The good people of the EU have had every chance to solidify their supra-national state as a benevolent power but didn’t.
Also, between Donald Trump and Donald Tusk, I like Donald Duck best…
It’s 2017, and the good people of the European Union (Western Europe, mostly) have had a good 20+ years of post–Cold War peace and tranquility to build up some real leadership and courage for the scary, ugly times in history that lie ahead.
They’ve had every chance to solidly establish the EU as a unique peace-loving superpower, an economic powerhouse that’s not just liberally democratic but also strong and resolute enough to defend itself.
Instead, the (Western) Europeans have slept through this giant window of opportunity, comfortably hibernating covered with the blanket of a US security guarantee (let’s just call it a “security blanket”), lulled by buck-passing, self-delusional dreams of a thoughtful world enjoying self-perpetuating peace—a perpetual motion machine of peaceful consumerism playing the Ode of Joy.
Now, suddenly, the nice Europeans are awakening in the middle of the night only to find that emboldened predators are lurking in the dark, and the US “security blanket” might be no more.
Its owner seems to think the Europeans aren’t entitled to it, and might be starting to pull it back.
Plus, he seems to have something of a soft spot for those predators lurking around regardless of whether they might gnaw at the poor Europeans.
This is exactly the picture of the EU as reflected by European Council President Donald Tusk’s letter to the leaders of the 28 member states of the European Union (soon to be 27, minus the Brexiting Brits) in which he declared that Russia, China, Islamism, and new US President Donald Trump pose threats or challenges to the European Union.
The post former Polish Prime Minister Tusk holds at present was introduced with the Lisbon Treaty of 2009, and at first sounded like “EU President,” but is actually nothing of the sort. It’s more like a coordinator of the European Council, which comprises the 28 heads of state of the EU nations. It matters less than the President of Malta, the smallest EU member state.
Despite that, and even though Tusk seems to be ironically named for his job (have no idea what the name means in Polish, but its meaning in English is contrary to the EU having any teeth on defense, or tusks, if you wish) his declaration is still huge: an EU chief pinpointing a US president as a threat to Europe is unprecedented.
(Isn’t it also ironic that both Tusk and Trump are named “Donald”? Though, to be perfectly honest, between Donald Trump and Donald Tusk, I think I like Donald Duck best.)
For those US or international readers who are not that very aware of the gist of the EU (not to worry, most actual EU citizens don’t seem to be aware of it but at all), here it is in a nutshell: the EU is a supranational organization, a semi-state, a hybrid between a state and an intergovernmental organization.
Regardless of how weird it might seem, I argue that the EU is the single best thing that has happened to Europe since the Reformation. Why is it so great?
It’s been building something like a European nation out of many European nation-states, a multinational supranational confederation based on western liberal democracy, the rule of law, and, to some extent on “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”
It has prevented countless wars in a region that used to average a major war every few years. It has vastly improved prosperity for hundreds of millions of people and has helped Southern and Eastern Europe find a path to democracy and prosperity.
It has been spreading democracy, not the George W. / Dick Cheney / neocon way, but by being an overly attractive role model, a family ready to welcome new members who subscribe to its rules.
The EU is certainly not without major flaws. Its bureaucracy has grown excessive, and its elites have become repulsively smug, allowing social polarization and inequality to grow, and espousing a type of delusional liberalism, neo-liberalism, or, rather, pseudo-liberalism.
The European nations have been gripped by a reluctance to stand up to bullies and defend their lofty ideals.
For example, it is this naïve pseudo-liberalism that has decided it is a good idea to pile millions of “Syrian refugees” originating from Afghanistan to sub-Saharan Africa on top of the already existing vast immigrant ghettos all over Western Europe that are often no-go zones even for the security forces.
This has been coupled with kowtowing to autocratic leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
I keep referring to the Western Europeans when talking about the EU because within the Union they outnumber the Eastern Europeans 3:1, not to mention the former’s staggering economic lead over the latter.
This is affecting the EU’s judgment about today’s threats because unlike the Eastern Europeans, Western Europe (partly with the exception of Germany and Austria) has never been trampled by the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, or the Soviet Union.
(The only other part of Europe that was threatened, and, indeed, conquered by a mighty non-European force, the Arab Caliphate, was the Iberian Peninsula, but that was back in the Middle Ages.)
Being historically sheltered by geography, and, more recently, by the US “security blanket” during the Cold War, the Western Europeans, who understandably dominate the EU, have been unable to fathom the need to prepare for “the return of history,” which had been bound to come sooner or later, and in which ambitious outside powers would start aiming not just at the fringes but also at the heart of the European continent.
Both the 1990s and the 2000s (despite the fact they were more tumultuous with 9/11/2001, the 2003 Iraq War, and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis) were a golden age when the European Union had the window of opportunity to realize that even though their chunk of planet Earth had begun to subscribe a post-modern, non-violent international order, the rest of the world was still a place where life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” as Hobbes’ famous Leviathan quote goes.
That’s even more true if you are rich and weak and have a highly attractive model of democracy, rights, prosperity (which beats its twin, the American model in welfare, though loses to it in unbridled business opportunities) – sooner or later you are bound to be targeted by those who feel threatened by you, want to rob you of your riches (including through trade), and would just enjoy giving it to you in your face. Because they are poor and criminal and like bullying.
The EU did achieve great progress since the end of the Cold War. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty transformed the European Economic Community into the European Union. Between 1995 and 2013, it grew from 12 to 28 member nations, and its population from 350 million to 500 million.
Yet, this was precisely the time when the EU should have established a real joint security and foreign policy: with a real EU army to be used when EU security is threatened, with military bases in the Caucasus safeguarding an energy route to Central Asia (and a commercial route to China) independent of Russia and Turkey, and, based on some kind of a special accord with France and possibly Britain, with a nuclear deterrent and a UN Security Council seat.
Because when you have trouble in the Balkans or the Baltics, it’s bound to come to the English Channel and beyond. This is the lesson of Sarajevo and the Somme, Munich and the Battle for Britain.
In Europe, you need to keep the south, east, and southeast safe and sound, and the Western European heartland will be out of trouble for good.
The EU slept through this giant window of opportunity. The Germans were too scared (to some extent rightfully so) of their past ghosts; the Brits were too reluctant, and enjoying their past ghosts; the French were, as always, too much in love with their vision of self-grandeur; and the rest never really mattered as much as those Big Three.
The EU hibernated, and now Russia and Turkey, both inferior in population and economics but daring and resolute, with low regard for human life, have decided to reclaim their former empires.
Radical Islamism has decided to keep striking as much as it can, and there are uncertainties over the trade relations with China, which lies on the opposite end of the Eurasian continent.
However, what’s really alarming for the Europeans is the possibility of losing the American “security blanket” under US President Donald Trump, whose weird priorities include cozying up to Russia (for whatever reason) and picking a fight with China (while letting it enjoy its own version of the TPP).
Sure, there is Operation “Atlantic Resolve” in which the Americans have beefed up their military presence in Eastern Europe, but at the end of the day, James “the Mad Dog” Mattis is just a Secretary of Defense, and the most powerful man in the world is the other Donald.
The EU’s situation to which European Council President Donald Tusk seems to have awakened isn’t like waking up in the middle of the night realizing you have a term paper due in the morning. It’s like waking up in the middle of the night and realizing you might be dying.
There are still hopes that faced with emboldened Russia and Turkey, a persistent ISIS, and with the lack of the British veto on the common security and defense policy, the EU might have a chance to become a real confederation with a common identity, interests, and armed forces.
If not, it might disintegrate, or just die out, having shined the brightest in the 1990s and 2000s, the time when great opportunities to prep for the future were squandered.
If that goes down, today’s EU member states will have nothing good to look forward to.
Any contribution is appreciated!
*Note: An earlier version of this article appeared on intelligencerpost .com.