Europe declared peace while the world was still at war

March 24, 2016
Rescue workers treat victims at the airport, in this image taken from television video, after a blast in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. REUTERS/RTL Belgium via Reuters TV

Rescue workers treat victims at the airport, in this image taken from television video, after a blast in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. REUTERS/RTL Belgium via Reuters TV

Many Europeans immediately took the Brussels bombings on Tuesday as an assault on Europe itself. After all, the Belgian capital has long been synonymous with the European Union, and one bombing target was a metro station just steps from major EU institutions.

French President François Hollande declared, “The whole of Europe has been hit.” Germany’s Der Spiegel titled its lead story “Terror hits EU power center.” Declarations of solidarity clogged the Internet from across Europe.

Assuming that the collective Europe has been attacked, can it respond as one?

“No,” said John Kornblum, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany still based in Berlin. “Europe is dysfunctional,” he said. “A response is not just tightening border control but coming up with a security strategy. Up to now, to be Europe meant to be more peaceful than everybody else.”

Members of French special police forces of Research and Intervention Brigade (BRI) arrive at the scene as shots are exchanged in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the French capital.   REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French special police forces of Research and Intervention Brigade arrive at the scene as shots are exchanged in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, November 18, 2015 REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Kornblum, who has been involved in trans-Atlantic relations since the 1970s, speaks out of frustration, not schadenfreude. Europeans are the first to admit that big strides in the European Union’s political and economic integration have outpaced cooperation in law enforcement and security.
There still isn’t a common database that contains the names of all terrorism suspects and Europeans who have joined organizations like Islamic State, Peter Neumann, a security expert at London’s King College, said on German ARD television Tuesday night.

“Everybody wants information from others,” Neumann said, “but nobody wants to share. Everybody wants coordination, but nobody wants to be coordinated. If you want freedom of movement in Europe, you also need to ensure the seamless cooperation among security agencies.”

Just as the Greek debt crisis exposed the inadequacies of the euro —  namely, the absence of an overall European fiscal policy — the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels demonstrate the shortcomings of borderless travel.

The 1990 Schengen Agreement opening EU internal borders was eventually signed by 26 European countries to encourage wider mobility and trade. The possibility that terrorists or undocumented migrants might take advantage of the Schengen area didn’t fit into the image of an enlightened postwar Europe. Now, the refugee crisis is showing that the European Union barely controls its external borders.

Belgian special forces police climb high on an apartment block during a raid, in search of suspected muslim fundamentalists linked to the deadly attacks in Paris, in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, November 16. 2015.     REUTERS/Yves Herman  IMAGES OF THE DAY

Belgian special forces police climb on an apartment block during a raid, in search of suspects linked to the Paris attacks, in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, November 16. 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Different rules that govern competing local and national law enforcement agencies make a coordinated response to the Brussels attack complicated. Another challenge is that the traditionally separate areas of domestic security and external defense have become blurred by international terrorist networks.

In the past, terrorism in Europe was largely seen in terms of national threats from groups such as Basque separatists in Spain or the Irish Republican Army in Britain. The emergence of al Qaeda and Islamic State changed that view dramatically, said Nicolas Tenzer, head of the Center for Study and Research on Political Decision, a Paris think tank.

Europe, Tenzer said, is unlikely to react to the Brussels attacks as a whole. Yet, the major powers — including Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands — will probably step up cooperation, Tenzer said, adding that it’s important to distinguish between the exchange of information and operational cooperation.

“Ad hoc operations are already possible between police departments,” he said. “But large-scale cooperation, as it sometimes exists on the battlefield, may be more difficult with many countries.”

The crux of Europe’s quandary in fighting global terrorism mirrors its problems with a shared foreign policy or common currency: a reluctance to sacrifice even more sovereignty on the altar of EU unity. Add Europe’s lack of tactical capabilities and increased U.S. isolationism, and Europe begins to look vulnerable.

A suspect is detained by plain clothes police during a raid at a house in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, Germany February 4, 2016. German police conducted raids in Berlin and other parts of northern Germany on Thursday in a search for four men suspected of links to Islamic State militants and possibly preparing an attack in Germany, police said.  REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

German plain-clothes police detain a suspect during a raid in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, Germany, February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

“It’s very dangerous for Europe because they need the United States,” said Kornblum, the former diplomat. “They’ve been neglecting security interests for at least 10 years.”

President Barack Obama, in a recent Atlantic magazine interview, criticized European powers as “free-riders” because of their dependence on Washington for security. Donald Trump, front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, echoed that sentiment this week as he questioned the billions of dollars the Pentagon spends on defending such wealthy countries as Germany.

The United States does in fact play a crucial role for European security. It is key not only in intelligence gathering but in its ability to deliver military strikes around the world.

“Better police work, coordinated among EU members, must certainly be one part of the answer,” said Ulrich Speck, a senior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington. “But the other part has to do much more with Syria. With such a devastating war in its immediate neighborhood, Europe cannot live in peace.”

The conflict in Syria helped create the current refugee crisis and is one source of the extremism espoused by terrorists in Europe. Yet, the European Union has neither the will nor the means for deeper engagement in the Middle East.

“Berlin and Paris should jointly take the lead, in close cooperation with London,” said Speck. “But so far they’re just waiting for Washington. The United States is unwilling to commit serious resources — and is geographically too far away to feel the spillover effects.”

Europe’s failure to come up with a consolidated response to terrorism bears risks not just for the European Union, but also for the entire postwar trans-Atlantic alliance.

“It’s not only a question about EU institutions, but about trust in the system,” said Roderich Kiesewetter, a member of the German parliament’s committee on foreign affairs. “It’s also a psychological question.”

Given existing centrifugal forces in the European Union, citizens may lose even more faith if they don’t see an effective EU reaction to terrorist attacks, Kiesewetter said, which could push many to support parties on the political extremes. What’s more, if Washington becomes engrossed in its own affairs, some forces in Europe might well seek closer accommodation with Russia.

For trans-Atlanticists, a European response automatically becomes an American one as well.


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Yes! Some peace loving members of the EU have caused havoc in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria , Libya and Yemen. Supporting good Terrorists here and there.
Plotted against Iran, and caused confrontation with Russia.
If you dont want a resistance from the middle East just stop beating them up and stop supporting other terrorist countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia and the USA.

Posted by wilsonsadler | Report as abusive

Great piece! I agree that its time for Europe to wake up and to stop relying on the US for military and security support. Europe is a wealthy continent and should be able to take care of itself.

Posted by TimL22 | Report as abusive

Well supporting the continued (SINCE 1948) occupation of Palestine and the Jews treatment of Palestinians in ghettos (like WWII Nazis) is a fundamental reason, if you ask any Jihadi, why they are fighting for freedom.

Posted by UgoneHearMe | Report as abusive

Belgium does not have foreign occupations of Muslim lands. The above comments are ignorant. Salman Rushdie was right. The koran is a satanic verse, and generally useful only for toilet paper.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

@Wilsonsadler – I think you may have omitted a nation in addition to Saudi such as – Pakistan, with an average of $4B/yr courtesy of Clinton, that they received, have built-up near 100 nuclear devices to-date, in addition to vast Chinese missiles – that poses grave danger going forward.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

ISIS attacked the Turkey with bombs twice just a year and more than hundered people died. PKK and YPG terrorists attacked the bombs third just a year more than hundered peopke died. One person showed on the the target the Turkey to support the terrorism. Abolutly that man have no idea about the Turkey or he has fasicist idea. Be sure Turkish people honorable persons. Turkey againist to terrorism everywhere, everytime!

Posted by Ankarali | Report as abusive

This may well be another vestige of old Europe holding up the EU. Open borders should spell greater cooperation, but the vestiges of the jingoism that kept Europe at war the past century are hampering the herculean task of unification. Of course, bureaucratic turf wars are about as bad. The FBI would still rather have an Israeli company crack an iPhone than the NSA.

It is unfair to criticize the EU for perceived shortcomings in this infinitely detailed task. The NSA lost the 9/11 bombers two weeks before they acted. The San Bernardino massacre is unstoppable given the free access to weapons in the US. These are systemic risks. The question is how can they be reduced? Diplomats and academics offers many solutions to which the public and the officials they elect offer deaf ears.

Posted by cleanthes | Report as abusive

Part of the problem is due to diverging security perceptions, E Europe understandably concerned with Russian aggression, Southern Europe preoccupied with refugee issues, France and Belgium terrorism,etc. The austerity agenda imposed by Merkel has further divided Europe. The post-war security consensus has evaporated in turn. Europe has to get serious about reversing the collapse of their defense capabilities, manifested in continuing declines in defense spending. Even the Libyan engagement stretched their capabilities. And I believe that as in the Paris terror attack, NATO was not officially called on in the response to the Brussels attack —in order not to offend Putin.

Posted by Cassiopian | Report as abusive

ISIS and PKK and PYD attacked with bombs, more than hundered people just a year in Turkey. I know Turkey fighting the terrorism last 30 years.

Posted by Ankarali | Report as abusive

Belgian security forces used force against their own people while being too afraid to confront the terrorist in Molenbeek.


Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

Europe surrendered while the enemy poured through the gates. Europe applauded and high-fived those who went on to become the rapists of Koln. Europe valued other nationalities more than their own citizens.

Europe is committing suicide.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

As Europeans we should be looking after our own security and not running to Uncle Sam every time the schoolyard bully gives us a bloody nose.

Posted by chester2001 | Report as abusive