Year XLVII, 2005, Number 3, Page 129
The Problem of Europe’s Defence and the
The results of the autumn survey conducted on behalf of the European Commission (Eurobarometer 64) give many indications as to the current mood and expectations of the European citizens, and of what it falls to Europe to do in order to avoid losing its identity permanently.
The picture painted by the survey is an entirely pessimistic one, showing citizens who are fast losing their faith in the European institutions. In autumn 2004, 52 per cent of those interviewed had complete faith in the Brussels Commission; a year later, that figure was down to 46 per cent, while those who had faith in the European Parliament dropped from 57 to 51 per cent. In the same period of time, the proportion who considered the European Union to enjoy a “positive” image fell from 50 to 44 per cent, while those who judged its image “negative” increased from 15 to 20 per cent. On the other hand, the percentage in favour of a European defence and security policy (78 per cent at the end of 2004, 77 per cent at the end of 2005) and of a common foreign policy (68 per cent versus 69 per cent) remained more or less stable.
It would be wrong to make too much of the results of a survey that may have been influenced by passing concerns or by fluctuating economic trends. However, considered globally, the replies of the interviewees reveal, quite clearly, that the citizens are placing less and less trust in today’s Europe. And it is hardly surprising. The European Union has proved incapable of boosting the economy, which has now been struggling for years; it has failed to make any real headway with the very real problem of unemployment; it was unable to present a united front at the most critical stages in the Iraqi crisis; and it does not wield even minimal influence on the world political stage. The citizens’ distancing of themselves from this Europe is the inevitable result of its impotence.
However, this pessimistic mood does not prevent them from seeing — more clearly than the politicians do — that Europe is essential if we are to avoid having to endure, passively, the consequences of global political instability, international terrorism, the emergence of new world powers like China (and, before much longer, India), the looming energy crisis, a worsening of environmental problems, and so on. A large majority of Europe’s citizens is perfectly aware that, in these areas, there exists no alternative to Europe. It is thus reasonable to assume that this majority would accept a relinquishing of national sovereignty in these areas, providing their management were to be handed over to an efficient European government. The real problem, therefore, is the means through which to turn today’s faint-hearted Europe into tomorrow’s resolute and efficient Europe.
The only rational answer, already prefigured as long ago as 1941 by Altiero Spinelli in the Ventotene Manifesto, is that of creating a European federal state and of transferring to it all the powers needed to fulfil the tasks that are now beyond the capacity of the nation-states. We came close to this outcome at the time of the EDC when, alongside the proposal for a European army, the question was also insistently raised of the political power that should control that army. On that occasion, the project was sunk by a combination of the shameful inertia displayed by some countries, the hostile reactions of the most hardened nationalists, and bad luck.
The subsequent stages in the process of European unification have followed a more tortuous course and the most important advances since then, such as the direct election of the European Parliament and the creation of the single currency, have all been achieved through force of necessity, to solve problems that demanded urgent solutions. Today, the problem to be faced is, once again, that of Europe’s defence — not because there is an enemy on the doorstep (as was the case of Stalin’s Soviet Union), but because, in a world dominated by violence and disorder, a credible defence is necessary to guarantee one’s own security and independence, to be able to intervene effectively in areas that are in the grip of chaos, and to conduct a foreign policy that might favour the emergence of a less unbalanced world order.
The human condition can be furthered only through a global plan that tackles the full range of key problems (poverty, underdevelopment, environmental issues, peace, and so on); but such a plan cannot be realised in the absence of the power to defend it, everywhere and on all levels — also against those who would like to prevent its implementation. Defence is an essential part of this power.
In the Gorbachev-dominated final years of the Cold War, there seemed to emerge the possibility of a peaceful transition towards a multipolar world order. Indeed, the great powers, the developing countries, the areas of the world engaged in processes of integration (primarily western Europe and Latin America), and the emerging powers all seemed destined to become active protagonists in the building and government of a new, more peaceful and more advanced global system. In the wake of the insane arms race of the early eighties, the world, very briefly, had the impression that reason might prevail over force.
But the fall of the Soviet Union, despite at the time raising hopes that the way to freedom and democracy was now clear — Francis Fukuiama called it “the end of history” — , in fact plunged the world into a state of uncertainty. The collapse of the Soviet pillar brought to an end the “global government” (albeit not founded on democracy) that the bipolar equilibrium, preventing the two superpowers from overstepping the mark and bringing a semblance of order to the world’s hot spots, had somehow guaranteed. Its disappearance therefore created the conditions for the emergence of a dangerous state of anarchy. The United States, left as the sole superpower at the start of the nineties, and faced with an escalation of armed conflicts in the world, acts of international terrorism (culminating in the September 11thatrocity), and an accumulation of unresolved crises, has been induced increasingly frequently to rely on armed rather than political intervention. Finding itself — through no fault of its own — with no equal player on the field, the US has followed a dangerous, unilateralist course that, while often influencing this nation’s conduct in the past, had never before emerged with quite the overt arrogance displayed in recent years.
There were already signs of this tendency during the Yugoslavian crisis, although they were, to an extent, masked by the shield of NATO. The same cannot be said in the case of the Iraqi crisis. In the months leading up to the United States’ military intervention in Iraq, the American administration was quite prepared to manipulate the truth in order to scrape together some justification for this absurd war; it was quite prepared to heap disdain on the governments that would not support its policy unconditionally; and it set out, with determination, to drive a wedge between the countries of “old” and “new” Europe. That this transatlantic crisis — the worst in post-war times — has since abated is due not to the Americans’ acknowledgment of “old Europe’s” valid arguments, but to the fact that “old Europe” has gradually exited the stage, leaving it clear for the United States’ most loyal allies.
If it is true that, as some commentators have put it, Europe has been the third victim of the Iraqi war, then it is even more true that it has been the first victim of itself. The United States did not create the splits that opened up in those difficult circumstances, it simply took advantage of divisions that already existed within the Union in order to end its growing state of isolation. If the Europeans — or a section of them — want to get back on top and continue the journey mapped out at the start of the 1950s, then they must look at how they can regain their independence, building their own autonomous defence, and they must accept all that this implies in terms of the new institutions that will have to be created. Defence — and its associated sectors of foreign policy and security — can therefore become the point on which to concentrate in the attempt to continue the journey that was interrupted after Maastricht and carry through the process of unification with the founding of a European federal state.
In the past few years, the question of a European defence has often been raised, but few have tackled it with the clarity of vision shown by Karl Lamers (whom we have already mentioned in this journal and in other federalist publications) and Jean-Marie Le Breton, a high-ranking French diplomat and fine expert on twentieth-century European history, who has just written an article emblematically entitled “La défense des ‘Etats-désunis’ d’Europe” (which appeared in Défense Nationale et Securité Collective, December 2005). The entire web of debate on the need for a European defence has failed to address the contradiction inherent in any European defence strategy that involves the United Kingdom. To those who maintain that any credible European defence must include both France and the United Kingdom, the only countries with efficient armies, Le Breton replies as follows: “The difficulty lies in the fact that Great Britain favours its links with the [Atlantic] alliance and would like to set Europe’s defence within the framework of NATO, which is the same as saying that it does not want an autonomous European defence. Which is easier — to create a European defence where the political will to create it is lacking, or to create a European defence without exploiting existing military resources? No efficient army can ever be cobbled together, of course, particularly a multinational army. But let us not forget the speed with which, after 1941, the Western democracies managed to muster the men, the general staff, and the arms they needed to win the Second World War. Prior to their realisation of this need, the resources that each of them had at their disposal had proved insufficient to stop the Nazis in their tracks. The will is thus manifestly more important than the means. Without a common will, a European defence is an illusion.”
The recent attempts to create European military corps — which, in truth, cannot really be defined European — bear witness more to a realisation of the problem than to a will to solve it. These corps dissolved into thin air not as a result of the technical difficulties of merging a number of armies, but because of the approach taken to the European problem as a whole. Le Breton, again, writes: “The ‘Monnet method’ worked very well as long as it was a question of creating a customs union and establishing the rules of competition — in other words, of creating a single market. It has proved less efficient with the single currency, which, lacking the support of a clear political will, has been abandoned to its fate. And it is entirely inadequate in areas that touch the very heart of national sovereignty, that is to say, in matters of foreign policy and defence. In these areas, there are only two possible alternatives: coalition or integration. In a coalition, the states do not relinquish their sovereignty definitively; they can reclaim it at any time. European history offers us countless examples of coalitions that seemed solid and lasting, but which fell apart in the space of a morning.”
Le Breton’s conception of the second alternative — integration — does not coincide with the usual, vague interpretation of the term. He sees integration as a process that must culminate in the creation of a new state. An objective as ambitious as this, he stresses, cannot today stem from an initiative that involves all the EU member states from the outset. On the contrary, the “leaders of ‘old Europe’ must come to an agreement to propose, to their peoples, a renunciation of part of their national sovereignty. And they can do this only through the presentation of a project founded on shared aspirations. Clearly, in this context, to recall the ‘Petersberg missions’ or the despatching to Africa of a few hundred or even a few thousand soldiers in a bid to restore peace and democratic liberties would be laughable. In just the same way as the ‘Monnet method’ failed to bring about a transition from single market to European federation, entrusting a part of the national armies to an authority with no legitimation would not lead to the creation of a European army.”
These remarks are music to the ears of federalists, confirming their philosophy and supporting their actions. From the time of the Ventotene Manifesto, federalists have systematically denounced all the expedients invented by the national governments in order to shore up their shaky power, setting against these the constituent method, which is the necessary way forward for the foundation of a new democratic state. Now, it is no longer only federalists who think this way. An acute observer, in the person of Jean-Marie Le Breton, has appreciated, showing a clear-sightedness that is rare, the true nature of the alternatives before us, and has suggested a concrete way of reaching a definitive solution to the problem.
“The time has come,” he writes in his article, “to re-examine the projects of federal union and of a European army. As the crisis in Iraq has shown us, a not inconsiderable number of European countries have decided to place their own defence and autonomy in the hands of the President of the United States, just as Carlos IV of Spain placed his throne and his mission ‘in the hands of our great friend and ally, Napoleon’. This group of countries has no desire to live an independent life. Yet, it is happy to be part of America’s clientele. Conversely, the states that have no intention of abdicating their responsibilities are beginning to appreciate that the only way they can achieve their objectives is by pooling their means… To continue to ‘exist’, and to play a role, France and Germany must join forces and appeal to the states that share their aspirations. In today’s world, France and Germany can no longer express their will, or reaffirm their independence, without a federal union.”
Le Breton’s conclusions are unequivocal, and they refer not only to these two countries that were at the very root of the European project, but also to the other countries that, heeding their appeal, made its partial realisation possible. “If the founding member states still want their destiny to rest on their own free choices, if they do not want this destiny to be decided in Washington by an “American Commission” as feared by Paul Valéry, or even, one day, in Moscow or Tokyo, then there is only one possible way forward: that of creating a union through the realisation of a federal pact.”
The crux of this question is all there in this formula. The exhausting rounds of negotiations that can serve only to patch up the torn fabric of the Union, the misleading proposals like the Delors Plan and the Lisbon Agenda (misleading not because they were, and are, utopian, but because the Union does not have the power to put them into practice), and the powerlessness of Europe in the face of the world’s tragedies, will inevitably only deepen the chasm that separates the European Union from its citizens, until the point is reached at which the siren calls of nationalism and ethnic divisions will once more become irresistible. Of course, it would not be easy to dismantle the European apparatus, to do away with the single currency, to break down the mass of interests and expectations that, for so long now, have lain at supranational level. But no weak construction, unless it is securely anchored to solid foundations, can hope to stay up for long. And this is a rule to which the European Union is no exception.