The End of the West? Crisis and Change in the Atlantic Order by Jeffrey Anderson, G. John Ikenberry, and Thomas Risse (eds.) Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008. 298 pp., $19.90
In this edited volume, Anderson, Ikenberry, and Risse direct a thorough examination of the health of the transatlantic political order following the trauma-filled crisis surrounding the Iraq War. Drawing on insights from twelve notable scholars from diverse academic fields, the book attempts to describe both the magnitude and source of the recent transatlantic rift. According to Ikenberry, the authors aim to provide “historical perspective, theoretical clarity, and empirical rigor” (p. 3) to the current public debate. The book succeeds admirably in two of its three objectives
Three of the contributors examine the rift within a historical narrative but come to very different conclusions. Henry Nau sees the Iraq crisis as a debate on strategy like other transatlantic disagreements during the Cold War. Charles Kupchan's extended historical perspective leads to the decidedly pessimistic conclusion that the transatlantic community has fundamentally eroded. William Hitchcock takes a middle stance suggesting that member states will preserve transatlantic institutions because the costs of ending the alliance are too high. Historical case studies in these chapters are a valuable reminder that the Atlantic Alliance has never been as stable as politicians or commentators are wont to describe it.
The theoretical clarity of the volume is refreshing. Ikenberry's introduction defines crisis as “an extraordinary moment when the existence and viability of the political order are called into question” (p. 12) and argues that the Iraq crisis will lead to the adaptation, transformation, or breakdown of the Atlantic alliance. Subsequent authors adhere to Ikenberry's framework of crisis analysis, enabling a tight-fitting narrative of the current state of the transatlantic alliance. Gunther Hellman's chapter examining existent literature further emphasizes the need for scholars to approach political change in the Atlantic community within a more explicit theoretical framework, such as is used in this book.
The most novel and, unfortunately, least compelling aspect of the book is an attempt to empirically examine transatlantic relations from the perspective of political economy. In his chapter Jens van Scherpenberg minimizes evidence of the strong economic interrelationship between the US and Europe and uses selective trade disputes to suggest that economic factors do little to mitigate transatlantic conflict. Kathleen McNamara offers a more nuanced perspective on the same theme, but again the supporting evidence is scant.
Risse’s conclusion does a good job of integrating this belated academic project into the context of the improved transatlantic environment present by 2007. Despite the book’s exaggerated title, none of the scholars anticipate a complete breakdown of the West, though Kupchan comes closest. The authors also do not address the transformational effects of continuing NATO expansion in Eastern Europe and beyond. Nevertheless, the general consensus is the Atlantic political order will undergo a significant transformation in coming years. Recent transatlantic disputes concerning economic coordination seem to confirm that the status quo is not sustainable. As the Iraq crisis fades and the emerging economic conflict between the US and Europe takes center stage, the theoretical framework offered in this book is a valuable starting point for additional research and debate on the evolving transatlantic relationship.