Europe’s new ‘indispensable nations’

Jan 07,2017 – JORDAN TIMES – Joschka Fischer

After the shock of the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States in 2016, this will be a decisive year for Europe.

Upcoming parliamentary elections in France, Germany, the Netherlands and possibly Italy will decide whether the European Union will hold together, or whether it will disintegrate under the neo-nationalist wave sweeping the West.

Meanwhile, the Brexit negotiations will begin in earnest, providing a glimpse of the future of the EU-UK relationship.

And Trump’s inauguration on January 20 may someday be remembered as a watershed moment for Europe.

Judging by Trump’s past statements about Europe and its relationship with the US, the EU should be preparing for some profound shocks.

The incoming US president, an exponent of the new nationalism, does not believe in European integration.

Here he has an ally in Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has long tried to destabilise the EU by supporting nationalist forces and movements in its member states.

If the Trump administration supports or turns a blind eye to those efforts, the EU — sandwiched between Russian trolls and Breitbart News — will have to brace itself for challenging times indeed.

The consequences for the EU will be even more serious if, in addition to setting the US relationship with Russia on a new foundation, Trump continues to call into question America’s security guarantee for Europe.

Such a move would be at the expense of NATO, which has institutionalised the US security umbrella for more than six decades.

Europeans would suddenly find themselves standing alone against a Russia that has increasingly employed military means to challenge borders, such as in Ukraine, and to reassert its influence — or even hegemony — over Eastern Europe.

We will soon know what comes next for NATO, but much harm has already been done. Security guarantees are not just a matter of military hardware.

The guarantor also must project a credible message that it is willing to defend its allies whenever necessary.

Thus, such arrangements depend largely on psychology and on a country’s trustworthiness vis-à-vis friends and foes alike.

When that credibility is damaged, there is a growing risk of provocation — and, with it, the threat of escalation into larger crises, or even armed conflict.

Given this risk, the EU should now shore up what it has left with respect to NATO and focus on salvaging its own institutional, economic and legal integration.

But it should also look to its member states to provide a second security option.

The EU itself is based on soft power: it was not designed to guarantee European security, and it is not positioned in its current form to confront a hard-power challenge.

This means that it will fall to its two largest and economically strongest countries, France and Germany, to bolster Europe’s defence.

Other countries such as Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, and Poland will also have a role to play, but France and Germany are indispensable.

Of course, living in continental Europe means having Russia as a neighbour, and neighbourly relations, generally speaking, should be based on peace, cooperation and mutual respect (especially when one’s neighbour is a nuclear power).

But Europeans cannot harbour any illusions about Russia’s intent. The Kremlin approaches foreign policy as a zero-sum game, which means that it will always prioritise military strength and geopolitical power over cooperative security arrangements.


The writer, Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, was a leader of the German Green Party for almost 20 years. ©Project Syndicate, 2017.

1 reply

  1. NATO may have served as a Security Umbrella for last six decades for Western Europe, however, now it is in danger of being mis-used as an Umbrella for US aggression against Russia (as it is already used against Libya, Syria etc.)

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