Sarko's Folly

Sarko's Folly

Nicolas Sarkozy and other European leaders are trying desperately to coerce voters toward a united Europe. Will their scheme work?

The United States began with far greater cohesion. The original colonies had different beginnings and later developments, but they enjoyed far more commonality than did the independent states of Europe. The EU's problem in this regard continues, as Europeans grapple with the most recent accessions from Eastern Europe as well as the prospect of Turkish membership. Moreover, in America, a stronger, consolidated federal government grew out of increased nationalism, not vice versa. Only as nationalism flourished did people tolerate a more powerful state at home and more interventionist state abroad. It has taken more than a century after a bitter civil war for the uniqueness of the American South, with a strong sense of regional identity, to fade.

In short, Europe is not a de facto country, and the Lisbon Treaty won't make it so. That time might come, but seeming to railroad recalcitrant citizens in order to enact the agreement is more likely to set back the campaign in the long-run by strengthening people's nationalistic loyalties.

The Lisbon project, at least as envisioned by those desiring to turn the Eurostate into an international power, has a second, equally serious problem. While Europe has markets and money, it does not have a military. And that won't change however Ireland votes on the Lisbon Treaty.

True, one of President Sarkozy's initiatives was to create a sixty-thousand-man EU expeditionary force, but that is about as likely as Vladimir Putin inviting Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili to stop by Moscow for tea. EU ministers recently agreed to this goal-but "in the years to come," meaning a century or two. Most European states face negligible security dangers and are quite happy to rely on the United States for protection. The European members of NATO consistently failed to fulfill their promises to increase military outlays during the cold war; the likelihood of them doing so today, especially in the midst of economic crisis, is nil.

The issue is not just spending but creating effective professional forces. The Europeans conduct a lot of peacekeeping missions but have little ability to prosecute a real war. During the war against Serbia analysts figured that the European members of NATO possessed just 10 to 15 percent of America's combat capabilities. German troops operating in Afghanistan have distinguished themselves by their beer drinking and sausage eating; 40 percent of German soldiers in the country are overweight and 10 percent are obese. America's past representative to NATO, Nicholas Burns, figured that just 3 to 5 percent of European military forces could be deployed overseas, compared to roughly 75 percent of American personnel. Bastian Giegerich of the International Institute for Strategic Studies reports that "The majority of EU member states appear unable to deploy formations of even battalion size (500-800 troops) on a single mission."

That means Europe has had to turn to Russia for logistical support in some peacekeeping operations. No wonder leading EU members have resisted committing to a goodwill mission in Congo. Worse, the major European powers of NATO are unprepared to actually provide military backing for alliance members or would-be members along Russia's borders. Brussels has even proved reluctant to offer assurances of future EU membership or other aid to Ukraine and rejected Tbilisi's request that the EU turn its peace monitoring force into a peacekeeping mission in Georgia. Most European states are variously unable or unwilling to take up more of the load in Afghanistan. Here the EU's reputation may be most at risk: Daniel Korski of the European Council on Foreign Relations suggests that "Afghanistan will be viewed in Washington as a litmus test of whether Europeans should be taken seriously as strategic partners."

And the EU will almost certainly fail to meet the test. Even absent the ongoing economic crisis, there is little stomach in Europe for increased military spending or activity. Explains Jeffrey Simon of the Institute for National Strategic Studies:

But as European militaries have shifted to smaller, all-volunteer forces concentrated in fewer caserns, significant social and political consequences resulted. Public unease over the expeditionary use of military forces that one might have expected with heavy reliance upon young conscripts has not eased with the shift toward professional soldiers; if anything, those anxieties have increased. As defense was no longer the priority that it had been during the Cold War and armed forces were becoming less visible to their publics, many European societies began to raise questions about their utility. This was particularly the case when used in unpopular expeditionary operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

None of this means that a more unified Europe wouldn't have some influence internationally. But the continent's role will remain limited so long as it lacks the most basic assets of hard power. There isn't a lot of use having a "High Representative" for the Union in foreign affairs and security policy if the EU has neither the ability nor the will to employ military force. If Europe's most potent weapon against Russia is to halt already long-delayed negotiations over forging closer relations, then Moscow isn't likely to care much what the Europeans think. Nor will most anyone else, irrespective of the specific governing structure in Brussels.

Americans have paid a high price for national consolidation. Europeans should ponder well the potential costs in personal liberty and national autonomy before approving the Lisbon Treaty. Bruno Waterfield, the Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, notes that the current decision-making processes "are designed to provide maximum privacy for heads of state and government, and to close off their decision-making from the scrutiny of their voters." Indeed, he adds, "the EU is not a system of representation or a public authority. It is a set of institutions and relationships organized for the convenience for national state bureaucracies, on the basis of mistrust of the people." But the decision on whether the price is worth it is theirs alone.

In making that decision, however, Europeans should have realistic expectations about what Lisbon is likely to achieve. It will not turn Europe into the next superpower, sitting as an equal at the table with America. That would require the development of a national identity-a willingness to die for Brussels, if you will-as well as a willingness to devote the resources and effort to create a corresponding military capability. Neither of these is likely in the near-term, no matter how the Irish vote in the expected referendum rerun.


Doug Bandow is the Robert A. Taft Fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of Foreign Follies: America's New Global Empire (Xulon).