ABSTRACT

Europe today is an emerging if troubled union, a web of regional institutions that – for better or worse – have served to integrate economies and eventually may even integrate polities. Northeast Asia, by contrast, is made up of separate states that trade with one another but don’t cooperate much through formal agreements. I argue that racial norms in the U.S., confirmed by disparate U.S. capabilities, account for this striking difference. In the wake of World War II, American leaders used the Marshall Plan to prod European states, especially France and West Germany, to cooperate on efforts to rebuild this war-ravaged region. U.S. officials felt an affinity, even a racial identity with Europeans, and thus trusted them to collaborate on both economic and security matters. The U.S. was content to exercise a relatively flat hegemony across a connected Europe. American leaders felt no such affinity for or identity with Asians, whom they viewed as “backwards” or inferior. They did not trust their weaker counterparts across the Pacific to collaborate with one another, opposing most regional economic deals that excluded the U.S. and opting for a hierarchical hub-and-spokes system of mostly bilateral military ties connecting Asian capitals up to D.C. As a result, the U.S. enjoyed a relatively steep hegemony, something closer to informal empire or domination, over the region. Despite the challenge from a rising China, the U.S. continues to dominate Asia, maintaining about 90,000 military troops in the region and dictating foreign policy to its junior partners, especially Japan.