Changing What Counts as “Strategic”

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"Changing What Counts as “Strategic”"

7-11s in Stockholm, like Ikeas and H&Ms in the USA, are signs of a everyday impact of transatlantic ties (my cc photo)

7-11s in Stockholm, like Ikeas and H&Ms in the USA, are signs of a everyday impact of transatlantic ties (my photo available under cc license)

Roger Cohen writes about the clocks on the wall in Dennis McDonough’s office:

What is striking, just two decades after the end of the Cold War, is the absence of a single European city. Europe, for the first time in hundreds of years, has become a strategic backwater. Europe is history.

Cohen thinks this is an unfortunate attitude, and I sympathize with what he’s saying. But here’s a different way of putting the point: The fact that the NSC’s chief of staff is primarily focused on backwaters like Kabul and Sana shows that issues falling under the umbrella of “national security” are perhaps not the most important features of the international landscape. The reality is that most contemporary Americans are much more affected by events in major developed world trade partners—Europe, Canada, Japan, Korea, Taiwan—than by counterinsurgency in Yemen. It’s not even close. European Union mishandling of the Greek debt crisis would have been a disaster for the welfare of the American people and I can assure you that neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve was busy that day worrying about Iraq.

You can say “well, these are economic issues rather than strategic ones.” But why should “strategy” just mean “stuff the military does”? We got militarily involved in Europe in the first place largely over concern for the implications of World War One for our commercial relationships, and those relationships are still extremely important. Treating these kind of issues as second-rate seems to me to be a bad habit.

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