An inability to distinguish ideals from reality has left Europe in a precarious situation.
Living beyond one’s means is a hazardous thing, as the financial crisis has illustrated that vividly. While this point again accepted in financial matters, the danger of Europe’s living beyond its means in terms of security remains an unwelcome truth. The guarantees and the ability meet them simply do not add up. This gap invites tragedy.
European leaders have failed to plan for the scenario that the U.S. National Intelligence Council labels «multipolarity without multilateralism». In layman’s terms that means a bare-knuckle national interest politics with a minimum of postmodern padding. This scenario is growing increasingly likely. While international institutions struggle, Russia is in a forced military build-up. So are China and India. Talk of globalization notwithstanding, the international system is about to become more competitive.
As Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, noted: «the era in which one could dispense security guarantees without anticipating having to bear any cost for them is over». Territorial defence should therefore dominate next month’s NATO anniversary summit in Strasbourg and Kehl. But chances are that it won’t. Facing up to reality is simply too much to expect from most European leaders. For admitting that the nature of security has not changed would shine a harsh light on the choices made over the past decade.
The 2008 South Ossetian War was exactly the sort of intra-state war that analysts had said was a thing of the past Europe. European publics are beginning to grasp what their leaders refuse to see: That security is a concern not only in faraway lands. It would be odd, though by no means out of character, for NATO leaders ignore national security and focus on «vision-making» when they meet at the Franco-German border.
This challenge is highlighted by NATO’s Afghan operation. Because of Afghanistan, the weakness of Europe’s «virtual armies» is no longer just a debating-point at scholarly seminars. It is an acute worry for allied commanders as they attempt to muster combat troops for the ISAF-Operation.
Pooling a few thousand men has stretched Europe’s capacity to breaking point. They are unwilling and unable to contribute to Obama’s new «surge» intended to replicate that which broke the spiral of violence in Iraq. European leaders instead try to make a virtue of necessity, arguing that there is «no military solution». That echo of the utopians of the interwar years.
The Alliance cannot allow itself to be whipped in the Hindu Kush. Because that would mean that the collective engagement is hollow: Surely an unpleasant thought for those who count on others dying to defend their homelands. This is true the EU and it is also holds true for NATO, where a culture of free-loading has left it utterly dependent on America.
This, admittedly candid line of argument is not convenient, but it is true. It is an established fact, yet little has been done to rectify it. The financial crisis will probably lead to smaller U.S. defence budgets. This will not necessarily lead to a security dilemma for America but it will certainly lead to a multipolar world and the end of American predominance.
Undeterred the idealists are conjuring up ever new institutional fixes and pointless declarations rather than bringing their security in order. Everybody is trying to get someone else to pay for their security. Multipolarity without multilateralism will send security providers scattering to reduce their obligations – at the expense of security consumers. «Collective defence» among the unarmed is not alliance; it is a suicide pact.
For now European Leaders are hiding behind the argument that the EU is a «security community» that makes war unlikely. They conveniently forget that that the EU exists in a world consisting of states that they do not control. Now that the unipolar moment is over, Europeans will soon find themselves a system no longer determined by US hard power. They will find that «soft power» without hard power to back it is impotent.
Several states, with France and Britain in the lead, have pledged to correct these deficiencies by strengthening their military capabilities; but the process has been carried out in accordance with postmodern doctrines that the South Ossetian War rendered obsolete. Modern forces have to be able to hold territory in high technology, high intensity conflict – not just fight the savage wars of peace in faraway lands.
Few expect Europe to make the vast investment that would be needed to duplicate the new expeditionary outfits with territorial defence. The new EU defence initiative has hardly been able to supplement NATO, much less supplant it. The efforts at «pooling» military hardware in a EU context has so far shown that pooling bits and pieces amounts to lots of fragments, not grand armies.
The Europeans leaders from left to right have grown accustomed to philosophising freely about security matters as if it was the realm where one man is as big an expert as the next, and he with the most naïve vision is the greatest expert of all.
The result is that the runway in Brussels is littered with acronyms of security initiatives that never reached take-off speed. The Afghan operation has spotlighted up the gap. It has debunked idealist politics, conceived with little thought to other than wildly optimistic scenarios. Unless Europe finds a way to part with its idealists the result may be a return to history no less brutal than that seen in the financial crisis.
Published by OpenEurope 17.04-2009