TCS Daily

EU-topian Fantasy

By Dale Franks - August 8, 2002 12:00 AM

The European Union is nothing less than a miracle. The polities of Europe have a long and bloody history of internecine warfare. But, since the end of World War II, Europe has completely broken with its past. European nations have pooled their sovereignty to create a region of peace and stability in which war is almost unthinkable.

In doing so, Europeans have created a system of international comity and intra-European engagement about which there is much to be proud. Rather than German and French soldiers glaring at each other across disputed borders, there are joint Franco-German military units. Rather than a clashing region of nations pursuing their own sovereign interests, Europe has become a collection of states that pursue multilateral, negotiated solutions to their disputes. Even national currencies have begun to disappear, replaced by the Euro.

Nothing like it exists anywhere else on earth. Given the history of Europe, it is a remarkable achievement. Now, having created the EU, Europeans have begun to believe that its model of diplomacy and security can be exported to the rest of the world.

In a Chicago Tribune story published on 31 July, R.C. Longworth quotes some representative opinions about this belief. One noteworthy quote comes from Karl Kaiser, director of the Research Institute of the German Society for Foreign Affairs in Berlin. Says Kaiser, "Europeans have done something that no one has ever done before: create a zone of peace where war is ruled out, absolutely out. Europeans are convinced that this model is valid for other parts of the world."

As an American, such views strike me as noble and optimistic, yet fundamentally flawed for a variety of reasons.

The European abandonment of power politics was forced on the European nations by their individual weakness in a post-war world dominated by the two Superpowers. In the aftermath of World War II, Europe faced both the monumental task of rebuilding nations shattered by the war. Their finances were strained to the breaking point, and the lack of resources eventually made it impossible for European nations to credibly project military force outside of Europe. As a result, they were unable either to maintain their overseas possessions in the face of national liberation movements. This forcible disengagement from the rest of the world naturally turned European politics inward.

Additionally, the elimination of Germany as a threat to the European project did not come about as the result of protracted negotiations, but rather by the fact that it had been brutally crushed by US and Soviet military power and split into two separate nations, both of which were essentially occupied by foreign troops. Moreover, the effects of the revelation of Nazi atrocities during the Second World War cannot be ignored. German guilt, and foreign revulsion and distrust were potent incentives for post-war German leaders to rely on negotiation and consensus. Subsequently, the German government was, unsurprisingly, more receptive to a policy of negotiation than was their historical wont.

To the east, an increasingly hostile USSR massed huge military forces aimed at Western Europe. The first steps toward European unification, such as the creation and re-arming of the Federal Republic of Germany, and the creation of NATO, were not induced by some new communitarian spirit, but rather by the stark realization that no single nation could possibly stand up to the USSR. The logical consequence of this realization was the acknowledgement that intramural military squabbling in Europe might invite an invasion from the East.

The threat of Soviet Communism, of course, required that large numbers of US troops be stationed on European soil. In addition to deterring Soviet aggression, however, they also served to deter the Europeans from engaging in intramural conflict, as well. Any conflict between NATO member states might have threatened the maintenance of America's security umbrella in Europe, and left Europe to face the Soviet threat alone. Preventing this outcome, even at the cost of national pride, became a key component of Europe's security policy. Indeed, the Suez Crisis of 1956 was a humiliation for France and Britain when they were forced to suspend their operations in Egypt in the face of American disapproval.

The truth is that in a postwar world dominated by the two superpowers, European Nations no longer had the financial, military, or political means to engage the world as Great Powers. Nor did they have the freedom to engage each other on those terms because of the Soviet threat and their reliance on the American security umbrella.

Western Europe was forced to band together by the nature of the Soviet threat. At the same time, the existence of the Alliance with America provided a measure of relative security. It's loss of overseas colonies, and the American ability to pick up the burden of international security, allowed Europe to turn inward. In short, the creation of the EU was made possible only by a unique set of circumstances that existed nowhere else in the world.

Many in today's generation of European leaders seem to have forgotten this history. For this reason, many of them believe, almost entirely without justification, that the European model is equally useful when dealing with the rest of the world. One might have thought that the conflict in the former Yugoslavia would have disabused them of this notion, but apparently this is not the case.

In that conflict, Slobodan Milosevic, et al., were entirely uninterested in negotiation, except insofar as it bought them time to prepare for their next outrage. No one will ever know how many thousands of people were killed during those long years of negotiation.

We do know, however, that most of the killing stopped when the US became directly involved, decided to begin dealing with the region on Great Power - in other words, realistic, rather than utopian - terms.

Hubert Vedrine, the former French Foreign minister, may say with insouciance that, in Europe, "people believe in multilateral negotiations, conflict prevention - what's enshrined in the UN Charter. Americans are less inclined to this, and this is a result of the power that the United States has. When you reach that much power, you don't want to waste your time negotiating with others. Europeans have developed a new Utopia, a world not ruled by power. Americans are applying the usual power politics."

But the American response is likely to be that, while negotiations are always preferable, the Europeans are so enamored of them because they have no other choice. Having no credible military force, and no ability with which to project it, negotiation is the only option Europe has.

When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

America, fortunately, has other tools in the box. We do not oppose negotiation, but we have other options available to us if negotiation fails, or when the circumstances indicate that negotiation is pointless.

The trouble with the idea of solving all problems through negotiation is that it assumes both sides have something to offer. This may be true in Europe, but it is not necessarily true anywhere else. Just as one wonders what Messr. Vedrine could have offered Adolf Hitler in 1936 to placate him, one also wonders what could be offered to Saddam Hussein today. If the interest of the West is to remove the possibility of Iraq obtaining, say, nuclear weapons, and it is Mr. Hussein's unalterable intention to obtain them, then what is there to negotiate?

What do you offer Mr. Hussein when you have nothing that he wants?

The inability to answer that question is the key weakness of the idea that the European model is universally applicable to either security concerns or foreign affairs. There are, unfortunately, evil men in the world who are uninterested in either negotiation or compromise. For as long as they wish to engage in power politics, we must be willing to do so ourselves in order to oppose such men.

The creation of the European Union is a laudable achievement. But, until the day that all men become angels, it is, unfortunately, unwise to assume that its methods can be applied elsewhere and that power politics are no longer necessary.



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