinced that any effort to change the world is doomed to fail.

Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor who shaped American geopolitical thinking for decades, is a member of the right-wing realistic school. He sees a growing gap between the US and Europe in military capabilities, as well as technological and economic development. Europe is going downhill, without the political will and the ability to pursue its geopolitical interests successfully or protect itself in the swiftly changing circumstances of the 21st century. Its troubles are further aggravated by its catastrophic demographic prospects. At first glance, it is not easy to distinguish between the realist and the neocon views of Europe, but there is a huge difference: realists are saddened by Europe’s decline, while neocons are pleased about it. Kissinger believes that the future shape of the world is going to be fashioned by three geopolitical processes (revolutions, as he calls them). Firstly, the drift of the center of gravity of international affairs from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Secondly, the radical Islamist challenge to historic notions of sovereignty. Thirdly, the transformation of the traditional state system of Europe. All of these may even lead to the creation of a European political union.

It was Henry Kissinger, the then National Security Advisor, who in 1972 famously posed the oft-quoted rhetorical question: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” The question remains unanswered; Europe still does not speak with a single voice, it still does not have a common foreign policy and the political union is still not a reality. Europe’s economic unity is tangible both within its boundaries (for European companies and citizens) and outside. However, the Kissinger question pertained to the lack of political unity. It is unlikely that — as many Europeans believe — Kissinger was trying to poke fun at Europe.

To non-Europeans, “European foreign policy” is an obscure, complicated, multi-tier system. On the one hand, it incorporates member states’ own traditional foreign policies (especially of those who are significant actors internationally); on the other hand, it includes the nominally common EU foreign policy as well as the defense policy (launched in the wake of the wars of former Yugoslavia). In other words, it is the sum of principles and actions that member states consult each other on or adopt with unanimity. Finally, it even includes those truly common foreign policies that are more commercial in nature, such as development policy or trade policy, both of which are run from Brussels.

With member states taking turns at the helm of the EU for six-month stints, its international partners find it difficult to take Europe seriously. Member states have never really warmed to the idea of a common foreign policy; most of them persist with their own national foreign policies. These are far more important than Community projects, which are slow and cumbersome to implement. In a European Union of 28 one cannot seriously talk about equal diplomatic partners, even if that would be formally correct. The foreign policy horizon of smaller member states rarely extends beyond relations with neighboring states or emergencies; therefore they can add little value when it comes to deciding global issues. The key problem remains that nobody knows who makes the common foreign policy, who speaks for Europe. This issue has not been solved by the Lisbon treaty and the establishment of the post of the European foreign policy representative and the EU external action service.

The evolution of a “common” European foreign policy is a painfully slow process: the so-called European Political Cooperation (a synonym for consultations between foreign ministries) was only superseded by foreign policy coordination — misleadingly labeled the common foreign and security policy — a quarter of a century later. European defense cooperation is in an embryonic stage. Europe’s total defense spending is about half of the USA’s 350 billion, but the main reason behind its military weakness is the fragmentation of its national armies. The number of American soldiers readily deployable oversees nears half a million, compared with less than a hundred thousand in the EU.

When World War II ended and the Cold War began, the European powers realized that their glory days were over and they desperately needed the American nuclear umbrella. With the Cold War over and former satellite countries inside the EU, the former relative cohesion loosened and during the Iraq crisis European foreign policy failed spectacularly. The old continent split into two camps along the lines of their position on the war; trans-Atlantic relations fell to their lowest ebb in decades. In November 2003, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary who was later forced to resign because of failures in Iraq, put Germany in the group of “problem countries” together with Iran and Libya. In return, the German Minister of Justice compared him to Hitler. Who would have thought just a few decades earlier that such a thing could ever happen? Statements like “you are either with us or with the terrorists” by President Bush or the “old Europe — new Europe” classification by the Defense Secretary did not exactly help either. Implicit or open messages, covert or overt threats of armed response, sophisticated economic sanctions and abusive statements escalated on both sides of the Atlantic. Europe’s response to the US policy of “divide et impera” was a surge of anti-Americanism. The two nests of Western culture seemed to have drifted apart. America’s arrogance only stoked the fire of Europe’s deep-seated anti-Americanism. Displays of American-friendliness by Central and Eastern European countries, which had just shaken loose of Russian oppression, earned them reproaches from Western Europe and the ratings of the British prime minister fell fast. During the second term of the Bush administration and especially after the election of President Obama things began to return to normal, but the US still does not consider the EU a potent foreign policy actor capable of unified and determined action.

Let me cite one example to illustrate my point! In 2008, The Wall Street Journal called the EU’s ultimatum to Russia on Georgia a joke. “Stop! Or we’ll say stop again! With apologies to comedian Robin Williams, that’s the line that comes to mind when weighing the European Union’s declaration Monday on Russia’s continued occupation of Georgia.” — the front-page article ran.
“At a special meeting in Brussels, EU national leaders told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to abide by the terms of a French-brokered cease-fire, including a pullback of Russian troops to their pre-conflict positions. If he doesn’t do so, they warned they will hold another meeting. It’s been almost three weeks since Mr. Medvedev signed the cease-fire, and five days since Moscow broke with the world by recognizing the self-declared independence of Georgian provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Yet European leaders evidently need more time to ruminate over the situation in the Caucasus.”
The Wall Street journal added that during a post-summit press conference Nicolas Sarkozy was justly posed the question: Is the EU a “paper tiger”? Mr. Sarkozy, visibly angered, responded: “Demonstrations of force, verbal aggression, sanctions, countersanctions . . . will not serve anyone.” “What Europe needs is political will”, the conservative paper wrote, adding that “Mr. Sarkozy would do better to name and shame those member states whose desire to curry favor with Moscow keeps the EU from taking a firmer stand.”
The same thing happened a few years later at the time when the Ukraine crisis hit: US foreign policy staff was very disappointed by the slow and timid reaction of the EU.
Would Americans be irritated by a move towards closer political integration in the EU, making it a federation of states with a more united and robust foreign policy and a higher profile? This was the question I put to all the analysts, diplomats and political scientists I met over the last few years. Much to my surprise, they all said: No. On the contrary, the USA has an interest in ensuring that the EU can respond in a united way to conflict situations and play a diplomatic and military role that its economic might entitles it to.
The idea of creating a European political union has intrigued both European and American leaders for centuries. George Washington, whom Napoleon deeply admired, prophesied in his correspondence to the Marquis de Lafayette that one day Europe would follow the example of the United States of America. It looks like we are in for a long wait.
During the Cold War it was the Soviet Union, in the 21st century it will be Asia, and in particular China that will lie at the heart of American foreign policy. The China-focused nature of US foreign policy is the consequence of geopolitical realities, which Europe can do little about. Nonetheless, by being fragmented, Europe devalues its international role and makes it difficult for the US to consider it an actor with as much influence as its real weight would justify. Europe does not have a face, does not speak with one voice, does not even speak the same language and cannot be relied on when help is needed quickly. This is roughly how I can summarize the criticism of American diplomacy.
The interests and positions of big EU member states often differ on strategic issues such as involvement in military intervention or managing the global financial crisis. A more important, albeit less obvious problem is that major European powers have different visions about Europe’s role and future. These differences make it extremely difficult to forge common, coherent and effective international action.
America is aware of Europe’s key dilemma of “deepening or widening”: push on with enlargement and let new members in or focus on building a political union instead? The United States faced a somewhat similar situation in the 19th century when the original 13 states acquired new territories through wars and land purchases, expanding their influence and principles of state organization to a growing area. This expansion was the key to America’s success: it created the world’s largest single market, which spawned the world’s largest corporations in just a few decades’ time. A vast economic and political bloc was formed, which was protected by oceans both from the east and the west, making the USA inward looking in many aspects.

By the end of the Bush era, the United States looked like a bust state with no self-confidence. The intervention in Iraq was not only and primarily a military and political failure; it isolated the United States internationally and sparked anti-American sentiments globally. By the end of 2008, the economy was badly shaken, the world’s biggest banks were wiped out in days, and the stock markets went into freefall. President Bush delivered a dramatic televised speech explaining to the American people why a record-size 700 billion dollar government rescue package was needed and why — against the most fundamental of Republican and American instincts — large corporations needed to be nationalized. The country wanted change and wanted it badly, which led to the election of a Democrat as President with an impressive margin unseen since the victory of Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

But Barack Obama (called simply “the post-imperial president” by Newsweek [2]) could not do wonders. He inherited the leadership of a country with a dented image, which was spiritually uncertain and economically on its knees. It says a lot that, in the run-up to Election Day, Barack Obama’s bedside reading was Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. The situation of Obama’s America is very similar to the situation of Great Britain in his grandfather’s time, when it was on the eve of its 20th century decline. The economic challenges of today are comparable to those that Franklin D. Roosevelt had to face at the time of the Great Depression – except that, in the 1930s, the United States was a rising power in geopolitical terms. “America is like a company on the brink of bankruptcy. In the last eight years we have lost most of our credibility”.”Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” These words come from Roosevelt’s inaugural address in 1932, but could just as well have been from Obama at the start of his presidency in 2009.

Today it is universally accepted that, after the end of the Cold War, in turn the unipolar world order and America’s hegemony are coming to a close. American foreign policy must respond to the changing realities. The Obama administration has declared its intention to adopt a “smart power” approach to foreign policy, which puts diplomacy and foreign aid on an equal footing with military action.

Obviously, the previous administration’s stance was incompatible with the new administration’s commitment to multilateral, cooperative international politics. More money is devoted to improving the linguistic skills of American diplomats – in particular for languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and Urdu, which gives us a broad idea of the new diplomatic priorities. A number of American authors, among them the pro-European Democrat Sven Steinmo, warned Europe not to have exaggerated expectations, arguing that the United States will not be radically different under Obama. As Steinmo points out, America’s laws are passed by Congress and the President only has the right of veto. Members of the House and Senate are elected to serve the interests of their voters in their respective constituencies and states and most of them have little insight into international affairs. Moreover, the United States remains divided.

As it normally does, the Obama’s popularity started to fall, but he still could secure a second term. As for the EU-USA relations and the perceptions of the US government of the EU: those who predicted that no miracle would occur in this respect were right: the Obama administration did not alter the geopolitical focus of the US in the favour of Europe. Notwithstanding the fact that some of his political opponents portrayed Obama as a closet European (there were remarks such as why doesn’t he run a Western-European country, or he seems to agree with the European, anti-American sentiment, or even that he wants to build the United States of France) his government’s geopolitical focus further drifted towards the Pacific from the Atlantic. At the same time, the honeymoon between Europe and Obama’s America was over as well. By October 2009, The Economist [3] had already started to speak again about the Atlantic divide. Obama shocked Europeans by staying away from the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and humiliated the EU by refusing to come to Madrid to the EU-US summit. These were strong and clear negative signals to Europe already half a decade ago. By the end of 2010, Obama mania seemed to be over in Europe.

The new and robust impetus for the reinforcement of bilateral relations is the grand trade and economic agreement the so-called TTIP. A lot will depend on how this is being managed and how successful this partnership will become over the next decade.

A smooth and mutually fruitful economic partnership will nevertheless not solve everything in itself. Better geopolitical cooperation is also necessary to mend fences and to guarantee the delivery of mutually accepted foreign policy objectives. The US clearly expects Europe to pledge to stand by its main ally if firm action becomes necessary.
America wants Europe to take a firmer stance against China, and an ever more provocative Russia. In essence, the United States would like the European Union to cooperate more closely and operate more effectively as a partner by its side. The USA would not mind an EU with a more pronounced international political profile, especially if it meant a quicker and more efficient response to international crisis situations.

[1] American Visions of Europe: Franklin D. Roosevelt, George F. Kennan and Dean G. Acheson New York, Cambridge University Press 1994.
[2] Newsweek, 14 December, 2009. p. 1.
[3] The Atlantic gap.” The Economist, 1 October 2009.

Hungarian economist, PhD in international relations. Based in Brussels for fourteen years as diplomat and member of EU commissioners’ cabinets. Two times visiting fellow of Wilson Center in Washington DC. University professor and author of books on EU affairs and geopolitics. Head of department, National University of Public Administration, Budapest.

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9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles: Outcomes in 2022

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Image source: U.S. Department of State

The 9th Summit of the Americas—delayed for a year by the pandemic—attracted unprecedented scrutiny of Latin American and global media, already at the stage of preparations. It was not only the matter of Washington’s “invitation campaign” and the (predictable) response of Latin American leaders to it. Rather, the White House had been expected to offer new ideas, showcase new approaches, initiate new proposals, which would make it possible to confirm and solidify U.S. leadership in the Western hemisphere, particularly given the growing competition with China in a region of America’s traditional interests. Joe Biden failed to achieve a breakthrough: the final declaration proved to have a far narrower scope than expected, while Latin Americans demonstrated their agency on the global stage once again. The Summit of the Americas never became Joe Biden’s diplomatic triumph, but it would not do to underestimate Washington’s ability to play “a long game”, achieving the goals set in circuitous ways. Recent history knows a number of such instances.

Record no-shows

The Forum’s main sensation was the pointed refusal of the leaders of five states (Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador) to attend the event in person. Some did not attend due to objective circumstances, but everyone who declined the invitation to appear at the summit had their own reasons, with the main being the White House’s high-profile decision not to invite the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Traditionally, the hosts of previous summits selected the invitees, and scandals had been known to happen. In 2018, Peru did not invite Nicolas Maduro, and previously, the US traditionally opposed Cuba’s attendance (the country participated in the summit only twice).

Many observers have deemed Joe Biden’s rigid stance on the three states illogical, particularly given Washington’s simultaneous efforts to normalize relations with Havana and Caracas that have recently manifested in the easing of sanctions. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the ideological component has traditionally been of key importance for the U.S. in its relations with the region. Nor could Joe Biden ignore the harsh stance of most American elites; an invitation extended to these three states would have had horrendous domestic political consequences for the current administration. Tellingly, the White House also refused to invite its Venezuelan “protégé” Juan Guaido—Joe Biden only had a telephone conversation with him.

The refusal of several Latin American leaders to attend the Summit in person should be interpreted with care. Frequently, such a decision looked like a desire to trumpet their stance in Washington’s face, creating an opportunity for publicity, especially since most heads of state that ignored the event still sent large delegations, closely following the course of the Summit closely.

Nonetheless, even many of those presidents or heads of government who chose to travel to Los Angeles openly expressed their disagreement with Washington’s approaches, condemning the non-invitation of the three states. Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez and Belize’s Prime Minister Johnny Briceño were particularly stark in this regard. They were diplomatic, yet open in personally telling Joe Biden their grievances during the first principal session. The two leaders condemned both the sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela and the exclusion of these states from the list of invitees.

In his response, Joe Biden had to make conciliatory statements on the need to search for common language despite existing differences. Many observers viewed Latin Americans’ demarche as a manifestation of the U.S. weakening regional influence and a symbol of new geopolitical realities in the Western hemisphere. In fact, U.S. partners in Latin America traditionally dish direct criticisms or disagreements to U.S. leaders. Suffice it to remember the famous 4th Summit of the Americas in 2005 in Mar del Plata, where three presidents (Lula da Silva, Hugo Chavez, and Nestor Kirchner) “buried” the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA/ALCA) initiative, right in the presence of George W. Bush. Condemnations of anti-Cuban sanctions and of Cuba’s exclusion from forums have also become a tradition with Latin Americans. But when Washington appears to face consolidated Latin American opposition, this has a knack for switching work in many areas into bilateral format where the U.S. has far more opportunities for pushing through its stances and interests. For instance, when the FTAA/ALCA project failed, the U.S. rather focused on bilateral free trade agreements—over the next decade, Washington did conclude them with most of states of the region.

The language of initiatives

Washington’s main drive at the Summit can be defined as an intent to limit the presence of external actors in the traditional area of U.S. interests. China was not in any way involved in the Summit, U.S. officials did not mention Beijing in any of their speeches—yet, it was invisibly present throughout the event. During his main speech at the Forum’s opening on June 6, Joe Biden articulated new suggestions concerning cooperation, stressing that the Western hemisphere has enough resources of its own to handle its principal problems. The U.S. is trying to contain China’s expansion into the LCA, but it has failed to snatch the initiative from China so far. The Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, a new Washington-proposed initiative, can be seen as an attempt to offer an alternative to Chinese proposals for Latin America that include the “New Silk Road” project. Proposing strategic initiatives is a traditional form of communication of the United States with Latin America (whether at the time of John F. Kennedy or George H. Bush). The U.S. lost initiative in the region during Donald Trump’s presidency, with Joe Biden now striving to respond to the principal challenges of development: post-pandemic recovery, migration and security, digitization, rebounding investment, the “green” agenda. Many elements in the new initiative are not yet entirely clear. The White House has noticeably been preparing these proposals “in haste,” without elaborating every item in a careful fashion. It is also obvious that the U.S. intends to retain its leadership in such areas as digitization (as a snub against the Electronic Silk Road), military assistance and cooperation, logistics, green technologies.

However, many experts exhibit understandable skepticism when it comes to Joe Biden’s proposals. What is striking is the openly small financing Washington proposes, particularly if compared to the aid the U.S. is currently extending to Ukraine. Emphasis on the environmental agenda and respect for democratic norms can be seen as an instrument of future restrictions against those who do not comply with these requirements, at least in the eyes of Washington. Such demands are already a standard feature of trade agreements spearheaded by the U.S. (for instance, USMCA).

Each Summit of the Americas traditionally ends with a thematically expansive final declaration to cover all the problems in social, economic and political development. The current Forum’s organizers were expected to produce something of the sort. However, the attendees only adopted the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection at the end of the Summit, a document that boils down to Washington’s desire to “share responsibility” for resolving the migration crisis with all the nations of Latin America, both countries of origin and transit states. Certainly, the issue of Latin American migrants is a burning problem for the U.S., Mexico and states of Central America. The situation may be further complicated by the expected food crisis, which is spurred, in the White House’s opinion, by Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. The declaration includes a large set of measures on ensuring security for migrant flows, on combating the root causes of their exodus, and on bolstering regional coordination and cooperation in this area. The document was signed by 20 states (some abstained), including all the Central American states whose leaders were not present at the Summit.

Recognizing the importance of interactions in the matter of migration, Latin Americans must have been expecting something greater than just a call for “shared responsibility” from the U.S. Initially, the organizers had ambitious plans on a far larger range of issues rather than mere migration. Preliminary discussions focused on environmental issues and environmental protection; however, since Brazil refused to sign such a declaration (under the pretext of Brazil’s relevant legislation being stringent enough already), the document was not submitted for final signing. Washington did preliminary bilateral work with key manufacturers calling upon them to ramp up oil production and exports of agricultural products to counteract the energy and food crisis. In his main speech, Joe Biden said that these crises were mostly caused by the situation in Ukraine and Russia’s actions in particular. Washington possibly planned for the final document to tie condemnation of Russia’s actions with plans for collectively counteracting the mounting crises (if the U.S. had succeeded in getting Latin Americans to support such decisions).

Many observers interpret problems with attendance as well as the openly limited final decisions and documents as Joe Biden’s unequivocal diplomatic defeat and proof of Washington’s weakening stance in Latin America. However, the Summit of the Americas is only the “tip of the iceberg” of the multitude of America’s extremely complicated and multilayered relations with the region. The U.S. remains Latin America’s principal trade and economic partner and a crucial source of technologies and investment. Indeed, there was a certain dip in trading in the 2000s. Recently, however, Washington succeeded at largely regaining its standing despite China’s active expansion into the region. The U.S. is the integral security factor in Latin America, the main recipient of migrants, and it would not do to underestimate the U.S. influence on most regional governments in spite of their growing agency.

Having drawn its conclusions from the Summit’s failures, the White House will continue to “push its agenda through” in bilateral formats as it keeps all of its influence resources. At the final press conference, a journalist asked Antony Blinken on the issue, and the Secretary of State’s response encapsulates this approach. Commenting on the refusal of some to sign the Los Angeles migration declaration, he was confident that all countries will accede to it sooner or later, pursuant to targeted work with each state. Washington has “strategic patience” in spades.

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The Canal System and the Development of the Early American Economy

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The prosperity and development of the United States that it enjoys today did not come out of thin air. This is especially true in its early days of economic development which has a lot to do with the construction of the transportation system. In the beginning, it was the development of water transportation, then the railway, next followed by the highways. The construction of these major transportation systems supported the early development, prosperity, and rise of the U.S., laying the foundation for it to become a major world power.

The early water transport in the U.S. is rather interesting, and it mainly aimed to connect more places in the country by excavating and expanding the canal system. According to incomplete statistics, the total length of canals in the U.S. is 18,000 km. This 18,000 km long canal was of great significance to the early economic development of the country. This well-connected water transportation system has greatly enriched the exchange of commodities, promoted trade, and enabled the convenient transportation of raw materials, salt, whisky, energy coal, and many other products within the country. The domestic market of the U.S. had also expanded, and its national economy transformed from weak to strong.

The longest and the most well-known canal in the U.S. is the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal is named after the lake and starts from the Niagara River which originates from Lake Erie. It spans upstate New York and joins the Hudson River in Albany, the capital city of New York State, with a total length of 574 km. It is not only the longest canal in the U.S. but also the sixth-longest in the world. Back in the early 19th century, before the automobile existed, there was an urgent need for a transportation route from the Atlantic coast to the Appalachian region. A canal was proposed to run from Buffalo on the east shore of Lake Erie through the canyons of the Mohawk Valley to Albany on the upper Hudson River.

In 1817, the New York State Legislature approved the construction of the Erie Canal. After much arduous work, the canal was finally opened on October 25, 1825. Its total length is 584 km (363 miles), The channel was cut 12 m (40 feet) wide and 1.2 m (4 feet) deep. In order to solve the problem of water level drop, a total of 83 locks have been built in the canal, each lock is 27 m by 4.5 m, allowing the navigation of flat-bottomed barges with a maximum displacement of 75 tons (68 tonnes).

The Erie Canal was the first express transportation to provide the east coast and west interior of the U.S. much faster than the animal-pulled carts most commonly used at the time. Not only did it speed up transportation, but it also cut transportation costs along the coast and inland by 95%. Fast canal traffic made western New York more accessible, resulting in rapid population growth in the Midwest. The canal had as much impact on the development of the upper Midwest as it did on the development of New York City. Many pioneers flocked west through the canal, into Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois, Indiana, from where they shipped agricultural products through the canal to be marketed in New York, and the return journey was loaded with industrial goods and supplies to the west. Manufacturing industries emerged on both sides of the canal, supplying a steady stream of products to New York City. From Buffalo to New York, land freight once reached $100 per ton, and it was only $10 by the canal. In nine years, tolls had paid back the cost of the construction of the canal. By the time the toll was abolished in 1882, the revenue from the canal had been used to pay for the construction of several canal spurs, and there was substantial tax payment as well.

The canal has been expanded several times. After its reconstruction in 1909, it has become 544 km long, 45 m wide, and 3.6 m deep. By the 20th century, New York had developed a network of canals connecting Lakes Champlain, Ontario, and Finger, and the Erie Canal remained the central route, capable of navigating barges with a capacity of 2,200 tons. The establishment of the Erie Canal connected the water transport of the Great Lakes with New York Harbor and became the main waterway of the navigable canal system in New York State. The freight from Lake Erie to New York only required the cost of one-tenth of the former, making the city, much smaller than Philadelphia and Boston at that time, rapidly developed into the largest port and city in the country. The construction of the Erie Canal played a major role in promoting the economic development of the eastern United States and New York. The population of New York in 1820 was 123,700, and the population of Philadelphia was 112,000. By 1860, the numbers rose to 1.08 million and 566,000 respectively. Consequently, New York thrived as a port city. In 1800, only about 9% of all foreign goods in the United States entered the United States through New York Harbor, yet by 1860, that percentage jumped to 62%. The strengthening of New York’s status too indirectly led to the gradual establishment of Wall Street’s status. In this regard, the Erie Canal contributed greatly to such progress.

In addition to changing urban patterns and the rise of industry, the Erie Canal had a far-reaching impact on the U.S. economy, gradually transforming it into a consumer-led economy that determined the subsequent U.S. economic landscape. Culturally, the opening of the Erie Canal also boosted the Protestant revival movement known as the Second Awakening. Western New York was one of the main areas of this movement, and a crucial reason for this was the opening of the Erie Canal. In the small towns emerging on both sides of the canal, various sects began to proselyte in places where their churches had yet to be common, and some emerging religious groups took root there and rapidly developed, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons.

Other than the evangelization along the Erie Canal, many new trends of thought also made their appearance there, such as the early feminist movement, the abolition movement, and utopianism, which all found their initial supporters in the emerging towns in that region. Hence, the construction of the Erie Canal played a driving role in the changes of the American cultural pattern.

From the day the Erie Canal was built, the vast area between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, especially the Midwest around the Great Lakes, was no longer the frontier of the United States, but was connected to the east coast and became the heartland of the country. The economic and social changes it brought about had put the U.S. on the first step toward becoming a great power. The central and western regions could industrialize swiftly, forming the Great Lakes industrial areas, mining areas, and urban belt. All of these were inseparable from the Erie Canal, therefore it is not unreasonable for many to consider the opening of the Erie Canal as the official beginning of the first industrial revolution in the U.S.

There are numerous canals within the U.S. According to incomplete statistics, the country has built a total of 18,000 km of canals. The entire country has also become an organic whole because of these canals, which not only effectively enhanced the ability to resist droughts and floods, but also greatly developed the American economy and market.

Final analysis conclusion:

The construction of the canal system played an important role in the early transportation improvement, trade flow, market expansion, cultural dissemination, and urban development of the United States. This, in turn, has greatly promoted the development of the American economy and played an important role for it to become a major power.

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Aligning values into an interest-based Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an explicit challenge to the post-WW 2 order. This order has brought peace and stability and created the conditions for economic growth in the global north and Global South. It has also brought relative peace and economic integration in the Europe and in the Indo-Pacific.

Today, this order is now being challenged by Russia today but also by China. The consequences could mean that a might-is-right approach and Machiavellian approach to foreign policy will become the new normal for countries like Canada, a self-described middle power.

A Machiavellian order is an order in which larger countries can bully, cajole and pressure, mid and small size countries to do what they are demanded is an explicit challenge to Canadian interests, as well as the interests of like-minded countries such as Japan, Australia, South Korea, European countries and countries in the Global South.

The Trudeau Government has clearly and explicitly criticized the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Ottawa has coordinated with other middle powers and as we speak through the G-7 Summit in Germany on how to handle Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

Unity will be important, especially as energy security becomes more and more critical of an issue for Central and Eastern European countries. The growing food crisis that has manifested as a result of the Russian invasion is also an area that the G-7 will need to coordinate to provide relief to many countries in the Global South.

This message will be further discussed at the NATO summit in Spain. Here, Japan, South Korea, Australia New Zealand will join the NATO members to demonstrate their shared commitment to a rules-based order to pushing back against aggression to change the current order and to find ways to work together to support the Ukraine and resist Russian aggression. Here, Canada has an important role in terms of energy security and food security.

With ample access to energy and food resources, there is a possibility for Canada and other partners such as the U.S. to divert some of its significant grain and energy resources to the Europe to help alleviate some of the stress associated with the invasion of Ukraine.

Coordinated military support as well will be important to ensure that the Ukrainians can resist and eventually take back territory that was taken by force by Russia.

There is an interesting paradox in Canada’s approach. While explicitly criticizing Russia’s might-is-right approach to foreign relations in Eastern Europe and particularly with Ukraine, Canada continues to waver in using the same language in the Indo-Pacific.

The Indo-Pacific region is also facing a might-is-right approach to reshaping the Indo-Pacific order. The use of lawfare, gray-zone operations, military force and belligerent threats all are aimed at reshaping the Indo-Pacific order in such a way that creates a Chinese centric regional order in which China’s neighbors as well as stakeholders that engage in the region will think about China’s interests before their own interests and their interest with Washington.

Canada needs to continue to invest in the Indo-Pacific. A good place to start will be to explicitly state Canada’s concerns about that Machiavellian approach to foreign policy in the region and the efforts by China to reshape the region such that states lose aspects of their autonomy. This will require an Indo-Pacific strategy to be built on a clear objective of how Canada sees the Indo-Pacific Region evolving forward and how Canada would like to contribute to that broader vision of the Indo-Pacific.

Japan, Australia, the United States, Germany, Denmark, and the E.U. have laid out their own Indo-Pacific strategies. They focus on maritime security, a rules-based order, transparency, development and importantly, good governance. We see little rhetoric concerning progressive issues as well as little mention of the core values such as democracy, human rights and freedom of press. This is intentional. These countries and associations understand the heterogeneity within the region.

The-Indo Pacific region is home to soft authoritarian regimes, socialist regimes, democracies and monarchies. Unfortunately, each has very different views about democracy, human rights and progressive issues.  

Where they are aligned is in their interests. Their interests are focused on trade, economic integration development, the digital economy, resolving territorial issues through dialogue and consensus-based decision making and not excluding any country region or political entity from the region’s political economy.

Simply, associations and regions like ASEAN, South Asia and the E.U.  see inclusivity as a key criterion to the Indo-Pacific peaceful evolution This means any Indo-Pacific strategy that emerges out of these countries does not exclude China or strive to eject non-democratic states.

Rather, their Indo-Pacific strategies focus on inculcating peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region through development, trade, infrastructure and connectivity, institution building, good governance and deterrence.

In the Canadian case, the broader vision for the Indo-Pacific should echo but not necessarily replicate the Indo-Pacific Visions of the country’s mentioned above. Canada’s priority should be peace, stability, open access, a transparent, rules-based order that ensures Canada can have free access to economies and societies throughout the region.

At the same time, Canada’s interests in the Indo-Pacific should include shaping the region such that traditional security issues such as territory issues in the South China Sea, East China Sea, the Taiwan Straits and the Himalayan plateau do not devolve into kinetic conflict that fundamentally disrupts the region’s development and stability.

Traditional security issues are not the only issue that can affect Canada’s interests in the region. Non-traditional security issues such as climate change, terrorism, transnational diseases, extremism are all potential concerns for Canada as it could create instability in the region, disrupt their economies, destabilize supply chains as well as create problems for trading partners.

As Canada celebrates another Canada Day, it should reflect upon what are the key elements of an Indo-Pacific strategy.

Here a six-fold approach may be a useful approach to creating an Indo-Pacific strategy that helps achieve Canada’s national interests in the Indo-Pacific region. A first pillar of an Indo Pacific strategy should be one of Inclusive Development.

Here, Canada can help build stability, improve governance and contribute to broad inclusive development in the region. Through support for NGOs, investment in infrastructure and connectivity, coordinating with regional stakeholders and ensuring that inclusive development results in sustainable and replicable development in the region. Importantly, inclusive development in the region should de-emphasize the progressive character of inclusivity found in the domestic context of Canada as it is less prioritized in the region. This does not mean that a progressive approach is absent but it is sensitive to the local cultures and societies.  

A second pillar should focus on Canada’s comparative advantages, Energy and critical mineral security. Based on improvements in environmental technology and technologies that are used to exploit both energy resources and critical minerals, Canada should make this the second pillar of their Indo-Pacific strategy as an open, reliable source of energy and critical minerals.

Canada could carve a position within the Indo-Pacific region in which it is the key provider of energy and critical minerals to industries that use both products. We’ve seen in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, that energy security has become timely and we expect that energy security and critical minerals to be subject to weaponization in the future in the build-up to or in a conflict.

Consequently, Canada can contribute energy and critical mineral significantly by making this a key pillar in their strategy.

A third pillar should focus on coordinating and investing in Middle Power Diplomacy. In short, Canada needs to coordinate with other middle powers such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand European powers to ensure that the US China Strategic competition does not shape them. Rather, coordination shapes the dynamics of the US China Strategic competition in such a way that it decreases and or attenuates the negative effects on countries we’ve already seen Canada engage in middle power diplomacy with some success.

The 2020 Agreement, in which Canada marshaled middle powers and other countries to join a Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations following the arrest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China is a good example. We also saw Canada bring together middle powers and the United States to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in January 2018.

 More coordination of middle powers in the areas of good governance, transparency, energy cooperation and financial cooperation would be a unique but also important contribution by Canada in the Indo-Pacific.

Here, one could easily imagine Canada working with the Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) to provide energy security, health infrastructure, good governance to the Pacific Island nations.

We could also see Canada contribute to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework by marshalling middle powers to support this standard setting agreement that will shape how we think about trade. The standards that we use to negotiate new technologies ,the internet, cyber as well as AI.

A fourth pillar should be supporting Economic security, infrastructure and connectivity. Here Canada needs to find ways to consolidate its own economic security so that is more resilient against economic shocls, outside Canada, as well as inside Canada.

The COVID 19 pandemic is a good example of an external shock to the Canadian economy. We had challenges in terms of acquiring personal protective equipment and other goods as China shut down their country to manage the initial Covid-19 outbreak.

The current COVID-19 policies in Shanghai and Beijing further consolidates the logic that Canada needs to build resilience into its economy, to invest and protect its own economic security.

Internally, the floods in the fall of 2021 in British Colombia also disrupted Canadian exports abroad.

Economic security, resilience and infrastructure and connectivity can help ensure that Canada’s economy remains online and integrated into the global economy and resilient against external and internal shocks. This will require bolstering infrastructure and connectivity at home so that we have world class infrastructure that is resilient against internal shocks.

Also, Canada has a role in contributing to infrastructure and connect to the within the Indo-Pacific region. While we have limited capacities, we have capabilities that can piggyback onto existing infrastructure connectivity programs that are associated with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The Japan-India-Australia resilient supply chain initiative and bilateral and other multilateral infrastructure and connectivity initiatives that have come online over the past three or four years. All of this will be important for Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy in ensuring that Canada’s economic security is based on a resilient economy that is bolstered by infrastructure connectivity at home and abroad.

A fifth pillar for Canada will continue to be focused on security and in particular, Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific region. With sea lines of communication in the Indo-Pacific responsible for about $5.5 trillion in trade every year and energy resources being transported through the key arteries located in the Indian Ocean, Malacca Straits South China Sea, Taiwan Straits as well as East China Sea, Canada has an interest in ensuring that the sea lines of communication remain open, governed by international law and free from coercion.

Cooperation in sea lines of communication will need to take place within existing frameworks or new frameworks. Quad plus arrangements have already taken place in January 2021 Canada participated in the Sea Dragon 21 exercises to provide an opportunity for Canada to monitor and observe Quad exercises.

We also see Canada engage in sanctions monitoring in the East China Sea in an effort to prevent sanctions invasions by North Korea. These activities continue to need to be expanded by working with like-minded countries within the region focused on maritime domain awareness search and rescue, humanitarian relief and disaster assistance and dealing with non-traditional security challenges such as illegal fishing, piracy and others.

While this is not an easy task, this pillar of a Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy is important to contributing to the region’s peace and stability as well it is important for protecting Canadian imports and exports to the region. In 2021, more than $21 billion of Canadian goods went through the region this sum continues to increase as Indo-Pacific nations look to Canada to secure energy as well as agricultural products. Ensuring that sea lines of communication remain open, stable and peaceful will continue to be a critical part of any Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy.

Lastly, a sixth pillar of a Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy should focus on Climate Change.

The Indo-Pacific region is hosts the three most populated countries, Indonesia, India and China. It is also home to ASEAN. Collectively, the population of the Indo-Pacific region is at least 3.5 billion and the current development patterns suggest that they will have severe water and food security issues as their environment degrades do to climate change and global warming.

More extreme weather systems, the salination of the Mekong and Bangladeshi delta’s as sea levels rise will change the ecology of these critical production areas that that will create social instability, economic stress and likely political instability associated with economic refugees moving to find safer, more predictable geographic locations to leave and work.

We will also see tropical diseases and insects push north and southward disrupting agricultural and social systems.

Canada has a clear interest in investing in climate change mitigation, promoting environmentally friendly governance and business systems and technology transfer that lessen the negative impact of climate change. The scale of the problem will require Canada to pursue this sixth pillar through regional and global coordination.

With a pragmatic and realistic approach that is based on understanding the heterogeneity of the Indo-Pacific region, a Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy should include but not be exclusive to: Inclusive development, Trade and Economic Residence, Climate Change, Maritime Security, Energy and Critical Mineral Security, and Middle Power Diplomacy.

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