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The E.U. Can’t Achieve a Credible Defense on its Own; Here’s Why

Unión Europea, El American

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A new defense system would seem to be the most important challenge for the European Union (EU). But the EU cannot respond substantively. The geopolitical and geostrategic analysis begins with geography, and Europe is a peninsula in western Eurasia whose geopolitics points out as its greatest danger the emerging alliance between Russia, China, and Iran.

Europe depends on NATO and therefore on Washington for its defense. And any credible European defense scheme requires non-EU countries such as Iceland, Norway, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Norway and Iceland are the northwest flank of Europe and Turkey is its southeast flank. Norway and Iceland control access to the North Sea and Turkey controls access to the Mediterranean one from the Black Sea. The UK is a nuclear power with one of the largest military forces in the world and a special relationship with Washington within NATO.

So, any credible European defense scheme involves the Atlantic alliance, in one form or another. If Sweden and Finland join NATO, as the alliance has requested, it would improve its position in the Baltic Sea, but the resistance of a double-dealing Ankara between Moscow and Washington casts doubt on those memberships and on the alliance itself in the Black Sea.

Washington clearly leads NATO and claims Europe benefits from its protection without assuming its share of the cost. It was a manageable problem in the Cold War against the USSR, but it will be a much bigger problem facing a Beijing-led alliance because the Chinese economy vastly exceeds the capital, technology, and commercial clout that the Soviet economy had at its peak.

And Europe has its own grievances with Washington since the bipartisan agreements that gave continuity to U.S. defense policy for half a century gradually fell apart after the collapse of Soviet power. Nowadays, the White House changes Washington’s course in the world with unpredictable frequency, making European security so dependent on Washington a hostage to American electoral politics.

NATO will follow Washington’s lead, so a robust European defense will only be credible if it is able to take some action with some independence from NATO. And so far, in conflicts as close as the Balkans, Libya, Iraq, Syria and even Ukraine, Europe has been largely dependent on Washington.

Another problem is the centralization and bureaucratization of the EU because different regions of Europe have different and distant security and defense problems. Germany was betting until very recently on its energy dependence on Moscow to politically please the influential anti-nuclear environmentalism, while France bet on nuclear energy to reduce its dependence on foreign fuel, but both coincided in supporting Obama’s – and now Biden’s – suicidal complacency with Tehran, while Eastern Europe viewed Russia with fear and distrust and to the south the most immediate and significant perceived threats would originate in North Africa and the Middle East, closely related to the political complexity of a massive illegal immigration politically supported by the left and the bulk of the European intelligentsia. 

The only way to reach consensus would be to develop and loosely integrate various European regional defense organizations around groups of countries with related concerns, without the centralization and bureaucracy of Brussels in the way. Southern Europeans could unite to secure the Mediterranean flank, while Central and Eastern Europe, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, would strengthen incipient political and commercial alliances through new regional military agreements.

It is not easy and perhaps politically impracticable, but it is necessary and depends on achieving effective flexible strategic cooperation between several new European regional alliances, which should in turn cooperate with each other and with NATO itself, integrating into a new European defense system the United Kingdom, Norway, Iceland and to some degree Turkey.

Guillermo Rodríguez is a professor of Political Economy in the extension area of the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Universidad Monteávila, in Caracas. A researcher at the Juan de Mariana Center and author of several books // Guillermo es profesor de Economía Política en el área de extensión de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas de la Universidad Monteávila, en Caracas, investigador en el Centro Juan de Mariana y autor de varios libros

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