Barack Obama’s victory in the US presidential race in 2008 meant a lot for Europe. It was basically the fulfillment of a huge expectation accumulated over several years, an expectation given shape by the crowd of two hundred thousand people that gathered in Berlin in June 2008 and that enthusiastically cheered Obama the presidential candidate, waving US flags. It was the hope for the end of a period – now called of American unilateralism, namely of hegemonic behavior in the world’s unipolar architecture – that had left the old continent on the second systemic place but without the traditional attributes of a consulted ally. The onset of the global financial crisis and not least of all Russia’s warlike attitude in the Caucasus in 2008 raised this expectation even higher, translated into the hope of a transatlantic partnership generator of common projects on changing the world and on a new global order.
Five years have passed since then. Time in which, among other things, President Obama took the decision to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, supported the huge movement of the Arab world, which started in the spring of 2011 and heralded a new wave of systemic democratization, announced the US’s “Asian pivot,” reset the relationship with Russia, carefully monitored Iran’s evolution in the nuclear domain, supported the re-launch of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, promoted solutions in the contemporary world’s great files – that of poverty, global warming, pandemics, global governance etc. – as part of an all-encompassing political agenda. The world undoubtedly looks different today. Nevertheless, while many of the aforementioned things revealed a different face of the American systemic colossus, it’s not less true that for many global actors the actions of President Obama seemed to have the character of cautious management of the decline of the once overwhelming US power. Many of those who are the partisans of this point of view thus explain the persistence of the European financial crisis, the continent struggling in a financial austerity that became a legal norm that prevents the resumption of economic growth and that has endangered not just the single currency but also the European Union. On the other hand, the same camp that claims that the US is declining and stepping down from the role of systemic leader also shows that, as a consequence of this process, the global order has become more tense and uncertain, the crises that involve great powers have multiplied, especially in the maritime areas of East Asia, parts of Africa have become ungovernable and represent long-term threats because of massive migration and endemic conflict, the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is equivalent to military defeats, and the list of global threats has gained items unseen until now. In a recent article, Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, defined a new systemic threat with a single word: convergence. “The dark side of globalization. (…) The merger of a wide variety of mobile human activities, each of which is individually dangerous and whose sum represents a far greater threat. The most obvious example of this kind of convergence is narco-terrorism. Drug cartels use sophisticated trafficking routes. (…) Terrorists can in effect ‘rent’ these routes by co-opting the drug cartels. (…) These organizations can then move personnel, cash or arms – possibly even a weapon of mass destruction – clandestinely to the United States.” And this “convergence” is creating a wide spectre of new challenges that call for an appropriate systemic answer in a cooperative formula, for authentic and visionary global leadership.The systemic need for the leadership exercised by the US is so pressing today that it was openly expressed very recently by numerous important analysts and politicians that acutely foresaw the danger entailed by its absence. And this need for American leadership is given various reasons, ranging from the succession of crises which die down only because of the deterrent of a possible US interventionist action, and whose prolonged absence tragically prolongs them and amplifies their violent character, to wide regional unrest, as seen in the Syrian case; to the still unstopped spiral of the Euro crisis in Europe, to the difficulties of constructing a transatlantic partnership capable of offering long-term assurance and to the traditionally dominant role of Western civilization or at least to the stopping of its decline. Referring to the new grand strategy of the US, synthesized as “leading from behind,” a well-known French expert (Dominique Moisi) recently wrote that “precisely because America remains indispensable to international security, one wishes that its leaders would act in a more discerning way. In international politics, as in education, there is no such thing as care by proxy. If responsibility is to be exercised effectively, it cannot be delegated to machines or other countries.” Joschka Fischer, Germany’s former foreign minister, wrote several days ago an article in which he expressed his hope that “America’s global role will not be called into question. China will be busy addressing its own internal contradictions for a long time yet. Nor is India or Russia likely to pose a serious challenge. And Europe’s din of conflicting voices appears to preclude it from claiming America’s mantle.” And he is certain that, since a “post-American world” would entail greater risks of seeing the onset of systemic chaos, this would be the essential reason why Europe “should reverse course on its apparent determination to dismantle itself.” In an article significantly titled “A World without America,” Joseph Nye Jr. wrote on April 30, 2013 that “the alternative to a world led by the US is not a world led by China, Europe, Russia, Japan, India, or any other country, but rather a world that is not led at all. Such a world would almost certainly be characterized by chronic crisis and conflict. That would be bad not just for Americans, but for the vast majority of the planet’s inhabitants.” Another expert, assessing the positions on global security issues expressed in February this year at Munich, voices his hope that the launch of negotiations on forming a transatlantic partnership and their successful conclusion will be the start of “an Atlantic Century” built by an Euro-Atlantic community stretching from the eastern coast of Latin America to Africa’s western coast. It can be based on the signs of the US’s and Europe’s post-crisis revitalization and on their determination to work together. Europe’s and not least of all US’s newer and devastating mistakes, first of all that of not rapidly solving a prolonged financial-economic crisis, can be – another expert shows (Shlomo Ben-Ami) – absorbed by consolidating transatlantic cooperation, a powerful blow applied to “Eurocentrism and Western hubris.” He writes that “the West faces serious challenges – as it always has. But the values of human freedom and dignity that drive Western civilization remain the dream of the vast majority of humanity.” A characteristic of these recent positions remains the idea that the US still stands out today as “an indispensable nation” at global level and its ties with Europe are a condition for maintaining the old continent’s visibility and systemic importance. Europe needs the US in order solve its inherent problems and to move forward into the future confidently and jointly with it.