In the aftermath of last week’s Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, Americans seem to have rediscovered Europe. Frantic news reports warn of dire economic consequences for American banks and investors, even as journalists attempt to explain the complexity of British Parliamentary politics and the basic structures of European Union federalism to a somewhat bewildered American public.
Of course, many Americans already know Europe as study abroad students and tourists. But, these probably represent a small minority of Americans, since only approximately 20 percent of Americans even hold a passport. Americans are suddenly confronted with shifting European politics that threaten to derail the European Union project and disrupt the American relations with European nations and markets.
Ivo Daalder, President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, argues that “This is a defining moment for American diplomacy. The vote by Britain to leave the EU poses a grave risk to the European project. It is profoundly in America’s interest to work closely with all of its European allies, especially Germany, to forestall the unravelling of that project, which has produced unprecedented peace and prosperity to Europe over the past 70 years.”
Americans are ill-equipped to respond to the rapidly developing Brexit crisis, however, since European Studies are undervalued in the United States.
American academics and policymakers have arguably neglected European history, culture, and politics since the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The research focus on Russian and Eastern European Studies, which had grown up within American academic and policy institutions during the Cold War, has contracted since 1989. Western European studies have also shrunk, as Asian Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and Global Studies have expanded rapidly in the 1990s and 2000s. Some new research groups on European Union Studies have been created in American universities and think tanks, but positions in European history, politics, and culture seem to have shrunk overall.
The Council for European Studies website currently lists 48 affiliated research centers and institutes across the United States, far fewer than the 115 research universities that hold a Carnegie R1 (Highest Research) rating.
Foreign language requirements have been trimmed or eliminated from many general education curricula at American universities and colleges. Foreign language programs in French, German, Italian, Russian and other European languages have been cut back or eliminated as “unnecessary” or “wasteful.”
European Studies in Political Science, History, Sociology, Cultural Studies, Foreign Languages and Literatures need to be reinvigorated within the American academic and policy communities in order to inform the public about European politics and society. American colleges and universities have a duty to educate citizens and to train a new generation of analysts to address American-European relations in the twenty-first century.
Ivo Daalder’s article, “America Must Move to Save the European Project,” appears in Financial Times online.