In early February 2020, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and reputable Spanish diplomat Josep Borrell said that in a new world Europe must relearn the language of power. Outside the EU his words were heard with skepticism that turned into perplexity and irony. However, this kind of attitude would be superficial and not just because Europe has enough military power and political will for this policy. Onlookers are skeptical because in general they have little doubts about Europe’s hypothetical ability to use force if it is capable of doing this and if international conditions facilitate its power politics.
As in the case with Russia, the transformation of Europe’s strategic culture inevitably affects its attitude to power and power politics, morals and a sense of justice. And, in the case with Russia, in the current circumstances Europe feels the need to revise some ideas that took shape in the past when European countries enjoyed playing a role in the West’s power dominance. This revision is bound to trigger heated debate on what could represent a power component of Europe’s participation in international politics and how it would compare with the forms of foreign policy that have been the most comfortable for Europe in the past two or three decades. That said, talk of the decline of Europe’s international influence and its inability to discuss the most urgent global conflicts on an equal footing has become common. President of France Emmanuel Macron has become the brightest and highest-ranking European speaker on this issue in the past couple of years.
The issue of creating a common mechanism for military-political response and relatively common instruments of resolving military goals has been raised many times throughout most of Europe’s postwar history. However, in each case little was accomplished in practical terms. Still, since the Cold War and even today, the EU countries have managed to create several mechanisms and procedures for a joint response to military challenges and to establish an EU infrastructure within the EU that is directly related to military matters. But again, the results of these efforts could not be called spectacular.
The great European disasters from 1914-1945 resulted in revolutionary changes in the European powers’ ability to do anything about Thucydides’s axiom “The strong do what they can and the weak do what the strong allow them to do,” within Europe itself. As Josep Barrell observed, Europe managed to create a unique culture of developing cooperation and resolving disputed issues without resorting to armed force. The philosophy of European integration and its political practice are based on the relative equality of the rights of all participants. They do not depend directly on their individual power potential although the drawbacks of this approach are adjusted by EU decision-making mechanisms. At any rate, the larger countries can maintain their national interests thanks to larger representation when voting. In general, the character and content of international policy inside the EU are fundamentally different from what is universally accepted. This and the use of European integration tools for promoting the national interests of its participants are Europe’s most important political achievements in the second half of the 20th century.
We saw that by the end of the Cold War, Europe had formed a unique international environment within its integration association. It is distinguished by the rejection of violence and the use of power. This is clear when compared to international, historical experience, including within European. However, Europe’s ability to organize the political space inside the EU is not the same thing as its ties with the outside world. In other words, we do not have convincing evidence that Europe is equally able to give up its power influence or reliance on power dominance in its external relations like it did inside the EU. The only limit here is the lack of military and political opportunity and the instruments to do so.
And third, Europe does not really have enemies. Russia is the only potential enemy for Europe, but Russia’s military might is so great that it would leave the Europeans with little chance even if they unite their war machines. The Soviet Union developed its nuclear missile forces and Russia upgraded them, thereby removing the military threat from Europe once and for all. Any military clash with the West would involve the US, which is comparable to Russia, rendering Europe’s role on the battlefield marginal.
As for strategic culture as such, we will hardly find considerable changes in Europe’s attitude to states that are outside Europe and its institutions of cooperation. A study of Europe-Russia relations from 1991 to 2008 shows that Europe’s actions were based on an objective power advantage. For several decades, the theory and practice of international relations have viewed power not strictly as military potential but as part of the aggregate resources of a state or a group of states. In this context, Europe’s economic and political resources in international politics are fairly large and the Europeans have always used them.
Therefore, the question of whether Europe can use its power potential and derive benefits from its advantages is not central to the discussion of Europe’s future in the world politics. It has done this throughout its history. The main problem is an understanding of the category of power as such and its link to the ability to make its own views of morals and justice relatively universal. Europe is not weak. It still has convincing economic and political resources. The problem comes down to its ability to convert these resources into dominance in morals and law.
For now, Europe is looking for an answer by enhancing internal solidarity and promoting a common viewpoint. In February, Mr Borrell appealed for greater European solidarity on the vital issues of international and regional security. The positions of the leading EU countries differed substantially on the issue of Libya, notably, on support for various groups that are fighting for power there. Can Europe’s desire for a truly common position change its image in the world and compel its foreign partners to treat the EU more seriously? Only their attitude toward potential solidary efforts will make it possible to answer this question. Europe may be looking for the key to its global position in the wrong place. It’s like looking for something under a lantern just because the place is lit.