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Appraising Europa Pt. II

November 10, 2010

What is the European Union for, as far as it concerns foreign policy? My previous rumination on Anglo-Continental rivalry may seem anachronistic in light of the new Anglo-French defense treaties. What role does Gaullism have in a world where Britain and France are leading the way in military coöperation? Two caveats: first, this treaty has yet to play out in practice, while nuclear coöperation is likely, it is harder to see the proposed joint rapid reaction force being developed and exercised without controversy.

However, we must still ask what, in grand strategic terms, foreign policy and defense integration are for. An integrated foreign policy and military are a solution, but what is the problem? With the retreat of US hegemony and the perceived yawning gap between European and American interests, strict US alignment no longer serves the interests of many European countries. To E.H. Carr, a European grossraum would keep a third force between American and Soviet hegemonies. De Gaulle’s vision of an intergovernmental European superstate served much the same purpose. Of course, Cold War politics worked out differently, and a frustrated de Gaulle said in the Cuban Missile Crisis’s aftermath that the world was already entering unipolarity. De Gaulle may have jumped the gun by a few decades, but certainly American hegemony’s expansion stifled European defense coöperation, as Part I discusses.

With US interests turning towards Asian powers, which themselves are rising, strength in unity seems to many the best power political option for Europe. In this case, Europe is not just a project for Europeans, but a global force, whose interests extend far beyond the European “near abroad.” Some writers, such as Therese Delpech, derided the EU for its geopolitical myopia and limited understanding of the new eastern orientation of global politics. Some European thinkers would like to see the EU acting as a great power in its own right, leveraging its economic and military might to stand equal to rising giants. This implies a replacement or transcendence of NATO, however, which means that the European Union must have some purpose beyond the mere collective defense of European states – a task which would be no better served without American involvement. Instead, it necessitates a particularly European set of interests strong enough to justify forgoing a conventional alliance or partnership.

What foreign policy and security interests beyond European borders do European states share with each other that NATO does not also accommodate? The greater diversity of states, the harder answering this question becomes. For de Gaulle, answering the question was easy, but it required excluding Atlanticist states. A strong British role in a common EU defense policy remains potentially debilitating. So too will the split between Western and Eastern European states challenge a common, non-NATO foreign policy. Turkey would only complicate matters further.*

The difficulty of forging a common policy on matters of “hard” power may miss the point, according to some. After all, the diversity and deliberation that make the EU a nightmare for a realist or Clausewitzean make it a powerhouse for constructivists and theorists of soft and civilian power. Advocates of European civilian power insist its normative effects are effective tools of foreign policy. Certainly, civilian power is important, and so too are international norms, but I remain skeptical. Firstly, much of the EU’s civilian power successes are in states that lie within the European “sphere of influence,” particularly in states that might be candidates for EU membership or are closely tied to European states. However, this power does not establish the EU as a global force. Drawing in peripheral states in “wider Europe” or the European Neighborhood Project is still regional, not global power. Nor is it the sort of power exercised between relatively equal states – hence why EU pressure might be more effective in the Balkans or Caucasus than against Russia. We might even call it an imperial form of civilian power, because these smaller states in “Wider Europe” are not seeking and cannot achieve the sort of global power status the EU aspires to.

The true test of the EU’s potential as a great power would be in its relations with the US, Russia, India, China, and other strong states outside the EU’s own sphere. Without the ability to compel other great powers, the EU will remain something less, in geopolitical terms, than the sum of its parts. The ability to influence these great powers through pure civilian power is far less direct than conventional forms of power. This is not to say it has no influence, only that its influence is marginal and sometimes subterranean. Applying the sort of civilian power solutions that created the EU will not suffice to deal with China, the US, or India simply because the ideal form of civilian coöperation the EU itself represents cannot extend to Washington, Delhi or Beijing. The multilateralism the EU embodies is of no interest to India or China – India and China seek participation in multilateral institutions as a vehicle for their power and recognition as great powers, not to dismantle Westphalianism or realpolitik.

Nevertheless, civilian power has its virtues. Not ignoring the role of the US and NATO’s power in precluding major conflict, civilian power is far more effective at creating the sort of soft empire Western globalization aims towards than blunt military force. Certainly the counterinsurgency, development and nation-building experiences of the past two decades underline civilian power’s importance in policy towards the peripheral states beyond the globalized, liberalized and secure Western order. But India, China and other Asian powers are no failed peripheral states, they are international political subjects. Here, proponents of global EU power might turn to the discursive power of the EU’s ideals and practice, in establishing new norms of international behavior and models for states to aspire towards. Even if their material interests might lie elsewhere, discourse and new norms still have some binding influence.

This is true, but the very multipolarity prompting the EU’s coalescence will also undermine its normative power. Civilian power and soft power cannot entirely escape material conditions. The EU does not enjoy normative influence because its ideas are the most rational or teleologically mandated. The predominance of Western ideals, the relative strength of the EU’s economy, and its common ground with hegemonic US power all provide a context favorable to the influence of European ideals. Much of the EU’s normative power is due to its enormous market. By locking in European norms while developing markets are still weak, Europe can preserve the sort of normative context that precludes decisions harmful to European interests. Of course, the global economy is a fickle thing. Europe might preserve its privileged economic position, but it might not. If Europe proves unable to cope with demographic and economic challenges and the Asian miracle continues, Europe will face competing Asian and American “civilian power” throughout the third world, and rival global powers which are less susceptible to European normative influence. On the other hand, the Asian miracle might fail, though the unrest this would spur might pose a new set of geopolitical challenges.

There are also non-material challenges to European normative influence. Many find Europe’s post-Westphalian ideals attractive because they represent something beyond the tyranny and violence of the old order of states. But Europeans should not confuse rising powers’ rejection of the old Westphalian system’s Eurocentric orientation for its sovereign order. Seeking the preservation of national sovereignty is not just the aim of dictators and kleptocrats who wish to evade justice. After decades of subjugation, colonization, and intervention, Westphalian sovereignty often appears essential, not hostile, to democracy and human rights. Nationalism and state sovereignty do not mean the same things to all people. What the EU sees as a dangerous anachronism is an ideal to strive for beyond its borders.

The EU’s material and normative influence on its peers therefore owes more to its economic strength and privileged geopolitical position than to the integrative capability of the EU in and of itself. Therefore, EU expansion does not inherently strengthen its position in the arena of global politics. If the Union’s breadth compromises the internal harmony of interests, it might still serve European internal politics but undermine European foreign policy at the level of great power politics. That same sort of expansion would still strengthen Europe’s civilian power to influence the European neighborhood and minor states. It will do less, however, to stifle the ambitions of nationalists or shake the confidence of dictators beyond the traditional European sphere of influence.

Europe’s democratic ideals do not rely on the strength of the Union. Before Europe rejected Westphalianism, even before Europe rejected imperialism, Europe’s democratic ideals resounded far and wide. As Johann Hari wrote in a recent piece on Churchill:

In leading the charge against Nazism, he produced some of the richest prose poetry in defense of freedom and democracy ever written. It was a check he didn’t want black or Asian people to cash, but as the Ghanaian nationalist Kwame Nkrumah wrote, “all the fair brave words spoken about freedom that had been broadcast to the four corners of the earth took seed and grew where they had not been intended.” Churchill lived to see democrats across Britain’s imperial conquests use his own hope-songs of freedom against him.

These principles did not rely on European unity; they grew in the midst of the nightmare European integration sought to escape. I do not know, but I will venture to guess that, beyond Europe’s Neighborhood, these ideals of freedom, sovereignty, and self-determination resonate far more deeply than those of unity and post-Westphalian thought. The Union still means far more to Europeans than it does to anyone else. In this inward-looking sense, perhaps continued expansion and integration of peripheral states such as the UK is necessary. Re-creating the EU as a global power, though, may require a different kind of Union. Agonizing over the UK or any other state’s depth of integration, however, will not reliably serve the interests of that nation in particular or Europe in general until Europeans decide what the EU is for, and what they are willing to change to get there.

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