When the U.S. needs support, Europe pleads poverty
The United States has troubles. This was the subtext of President Barack Obama’s speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point last week. The latest trouble is the raw ambition of Russian President Vladimir Putin to dominate as much of the former Soviet Union as he can.
This trouble is, of course, in Europe’s neighborhood; but the United States is managing the crisis. Nevertheless, while America is powerful, it needs help. It is unlikely to get it from Europe.
The United States has long supported the European Union’s stated aim to integrate the continent into a single entity. The idea has been that a more united Europe will be a more powerful Europe, and thereby become a greater help in maintaining the United States as an “indispensable nation” — a phrase President Obama borrowed from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in his speech on foreign policy at West Point.
The problem with the plan is that the EU is not becoming more united. Nor will it be much military help to the United States in the near future. The countries of the EU have cut combined defense expenditure from 200 billion euros ($270 billion) to 170 billion euros ($232 billion) since 2008. Britain, one of the two (with France) biggest military powers and the closest ally to the U.S., has shed eight percent off its military budget since 2010.
The austerity measures are reversible if EU economies grow strongly again. Military chiefs on both sides of the Atlantic are asking that spending be increased now, with the invasion of Ukraine in mind. But many countries, including France and Britain, have just seen nationalist parties come out on top in the European Parliament elections. These are not keen on bearing the world’s burdens. What’s more, they are usually fans of Putin rather than Obama.
President Obama will spend much of this week in Europe. His main appointment is to commemorate the dead of World War Two for the 70th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings, when American, British and other allied troops stormed ashore on beaches named Omaha and Utah, as well as Juno, Gold and Sword.
Allied blood soaked the sand and turned the shallows of the sea red. It was one of many “never again” moments. The EU was created to make sure there would be no “again” — as Andre Glucksmann put it, as “a defensive reaction to horror.”
There has been no coordinated foreign affairs strategy and very little coordination in building up European military strength as a whole.
The United States cannot look to Germany, the strongest European power, to share the burden. John Kornblum, a former U.S. ambassador in Germany, wrote last week that there are now calls for Germany to aid the U.S. in foreign policy, but, he added, “those calls will be disappointed.’” Germany is enjoying a period of peaceful outlook. When reproached, it argues that those who won the last war insisted it be so.
What the EU integration enthusiasts, including U.S. leaders and diplomats, have missed is the stubborn strength of the nation state. It’s true, as the British philosopher Zygmunt Baumann put it, that the nation states of Europe are too small and too weak to cope with increasing global challenges. But the politics that would unite them into an effective single state are nowhere to be found. No political figure or party has laid down a map of how national peoples who still see their own parliaments and politicians as the source of policies will be drawn into a multinational state that they believe in.
Americans came together in the late eighteenth century, as the preamble to the Constitution reads, in “a more perfect union” to create “a common defense” (against the British). Since World War Two, we Europeans have had most of our common defense provided by a common friend: the United States.
Now, when the U.S. needs support, Europe pleads poverty. Not a great response.
PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama takes part in a ceremony during the “Freedom Day” anniversary in Warsaw’s Castle Square June 4, 2014. Obama’s visit to Poland coincides with the “Freedom Day” anniversary, marking the holding of the country’s first partially-free elections 25 years ago, which led to the end of communist rule and the victory of the Solidarity trade union. REUTERS/Filip Kimaszewski