Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The EU as a Great Power

Whenever I teach my big Intro to IR class and start talking about Great Powers, the question always arises as to whether Europe is one or will be one soon. With the impending ratification of the Lisbon treaty, which would provide a President and a Foreign Minister, perhaps that day is arriving. Or not.

Both had changed their minds because they were tired of hearing politicians endlessly urging them to do so. Some also felt that during the worst recession in recent memory they might need Europe's help. Not many seem to have been inspired by the high ideals and lofty aspirations of what is sometimes called "the European project." Although a whopping two-thirds of the Irish voted yes, there wasn't much audible or visible enthusiasm. A few politicians in Ireland and across the continent hailed the referendum as a "great victory for Europe," but no one believed them. And thus did Europe take another limping step toward the historic creation of a unified foreign-policy apparatus, complaining bitterly all the way. (Slate)
A united FP apparatus is not a united foreign policy. That is the obstacle in Europe as a great power. It has most of the other usual ingredients--a large population (bigger than the US, smaller than China), nuclear weapons (if France and the UK share with the rest of the EU their nuclear umbrellas), conventional weapons (hmm, combined, they would still be lacking in the ability to project power without the help of the US), and a large and productive economy.

But the problem is that while the EU will soon have a phone number for others to call (the Slate piece dutifully cites Kissinger on that), will it actually be able to make decisions and act as one? Thus far, Europe has failed repeatedly to come up with a common foreign policy when push comes to shove.
  • The first big test was Yugoslavia. The European Community was becoming the European Union and wanted the US to stay out. Bush senior was happy to accommodate, but the Europeans could not agree on what to do. The eventually established a commission (the Badinter Commission) to decide which former hunks of Yugoslavia should be recognized as independent countries, and then Germany went ahead and recognized its preferred candidates--Slovenia and Croatia (when the commission said Slovenia and Macedonia).
  • The next big test was Iraq in 2003. But, as Rummy put it, old Europe minus UK went against new Europe with France and Germany opposing the US effort and the UK, Poland and others in favor.
  • While most of the EU is present in Afghanistan, the burden-sharing problem (due to varying restrictions/caveats on what each country is willing to do) has again created deep divides with the Brits, the Dutch, the Danes and Poles on one side and the Germans, Italians and Spaniards on the other.
Still, the EU will probably cohere more on ordinary foreign policy issues in the future, even if they agree to disagree when the stakes are especially high and the interests of the members are in conflict.

Thus, the Slate advice that follows is actually pretty good:

But do watch closely, over the next weeks and months, to see who is selected to fill these jobs [President and Foreign Minister of the EU] and, more important, how they are selected. Traditionally, leaders of multilateral institutions are chosen through a process of elimination—the person who is the least interesting, least opinionated, and least influential gets the job, precisely because nobody else objects. Yet this is not how the president or prime minister of a country is selected. He gets the job because he has convinced the electorate that he is better than somebody else. I'm not saying that democracy always produces the most gifted leaders, but it does frequently produce politicians who are willing to argue loudly in favor of some things and against other things. By contrast, people often wind up running multilateral institutions—and not just European ones—because they are not willing to argue about anything at all.

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