European security still depends on the United States, while their capabilities and readiness to be the only guarantor of stability in Europe are not the same as before.
Informal post-war agreement
To understand the current trends in relations between the US and Europe, you need to imagine the basics that are gradually disappearing before our eyes, on which these relations were built over more than six decades. At the end of 40 - the beginning of 50 - America, who won the Second World War, and Western Europe, devastated by that war, both economically and morally, concluded the Great Transatlantic Deal.
This informal, nowhere written agreement defined the division of labor between partners on both sides of the Atlantic and was based on a widespread general understanding of the requirements of the current moment. Essentially, this deal allowed the Europeans, in the context of the rapid unwinding of the Cold War, to shift their security concerns to the United States, as they would say now, to outsource it to the United States.
In other words, Europeans almost completely entrusted the defense of continental Europe from the Soviet threat to the United States, leaving only minimal military contribution to their share. This allowed them to focus on rebuilding their war-torn continent, mitigate the tensions that threatened to destabilize national communities, and embark on a process of political healing and integration, which over time would ensure peace and prosperity for Europe.
In exchange for defense services, America practically became a European power and thus for the first time in its stories - global hegemon. In addition, the United States received veto power over European politics. As the main force in NATO and the main founder of the transatlantic deal, they also received a decisive voice in all major geopolitical decisions made by Europeans.
In general, this transaction was extremely beneficial to all parties involved. In Europe, America played the role of a benevolent leader and built up powerful “soft power”, while Western Europeans were able to deal with essentially only internal problems, since external stability, so necessary for Europe, was provided by the Americans. During the Cold War, Europeans could afford to pay relatively little attention to security and defense issues. If it were not for security guarantees from the United States, they would have to spend many times more on defense.
And so they could invest this money in the development of the economy, improving management efficiency and building generous social security systems, which in general gave Western Europe unprecedented prosperity and socio-political stability.
The pledge of the strength of this transatlantic pact was an external threat emanating from a global rival - the communist system of the USSR and its forced allies under the Warsaw Pact.
After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pact remained in force, as the Americans and Europeans were united in their desire to help transform the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) so that they too could now also take advantage of the Great Transatlantic Transaction.
Today, both of these factors have lost their significance, but the elimination of the systemic conflict between the Western world and the Soviet bloc did not lead to the much-desired “new world order” (as George W. Bush senior) regulated by international organizations, in particular the United Nations. Instead, a practically unregulated world arose, experiencing an acute need for mechanisms by which strong states and nations could maintain stability. At first, the participants in the transatlantic bargain tried to simply transfer the old, tried-and-tested “division of labor” model to this new situation.
This meant that the main efforts to maintain stability in the world - both diplomatic and military - were still placed on the United States, and the participation of Europeans in this process remained insignificant and episodic. This alignment, by and large, worked in Kuwait, North Korea, the Middle East, the Balkans and Afghanistan, but not in Iraq, because in this case many long-time allies of America did not believe in the need for intervention and refused to participate in it.
The structural flaw of the Great Deal
Since, in the new conditions, the parties to the transatlantic transaction retained common interests, thanks to the correction and adaptation described above, the pact as a whole remained in place for a long time after its original meaning ceased to exist. However, from the very beginning, from the middle of the twentieth century, this deal had a serious structural defect rooted in the very essence of the original scheme, namely: it objectively hampered the development of European strategic thinking and a correct understanding of security and military power in the modern world.
By allowing Europeans not to take care of their own defense, in the European capitals the transatlantic pact gave rise to intellectual laziness and political complacency that prevented the formation of a sense of responsibility for the life and death of people and even for their own existence. Until now, the Europeans have been building their defense policy as if America’s security subsidies in the form of guarantees within NATO and extended nuclear deterrence are free and forever.
However, now the relative power of America has decreased, it is forced to reduce its defense spending and is less and less interested in being, as before, a European power. As a result, the basis for the old deal is undermined and its future existence is in question. But a suitable replacement is not yet visible. Americans are strongly asking to offer something in return for the previous pact, but Europeans in general refuse to take any serious action. This is the main problem of transatlantic relations in the second decade of the 21st century.
Economic emancipation of Europe
Europe’s continued dependence on the United States in defense contrasts sharply with the results of the continent’s economic development since the transatlantic deal. From the very beginning, the most important element of this agreement (as well as the main element of the Western strategy to counter Soviet expansionism) was the economic recovery of Europe. In accordance with the European Recovery Program (the so-called Marshall Plan), America has provided funding for the early recovery of the European economy after the war.
The first steps of economic integration in the form of the creation of European associations or communities were supported by political and financial guarantees from the United States. Today, Europe’s economic dependence on the United States has disappeared and a common transatlantic economic space has emerged with a high degree of integration and the largest trade and foreign direct investment in the world.
Despite the rapid growth of economies in Asia and some other regions, the transatlantic economy will remain for some time the main global economic engine.
In general, the economic recovery and integration of Europe from the 50s is one of the most successful projects in world history. Moreover, transatlantic economic relations are realized practically without any problems and conflicts. They are well regulated, and the inevitable differences on technical issues, such as tariffs, standardization, or the access of certain products to the market, are resolved within the framework of the relevant institutions.
Today, the European Union is the world's largest trading bloc and the world's largest single integrated market, with a significant impact on global commodity flows and global regulatory and legal framework. Thus, in economic terms, both the United States and Europe have long outgrown the framework of the original transatlantic deal. In terms of economic ambition, innovation and productivity, Europe, in general, is no longer inferior to the United States. But in the field of security and defense, she (with the exception of France) has never had such ambitions. While the old terms of the transatlantic agreement were in force, this was not a particular problem. However, in the conditions of the 21st century, the problem inevitably arises: the United States can no longer compensate for this lack of ambition, since they no longer have such overwhelming superiority and are not so focused on European issues.
The absence of pan-European ambitions in the field of security and defense is somewhat surprising if we recall that even during times of maximum efficiency of the transatlantic deal, Europeans regularly expressed displeasure with America’s domination. The Suez crisis, the situation in Cuba, the Vietnam War, disputes over the shared coalition costs and the NATO “double solution” (NATO’s “double solution” was adopted on December 12 by NATO’s NATO Council. It envisaged the deployment of American medium and short-range missiles in Western European countries and at the same time the beginning of negotiations with the USSR on the problem of Soviet euroracket), the intervention of Americans in the affairs of Latin America and the Middle East up to the Iraq war in 1979 and the global war on terrorism led to about the appearance of noticeable cracks in the transatlantic partnership.
However, despite all the misunderstandings and crises, no one has ever (with the exception of a few hardliners on the periphery of the spectrum of European parties) seriously questioned the basic functionality of the transatlantic deal and, in particular, the advantages it provided to Europeans.
Instead of building their own defense and security policies, the Europeans, reluctantly and not too vigorously (and not without serious disputes between themselves), began to form the primary elements of a common foreign and security policy. But the slow pace and modest scale of this process testify to Europeans' rather limited ambitions.
Foreign policy was not at all on the official agenda of the European Union until 1993, when the Maastricht Treaty brought three political pillars under the EU, one of which was “relations with the outside world”. Shortly thereafter, the failures of Europeans in the Balkans in the 90s clearly demonstrated the need for greater cohesion in external actions. As a result, in the 1999 year, the post of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was established under the Treaty of Amsterdam.
This new position, together with the bureaucracy attached to it, has become for the EU the first real foreign policy mechanism that goes beyond the management capabilities of the European Commission. The first to occupy this position was Javier Solana, and with him the EU managed to have a real impact on the post-war situation in the Balkans. In addition, the European Security Strategy was adopted in 2003 - for today the only document of this kind. In the same year, the European Battle Group (EU Battlegroup), a rapid reaction force, was set up to carry out EU military missions. From the moment of their creation, these forces really existed only on paper, their operational capabilities were extremely limited both from the point of view of command and control, and in practice.
There were few military operations within the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and their scale and duration do not indicate that the EU possesses an independent military force. The expectation that Europe will finally wake up and realize its huge foreign policy potential is not justified over and over again. So, most recently the long-awaited innovations introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, again did not lead to greater cohesion, nor to the ability of rapid response.
On the contrary, the new situation that developed after Lisbon is characterized by even greater disorder and lower efficiency. The diplomatic service of the EU - the European service of foreign policy activity will take years before it can begin to really fulfill its responsibilities. In general, today the EU policy on international affairs and security has not left the embryonic state.
America’s attitude toward Europe’s limited ambitions has changed markedly over time. Initially, the US was skeptical about the plans to create an EU of its own military potential and even headquarters, fearing the emergence of a structure in Europe that would compete with NATO.
The Americans also feared that the creation of separate EU forces, powered by the same sources, would undermine the already diminishing NATO operational capabilities.
However, the United States changed its point of view, firstly, when they realized that these plans do not represent any real threat to NATO, and secondly, when it became clear that the United States could use the strengths of a strong Europe to more evenly distribute the load in Iraq and Afghanistan between all participants in the operation.
Why is Europe's weakness a global problem?
In essence, European security and defense assets are formed around US assets, which they should complement, at least in theory.
In fact, European governments are constantly reducing their potential, reducing the number of troops, weapons systems and ammunition volumes. All major European countries, including Germany, Great Britain, France, Poland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, in the past few years have announced such reductions and cut spending on defense, intending to do so in the future. The remaining defense potential is inferior to the US technologically, which leads to a decrease in the operating compatibility of the systems of American and European allies.
Even more dangerous is that, in European perception, there is an inextricable link between the EU defense and security potential and US security guarantees. The construction of the defense and security forces reflects a political attitude that the security of Europe will continue to be guaranteed by the United States, not by the Europeans themselves, that is, the EU assumes that the old transatlantic deal remains in force.
It turns out that European security is still dependent on the United States, despite the fact that their capabilities and readiness to be the only guarantor of stability in Europe are not the same as before. If this trend continues, a geopolitical vacuum may arise in Europe, which will make life in it less secure and less secure. For if Europeans do not seek to fill this vacuum themselves, who will do it for them?
Europe has to free itself from the transatlantic deal for many reasons, and not least to preserve transatlantic solidarity — right now solidarity is especially needed in Europe and America, perhaps even more than they can imagine. Europeans should not only be able to ensure freedom and security on their own continent, they should export stability to other, notoriously unstable neighboring regions - to North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Balkans. As history teaches us, stability cannot be maintained without sufficient military means.
Finally, Europeans inevitably have to defend their interests around the world, because in order to maintain their habitual lifestyle, they need access to global export-import markets, free sea routes, regulation of migration flows and stable oil prices.
However, at present they do not have the capacity to defend these interests on their own and in the spirit of the old transatlantic transaction, they shift the solution of their problems to the United States. Fortunately, the American and European goals in these areas coincide in many respects, so America, achieving the necessary results for itself, at the same time largely acts in the interests of Europeans (and most other countries of the world). But if America is forced to reduce its global presence, the Europeans will eventually have to find an adequate solution to their own problems under the pressure of circumstances.
Europeans' lack of sufficient defense potential not only damages stability in Europe and European interests abroad, but also makes it impossible for Europeans to fulfill their duties as wealthy and influential actors within the framework of a liberal world order (liberalworldorder). Europeans have always played a constructive role in maintaining this world order, mainly as junior partners of the United States. And in this area, the relative decline in American power leads to the fact that Europeans also have less intervention opportunities in different parts of the world. After all, the problem of the absence of a center of power - a power vacuum, which has nothing to fill, faces not only the European continent. There is also the danger that the weakness of the West may open the floodgates for aggressive, anti-liberal forces, ready to organize global governance in accordance with their own, probably not so humane, ideas.
So Europe’s weakness is not only a European problem and not even a problem of transatlantic relations.
It may well turn into a problem for the whole world.
Abandon Great Deal to keep relationship
What will the liberation of Europeans from the transatlantic deal mean? First of all, both the leaders and the people of Europe themselves need to develop a new conceptual approach that will allow them to participate in the strategic debates of the 21st century. The basis of the future strategic thinking of Europe should be five elements.
First, Europeans need courage and openness to think about the world, about themselves and about the future in more realistic categories. At present, political debates in Brussels and other European capitals are being held as if no major changes are foreseen, as if the most important thing is intra-European divisions, and the wealth and significance of Europe are something that goes without saying.
Meanwhile, the financial crisis and the euro crisis are only light harbingers of future upheavals.
Realism acquired by Europeans must include a sober assessment of the size and influence of Europe. In addition, Europeans should proceed from the fact that there is no alternative to globalization and that Europe is an integral part of the global world, and also be aware of its own geopolitical dependence on market access, both import and export. It must also be borne in mind that an increasingly dangerous and disordered world desperately needs stability, which must be ensured by strong and responsible powers.
European realism must also be based on the idea that maintaining peace and freedom requires tremendous efforts and implies the readiness and ability to protect them, including, if need be, military means. This may seem like a simple truth, but Europeans, spoiled for seven decades of post-war well-being, often show an unwillingness to admit even obvious facts, and their political leaders do not show a great desire to tell people the truth — such a separation from reality cannot but worry.
Secondly, if Europeans want to be strong abroad, they need to ensure stability and cohesion at home.
This includes the cohesion of societies at the national level, and political integration at the EU level, and the basis for unity in this and in another case should be the legitimization of the integration project. Dealing with global challenges will require much deeper integration. Further strengthening of ties within the European Union cannot be based only on “final” legitimacy, that is, on the ability to provide benefits to the populations of countries within the EU, as was the case in the past. A much higher level of legitimacy will be required “at the entrance” so that the opinion of citizens also matters.
If Europe continues to be an elite project, the people will either rise openly or silently refuse their loyalty and support to both the EU and their governments.
This could open the door to populism, extremism, isolationism, and potentially violence. In order to strengthen the legitimacy of integration processes, the EU needs to radically increase the level of citizen participation in the political process, not only because it is in line with strategic objectives, but simply for survival.
Thirdly, if Europe wants to continue to mean something in this world, it must remain rich. The current prestige of Europe is due to its enormous economic power. This is largely due to the unprecedented economic integration, thanks to which Europe managed to create a single market, turn the EU into a locomotive of world trade and accumulate wealth that allows maintaining peace in European societies, despite sometimes irreconcilable contradictions. All this also made Europe attractive to immigrants (both necessary and unnecessary) and allowed European countries to jointly take on a significant share of funding for global governance institutions: the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In addition, thanks to their wealth, Europeans have become the world's main donors for international development. All this provided them with global influence. However, now the budgets are in a deplorable state, many economies need to be reformed, the slowdown in economic growth has become widespread and as a result, the influence of Europe is declining.
If Europe wants to rely on something in the future, it must radically restructure its economic model.
Fourth, Europeans need to develop a limited, but ambitious agenda in foreign affairs that would allow them to make tough political decisions. The expression “global Europe”, which arose in those times when Europe had big ambitions, is now obsolete. Extensive plans are gone, including all sorts of good deeds all over the world. The time has come for a strategic (read - selective) Europe.
Finally, if you return to the transatlantic component of this entire complex, the Europeans must recognize that their own strategic positions are not defensible without close partnership with the United States. As mentioned above, it was Washington that acted as a guarantor of European integration, because it provided a financial and defense umbrella that made integration possible.
The United States now guarantees the protection of Europeans from political blackmail and allows them to pay minimal attention to military matters. In other words, without America in Europe there would be neither peace, nor stability, nor wealth.
Even in conditions of austerity, Americans are unlikely to turn away from Europe completely, but in order to justify their investments in the Old World, they will count on much greater European participation, greater political creativity and a greater sense of responsibility on their part. It will be expensive, but the alternative to this model of relations will cost Europeans much more expensive, because the unpleasant truth is that if America can live without Europe, then Europe in its current form is unlikely to exist without America.
These five points also mean that Europeans must recognize the existence of an inextricable link between the internal situation on the continent and relations with the outside world, as well as the possibilities of Europe in the international arena. To preserve social and political stability, European societies need a sufficiently high level of stability in the economy. Their economic stability and strength are based on the integration of Europe into global markets and value chains.
Global integration, in turn, makes Europe a geopolitical player interested in stability and world peace. At one time, the Europeans succeeded in successfully separating the spheres of foreign and domestic policy (when they find themselves in crisis situations, they demonstrate even greater adherence to this model), but now they must learn that these spheres have become completely inseparable.
Transatlantism at the crossroads
What does all this mean for Europe, the United States and NATO, if we evaluate the structure of the forces involved in current transatlantic relations?
1) Inertial development carries a serious risk. For the first time in the history of transatlantic relations, there was a real danger of alienation of the parties from each other.
Ironically, this trend is not related to disagreements over specific political issues, such as, for example, Iraq, but rather with the gradually increasing differences in strategic vision, which result in an imbalance in investment in security and defense.
As an ally and partner, Europe is slowly but surely losing its appeal in the eyes of the United States. America can reduce its commitment to European security to the minimum necessary to ensure stability on the opposite side of the Atlantic and to maintain the geographical advantage associated with the deployment of small American units in Europe that provide the United States with some benefits in the global distribution of forces. Of course, such a refusal of Europe will cost the United States dearly, but for Europe itself the loss of this military-political insurance will have disastrous consequences.
2) The future of the transatlantic relationship depends on Europe. Now the ball is on the European side. If Europe fails to form an adequate psychological basis for the existence in the globalized world of the 21st century and does not acquire the appropriate military and diplomatic assets, this will harm transatlantic relations, possibly irreversible. Change the situation should not be America, but Europe. Europeans need to stop clinging to a familiar and convenient old arrangement and build more mature transatlantic relations that are designed for the future. Relevant proposals from America have already been submitted to Brussels at various times, in particular, by the Ministers of Defense, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta. NATO Summit in Chicago 18 – 19 May 2012, the year was to show whether the Europeans turned their thoughts in the right direction.
3) The Europeans have to do the impossible. The fact is that Europe is faced with the problems discussed here at the most inopportune moment. The euro is in a deep crisis, the European Union is forced to defend its legitimacy and solve the problems of internal cohesion.
At the same time, some European countries are in a state of economic recession, perhaps the most serious since the end of World War II. How to contrive in the current difficult situation also think about strengthening security and defense? This can happen only if the European capitals, first of all Berlin, Paris and London, take upon themselves the political leadership and are able to formulate it in the form of legally verified and at the same time bold political decisions. If this does not happen in the next few years, transatlantic relations may eventually disappear into the turbulent waters of the Atlantic.
4) The desired development of the situation in Europe will not mean its complete independence. For the foreseeable future, Europe will not have enough strength or will to remain strong and independent outside the transatlantic structure. But she should not strive for this. She does not need to plan her life without the United States at all. All Europe needs to do is provide more substantial support to US efforts to bring global stability. All she needs to achieve is to become a more attractive, more powerful and less obstinate partner for the United States, especially since she will also become a more influential partner.
5) This sounds like a paradox, although it is not a paradox: in order to preserve the transatlantic relationship, you must abandon the Great Transatlantic Deal. It benefited all participating countries for more than sixty years, but has now become a major obstacle to modern transatlantic relations, as it prevents Europe from becoming a full-fledged and responsible entity in international affairs.
6) The future is for NATO. When Europeans finally decide on sufficient investments to strengthen their defense and security capabilities, they should act within NATO, not the EU.
In the situation with Libya, NATO has shown that it can provide flexibility - in decision-making, planning and implementation of operations necessary to meet the real needs of the various member countries of the North Atlantic alliance. NATO has already existing and proven tools and procedures. It is a powerful transparent mechanism common to all member countries and based on trust and exchange of experience. Within NATO, you can count on the participation of the United States and American support for ongoing operations.
The European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) does not have such capabilities: this initiative is not sufficiently funded, unable to provide the necessary weapons and technology, besides, it lacks experience and, as it turned out, in the absence of agreement among the members, it does not act flexibly. In all likelihood, the ESDP will remain weak.
The consequence of this weakness is that its member countries limit their military and defense ambitions to the EU. So, despite all its shortcomings, NATO is still the best basis for developing transatlantic relations, since it can serve as an effective mechanism for their regulation.
The greatest danger for Europe lies in the inability of its political leadership to recognize two main truths: 1 - Europe cannot afford to lose its close alliance with the United States and, therefore, to remain a worthy ally and become a more influential global entity, it must significantly increase its contribution in relations with the United States and 2 - if European countries are interested in maintaining - at least partially - so dear to them sovereignty, they should share it with their European brothers E. Only the deepening of integration can make Europe a politically strong subject both in intra-European affairs and on the world stage.