Monday, September 30, 2002

Yesterday’s Solutions for the Day-before’s Problems

I came across an article in the Washington Post that provides an informative look into the European mindset. Now it’s not that anything in the article is profound in any sense. In fact, its true wonder lies in the spotlight it throws on the trite, shallow and unthinking notions put forward by the EU officials quoted in the piece.

The article’s point is simply that Europe’s political class views George Bush’s pre-emption policy as a threat to trans-Atlantic institutions – such as NATO and the UN – that have served to support and advance democracy and free markets since the end of World War II.

This isn’t surprising coming from the deadwood that hangs out in Brussels. But let’s take a look at some of these concerns beginning with comments from the ever-bland Chris Patten, who, during a recent interview, stated:

“The mixture of containment and establishing an international rule book by and large encouraged democracy, the rule of law and open markets throughout the world. Why should anyone think that that approach was somehow less relevant after September 11th? I think it's more relevant."

One wonders if Mr. Patten missed that whole fall of the Soviet Union event. And what about Israel’s 1981 “pre-emptive” attack on Iraqi nuclear facilities? It was widely condemned at the time, but in hindsight it seems the rest of the world owes Israel an apology for its wise refusal to act, an action that itself can be seen both as a pre-emptive strike, but also a form of containment.

But just as important, we have to wonder exactly who is undermining what. Patten and the Europeans would have the world believe that the US is the culprit here. Certainly Bush is changing the rules, but a strong case could also be made that Europe itself is the main cause of the decline in the US-European relationship as well as the guilty party when it comes to threatening the international consensus.

As the article itself notes, the argument is often made that the US is forced to take a harder line in the world because Europe is turning into a military wimp. This is certainly the case, which raises a point about the stability of the UN Security Council. Can nations as weak as Britain and France remain permanent members on the Council when much more powerful actors like India, Pakistan, Israel and UN non-entity Taiwan are excluded?

Additionally, there’s the point that terrorists pose a more elusive and diffuse threat than was the case with the centralized Soviet Union. Of course, we should point out that even in the case of the Soviet Union, it was not simple containment that brought about its ultimate downfall, but Ronald Reagan’s aggressive insistence to undertake the Strategic Defence Initiative.

European officials are loathe to accept this view today, and now accuse the US, once again, of relying too heavily on the military option. Patten brings up the old saw that Europe perhaps has a “slightly more nuanced idea of how you deal with terrorism.” Here we get back to the “root causes” notion which is largely social science bunk. Unfortunately, Patten conveniently forgets that even before September 11, the US had suffered more casualties due to international terrorism than Europe. He also fails to point out that if by “nuanced” one means providing humanitarian aid to impoverished parts of the world, then the US is nuanced to the hilt as the number one contributor to numerous international aid agencies.

However, to borrow a phrase, this still fails to get at the “root causes” of the decline in the international structure so praised by Patten. Indeed, I would argue that it is not the United States that is fundamentally undermining the international order, but Europe itself, and it’s doing it through the European Union.

One need only look at the daily rhetoric coming out of Brussels. Repeatedly we hear about the EU’s desire to counter American dominance. This is certainly strange talk for those who claim to be supporters of NATO and the old trans-Atlantic alliance. In fact, it is the European Union that has proposed an EU rapid reactionary force that could very well threaten NATO’s stability. Amusingly, the article even mentions that Donald Rumsfeld was in Europe recently, but rather than highlight the intent of his mission – to propose the creation of a NATO rapid reactionary force – the article talks about his snubbing the German defence minister. It treats this as proof of ill will on America’s part, when it was in fact Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder and his Justice Minister who began the mud slinging and put the America-German alliance in doubt in the first place.

Similarly, Patten and the EU crowd are a bit rusty on their history. It suffices to mention that when the Balkan crisis first began in the early 1990s, the US offered to assist in military or peacekeeping action in the region. The European reply to its NATO ally was, “Get lost, Europe could handle this.” Well, we all know how that worked out.

The point is, Europe is now trying to place the blame for a weakening of the international consensus wholly on the US. But Europe is the real source of the problem. And this should not surprise us, because Europe’s political elite, with its left-leaning bias, still regrets the fact that the US finally defeated the Soviet Union. There are many in the ranks of the European Union who were highly sympathetic to the Soviet experiment and are now looking to the EU as a means of extending that experiment in the world. In this regard, the EU is yesterday’s story, throwing around yesterday’s rhetoric against the US.

But perhaps the most obvious point simply concerns my perennial theme: the nation. The EU is fundamentally hostile to the nation-state and is determined to subsume it under the EU bureaucracy. The problem here is that the nation is more than just an administrative structure, it is a profoundly political form. Equally important, it is the political form that has served and still serves as the vehicle for modern democracy. Today, Europe’s political class has little time for the nation-state, and believes that it can institute a form of democracy unhindered by national concerns: a democracy of humanity. The US, by contrast, remains a nation, whatever its superpower status.

Twice in the last century Europe decided to attempt the overcoming of the nation-state. The results of these experiments were the great tragedies, Nazism and communism. Europe is hell-bent on repeating history. It can only be hoped that this time around it turns out as comedy.

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