PARIS --- NATO and the European Union both were created after World War II to prevent further wars in Europe. NATO was intended to protect Western European nations from the newly expansionist Soviet Union, and initially to keep Germany occupied without actually saying so. The European Union was intended to tightly weave occupied Germany into the European tapestry, where it would live peacefully alongside its neighbors instead of invading them, as it had already done thrice in 75 years.
Both organizations were successful in achieving those goals, but since the implosion of the Soviet Union both have proved useless because they have outlived their usefulness, NATO by having become ineffectual in the post-Cold War world, and the EU by having expanded well beyond its ability to manage its affairs.
The shambolic European Union
The EU wants to compete head-to-head with the United States on the world market while militarily sheltering behind its skirts because its members are too stingy to pay for their own defense. And Brussels doesn’t realize this is impossible because it remains obsessively preoccupied with growth and trade goals, even as it mismanages both.
To hide its failure to fix any of Europe’s huge economic social, economic, democratic and governance problems, the EU has increasingly ventured into the defense and security field, after having smothered the Western European Union, an albeit toothless organization which nonetheless was the only purely European treaty-based defense alliance.
The EU then adopted a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) it can neither clearly formulate nor conclusively implement, picked a singularly incompetent pacifist as its external figurehead, and then dabbled selectively in crises like Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Gaza, Syria, Turkey, etc. etc., where its contribution was sometimes inflammatory, often superfluous but always inconclusive.
If today’s crisis in Ukraine was caused by Russia, the fuze was lit by the EU, whose leaders encouraged “EuroMaidan” protesters in Kiev to overthrow their elected government with vague promises of assistance and future membership, which mostly evaporated when Russia intervened.
In fact, Ukraine was a case for the Council of Europe or the OSCE, and neither the EU (it’s not economics) nor NATO (Ukraine is not a member) should have become involved.
The European Union is a self-perpetuating failure also because its member nations don’t fancy surrendering power to an unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy, and so dumb down the EU commission by sending their more ineffective or semi-retired politicos to Brussels. This habit is becoming disastrous.
There is something profoundly disturbing in seeing Catherine Ashton, an unrepentant pacifist who famously demonstrated against NATO’s deployment of cruise missiles in the 1970s, now embody the defense and foreign policies of 28 European nations.
And the incoming foreign policy duo inspires hardly any more confidence. The president-elect of the European Council is the prime minister of Poland, a recent member whose first action after joining the EU in 2004 was to buy large amounts of US weapons. The new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has served as Italy’s foreign minister for three whole months. As Italy’s foreign and defense policies are traditionally closely aligned on those of the US, one can legitimately wonder just how European her positions will be.
Like the EU, NATO has been scrambling to find its raison d’être since the disappearance of the Soviet military threat in the 1990s. Its search for a new mission has ranged from Kosovo to Afghanistan, and from the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean, even as it added 12 new members from the former Warsaw Pact despite having promised Russia it would not expand eastwards.
Now, with the United States’ newfound interest in, and “rebalance” to, Asia, NATO’s European members are worried about having to cope alone with a newly aggressive Russia. They also see a growing and deathly threat coming from the Muslim terrorists who are gradually taking over those North African and Middle Eastern countries where the US and allies intervened to make them safe for democracy, like they did in Afghanistan and Iraq. Facing these threats requires new investments that most European NATO members can ill afford.
Structural obstacles to European security
The obstacles to implementing a single European Security and Defence on the same lines as the single European market are varied.
One such obstacle is that several EU members like Austria, Finland, Sweden and Ireland do not belong to NATO, while some NATO members like Turkey and Norway do not belong to the EU. This reduces the potential number of countries that share enough economic, political and military basics to form the future European core.
A second, more practical obstacle is that the Schengen free-transit zone has proved a real boon to criminals and terrorists, while its only real advantage for EU citizens is that, like terrorists, criminals and spies, they can now cross borders without showing their passports.
Thirdly, the EU has neglected its southern, maritime border, leaving Italy, Greece and Malta to cope with the huge influx of illegal immigrants that are smuggled in at huge profits by criminals operating in neighboring countries. Spain, on the other hand, is more bothered by shipments of drugs originating in Morocco.
Yet another problem is that EU national leaders have not yet realized theirs are no longer rich countries, but instead economic basket cases that have virtually disarmed over the past decade in order to meet meaningless deficit and debt targets and thus satisfy international rating agencies.
A mandatory return to realpolitik
What Europe needs, more than anything else, is a return to realpolitik, in which the EU looks to its own interests first and foremost, if not exclusively, and forgets about political idealism.
The original European Economic Community had six members whose interests, goals and wealth were closely aligned. The past two decades have shown that 20 or 30 members are too many to manage and coordinate effectively, be it for trade, politics or defense.
Consequently, a new, hard EU core is necessary, with remaining members forming a larger, looser and less ambitious circle. A two-speed Europe is now mandatory because, like a ship convoy, a 28-nation EU moves only as fast as its slowest (or most hesitant) member, and that is too slow.
To regain some relevance in defense, members of this new European hard core should, in no particular order:
1. Restore defense spending to at least 2% of gross domestic product and upgrade their armed forces, even if this means ignoring EU deficit and debt targets for a few years. This investment will go a long way towards stimulating demand and creating work, profit and investment as long as the EU, as it now must do, introduces “Buy European” legislation for its defense and security equipment.
2. Abolish the Schengen free transit zone and re-introduce internal and peripheral border controls. They also must reinforce coast guard assets in the Mediterranean, fisheries control in the Med and the Atlantic, and tighten immigration policies and their implementation.
3. Stop coddling African, Middle Eastern and Central Asian dictators; prevent them from hiding their ill-gained fortunes in European banks or invested in European countries; and revoke policies that allow non-EU citizens to buy residence permits (as in Malta, the UK and to varying extent others)
4. Centralize control of cyber war assets at European core level, while keeping counter-cybercrime assets under national control; reinforce counter-terrorism forces as part of police and intelligence, but not military, agencies.
5. Withdraw most executive power from the EU Commission, whose role should become purely administrative, and return it to national ministers working in concert with the European Parliament. This would, until a better governance system is found, restore the confidence of European voters and governments alike in a common future.
It is not obvious that such a smaller, reformed EU would work better than today’s EU and NATO. What is clear, however, is that members of these organizations have interests that are too divergent to harmonize without wasting years on each small step forward.
And time is something that neither the European Union’s economy, nor its largely NATO-dependent defense, has any longer.