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Swords Turned into Plowshares

  • History
  • Political Science


The New Leader | November/December 2007 | Volume XC, Number 6 EUROPEANS, it has been said, spent thefirst half of the 20th century slaugh- tering one another and the second half drowning their sorrows in production and consumption. This is more or less con- firmed by James J. Sheehan in his new book. The eminent Stanford University historian’s larger interest, though, is the changed relationship between statehood and warfare. It once would have been unthinkable to define sovereignty apart from military capacity and symbolism. “Without war, there would be no state,” declares the iron law of the 19th-century historian Heinrich von Treitschke that is the title of one of Sheehan’s chapters. And by the end of the book he has effec- tively established the astonishing trans- formation reflected in his citation of the words of Germany’s president in 1990: “Today sovereignty means participating in the international community.” Sheehan says his objective is to show that Europe’s refurbishment of sover- eignty in a pacifist direction is thus far exceptional. In 2002, the neoconserva- tive author Robert Kagan similarly ar- gued that Europeans now dream of a utopia where violence and force have passed from the world. Kagan offered his view at a moment when Euro-American relations were coming unglued over the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Sheehan does not openly reach Kagan’s conclusion that the United States may have to take re- sponsibility for patrolling a “dangerous world” alone because its old allies have grown soft. But he appears to want to show Kagan was on to something signif- icant that has become deeply ingrained. The story told here has the Europeans building a new kind of state after 1945, a “civilian state,” under special conditions created by the bipolar politics of the Cold War. That conflict left certain parts of Eu- rope armed to the teeth, but war was es- sentially off the table. As pawns in a geopolitical contest, Europeans faced external constraints that for the first time in histor

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