The use of history as a yardstick to measure contemporary policies has long been a hallmark of David Calleo’s writing. His books are among the few works on international relations that historians can read without having to flinch in the face of shallow generalizations or plain error. Rethinking Europe’s Future offers fourteen chapters of twentieth-century European history to prepare the way for two chapters of argument, which plead for an alternative to the way the continent has developed since Russia’s withdrawal from its Central and East European empire. For Calleo, the expansion of NATO eastwards flouts the lessons of history. The Soviet Union was not driven from its European imperium, but departed from it voluntarily. In return, Calleo argues, the West has gathered in its gains as rapaciously as Stalin after 1945. The outcome can only be seen in Moscow as anti-Russian: it will thwart a crucial condition for the stabilization of Eastern Europe—cooperation between the EU and Russia.

History, Calleo suggests, points to a better arrangement. This would take the form of a ‘tri-polar’ Pan-Europe, in which a less unilateralist USA leaves the EU space to work together with Russia. As things stand, the prospect is very different: the EU is getting ready both to complete its passage to a single currency, and to expand its frontiers to the Bug. Calleo expresses his reservations about this combination, arguing that the EU would do better to stick to the first without also rushing into the second. In his view, it will have to curtail one or other of its ambitions—either expansion of its functions (‘deepening’ in Community jargon) or expansion of its membership (‘widening’ in the same idiom). For the EU requires much more of its members than NATO. The acquis communautaire must be accepted by all new member-states. There will be no more opt-outs from what is by now a formidable set of commitments, including not only monetary union, with its inevitable tendency towards harmonization of fiscal policies, but conformity to political, banking and legal standards set by Western Europe’s richer economies. The expansion of monetary union and common political norms to Russia’s frontier will, Calleo implies, prove very difficult to achieve, and if achieved would be of uncertain duration without a much closer EU–Russian relationship. The Union can never be expected to digest so huge a morsel as Russia. Yet at the same time, it cannot truly become Europe—from the Atlantic to the Urals, as De Gaulle so ambiguously defined it—without Russia. On the other hand, even if a closer and more fruitful relationship was established between Brussels and Moscow, the former would still require insurance against the nuclear superiority of the latter. Hence NATO must remain to ensure American protection, and deter aggressive behaviour by European states towards each other. A ‘tri-polar Europe’ of this kind would give Western Europe a chance to thicken its own military and security arrangements around EU institutions, and the EU itself time to expand more slowly and selectively.

Such is approximately Calleo’s proposal, which he perhaps unwisely describes as ‘necessary’ or ‘realistic’. Conventional realists will not be short of objections to it. Strategists totting up battalions discount any military threat from Russia. The USA has rarely shown enthusiasm for any attempt by the EU to develop a common military capacity under its own command, indeed for long periods has actively discouraged it. West European states themselves have generally preferred American command to leadership by France and Germany, to say nothing of recurrent German suspicions of French interpretations of the axis between the two. Moreover, it will be pointed out, however difficult qualification for EU membership might prove to be, the former satellites of the USSR are set on it, no matter what Russia thinks—and are even more set on belonging to NATO. Even were the EU to develop a better relationship with Russia and greater military independence of the United States, this could be no more than a spoonful of honey for Moscow after it has been made to swallow many a bitter and drastic medicine. The EU itself has no common foreign policy, and any dealings it might have with Russia are more likely to be divisive than otherwise. Why should the USA encourage the EU to treat directly with its Cold War opponent?

Calleo’s vision, in fact, in many ways owes less to realism than to a belief that ‘humane political values’ inform the vision of a united Europe, and that ‘the concept of Europe is therefore a powerful asset to promote ideals that ought to be universal but cannot be reliably sustained on a global basis’. Since Europeans, he writes, ‘thanks to the horrors and accomplishments of their history, enjoy a special consciousness of the rights of individuals, societies and states’, their continent—if wisely organized—could form ‘an island of humane order’, in time hopefully capable of spreading its values to Russia. Ultimately, he argues, the only path to a world ruled by law is through the development of a series of such islands. Here Calleo seems to attribute to Europe more virtues than it possesses. Many Europeans, of course, share a view of American justice as savage and American society as unjust. But this does not make their own society morally superior. Who could think of Europe as an island of humane order as massacres and expulsions multiplied in former Yugoslavia—more than two million refugees from Bosnia alone? That was only seven years ago. The ‘moral’ case for a tri-polar Europe is too flattering to local self-esteem to be a strong one.

Calleo also advances a third, somewhat more diffuse line of argument. Changes of the kind he recommends to the existing European settlement would be well-advised, he suggests, because America suffers from a number of inherent weaknesses as a universal hegemon. Among these he notes the weak constitutional position of the President as a leader; congenitally isolationist impulses in American society and Congress; excessive overseas investment; and a large and rising external deficit, often ascribed to a low rate of domestic saving, yet currently combined with a steep fall in interest rates and incitement to increased consumption as ways out of recession. The advent of the euro, moreover, is likely to make it more costly to finance the US deficit, by restricting the hitherto wide scope of the Federal Reserve to adjust monetary policy with impunity.