What Really Threatens Europe?
Paris, January 31, 2008 – The European political debate as much as the American is preoccupied by issues of security, yet there are few who will explain why Europe is supposed to be insecure, and what exactly is the threat.
For Americans it seems simple – terrorism, the Islamic threat, the Pakistani bomb and who controls it, the Iranian nuclear bomb, ethnic battles in Africa, resurgent Russia, the ambitions of a new China, North Korea's intransigence.
Is western Europe really threatened by all of this? How much of this is real and how much provocation or paranoid fantasy? The United States has a permanent need for insecurity and novel threats because since the early cold war the American economy has become geared to the manufacture of security goods to meet seemingly inexhaustible national insecurities.
The manufacture of advanced technology civilian goods was at the same time moving from the United States to the Far East, in the case of electronics, and from the U.S. to Europe in the case of cars, trains, integrated transport systems, and urban and international infrastructure. This is one of the reasons the United States is today so widely perceived as a society in decline, failing to deal realistically with industrial, economic, and national and international political realities.
An example is the recent announcement by the U.S. air force that it needs a new heavy bomber suitable for international nuclear warfare. Why there should be such a need, and for use against what enemy, has not been explained, but by now this generally is the case. For a long time the American Congress has taken for granted the cyclical reiteration of demands for new and hyper-advanced weaponry irrelevant to generally recognized threats. This seems essential to the country's economy and psychological security.
During the country's present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the actual needs, only very belatedly met, were for vehicles suitably armored to protect their occupants against roadside bombs made in back-alley workshops, and for adequate personal armor. In the early years of Iraq combat, soldiers' families and friends were buying and sending them the flack jackets available on the retail and on-line markets in the United States. Nuclear bombers were not needed.
American arms have become the foundation of America's claim during the past sixty years to global leadership. But even during the worst years of the cold war this was unconvincing because the nuclear systems being produced on both sides were as a practical matter strategically offsetting, and their economic utility was as an unacknowledged form of Keynesian support for companies and workers in the defense industries, being paid to do something objectively valueless (if, theoretically, strategically indispensable).
The political payoff was international leadership, grudgingly conceded by America's enemies of the period, and gratefully accepted by Europe and Japan, who were spared the cost of their own defense.
Today, those who benefited from the system for so many years have become concerned that the frustrations of America's war on terror may after the next American presidential election send the country back into isolationism (a highly improbable eventuality, however welcome it would be to those of us who, as Americans, think that it is international military interventionism that is the threat to our country).
The Netherlands newspaper NRC Handelsblad recently made the seemingly perverse complaint that America's decline (now generally taken for granted in Europe) is undermining Europe's influence, since until now, the paper says, this has been tied to that of America by membership in the Atlantic alliance.
A political observer from Mars might ask what influence Europe has possessed by being part of NATO. NATO itself has had influence and power, but Europe has had no independent influence, least of all on Washington; it has served as military auxiliary and dependent on the U.S.
It would have had influence if NATO membership had provided influence over American decisions, but this was not the case. Washington did what it thought necessary and the Europeans were welcome to come along -- and sometimes not even that. When NATO unanimously voted its solidarity with the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks, Washington said: that's very kind of you but don't bother; we'll take care of this ourselves. You would just get in the way.
Handelsblad went on to warn that Europe's leaders will have to learn to exercise leadership on their own, for which they are unprepared. The real problem is not only that they are unprepared, but are deeply handicapped by the European countries' inability to establish threat identifications, policy responses, and actions on their own.
The United States may be in decline, but it still dominates the policy dialogue. It would, for example, be a shocking declaration of intellectual and political independence for the Dutch government to announce that it refused to consider Iran's security policy a matter of concern to Europeans. Yet this is what many, possibly most, West Europeans actually think.
It would be revolutionary for the Dutch government to condemn Israel's conduct in Gaza, and demand reconsideration and revision of the European Union's present policy with respect to Palestinian-Israel relations. Again, probably what most of the West European public thinks.
If, as the newspaper says, the United States is really in decline, then the individual European states will have to begin thinking for themselves, and that is likely to prove very difficult indeed.
© Copyright 2008 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.
This article comes from William PFAFF