The European Union Among Dinosaurs

Since the Maastricht Treaty and throughout the decade of the nineties, the European Union has achieved a political configuration, an organisation of States, creating a new specie of animal in the history of international relations. The Union is based on a series of established practices (such as the European Councils that undertake political initiatives), maintaining some competencies for its own and some common institutions, but the States included do not cease to exist because of this. In spite of their voluntary participation in an economic and political integration process, Member States preserve their constitutional system and many traditional competencies, including the most notable ones of foreign relations, security and defence. This therefore generates cohabitation between the new animal and the States that do not reflect the classic model, since they have willingly accepted the loss of some protagonism in order to cede it to the Union.

Besides so much novelty, in the world of the beginning of the 21st century we are observing a reappearance of large mammoth-States returning to the oldest and starkest power struggle, in which the European Union, given its nature, neither wishes nor is able to participate. The United States has set the example. Following a period filled with hope during the past decade, in which both Clinton administrations favoured benign hegemony, multilateralism and the quest for harmony with Europeans, the Bush administration has already consolidated an international policy underpinned by military supremacy, indifference toward global problems such as environmental problems and underdevelopment and, in short, a philosophy of every man for himself. Likewise, the recent strategic agreement between the United States and Russia (in spite of which Russian continues to pursue its own policy on issues such as Iraq and Iran), the attitudes of China, India, Israel or Pakistan, the cancer represented by Iraq, global terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction lead to the belief that we have returned to the game of the rise and fall of superpowers in its violent version, while the European Union was prepared only for the sweeter, economical and diplomatic version of the game. The question facing us now is to determine whether this new type of animal, more highly developed and apparently weaker, like the mammals, will be able to survive among the dinosaurs of the past, above all if a war among them causes a world-wide disaster comparable to the fall of an enormous asteroid that clouds over the entire planet.

In this working paper, the European Union’s role in the world is analysed first of all everything that has to do with the role of the United States, using a critical look at the scenery designed by Huntington and Fukuyama. Next, the Union’s need to reinforce its foreign and security policy is stated, not only to survive but to project its pacific view of international relations as well, contrary to the traditional realist vision. In the third place, a complex-free European foreign policy is advocated, providing comments on factors that affect the development of such policy. And lastly some ideas are given on how the European Union’s foreign policy should be, in order to make an original and effective contribution to a globalised world.

The Clash of Historical Times

While all simplifications are necessarily inexact, they may have a significant explanatory value. Such is the case of the two recent interpretations of history made by Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama at the end of the Cold War, which have attained fame on the basis of their relevance and elegance. The first is within the realist tradition and the second within the liberal or rationalist tradition of international relations, according to the terms used by Martin Wight in his superb book International Theory: the three traditions. (1) Consequently, both elaborate two different visions of the future. (2) For Huntington, the world is destined for a confrontation between large civilisations, and the various States within those civilisations will have to align themselves and make decisions for participation to a greater or lesser extent in that struggle. Fukuyama believes that the triumph of democracy and the free market lead to a more pacific future in which international institutions will play a relevant role. Neither of the two, however, attributes much significance to the European integration experiment. In the first theory, the European Union is not significant in itself, since it is naturally included in western civilisation. Fukuyama claims that the European integration process is just another international regime that fulfils its role with others, like the IMF or the OECD. While this is not a very frequent criticism in the comments brought on by the two authors, the aforementioned absence detracts validity from both constructions.

Another recent interpretation that has not attained the popularity of the others, but which has enormous illustrative as well as heuristic strength, is the one designed in 1997 by the British diplomat Robert Cooper, which portrays three worlds, pre-modern, modern and post-modern, coexisting on the same planet and during the same period. (3) In the world’s pre-modern areas, chaos has replaced imperial order (whether that of ancient empires, colonialism or the Cold War) since neither the developed States nor international institutions are able to take care of local problems. The major part of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia and South America live in this situation, in which States often fail to fulfil minimum functions and do not even execute the monopoly of the use of force. In the modern area, in fact the most extensive one on the planet, which typically includes the Middle East and Asia, States fight one another for power and influence, and the control of the armed forces and borders is crucial. Modern States seek to rearm in order to compete with the others and, as a last resort, do not rule out war to obtain their political objectives. Lastly, there is also a post-modern world in which the opening of societies, economic development and democratic principles create an atmosphere that is favourable for co-operation and interdependence instead of confrontation. The borders lose importance, war becomes unpopular and States are willing to cede parcels of their traditional sovereignty in order to achieve common objectives. Logically the coexistence of these three worlds poses serious problems and can lead to confrontation. Borrowing the terms of Huntington and Fukuyama, Cooper’s image of the three worlds could be christened as the clash of the historic times.

Cooper is also very concerned about the strained relations among these three worlds, which are as alien from one another as they are fiercely contemporary, and practice proves him to be correct throug the mark of global terrorism, the conduct of the West in Afghanistan, endemic poverty and the illegal immigration involved, or the tensions between India and Pakistan that, in spite of the distance, fully affect us. However, what is now worthy of emphasis is that the post-modern world, to which Canada and Japan also belong, is represented above all by Europe. From this point of view, Cooper’s construction does justice to the historic significance of the European Union experiment, thus bridging the Huntington and Fukuyama gap. For Cooper, the end of the Cold War involved a change comparable to the birth of the modern State in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 because, since 1989 and in the European sphere, a totally novel idea of the State has once again asserted itself, involving a means of understanding international relations that was unknown until now.

European States have demonstrated a commitment that leads them to conceive global relations as something different from the violent competition of everyone for himself, by advocating diplomacy, commerce and international law as opposed to military means.Co-operation on sensitive issues among the majority of European Union members, the European integration process -in force since the Treaty of Rome of 1957 but deepened substantially over recent years-, the adoption of a common currency, the European Convention on Human Rights and the surveillance of this, the acceptance of a reduction and control of conventional armed forces following the CFE Treaty of 1990, the enlargement of NATO and the European Union toward the East, with the cost that this entails, and the support of initiatives such as the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court widely attest to the willingness of European States to limit their sovereignty in order to achieve global objectives.

The perception of a post-modern world in which Europe is found in its entirety, on the one hand, and a modern one, on the other, also helps to situate the United States in history. The sole global superpower has much more difficulty than the European States in accepting a limitation of sovereignty, even when accomplished voluntarily via international treaties. In spite of its military power, for example, the United States has recently felt the need not to ratify the CTBT (which prohibits nuclear testing), to denounce the ABM (which limits anti-ballistic missile capability) and interrupt negotiations on the control of bacteriological weapons for the purpose of developing greater power that is not constrained by legal obstacles. After all, there is an internal logic within these reflections since this is the leading world power, far from the others and which does not want to see itself in any way limited. But this reflection has been taken to an extreme by the current Republican administration, obsessed with increasing predominance until reaching its absolute terms (with the negative connotation that this term always carries in politics), and with maintaining a vision of the world in which military struggles continue to be the main subject. For these reasons and although it enjoys indisputable technological and economical leadership, in terms of global politics the United States has chosen to situate itself closer to the modern as opposed to the post-modern part of the world.

Basically this circumstance is not adverse to Europeans, since they know that the world is a dangerous place in which the ruthless fight for power continues beyond the haven of peace that the Old Continent has become. In fact, Europeans voluntarily delegate the main body of their territorial defence to NATO, so to say the United States. Furthermore, frankly speaking, Europeans are very comfortable to have the United States dealing with problems as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the defence of oil resources that ensure our wellbeing and the terrible consequences of frictions among the Asian giants. Not even are the European States with nuclear power and permanent seats and veto rights in the Security Council, France and Great Britain, willing to question this strategic protectorate situation. Not even Germany or Japan, legitimate contenders to the Security Council, wish to alter this comfortable relationship. Therefore, there is a type of symbiosis between the new post-modern mammal, the European Union, and the most powerful dinosaur that is the chief of the herd. We Europeans keep cool because we suspect that the defence of the new animal born of a highly developed political experiment will require a dinosaur that basically shares the same principles and, while it does not participate directly in the experiment, it believes that the development of this new species of animal is worthwhile.

The Four Laws of War and Peace

The problem with this useful symbiosis is that it poses internal contradictions in the long term. The solid strategic alliance between the United States and the European Union is very valuable for both, but the preference of the United States for realpolitiks could, in time, lead it to disengage itself from that alliance. Likewise, Union Member States that until recently were small dinosaurs and which have adapted to the new environment of institutionalised collaboration, could be tempted to recover their former animal status. In a hypothetical setting, the new relation between the Union States and Russia and the lack of direct territorial threats leaves NATO devoid of real content, and global security problems are handled on a bilateral and case-by-case basis between the United States and the large powers in a modern power-balanced dialog, in which a post-modern European Union has nothing to contribute. In this scenario, France and Great Britain wish to return to their positions as global powers, and Germany has no choice than opting for rearmament and the redefinition of national attitudes. So the European Union loses the political content achieved throughout the nineties in the summits of Maastricht, Amsterdam, Cologne and Nice, and is limited to being a common market without further pretensions. The logical extension of this undesirable scenario is that profound tensions among European powers will reemerge, aligning them with other powers from other regions, leading to the break-up of the Union, and undermining world peace.

The future of the European Union remains fragile since, in simple terms, it is based on the laws of peace, while the large powers, and also the traditional States, are based on the laws of war. There are four firmly established laws of war and peace in the theory of international relations. The first two belong to the realist tradition and the second two to the liberal or rationalist tradition. The one we could call “Hobbes law” maintains that in a chaotic and violent world, only the State can guarantee a minimum of stability and conditions for a worthy life. A sensu contrario, an experiment such as the European Union can only occur within a stable international context (such as the balance of terror in the Cold War or the West’s victory in the same war), because in cases of crisis or generalised uncertainty (such as, for example, the aftermath of September 11), the States again take the reins. The second is the “law of cycles”, according to which the rise and fall of large powers corresponds to a cycle in which economic and demographic expansion is followed by a military showing and subsequent challenge to the status quo. At a given time, the challenging powers may acquire predominance if they are able to surpass other powers in decadence. In anticipation of these changes, an unstable balance regulates international relations.

The third law is of a different nature. It starts from Kant’s inspiration but is later confirmed in practice. “Kant’s law or the law of democratic peace” holds that true democracies do not fight one another. Since the Second World War, this has been broadly proven in the large expanse in which democracy triumphed, and it is yet to be seen whether the expansion of the democratic area since 1989 likewise involves the expansion of peace. Finally, “Monet’s law” establishes that commercial integration (economic and monetary integration should today be added) among the States makes war impossible because there is a merging of interests. Everyone coincides in indicating that the experience of the common market, followed by political integration, has involved a transformation of historic dimensions on the European continent, where war among nations has been the recurring norm for centuries.

The problem of these two laws of peace is that, aside from their descriptive value they undoubtedly have regulatory power as well. These laws indicate a path towards peace that should be promoted by those States enjoying it. It is totally incomprehensible for one democratic State enjoying a process of economic integration among democratic States, which furthermore ensures stability in its surroundings, to conduct relations with the outside world using irrational force to defend a predominant position, or to accept the solution of faraway international controversies by means of the survival of the fittest. This is simply incompatible with the values it presumedly defends. The most basic definitions of “peace” and “democracy” prevent differentiation on the basis of race or continent, whereby a sincere commitment to these principles and values involves the responsibility of their expansion.

We should continuously return to the fundamentals of the European Union to, on the one hand, recall the significance of the project and, on the other, understand that its success is not only crucial to peace in Europe but in the world as well. The European Union represents a radically new approach to international relations and we should be conscious of this in order to assume the responsibility as the protagonists of an experience leading the way toward a horizon of a world without war. The Union has abandoned the realistic path that marks the first two laws by not becoming a supra-State superpower and by deciding not to continue the logical cycle of the second law that goes from economic ascent to military power. The Union simply does not want to be a classic power, arm itself with weapons of mass destruction, exercise its influence by force if necessary and compete for the first place with other powers, even through military confrontations. The European Union is based on another global relations approach, one of a liberal nature that includes confidence in democracy as an instrument of peace among nations and the promotion of economic exchanges, in accordance with the third and fourth laws. This also includes an innate confidence in law and international institutions as guarantors of a superior order greater than States. Furthermore and contrary to the old dinosaurs, the Union’s foreign policy is defined by means of an exchange among its Member States, which by definition makes it multilateral and provides it with transparency.

The fact that the European Union has relinquished the acquisition of conventional power, however, should not make it lose force in its convictions. To the contrary, conscious of the importance of its endeavour, the Union should seek and develop new mechanisms in accordance with its nature, which can counteract the means utilised by traditional powers. In continuing with the zoological metaphor, the European Union neither wishes nor is it able to be another dinosaur but instead, as the small animal of a new species just borned, it should have imagination enough and the necessary courage to adapt to the environment and ensure its survival. To do so, it should speak to the old dinosaurs in a clear and intelligible language, and should define efficient methods that allow it to take its place in the world. Having a strong economy should help it to find and use those efficient methods. All of this is necessary because ensuring the survival of the new animal likewise enables the continuity of the project it represents as well as the possible appearance of other new animals of the same species that, without any doubt, are waiting to be born. If the European integration experiment fails and, with it, the two laws of peace, the realist argument would put an end to the democratic and liberal argument of international relations for a long time. In a global conflict scenario, the break-up of the European Union would prove that State sovereignty is the only concept to which we can cling, so that the conservation of strong States requires the cultivation of rearmament instead of harmony. In a more or less stable world, the European Union has been able to prosper. In a world filled with uncertainties in which dinosaurs begin to roar (to a large extent because, they have unfortunately already forgotten the disasters of the last Great War among dinosaurs), the European Union’s responsibility increases because it must show the path to good sense.

Europe for Europeans

Two questions unfold before this political requirement. It may be thought that the European project is well defended because of the aforementioned strategic symbiosis with the United States, or it may also be believed that the Union is sufficiently represented by its Members States, whose governments are entrusted with defining its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). But two critical observations are in order: The United States does not directly guarantee the continuity of the European Union, but it has been a decisive supporter of the pacification of the continent since the Second World War and through the stabilisation of Eastern Europe following the end of the Cold War. The United States likewise contributes to the defence of the fundamental principles of pacific relations among States, as defined by the United Nations, and democracy as no other large power has ever done. Now, these last two affirmations are not absolute and deserve to be qualified. The United States conducts its international policy with very sudden changes, and right now a lack of interest is being observed in the promotion of democracy, international institutions, including the United Nations, and also in everything related to its relations with the European Union. It is not just the fixation on security in the face of the latent terrorist threat following September 11 that moves the United States government, but there is also a conviction, already expressed in the Republican electoral campaign, that its international policy should be based above all on the defence of national interest, on the slogan America first, and on the reinforcement of its military power. Therefore it is not surprising that the transatlantic dialog with the European Union is largely lacking in content, as shown in the Washington summit that took place at the beginning of May: although investments and trade have increased over the past ten years, there is no profound political dialog, and the New Transatlantic Agenda of 1995 continues for the most part to be an idea requiring development. Underneath the official triumphalist rhetoric, the complaints over U.S. trade protectionism, the diverse points of view on the Middle East as to what type of action should be taken against Iraq, protection of the environment or human rights lead to the conclusion that, if the strongest point of the current transatlantic relation is the fight against terrorism, things are not going well.

Within this context, the Union can feel neither represented nor protected by the vision of the world or the global politics of President Bush. The symbiosis between the first dinosaur and the new animal is going through hard times. In a sense, this is merely a historic circumstance, since the U.S. attitude may again change in the future, for example with a new Democratic Administration. Now then, in another sense, that verification is also a call to attention for Europeans. There is a very great risk of the United States’ wanting no part of the principles on which international peace, and therefore European integration, are established, as demonstrated by the obstinacy of certain North American political tendencies. Right after the complicated elections of November 2000, and right before his appointment as President, the Republican candidate gave the impression that, due to the closeness of the results, in many aspects he would follow a bipartite and negotiated policy. That has nothing to do with reality. In President Bush’s Administration the champions of the extreme right, the oil business, unilateralism and militarism have established themselves, which shows just how established these positions are in the United States. Consequently the United States’ defence of the principles of pacific coexistence among States cannot be taken as certain. The leading superpower is currently obsessed with the modern struggle for power regulated by the first two laws of competition and war, and disinterested in the promotion of the second two, those of democratic peace and co-operation. During the Cold War, the defence of democracy and human rights was frequently set aside because it was thought that the strategic objective of defeating communism justified the temporary omission of these principles. Now, in some cases, it appears that the United States has returned to the same philosophy and, with the excuse of the fight against terrorism in its various versions or merely for its own interests, it renounces democratic principles (for example, in Iran, Israel or Venezuela) and dealing with the political and economic causes of instability. It ultimately appears that the principles are now being sacrificed for reasons that are more than dubious, such as preserving and increasing wealth and Western predominance, and if it is endangered it is precisely due to a short-sighted greed that is generating this same danger.

Faced with this attitude of the United States, the European Union should awaken from its lethargy and commit further itself to the principles of democracy and pacific international relations. The European Union is currently immersed in a paralysing doubt over what its foreign policy should be and to what extent it should support or qualify the global leadership of the United States. Nevertheless, it is obvious that if the leading superpower does not attend to the defence of these principles the European Union’s responsibility grows, because both the Union itself and its Member States have based their existence on the democratic principles of international relations. For as long as the leading dinosaur is committed to the laws of peace, a firm alliance will exist with the European Union. Otherwise, the new animal should search for the way to protect those laws by its own means.

On the other hand, it is likewise believed that Member States, who have carried out until now the process of integration, should guarantee the continuity and success of the process and, therefore, continue leading the Union’s foreign and security policy. This supposition should be refuted with another critical observation because the present moment of the European project requires a calling to order of the States. We have reached a point in which European citizens claim more than what Member State governments are willing to give. There is a lot of talk about the Union’s “democratic deficit”, but there is another deficit that is not mentioned and which may be very damaging to the European integration process, which is the “foreign policy deficit”. This deficit is causing increasing tension between the European Union’s economic weight in the world and the logical political expectations that this generates, on the one side, and the daily reality of a European foreign and security policy that is minor, fragmented, insufficient and full of incomprehensible silences, on the other.

There are at least four measures that ratify this deficit. In the first place, European citizens believe that the most needed advance in the integration process is the construction of an efficient foreign and security policy. Although differences exist among the various countries, the Eurobarometer repeatedly shows that this is the objective most sought by Europeans. Until now, however, neither governments nor major political parties have known how to give shape to this desire. In the most specific plane of defence, a recent study showed that 73 % of Europeans believe that the era of tying armed forces exclusively to each State has passed, and that new forms of defence should be sought in order to confront the challenges of the future, suggesting that the advances of a European defence policy that go from the Helsinki to the Seville European Council are overly cautious. (4)

In the second place, European Parliament has been producing a series of resolutions that indicate lines of action for the CFSP that are much more ambitious than what the Council and capitals are willing to accept. Although in principle it lacks legal competence for this subject, Parliament has produced a lengthy series of resolutions that demands a more advanced foreign policy for the Union, in accordance with its global weight. A conspicuous example is the contrast that was observed between Parliament’s motion of April 10 on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which was balanced and decisive, and the lukewarm and ineffective statements issued by the Council of the European Union during that same month of April. At the same time that a very grave crisis was taking place in this field, Parliament produced a convincing judgement, in accordance with the Union’s traditional policy for a negotiated and non-unilateral solution to the conflict, condemning both sides for their use of violence, considering the use of sanctions against both and condemning Israel’s offences to the Union, while the Council opted for statements of compromise that concealed conspicuous silences, only explainable by requirement for unanimity. (5)

Thirdly, the foreign policy deficit is illustrated on a different plane, which refers to compliance with the principles that govern the CFSP, established in section 11 of the European Union Treaty. One of the most significant innovations of the Treaty of Maastricht (subsequently reformed in Amsterdam) was that the Union’s foreign and security policy was defined on the basis of a set of principles and objectives that expressly tied CFSP to values of pacific relations and co-operation among the States. This is one of the major assets of the Union’s foreign activity, which differentiates it from that of the States, and above all from the large powers, that are constantly tempted to act contrary to these fundamental values. However the principles proclaimed in the Treaty have not always been respected, by act or omission. An example are the democratic clauses in the treaties of association that envisage damages in trade relations if democracy and human rights are not respected, and which are not applied in practice. The problem is that the control of compliance with the principles by the Council and its Member States is not sufficiently guaranteed by legal or political mechanisms in the Treaty.

Lastly, in the fourth place, the Union also has a foreign and security policy deficit in another sense, when the European Union is viewed from other parts of the world.

Martín Ortega

Written by Martín Ortega Carcelén

Martin Ortega Carcelén is Senior Research Fellow at the Elcano Royal Institute. He was Head of Policy Planning at the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, and Senior Research Fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris. He is Senior Lecturer in International Law and International Relations at the Complutense University of Madrid, […]