Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Nick Denton is pushing a fairly radical idea:European Independence. Well, not independence per se, but the idea that Europe should defend itself, and not rely on the United States to provide for its peace and security. It's not a new idea, and it's one that's often brought up when people talk about "countering poles" to the United States that may arise in the future. Nick definitely has a point about differing interests- Europe and the United States are seperating and growing apart, and the latest conflicts are only exacerbating this trend.

There are, however, several problems with this idea. First, is the simple fact that the United States has an awful lot of money- it's a huge economy supporting a fairly large modern population, and that creates an awful lot of leeway for military spending.

Second: the United States is a country. It is made up of states that have given up their sovereignty (for the most part) in order to become one larger nation-state. Europe is a continent, and a supra-national body that nonetheness does not eliminate the sovereignty of the countries involved. One is sovereign, one isn't. This presents a huge problem to anyone arguing that Europe should be on par with the United States, because it would be France and England and Belgium and Germany and Turkey (etc.) that would have beefed up militaries, and they wouldn't be able to coordinate as effectively as the armies of one state under one command, which is the case with the United States. These militaries would also be quite threatening to each other, and would mean a Europe that doesn't and can't trust itself to defend itself. Hobbes pointed this out quite well when he noted that voluntary associations of military equals are insufficient to maintain sovereignty and fend off the state of nature, as they simply can't trust each other. International treaties and agreements mitigate this somewhat, but they can't completely eliminate it.

Third: the United States is not only a country, but an island. Well, it's actually a continent, but it might as well be an island, as it's surrounded by water on two sides and abundantly friendly and utterly unthreatening neighbours that depend on it for defense (and which simply can't "go it alone"... even if Mexico and Canada had equal GDP per capita to the United States, their population isn't sufficient to marshall the amount of money required.) Europe, on the other hand, isn't just beset from within, but without- they have Russia (who isn't likely to give up its sovereignty to Europe any time soon) up north, China down south, the Middle East right next door... as Brooks and Wohlforth's article about the unlikelihood of "counter poles" to the United States pointed out, the United States is a faraway, distant threat, and most of these countries have much closer ones.

Related to this point is my final one: the United States is generally more useful as an ally than an enemy. Since there are plenty of nearby enemies, and since the United States isn't an especially harmful superpower compared to some in the past, it's usually better to have them onside. It is as much in their interests to keep the United States as an ally or at the very least a neutral presence, just as it is usually in the United States' interests to avoid destructive conflicts around the world. That doesn't mean that mutual criticism of foreign policy can't exist (which is a point many bloggers don't understand and Nick Denton missed)- even if it annoys the United States or whichever other country is in question, it doesn't change the coinciding interests of the two. Europe is not going to go to war with the United States to defend Iraq, even if they feel that the invasion is wrong, as that wouldn't be in their interests any more than a hostile Europe would be in the United States' interests. There are plenty of other, better ways to demonstrate displeasure than cutting military ties based on solely on coinciding interests.

So, how can you deal with these problems? Well, Europe is, I feel, in the process of dealing with the first one - their collective economy will grow enough to match the United States at some point, if only due to sheer force of numbers, economic integration, and the end of the United States' role as the absolutely safe investment that people used to believe it was during the 80's and 90's. The rest however, can only be dealt with by one act:

Europe must become a single country.

Not several countries, not a super-national body, not some sort of collective defense agreement, none of that. It must integrate at a sovereign level, going through the same process of integration that the United States did in the 1700's to defend itself from England, the superpower of the time. This can be and probably should be a loose confederation, as there is simply too much disparity between different parts of Europe and too many ties to the historical countries. Different sub-states (or regions, or provinces, or areas, or whatever) should be allowed to keep their own culture and control over their own economies to a greater or lesser extent, so as to mitigate the effects of the single currency. Let's make no mistake, though: that the only way that Denton and all the other bloggers and pundits who want to disengage from Europe will ever get what they want and the United States will ever be absolved of the task of protecting Europe is if Europe becomes another United States. Whether it happens today, tomorrow, ten months from now, or ten years from now is immaterial- it must happen. The United States proves it can work, if as imperfectly as any other country, and the conclusion is unmistakable. The only way that one can deal with a wealthy continent-sized state is with another wealthy continent-sized state.

Edit: Unfortunately, nonsensical spouting of ideology like this is one of the big barriers to this ever happening. Glenn Reynolds says that "Europe may declare independence, but it won't take up the responsiblities that implies because it can't afford to without dismantling large parts of its social welfare apparatus, and bureaucracy in general". Sorry, Glenn, but dismantling the welfare state has little or nothing to do with the possibility and usefulness of an independent Europe- it may somewhat increase the funds available to build up a military, but the big question isn't really spending, but sovereignty. I can understand those who believe that the solution to every problem is to cut taxes and regulation, Dubya style, but if anything this necessitates more bureaucracy, not less.

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