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What Kind of Great Power Can Europe Become?

While EU policymakers cavil over constitutional questions about desired levels of European integration, global forces are imposing a political transformation on Europe. The only real question facing Europeans is whether they will establish themselves as a global power, or become a mere pawn of others.

BERLIN – World War II, and the period of decolonization that followed it, brought to an end the centuries-long global domination of Europe’s great powers. After 1945, neither of the global powers – the United States and the Soviet Union – was European, and a plethora of newly independent nation-states bounded onto the world stage.

Having achieved victories both in the Pacific and in Europe, only the US was strong enough to provide the still-dominant West with a political and economic order. America provided military protection and support for political cooperation and free trade, while the rest of the Western world sought to overcome the forces of nationalism and protectionism.

America also created rules-based international institutions. In Europe, this multilateral framework eventually evolved into a new (Western) European system of states: today’s European Union. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day in 1991, the US became the world’s only superpower – and quickly overextended itself. The unipolar moment ended with the senseless US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 – a country from which the US has been trying to extricate itself for more than a decade.

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