What Power Does Europe Need?

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.

European Defence: Tough Questions
Dmitry Danilov
The European plans to establish a Defence Union are gaining in momentum. The EU has approved the second package of joint programs (Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO). There are also plans to increase, after a trial period, the European Defence Fund (EDF) to 13 billion euros (by 22 times) during the next budget cycle (2021-2027).

That said, Europe’s position is more ambivalent than Russia’s. As a power player, Europe is unable to act as an association, simultaneously preserving this role at the individual state level. In the post-Cold War period leading European powers like Britain, France and, to a lesser extent, Italy, have periodically been active in using force to resolve tactical foreign policy issues. The clearest examples were Europe’s participation in NATO’s operation against Yugoslavia and in the actions against the Gaddafi regime in spring 2011. Other specific examples include the participation of French troops in armed conflicts in Africa and Italy’s limited armed interference in Albania in the spring of 1997. So, it would be inaccurate to say that the European countries have completely lost their desire and ability to use force abroad. Moreover, even small EU states like the Netherlands and Denmark as well as larger and more ambitious Poland have taken part in NATO or US military operations since 1991, and European militaries participated in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and NATO’s operation in Afghanistan. Of course, these examples don’t compare with how the United States or Russia has used force for their foreign policy goals. Furthermore, Europe’s aggregate military power and its ability to use it in practice are much smaller compared to those of these two military superpowers or even China. The latter demonstrated its resolve to achieve its goals by force 40 years ago when it invaded Vietnam in 1979.

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.

2020 Munich Security Conference: Back to Utopia?
Ivan Timofeev
The Munich Security Conference is rightfully considered the central intellectual and political event of the Western world. Moreover, the problem of the identity of the West itself, as well as its future, is becoming an increasingly acute issue.

Like Russia, Europe has a long history and a tradition of using force to reach its goals. Since the end of the 15th century through the middle of the 20th century, the European countries maintained a power advantage in world affairs and regularly resorted to force in pursuing their national goals. For 400 years Europe was the world’s strongest military leader that could impose its ideas of order and justice on most other countries, except Russia. This leadership wavered and collapsed in the 20th century and Europe is now part of the US-led international order, but it has better armed forces than the majority of medium and small countries of the world. As mentioned, Europe has used this advantage with NATO and US support even when its actions contradicted international law and tradition. Russia’s strategic culture is based on the permanent combination of care for the territorial aspect of security and survival. Meanwhile, Europe’s strategic culture is based on power and the long term ability to use it effectively,  including and above all in bilateral relations with the other European states.

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.

Is Europe Ready to Form Its Own Army?
Fyodor Basov
The idea of creating a European army is not new. During the Cold War, there was a real threat to the existence of the Western European countries and their security could not be ensured without the United States. Therefore, the idea of a European army in the form of the Western European Union (WEU) and timid attempts to develop the European Defense Cooperation (EDC) remained in NATO’s shadow.

Europe does not have them at least for three fundamental reasons. First, US military might in the Western community of democracies is so great that the Europeans do not have a rational reason to strive to match it. The European countries’ burden of the social commitments to its citizens does not leave a lot of budget room for military expenses compared to their political and military role in the world. Second, European integration has never encroached on the sovereignty of its participants, notably on economic and security policies that are vital for its preservation. European politicians will hardly give up these foundations of sovereignty in world affairs.

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.

70 Years of the Russian Threat
Oleg Barabanov
There is at least no consensus among NATO members as to whether individual incidents with Russia should be automatically transferred under Article 5 of the charter.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.