When the U.S. needs support, Europe pleads poverty

June 4, 2014

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


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“the European Union’s stated aim to integrate the continent into a single entity”.

Sounds as a kind of a modern imperialism. Or post-modern one, as some people name it.

Also, it is not well formulated, at least not in the article. What continent EU intends to integrate? The Eurasian continent – including China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc.?

More probably you meant not a continent, but Europe, which for historical and cultural reasons is considered a “part” of the World. However, in this case it should also include Russia, because 90% of Russian citizens live to the West of Ural mountains. Do you really believe that EU wants to integrate Russia into itself, giving their citizens voting rights an so on?

Posted by yurakm | Report as abusive

Excerpt from the article: “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.”

The EU is an incomplete union; it’s banks and militaries continue to be primarily under the authority of the sovereign nations that comprise the EU.

Perhaps what is needed to further bind the nations of the EU into a federation is a compelling reason to do so, a common foe.

Perhaps what is happening in the Ukraine is Act I, Scene I in which the puppetmasters introduce a Russian bogeyman?

Posted by breezinthru | Report as abusive

My opinion, but the US would more likely get more support from Poland and Ukraine, than any other country currently in the EU. Political correctness is ruling the day in Europe, while dependency on Russia and each other is slowly eliminating self-sufficiency within the member states.

Posted by smokeymtnblues | Report as abusive

I mean, you have to be careful about evaluating everything based on polls. Average people might not care about Ukraine now, but if Russia rolls over Ukraine, then rolls over Moldova, the opinion polls will change. Obama cares too much about having the Europeans like him. He could do more to bring them along to defend Ukraine, but here as with Syria Obama sits back passively. He’s shown himself not to be up to the job. If Obama wanted to, for example, he could threaten to move U.S. troops out of Germany. Those troops are a holdover from a previous era, and they stay there kind of as a favor to Germany. There’s nothing that says they have to stay there. There is such a thing as incompetence, and I think with Obama that’s what we’re seeing.

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive

this illustrates the fecklessness of ‘europe’ as a polity

will efta accept our re-entry?

Posted by ed_martin | Report as abusive