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The Strategic Deficit

Europe's Achilles' Heel

01.03.2003 · Werner Weidenfeld


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World politics is standing at the gates of an era of disorder, risks and crises. Never before in the history of mankind have so many states possessed so many weapons of mass destruction. Never before has this capacity for destruction been in the hands of such unpredictable actors - dictators, disintegrating states, terrorist networks - they all have the ability to set the world aflame. Modern society, with its complex division of labor, is particularly sensitive to this current state of affairs. Aggressors can use any form of high technology and in an archaic manner simultaneously promise their followers a place in heaven.

Documented evidence that we have entered a new era of risky disorder is presented almost daily in the news, whether it be North Korea's blow to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel, Al-Quaida attacks throughout the world, instability in Afghanistan or the escalating conflict between Iraq and the U.S.

There is no new ordering principle providing world politics the security and reliability needed to confront these dangerous developments. The only remaining superpower, the USA, has neither the will nor the potential to pursue a policy of world hegemony. U.S. policy in its wide-ranging forms is driven not by plans to rule the world, but rather by national interests of security. American policy thus links a sense of its own undisputed power with the traumatic experience of vulnerability. Only those who can understand the nightmare of September 11th can understand the new America.

As a world organization, the UN possesses neither the power nor the ability to assert itself in the ways needed to bring order to the current situation. Too often, the UN reflects instead a bygone era governed by the victors of WWII and the East-West conflict.

Gone is the dance of deterrence between members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. NATO's rise from this past has been erratic. Having lost its enemy, from whom NATO was to protect its citizens, NATO often appears helpless. For the first time, NATO is calling upon its members to make a pivotal security decision and nobody is taking the necessary practical steps. The bizarre nature of this situation cannot be ignored.

Individual states alone do not have the power to reign in the explosive forces of the 21st century. Modernization has set ethnic dynamics, nationalist energies and religious militarism free.

What is Europe's answer to such problems? Self-pity, impotent statements and a criticism of others dominate: 'We were not consulted, or only inadequately so'; 'The U.S. refuses all of our offers of cooperation'; 'Washington will go it alone if it has to.' Europe moves from sulking in the corner, to playing offside in the world political field. Absent is a sense of Europe's influence in world politics, whether it be the attempt to curb weapons of mass destruction, the conflict with Iraq, the fight against terror or surmounting antagonism in the Middle East. This is astounding when one considers Europe's potential.

  • The European Union's population will grow from its current 371 million to 539 million-almost double that of the U.S.

  • The European Union has an area of 5,097,000 square kilometers-almost half that of the U.S.

  • The EU's GNP is approximately 15% higher than the U.S.'

  • This potential could define a world power: approximately 35% of world production (USA 27%), approximately 30% of world trade (USA 18%) is controlled by Europe.

This potential is extraordinary, even upon close inspection of the future architecture of world politics. With the demise of the bipolar political terrain, the constellation of world powers has been re-ordering itself. A simple uni-polar structure, a new "Pax Americana," would contradict the complexity of world politics, international economy, as well as the interests of other actors and their ability to act. In the future, international politics will determine three structural patterns: regional cooperation, global representation of interests and states' ability to influence order. There are six criteria defining the status of a world power:

  • Superior economic power, characterized by access to raw materials, volume and productivity of the domestic market, a leading position in world trade as well as global financial markets, innovation and the ability to accumulate capital.

  • A large population, high level of education, well-developed infrastructure and a pronounced cultural and economic ability to shape as well as absorb a variety of things.

  • Pre-eminent military ability, characterized by relative invulnerability, the ability to deter or cause great damage and project military might.

  • Possessing an attractive social and value system as well as evidence of the ability to lead and impose order in a state's regional environment.

  • Having a functioning political system capable of mobilizing resources for world political goals, the potential to build alliances or establish linkages with capable partners.

  • The existence of a political consensus on a concept of world order and the preparedness to be engaged in international forums.

The states and international organizations that meet these criteria and make the top of the list will become future world powers. The weight of each criterion will depend upon whether these world powers stand in opposition or in partnership with one another.

The United States stands unquestioningly at the top of this list, meeting nearly all of the criteria to a high degree. However, the U.S. position would be weakened by an over-extension of its role in world politics. World political resources tend to be limited in their ability to be mobilized and the consensus within the U.S. on its role in the world order does not appear to be stable. Currently, this instability is fed by America's weak partners abroad. In crises such as Korea or wars such as in Bosnia, the U.S. proved itself to be indispensable as a world power.
Other potential world powers - China, Japan, Russia and India - demonstrate on the other hand, grave weaknesses.

  • Despite China's spectacular economic rise, it lacks economic efficiency, modernity and the capital base for future intensive growth, because its planned economy creates deficits. Some 70% of export production originates however in market-economy functioning businesses. The second weakness lies in the erosive tendencies of its political system.

  • Japan does not control access to its most important raw materials, currently possesses insufficient military defensive capacities and has no deterrent ability. There is at this point, no recognizable normative concept of international order coming from Japan.

  • Russia possesses hardly any of the positive attributes of a world power. It does, however, control strategic raw materials and has a powerful capacity for destructive force, which in light of the current delicate political situation is not calculable beyond the medium-term.

  • India's position amongst world powers is based in essence on the potential of its massive population, unconventional armament and the leadership ambitions of its political class; its position is weakened by unresolved battles over territory and power with its neighbors.

In comparison to these actors, the EU's potential as a world power following the U.S. is clear. An integrated Europe has been a world power-in-process since before 1989. The EU combines more materials and institutional resources of the first four criteria than most of the world's other states. Its weakness, however, lies in the fulfillment of the remaining criteria: in the gaps between potential and political infrastructure, in the effective bundling of political energy and in the failure to think in world political categories.

The European Union, seen as the sum of the political, economic and military weight of its members, is much more than a regional power. It is a magnet and driving force in the new order of world politics left behind by the Soviets. The EU's policy agenda towards its neighbors embraces the explosive challenges and actors of world politics.

  • Its line of vision is marking the geopolitical boundaries of the new political world; towards the East, where the path to democracy and a market economy is different than that of Central Eastern Europe; to the South towards the Islamic-Arab world, which has lost its connection to Europe's rhythm of development.

  • The lack of integration of neighboring key states demands the development of strategic partnerships: Russia, Ukraine and, at least for the time being, Turkey.

  • Europe is filling the vacuum left behind by the breakup of the Soviet Union. To some extent, this phenomenon in the western part of the former Soviet Union has become part of the geopolitical discussion about similar southern zones, particularly in questions regarding attempts to tie Central Asia to the West, for example.

The key question behind all this is: can Europe translate this potential into the power to shape world politics?

Throughout the history of its integration, there have been many attempts to develop an independent European capacity to impose order on the world political stage. In the 1950s there were the European Defense Community and the European Political Community treaties. When these failed, thoughts of Roman treaties were ignored. But just a few years later, French President de Gaulle gave it a new try with the Fouchet Plans. When these too failed, Adenauer and de Gaulle together took things into their own hands. The notion of a German-French Friendship Treaty emerged during a period of high tension:

1958 saw the Berlin ultimatum and then later the Berlin crisis, the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the failure of the European Political Union in 1962, the French veto of Great Britain's entry to the EEC in 1962/63, the Cuba Crisis of 1962, discord over security politics within NATO amongst increasing distrust, and following the Cuba Crisis, the world powers positioned themselves at the expense of their allies; domestically de Gaulle faced problems in his National Assembly, and Adenauer's power began to wane as the predetermined end to his political career encroached upon him-however much he would have liked to postpone it.

According to Adenauer and de Gaulle, the appropriate solution could be found only in a union created by Germany and France that would remain open to other European states with similar foreign policy sensibilities.

They even thought of creating a common German-French citizenship. Citizens of both nations were to be brought together under one network and act as a tangible example of a future united Europe. Politically relevant on the world stage, strong as a security entity and speaking with one united voice on foreign policy-this is what both statesmen envisioned. This was to be the key to a new international political structure.

What has come of this? Back in 1963, those opposing the treaty correctly understood that this would take more than the usual emotional calls to bilateral friendship and understanding. By adding a preamble, they were able to insert true world political substance into the treaty. Against this background, the treaty offered a framework for the usual bilateral relations, the contours of which at times were successful, at others less so. There has been a wide range of happy to painful moments: from the creation of the Euro to a common market, from arguments over agricultural financing to conflicts over the voting weight of each country in the EU Council of Ministers. This apex of German-French relations, which called for a great historical step, has never been revisited. At hand was nothing less than the union of world political significance in a corrective move to the architecture of nation states in Europe.

Later, with the advent of the Common European Policy and its extension as the Common Foreign and Security Policy and then the European Defense and Security Policy, a minimal solution was found. Decisions were made via consensus and every millimeter of communicative agreement was to be cultivated. But a strategic approach to world politics, an offensive crisis and conflict plan did not arise from these efforts. To be considered as well is the fact that with the trend of expansion, world political thinking will need to be re-defined, as three factors work against a global orientation within the European Union:

  • Conflicts over distributing the weight of expansion policy keeps the focus within the EU, European policy is shaped by EU domestic politics.

  • The heterogeneity of interests and capabilities is increasing as new members have a limited stake in the actions and conflicts of old members. The willingness amongst new members to give up sovereignty amongst appears to be minimal. They could attempt to compensate for their lack of economic and domestic policy prowess in integration by insisting on sovereignty in foreign affairs.

  • The ability to act in world politics will be shared amongst only a minority of states. Europe has set upon a path-different from the U.S.-that is straining its three-dimensional picture of the world and its order. Erosion from within is a logical consequence of this.

In essence, Europe lacks not only an operative center, but strategic thinking, for it to be capable of acting on the world political stage. The major powers of Europe have all forfeited the components that made them would-be world political actors-Great Britain, France and Spain lost their empires, in Germany, thinking in categories of world political interests has been rendered taboo by its maniacal outbreaks of war. None of these states have developed the will to lead, to compensate for the loss of a world political horizon in a European manner. The deficit in strategic thinking is proving itself to be the Achilles' heel of Europe. There is no agenda to provide Europe orientation in times of crisis and conflict. This lack is apparent in the current transatlantic discussion, as well as in those discussions on the Middle East conflict, about the explosion of ethnic tensions in the Caucasus and Southeast Asia, about the conflict over Kashmir and the dissolution of states in Africa. Europe will be decisively and prominently relevant only once it has successfully developed a culture of world political thinking. Europe needs a rational calculation of its world political interests.


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