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.

Although comparison of the hegemonic powers of different periods has obvious difficulties, it may nevertheless be worth noting that Britain ran substantial balance of payments deficits for the entire century between 1815 and 1914; that its capital exports were far higher as a share of GNP than those of the US since 1945; and that these played an important part in financing its war effort after the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. We should also remember that the powers of the American President were greatly strengthened by the Cold War, although the Constitution remained more or less unaltered. A certain isolationism, of course, does exist in the US, but this should be distinguished from ‘unilateralist’ foreign policies of the sort deplored by Calleo, who looks to a more pluralist style of hegemony. At present no country in Europe, except perhaps the United Kingdom, can feel untroubled by the implications of Washington’s large investments in national missile defence, although none can prevent them. Nor can any be content with America’s refusal to be bound by the rules or practices of any international agency, whether legal, environmental, or regulatory—except in matters of trade, where it is forced to bargain because this is the one area where the EU has the advantage over it. The biggest weakness of the US as a hegemon, however, is one not stressed by Calleo. It is America’s determination to exercise power, as far as possible, without exposing its soldiers to military risks. The consequences of this ambition—to become a hegemon that never suffers casualties—are plain for all to see. Currently European publics support America’s right to retaliation for the terrorist attack, and would like to see Osama bin Laden captured, but have been much more doubtful about the value of waging war against an idea by bombing targets from high altitudes—that is, substituting Afghan civilian for US military casualties. European fighting forces, meanwhile, are reduced to bag-carriers and supply-services for the Americans.

How did the current state of affairs come about? In early 1993 Volker Rühe, the German Defence Minister, floated the entry of former Soviet-bloc countries into NATO. He received little support either in Bonn or the Pentagon. Instead came a ‘Partnership for Peace’, disturbing enough to Russia when it eventually led to joint Ukrainian–American naval exercises off the Crimean coast. Yet already by September 1993, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake was pushing for the extension of NATO into Eastern Europe, and by 1994 Clinton’s offensive to expand the Alliance was under way. The European Community, from its inception supported by Washington as a bastion of America’s security system across the Atlantic, has nonetheless never been an American creature. The form it took was entirely European, strengthening rather than federating the nation-states, and relying on the common-market trade bloc for its political and economic glue. It was not going to endanger any part of its base, nor relinquish any of its acquis, for seductive visions of Pan-Europe. It had never been a collective provider of military security since its one disastrous venture in that direction had crashed in 1954. So in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, the EU just kept on doing what it had always been doing. Eastern European states eager to enter the Union would have to wait until they could meet its requirements. Political decision-making machinery rested in each separate member-state and their views about Eastern Europe varied over 360 degrees—from Germany’s wish to incorporate the former satellites on its and Austria’s borders as soon as possible, through Spain’s determination to get its own supply of investment income from the EU before anything was done to incorporate poorer countries which needed such funds more urgently, to the UK’s wish for a rapid and extensive eastward expansion to weaken central decision-making processes in the EU and turn it into a looser trade bloc, with fewer common political rules. Besides, the EU has neutral member-states and, as Bush now repeatedly reminds us, if America chooses to say so, there can be no neutrals. In short, the EU did not correspond to US requirements.