Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, July 16, 2003


Kirsty Hughes, a senior fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies scribes an article in the Financial Times exploring the ongoing European debate over whether "multilateralism" or "multipolarity" is Europe's correct future strategy. The article not only describes the complete mess that passes for European security and diplomatic thinking, it is a virtual embodiment of that mess - but in revealing and interesting ways. It opens with the predictable trite denunciation of a supposedly false dichotomy, tendered (as common in such efforts) as proof of the writer's fresh insight:

Proposals by France's President Jacques Chirac to define a new strategy around multipolarity - with Europe as a separate pole to the US - have been strongly criticised as an unrealistic, old-fashioned balance of power approach and, for good measure, anti-American. Multilateralism - collective decision-making in international bodies - not multipolarity must be Europe's guiding principle, it is argued. This is to create a false and misleading dichotomy.

Sometimes vocabulary is a tip-off - and a word to the wise really should be sufficient. There is a complete insensitivity - both in Europe generally and in the article itself - to the rather obvious fact that a debate whose principal vocabulary focuses on whether "multilateralism" or "multipolarity" is correct, or whether this is a "false dichotomy," is already bloodless and therefore almost certainly well off what should be the real questions. What are the real questions? The article veers towards the unintentionally hilarious when attempting to identify them but without actually coming to terms with the fact that Europe's aggregate military might and will to use it to fight for any important democratic principle are essentially lacking:

The real question is not whether multipolarity is inherently anti-US but whether the EU is an equal partner to the US or a subservient one. The answer is obvious. Europe's leaders do not want to play the American poodle, like Mr Blair. At their Thessaloniki summit last month, with future members from eastern Europe in attendance, they stressed the importance of transatlantic relations developing on a "equal footing" in all domains.

As this article went to press, no European nation outside of Britain and, to a much lesser extent, France, has a military worthy of the name. European defense expenditures are small, have become much smaller in recent years - and there is no indication they will or realistically could become significantly larger. Policies within European militaries undermine their preparedness (again with those two exceptions). Outside of Britain, there is no European desire to use what military they have to protect human rights in any significant degree - with the tiny exception of conflicts which may spill over into Europe itself (or, in the case of the old Yugoslavia, are really already in Europe itself, but the Europeans debate even that). Even the substantial part of Europe that supported the United States' effort in Iraq contributed only token physical support (Poland) - or none (Spain, Italy).

There is simply no way Europe can place itself on an "equal footing" with the United States in the "domain" of security unless Europe buys itself a military comparable to the Uniuted States' military and forges some coherent idea of when to use it - an idea consistent with political and democratic developments since the the 18th Century - which means abandoning the traditional "law of nations" that emerged from the Treaty of Westfalia and to which Europe still clings. And affording all that means reforming the European economies to separate them more from the state and governing political groups. Absent a will to accomplish all that, Europe's "debate" necessarilly degenerates into considering what scheme best positions Europe as a "rent seeker" or "free rider" with respect to American defense expenditures. Such a position is not - and never can be - "equal footing" with the United States because a pilot will never let a free rider drive on an important route, although the rider may be allowed to play at the wheel a bit from time to time just for fun.

With all that in the hopper, one is all but forced to conclude that any European leaders who stressed the importance of transatlantic relations developing on a "equal footing" in all domains - especially the "domain" of security - must have been nibbling on some of the pretty Jimsonweed.

And they seem to have saved a leaf for Ms. Hughes.

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