Affluence and Influence

Affluence and Influence


The European Union may, with profit, be regarded as a qualitatively new type of security organization, one that seeks to create cooperation and harmony through a high level of economic and political interdependence. Whereas NATO remains at heart a military organization, the EU defines its security concerns in terms of an ever widening "sphere of affluence", rather than a classical "sphere of influence." This distinction is more than just a play on words: it underscores the importance of economics and trade as the current basis for stability and democratic development. Although EU member states pursue what they still imagine to be their "national interests", already those interests are essentially reduced to rather modest policy preferences, constrained within a tightly bounded multilateral framework. A myriad of treaty commitments now limits the room for maneuver of European states and locks them into dense networks of activities created by institutional and political decisions. It is these sunken costs of European integration that preclude "sovereign" member states from tearing up the Union's founding treaties, packing their bags, and returning to a policy of national autarky.

The EU has transformed once proud and sovereign nation-states beyond recognition, changing their role and place both in Europe itself and in the world at large. A wide range of traditionally national prerogatives is now either pooled collectively or shifted to the supranational (or federal) level. Whereas the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia inaugurated a European system of autonomous states, the 1991 Maastricht Treaty has de facto ended any hopes of saving that system.

Despite this, most analysts and policymakers continue to think about the EU, not as a radically novel entity, but as one that merely mirrors the qualities and drawbacks of the traditional nation-state. The simple fact that we continue to classify certain actors as something-national (subnational, supranational, transnational) indicates that our thinking remains based on and bound by the hegemony of the "nation-state" that has characterized recent centuries. But just as employing hammer and nail to fix one's personal computer would be counterproductive, so bringing "modern" concepts to bear on postmodern European politics will prove similarly futile.

Very early in the new millennium, a new Europe will come fully into being. It will have three defining elements, already clearly visible. The first and most essential of these involves a changed attitude toward national sovereignty and territoriality. The second is a novel understanding of security, which is rapidly shifting from the traditional military concept to a much broader one. The third innovation concerns the way the Western part of the continent (which up to now has constituted the "new Europe") is adopting an open, decentered approach toward enlarging its sphere of affluence into Central and Eastern Europe. Taken together, these three changes are destined to transform not only Europe itself but the international system as a whole. The consequences, not least for America's involvement in Europe and NATO, will be momentous.

Malleable Sovereignty

The Westphalian state-centric framework that is now being undermined by globalization and European integration relies on a territorial conception of politics. But the commandment of Romans 13:1--"let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God"--has been corrupted since Nietzsche declared God dead. Intellectual inertia in coming to terms with this systemic change has produced a somewhat schizophrenic state of affairs, one in which Europeans continue to worship the nation-state as the optimal cultural and democratic area at a time when most West European states are in the process of selling the remains of their national sovereignty to the highest bidder. European nation-states cling desperately to as much political authority, democratic legitimacy and problem-solving capacity as they possibly can, while they also seem prepared (and are occasionally coerced) to relinquish their sovereignty as the price for remaining geopolitically relevant.

The EU is seen as the only available raft, not so much to ride the waves of globalization as to break up these waves into more manageable and human proportions. The hope is that the EU, by merging the power and influence of individual member states, can restore the primacy of politics over global commerce. Monetary union and the euro are considered the paramount instruments to this end. Europeanization is thus perceived essentially as a protective strategy, one devised to guard Europe against the onslaught of forces that threaten its uniqueness, its identity and the independence of its constituent states--and which involves surrendering some of that identity and independence precisely in order to prevent their total destruction.

Philip Cerny's concept of the "competition state" best captures the eu's novel role in European politics. Cerny argues that the state constitutes the main agency of the process of globalization, driven by its concern both to fit into that process and at the same time to remain relevant to "its" people. More precisely, the central challenge to the EU member states is to maintain at least rudimentary domestic welfare systems while promoting the essential structural reforms necessary to improve their international competitiveness. It is not easy to maintain a balance between these two ends. In the not-so-long run, maintaining the first depends on success in achieving the second, for an increasingly expensive welfare state requires maintaining a thriving, competitive economy.

But there is a dilemma: for as Europe's competition states are inevitably driven to give the latter goal priority, they are undermining the traditional national bonds of communal solidarity (Gemeinschaft) and identity that have given the modern nation-state its deeper legitimacy, its institutionalized power and social embeddedness. The European competition state now values efficiency over equity, competitiveness over solidarity; increasingly its language is the universal discourse of commerce, which proceeds in terms of consumers, not citizens. Europe's states are turning consumption and purchasing power into the defining essence of what was until recently a polity and a community, thereby annihilating the very ideas of communality and a "public" that are central to societal relationships. Globalization does not merely scratch the surface of a democratic society, it corrodes the skeletal frame of political life.

These transformations do not call for an end to politics, but they do turn many traditional state-based political institutions into semi-obedient servants, catering to the tastes of the economic and financial performers of late-capitalism. Cerny therefore argues that the competition state has to do both more and less: it has to "reinvent government" by fostering (or even imposing) adaptation to global competitive forces; and in return it has to provide at least temporary protection and legitimacy for its citizens. It has become apparent that globalization requires a tighter monetary policy alongside a looser fiscal policy through tax cuts. It also demands that competition states encourage mergers and industrial restructuring; promote research and development; encourage private investment and develop new forms of infrastructure; pursue a more active labor market policy; and in general deregulate--while simultaneously imposing new regulatory structures designed to facilitate global market forces.

These shifts in responsibilities of the nation-state are mirrored by similar shifts in the EU itself. It has now acquired a character similar to that of the many competition states of which it is comprised, becoming in effect a supra-competition state. The crisis faced by its constituent nation-states has required the EU to become a kind of international economic and political ninja, entering into combat on behalf of its member states against emerging trading blocs around the globe and sheltering them from global turbulence. Within the World Trade Organization, for example, the EU negotiates on behalf of all member states, trying to get the best deals for Europe as a whole. Similarly, the euro has proved to be Europe's strategic answer to the process of economic and technological globalization, based on the understanding that only a consolidated Europe will be strong enough to weather the many global economic and financial viruses that have for so long infected West European economies.

The crumbling of national sovereignty is not always clear and obvious. European law more often than not cross-dresses as national law, disguising its supranational origins and often deceiving citizens by presenting itself as home-made. Thus, for example, while in 1998 more than 60 percent of German legislation had its origin in Brussels as so-called "directives", it had to be transposed into national law, with a certain flexibility allowed for local circumstances but with a specific deadline imposed. Clearly, these shifting forms of sovereignty pose new challenges to the notion of democracy. Maintaining individual communication with and any degree of control over government was difficult enough in the nation-state. How can democratic citizens now enter into any sort of relationship with "the EU" to discuss the merits of its policies? And how can they hope to "throw the rascals out" when they are seriously displeased? These are simple questions that, from a democratic perspective, have a rather embarrassing answer: it is just not possible.

Then, too, the notion of "territory" seems to have lost its almost fetishistic fascination within West European countries. In this part of the world, after two disastrous wars and the loss of several empires, the impulse for territorial conquest has waned, as knowledge and information replace material resources as the main sources of wealth. This has led Richard Rosecrance to suggest that we are now entering a world of the "virtual state", one that has deliberately limited its territorially-based production capability and has almost "emancipated" itself from the land. Since transnational firms locate their production facilities wherever it is most profitable, the competition state has to negotiate with foreign and domestic firms and labor organizations to entice them into its economic space. In this new era of "virtual states", territory and size no longer determine economic potential and "power." Within contemporary Western Europe, sovereignty and territoriality have lost much of their historical charm and political relevance.

Pop Security and Lite Powers

A question arises: Can such a Europe ever live up to its self-proclaimed aim of developing a Common Foreign and Security Policy, let alone a Common Defense Policy? This seems rather unlikely, and a strong argument can be made that contemporary Europe is incompatible with Great Power politics. Barry Buzan, for one, has argued that the European citizens of today do not put much trust in their governments and are no longer prepared to die for their countries. Individualism and a consumer ethic have transformed West European citizens into lethargic free-riders, looking mostly in vain to an illusory "international community" (a.k.a. the United States of America) to put out the many political and military bush fires that continue to flare up around the world.

Post-Cold War conflicts are often murky affairs that lack an ideologically sanctioned division between the forces of good and evil. At the same time, emphasis on ethical and moral issues of a humanitarian kind, as well as the obligation to comply with international law, complicate efforts to conduct a resolute foreign and security policy. As well, the interconnectedness of the world makes it difficult for individual states and societies to sustain myths of national superiority and uniqueness. It has therefore become more difficult to engage cosmopolitan, postmodern society in military conflicts. In a relativistic world in which a public consensus rarely exists regarding the West's right and responsibility to impose its will on other peoples, domestic concerns are increasingly taking preference over international issues.

Although West European states still very much look like classical modern states, they are qualitatively different, most obviously because they emphasize wealth and welfare rather than warfare. In this new environment, traditional concerns like borders, national identity and state sovereignty are subordinated to the pursuit of prosperity, democratic governance and individual well-being. It is the EU, rather than other international organizations like NATO or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, that is now shaping people's existence and making a difference, affecting the prosaic concerns of European citizens (whether they like it or not) by dealing with everything from food labeling to pension entitlements to maternity leave regulations. In the field of heroic politics, on the other hand, and especially in its efforts to develop a more cohesive European foreign and security policy, the EU has so far hardly been able to make a fist and is unlikely to do so in the future.

Instead, Europe closely follows the strategy of building a democratic peace based on open markets and liberal democracy, the two major requisites laid down for Central European countries to join the EU. In its most profane form, Europe therefore follows the Big Mac thesis of international politics, which claims--wrongly, as the Kosovo conflict proved--that "no two countries that both have a McDonald's have ever fought a war against each other." This understanding--or misunderstanding--of global affairs is characteristic of a world in which "politics", as a deliberate, willful endeavor to shape events, hardly matters. It is a view that has surrendered a voluntaristic approach toward politics to a doctrine based on the positive, if unwilled, effects of free trade through globalization and
new technologies.

Whereas Western Europe now concentrates most of its political energy on institution-building and monetary integration, other parts of the continent are witnessing the devolution of state authority to units of marginal power and size, often connected with atavistic ethnic strife and conflict. With the end of the East-West divide, Central European countries have gone through a phase of nationalist celebration, rediscovering their original identity after decades of communist domination.

Public opinion in these new--and in some instances still rather delicate--states clings to the old, attractive abstractions of national sovereignty and independence. At the same time, Central European political elites have committed themselves to joining Europe's key institutions (NATO, EU and WEU), realizing all too well that this implies compromise and the sharing of their recently reclaimed and highly valued national sovereignty. The institutionalized schizophrenia that results--a condition that combines the rhetoric of newly salvaged independence with acceptance of the harsh conditions of globalization--is confusing to the general Central European public, even if the two concepts are in themselves perfectly intelligible. The dissolution of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian war have served as grim reminders that claims to sovereignty and self-determination are still very much alive on the continent, even as most of its nation-states are gradually surrendering their autonomy both upward and downward.

All this serves to demonstrate that the frequently used metaphor of a "developing European security architecture" is misleading. The image conveys a sense both of progression and of a logical structure that is far-removed from reality. At best Europe's security "architecture", with its overlapping memberships and responsibilities, seems to follow the organic art nouveau style of a Gaudi rather than the straight and functional lines of a Corbusier. Anyone looking for a "grand design" for European security will be disappointed: there just isn't such a thing.

A more modest and appropriate metaphor, as suggested by the British historian Sir Michael Howard, might be that of a garden.

Howard maintains that the "peoples of Europe and their institutions should be regarded as distinct and living organisms, rooted in the peculiar soil of their regions, their communities and their cultures. . . . And as with all gardens, the work of cultivation is never ending."

Thinking along these lines has the considerable advantage that it enables European security to be seen as an ongoing process of cultivation, and not (as with architecture) as something that can be given a final shape, cut in stone, and never altered. But then again, it might be doubted that many politicians will have the patience required for tending even the simplest of gardens.

No Center, No Periphery

The well-intentioned desire to see military force eliminated as a means of settling international disputes has proved to be realistic only for a part of Europe, not for the continent as a whole. The rhetoric of Europe as a "zone of peace", in which democratic countries would thrive and prosper, has been useful in defining a political objective. But this rhetoric flourished at a time of bloody conflict in the former Yugoslavia, military clashes in Moldova, and civil wars in Georgia and Chechnya. In all those instances, the "international community" declined to adopt policies and take action to end the conflicts, only reluctantly intervening in the case of Yugoslavia after a long delay.

The security constellation in much of Central Europe and the former Soviet Union is markedly different from that in Western Europe. This does not mean that we have to think in terms of two disconnected worlds of security; if the post-Cold War era has taught us anything, it is that the fates of the different parts of Europe are intertwined. What is true is that Europe still has many different "security neighborhoods." As is the case in most cities of the world, in which conspicuously rich and safe neighborhoods can coexist with dreadfully poor and dangerous ones, so it is with Europe.

Most strategic analysts--from both East and West--continue to think in terms of "borders", "boundaries" and "dividing lines" as central elements of European security. And indeed, when thinking about security and its prospects one should recognize that the diversity of Europe's nation-states places natural limits to the logic of enlargement and the process of continent-wide institutionalization. Thus, to take the most striking and important example, while Russia may be a European state according to geography and some definitions, in most respects it is not a full-fledged part of the continent's frameworks of cooperation, not an integral part of "Europe."

There is no reason, however, to exaggerate this diversity. While national borders still remain meaningful, they are fading in significance, becoming more like administrative boundaries than classic fire walls. Certainly, from now on it will be well-nigh impossible to re-create one decisive dividing line between two competing blocs, as happened during the Cold War. Instead, and as we have already begun to witness, what will characterize the future will be a variety of different borders, boundaries and perimeters, most of them ephemeral and porous.

It makes sense, then, to look at the Europe of today and of tomorrow as a continent full of delicate-looking walls, elegant hedges and fences of varying heights. These run along economic, political, cultural, religious and many other lines. They exist, and will continue to exist, to protect Europe's local patriae, its local languages, its prejudices and mores, and its distinctiveness. They serve to make Europeans feel gemŸtlich and safe. They stand within and between the rich and the poor regions of Europe. This idea of a multitude of small differences and fences allows Europeans to minimize the significance of any cultural "velvet curtain" that might exist between East and West, to realize that being on the other side of any boundary need not result in total exclusion or confrontation.

Indeed, the political goal should be not only to dismantle impenetrable walls, but to maintain the many elegant fences that make Europe manageable. The EU's emphasis on "flexibility", on making its institutions more effective in an effort to prepare for enlargement, illustrates an awareness of this need. Just as it is an error to think in terms of one dividing line running across Europe, or to insist on redefining Europe's identity in one exclusive way, so it is also wrong to insist that every aspect of the process of European institutionalization should be all-inclusive, necessarily embracing all applicant countries regardless of their readiness and willingness to become fully involved. On the contrary, Europe's institutions will function best when they reflect the continent's diversity, and an awareness that not all European countries need to belong to the same set of cooperative arrangements and alliances.

If things are handled properly, what will emerge over the coming decades is a Europe not of concentric circles, in which some countries are at the center and some at the periphery, but a security framework that consists of a pattern of overlapping Olympic circles, in which all countries are involved in one way or another. Like the five circles of the Olympic flag, there will be no single center but three or four--and no single periphery either. Most countries will find themselves on the margins of some activity or some arrangement, either from choice or necessity, and near the center of others. An awareness of the wisdom of such an arrangement was evident in the remarks of NATO's then Secretary-General Javier Solana in February 1998: "I would like to erase from our consciousness the words 'dividing lines.' These are words from the Cold War. They meant that some countries were 'in' and some were 'out.' Today, none are in or out--some are only partly in and partly out."

For many (if not all) European countries, NATO and the EU will remain the core of Europe's developing security framework, but the flexible and ad hoc arrangements that will become increasingly more prevalent will gradually blur the practical distinctions between full membership and other qualified relationships. The borders between countries in the new Europe will not be static and permanent, but will be subject to modification to reflect changing circumstances. When Central European countries adopt and truly internalize Europe's culture of cooperation and reach a certain level of economic and political development, the institutional boundaries of Europe will alter, and this will be a continuing process. So long as Europe's key security institutions overlap with a genuine European identity, this model for a future Europe will be one of the best guarantees of its stability and prosperity. But it will be a basic and prosaic Europe, one that lacks der Wille zur Macht and that will therefore continue to lean on the United States for heroic support, both in Europe itself and further afield.

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