Friday, 1 June 2018

Europe's Liberal Imperialism All Bark, No Bite

Little Respect for "Paper Tigers"

We have long thought that the EU had become a barking dog running up and down the fence trying to scare off passers-by.  As the decades passed, EU nations (at least those in the Western side of the Union) found itself culturally more and more estranged from US popular culture.  Moreover, the US was far more conservative both internally and externally.  Its attitudes towards abortion, for example, were (and continued to be) an embarrassment to liberal Europe.  

Under Trump's leadership. the EU is finding itself between a rock and a hard place.  The EU has been freeloading on its defence spending ever since the end of WWII, grateful for the umbrella provided by the US, via NATO.  In Trump's mind this is a bad deal.  Some have begun to argue that we are on the cusp of a global power realignment.
As the United States tore up the Iran deal, Angela Merkel lamented that Germany (and by extension the European Union) cannot rely on the United States anymore “for protection,” and said Europe needs to “take its destiny into its own hands.” The French finance minister echoed her sentiments. This from a continent with an economy 15 times that of Russia.

Keep in mind, this perpetual hunt for a new leader of the “liberal world order,” which in reality is a sort of “hegemonic peace,” comes at a time when the German Air Force has just four combat ready Typhoon fighter jets. Germans revolutionized submarine and armour warfare, but now don’t have enough tanks and submarines that are force projection ready, and German youth prefer deep house music over defense. The two great powers in Europe, Britain and France, would need a couple of months to put division-sized troops in Latvia. [Sumantra Maitra, The Federalist]
The latest disagreement is over the "treaty" with Iran, which Trump has torn up, unilaterally.  Such things were not supposed to happen.  The powerlessness of the EU has been exposed.

The bigger consideration, however, is the growing transatlantic rift between the United States and the EU. France and Germany wanted the United States to stay in the deal, as was evident from the repeated parlay attempts by French President Emmanuel Macron and Merkel, in vain. Now the biggest liberal German magazine has called for joining the “resistance” against Trump.
For years, Europe has been chafing against the United States. To use a biblical analogy,  Jeshurun is growing fat, and is starting to kick.   It has had a deep aspiration to be a global power player and it has begun to act accordingly.  But all of this was done under a defence umbrella funded and supplied by the United States.  Now, the more EU wants to hive off in a different policy direction to the US, the more the US security umbrella seems inappropriate and archaic.  But realists and cynics will be rehashing Stalin's dose of realism with respect to the Vatican, when he sarcastically asked, "How many divisions does the Pope have?"  The European Union has few options. 
The simple reason is structural. The EU started as a platform through which the United States can manage the conflicts of Europe, a continent infamous for inter-state rivalries flaring up. It was not a flaw, but the design of the arrangement, which benefitted both European powers that received generous American security subsidies, as well as the United States, which continued erstwhile British imperial grand strategy, ensuring there’s no single hegemon in the Western hemisphere. NATO was an instrument in maintaining that status quo.

The reason independent European military capabilities atrophied was that Europeans knew they could count on American taxpayers to provide security for Europe, the cost of which when tallied with the benefits seems exorbitantly harsh for Washington, D.C. The EU could afford a social security paradise, due to those American subsidies, and the EU started to take on the character of an empire, and commensurate with that started to chart a foreign policy independent of Washington’s approval. And, just like any empire in history, the EU started to suffer from opposing centrifugal forces within, simply because the interests and ideologies of independent nation-states within Europe (especially the Christian, social-conservative East) continue to differ from the attempted continental liberal imperialism of Brussels.
Maitra puts forward the "bottom line":
If Europe wants American security, it needs to follow American foreign policy direction, but it has been clear lately that neither Brussels nor Berlin is interested in that anymore. On the other hand, if European powers do not want to be treated as vassals, they need to step up their security.

That approach, however, has two problems. The security interest of Eastern European states differs from that of Western European states. And if — against all trendlines — the EU crushes all internal ideological difference and dissent, and turns to a security hegemon with a single coherent foreign and military policy, history might repeat itself.

Every time there’s a hegemony in continental Europe throwing its economic and military weight around, there is some possibility of a conflict of interest with the largest maritime powers in the region. Previously it was the British empire. Now it is the United States of America.

The rift between the EU and the United States over Iran isn’t the whole story, but rather a symptom of a greater, more fundamental shift in geopolitics. The debate over grand strategy needs to urgently reflect that shift.
French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel need to take some steps into the real world.  In other words, both need to give up on the EU's "liberal imperialism". 

Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK. His research is in great power-politics and neorealism. He also regularly writes for The National Interest and Quillette Magazine, and edits Bombs and Dollars blog. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitra. 

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