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January 27, 2023

Ukraine: A test for Europe – I

The developments in the Ukrainian crisis ever since it began has raised a crucial question for European experts in the field of security and defence: is Europe prepared to have an adequate response to such crises which, after all, threaten its very existence on the world’s political map? There is obviously no overstatement in qualifying the threat Europe has to cope with, namely Russia’s assertiveness which, by annexing Crimea, showed that it acts in contempt of international law, meaning of existing treaties.  Thanet’s because, despite all reassurance coming from Moscow on its attempted unification of Russia with Europe in view of setting up a new pole of the multi-polar world of tomorrow, alongside the US and China, it is but obvious that such a ‘marriage’ would be asymmetrical, and, more than that, would mean domination of Europe and its insignificance in the global affairs. Why? Because, this past year, Ukraine has demonstrated that Moscow uses the hard power to reach its objectives, even for communicated certain geopolitical designs otherwise possibly open to negotiation, and all the EU does is to react with sanctions or mandate NATO to raise a defensive wave in the East. For it is evident that the sanctions adopted by the US and the EU stand for such a defence wave for Europe, more an offensive perspective, as shown by certain figures. When you see that the rouble has lost roughly one quarter of its value since the West introduced the gradual sanctions – for keeping the standard Russia had to waste USD 100 bn from its monetary reserve until recently – one cannot help thinking about the defensive-offensive ratio in the reaction of the West to the Ukrainian crisis in front of the Kremlin. The only thing left to Russian President V. Putin  was to use the nuclear threat for keeping up the ‘pace’ in the confrontation he had started, to which the West – Europe being a part of it – answered with sanctions and calls on Russia to cooperate.

But is Europe missing the ‘hard power’? Is the EU incapable of similarly responding to hard power challenges? Or, in this calm and judicious reaction of a ‘soft power’ type, is this deeply rooted policy in the behaviour of the international actor with the highest global GDP which is the EU? Is Europe happy sailing in the swirl of the US or is it trying to raise its own ‘voice’ in the global arena?

At the end of last month, on the website http://www.carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/, a recognised expert on international security, Judy Dempsey raised a capital question at the crossroads the Old Continent is currently at: ‘Is Europe Naive about Hard Power?’

The question was answered by a few qualified experts. Below are some of their answers.

Federiga Bindi, Senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies: Indeed it is. European public opinion, vexed by Europe’s economic crises, is strongly against any increased spending on defence.; ‘/…/Europeans failed to foresee and contain trouble in their own backyards/…/.To make things worse, Europe’s self-proclaimed soft-power leadership—which some observers praise as complementing U.S. hard power in a supposed informal division of labour—has reached its limits. Europeans failed to foresee and contain trouble in their own backyards, East and South alike.’

Koert Debeuf, Representative of the European Parliament’s Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe to the Arab world: ‘At only 1.5 percent of GDP in 2012, the total military expenditure of the EU member states is very small. The United States spends 4.2 percent of its budget on defense, China 2.0 percent, and Russia 4.0 percent. The reason for Europeans’ minimal spending is a general belief in Europe that no one will never attack the continent, and that if someone does, the United States will protect the Europeans. It is time to wake up from this dream./…/ Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Islamic State clearly don’t care about the EU’s soft power. The question is whether raising the EU’s military budget is the only answer to the threats they pose. In absolute terms, the EU spent a total of €190 billion ($242 billion) on its military in 2012. Only the United States spent more. With 1.5 million active military personnel, the EU has the second-largest military force in the world. Instead of being weak and divided, Europe could be strong and united. The idea of a real European defense union is more than sixty years old. It is time to move forward with it.’

Karl-Heinz Kamp, Academic director of the Federal Academy for Security Policy in Berlin: ‘Conventional wisdom would suggest the answer to this question is yes; many Europeans have been naive about hard power for some time/…/ hard power is unexpectedly back as a means of conflict resolution in Europe, and for the Middle East and North Africa, where the impotence of hard power for crisis management is becoming apparent./…/Hard power today is used largely as a fig leaf to avoid accusations of idleness. The U.S. Air Force currently executes fewer than 20 combat sorties a day against the Islamic State. In the 1990–1991 Gulf War, the United States flew over 1,000 sorties daily. Under these circumstances, what do you expect from Europe?’

Daniel Levy, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations ‘/…/ There is a strong case for the naïveté of certain Europeans who consider that the need for hard power has been eclipsed in today’s world. Threats still very much exist, and a toolkit without hard power is not wise. The U.S. guarantee of European security should not be taken for granted, especially if Europeans themselves are skimping. Europe and the United States have wisely avoided deploying ground troops in Iraq and Syria. But the airpower-led military operation being undertaken to counter the Islamic State sometimes resembles Noah’s Ark, with each coalition ally donating two military aircraft./…/ European (and U.S.) deployment of hard power in the Middle East tends only to encourage regional powers to continue to shirk their own responsibilities. To imagine that the failures of past military deployments in the region will be avoided this time around, now that is naive.’

A diversity of opinion, yet all converging to qualifying as ‘naïve’ Europe’s perception of the meaning of hard power in the contemporary world. Will Europe persist in such a tragic perception? Is it really an annex of the US in its response to the current ‘hotspots’ on the planet’s political map?


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