1. Europe as a global player
BSSB.BE gisreportsonline.com 29.08.2018
Danube Ex-USSR Germany
* The polite pretense that the EU is only a benign, inward-looking
GIS Dossiers aim to give our subscribers a quick overview of key topics, regions or conflicts based on a selection of our experts’ reports since 2011. This survey, the first of a three-part series, considers whether Europe (primarily, the European Union) can stand on its own as a global power. Part One examines the basis and instruments of European power. Parts Two and Three look at where and how this power could be applied.
Europe’s post-Cold War idyll is over. One of GIS’s consistent themes is that the world’s richest continent cannot hide from history, even protected by the leading superpower. There have been plenty of warning signs. The 2008-2009 financial crisis showed the vulnerabilities of the euro area’s stagnant economy – overregulated, overtaxed and overburdened by bloated welfare states. The inadequacy of the European Union’s foreign and security policies was exposed by the twin shocks of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014, followed by the great migrant influx of 2015.
“The polite pretense that the EU is only a benign, inward-looking … construct seeking the integration and well-being of its members should have been put to rest with the events in Ukraine,” GIS expert Bernard Siman wrote in a July 2017 report. “It ignores the simple truth that once created, a geographically coherent bloc with 500 million inhabitants, located at a geopolitical crossroads, must have a profound impact on others.”
In today’s less stable geopolitics, marked by the rise of China and Russia’s attempt to “claw its way back to the rank of a major Eurasian power,” the long-term risk of war is rising, GIS founder Prince Michael of Liechtenstein noted in a March 2018 report. In this context, Prince Michael wrote, “Europe has developed an identity problem: it haplessly bounces back and forth between … its traditional vector toward the North Atlantic and the U.S. in the west, and toward Eurasia in the east.”
One reason for this vacillation is that the EU has not built up diplomatic and military strength commensurate with its economic power. The essential absurdity of this situation was described by Prince Michael in a December 2016 essay: “Some 500 million Europeans now need 350 million Americans to defend them against 140 million Russians.”
Looking for Uncle Sam
Europe’s dependency on the American security umbrella has become problematic as the U.S. reorients its global priorities. This process began long before the Trump administration or President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, as the waning of the Cold War (1947-1991) started a continuous scaling down of U.S. forces.
Even so, as GIS expert Luke Coffey pointed out in an August 2015 report, “what has not changed is Europe’s geopolitical significance. From the Arctic to the Maghreb, from the Caucasus to the Levant, the continent borders on some of the most important conflict areas in the world.” Russia’s move into Ukraine sparked a partial reversal of this retrograde movement, as the U.S. redeployed light forces to the Baltic states with its NATO allies and prepositioned gear for an armored brigade.
But the advent of a new administration had President Donald Trump wondering aloud about the cost-effectiveness of the U.S. commitment to European defense, especially if NATO allies do not pull their weight. He also pulled out of the landmark project to create a transatlantic free trade agreement (TTIP), provoking German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s uncharacteristically harsh remarks that “the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over,” and “we Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.”
In fact, there is considerable evidence the Trump administration will not depart from traditional policies toward Europe, even if its approach is more abrasive. As GIS expert Dr. James Jay Carafano pointed out in a June 2018 report, the U.S. remains committed to NATO and is not out to deconstruct the EU, even though it is taking more of a bilateral approach and “using much more combative economic policies.”
As GIS expert Dr. Michael Wohlgemuth wrote in an overview of the transatlantic relationship in January 2018, the tensions could even yield a better, more balanced relationship, provided Europe grows up and “Uncle Sam does not succumb to senile dementia.”
Soft power’s limits
While Europe is seeking to become a world leader through the exercise of soft power, its “defense policy and its striking absence of military power is failing to frighten anyone,” noted GIS expert Charles Millon in a June 2014 report. While the defense spending of EU countries is about 40 percent of the U.S. level, it achieves only 10 percent of the operational capacity. This condemns Europe “to bow to U.S. policy, which does not necessarily line up with its interests.”
This EU approach ran into its hard limits in Ukraine in 2014, according to Mr. Millon:
After offering a treaty to a peripheral country, you cannot reasonably shy away at a rival power’s first grumblings … or ask your American big brother to help resolve the situation.
- Another sobering “experience of the narrow confines of European defense” was the Libyan revolution of 2011, as GIS expert Dr. Uwe Nerlich noted in a January 2013 report. After the decision by France and Italy to intervene, the whole air campaign quickly showed its utter dependence on U.S. logistical and command support – and failed to achieve its objective of stabilizing the country.
- A forgotten aspect of military strength is that it spurs economic development, by protecting commerce and encouraging technological innovation, Prince Michael noted in a January 2018 opinionthat explored the hazards of Europe’s position. “To be rich and militarily weak is a very risky proposition,” he concluded.
Chaos or flexibility?
The obvious reason the 28-member EU cannot behave like a conventional great power is its complex, multinational structure. As a result, “neither its individual member states nor the bloc as a whole possess the capacity and authority to react effectively to global threats,” as Dr. Nerlich wrote in a December 2016 analysis of the emerging European Global Strategy (EGS). Even its largest states lack resources to act as a great power, while the Union has been deliberately deprived of wide authority on defense and foreign affairs.
The alternative, as Dr. Nerlich explored in a follow-up report in March 2017, is cooperation of larger European powers and regions in ad hoc groups below the Union level. The most spectacular examples are the euro area and the European Defense Union, to which could be added “format” diplomacy, regional coalitions, and bilateral “enhanced cooperation” on military matters.
While the proliferation of special-purpose groups is often seen as a threat to EU cohesion, Dr. Nerlich argued that it could strengthen the bloc while empowering its member states – many of whom fear the centralized power of Union institutions and the popular backlash it provokes. “Flexibility is a powerful tool in building competitiveness, and it could well become Europe’s essential organizing principle” in responding to global rivals.
- Not surprisingly, this view is endorsed by some of Europe’s traditional powers, especially France. GIS’s Charles Millon – a former defense minister under French President Jacques Chirac – argued in 2014that Europe can only hope to project power abroad if it creates “several circles of integration,” which would allow an “inner circle of France, Germany, Italy, the Benelux countries and Spain” to pursue “common foreign objectives” independent of NATO.
- Europe’s initial goal would be to “pacify its close neighbors,” especially in Africa and the Middle East. This requires not technology or even military capabilities in the first place, “but rather the political will to intervene in the wider world. … The means to achieve this will follow.”
The painful evolution of the EU’s security doctrine was charted by GIS expert General Stanislaw Koziej in a March 2018 report. The EGS approved in 2016 stressed “principled pragmatism” that attempted to “steer clear of isolationism and primitive interventionism alike.” General Koziej tends to be an optimist, noting that the EU had “made a long, slow journey toward becoming a real player in security strategy.” Yet even he admits that if no consensus is achieved on defense, a multi-speed Union could precipitate a “European security collapse.”
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: gisreportsonline.com