US Decline and European Integration, 1973–86
Given the US preoccupation with Vietnam during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Europe’s place on Washington’s agenda had slipped. By the end of the war the structures of the world economy and political relationships had changed. Politically, the world was no longer clearly divided into a bi-polar formulation. Europe, Japan and China increasingly asserted their power. Détente provided a period of relaxation for both superpowers to deal with their allies and to try to reassert their leadership. But the period was characterised by increased fragmentation and the world order moved towards greater multipolarity. As the European Community began to enlarge, Washington increasingly demanded that Europe not only accept more responsibility and a share of the defence burden, but also that US leadership prevailed. Because European détente with the East had been much deeper and broader, they were very reluctant to follow Washington into the renewed Cold War in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Clearly, with a greater European sense of independence and the US desire to maintain its leadership, the Atlantic framework continued to vie with the European ambitions.
Three overlapping sets of events did not augur well for the transatlantic relationship in the early 1970s. Détente and the superpower relaxation of tensions created difficulties in the Atlantic Alliance, especially because Washington attempted to shape and direct the overall approach to the East. Following the war in Vietnam and the recurrent recessions in the United States, tensions loomed between an expanding EEC and America. The OPEC (Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries) crisis led to further animosity between Europeans and Washington. European enlargement from six to twelve and a renewal of the Cold War in the early 1980s demonstrated that their interests often diverged.