Why Europe should become a military power

Since the end of the Second World War, governments of the countries of Europe have chosen a traditional means of protection, shielding themselves behind the army of the United States. This solution offers them a twofold advantage: first, their alliance with the most powerful army in the world shelters them from all kinds of dangers; and second, they significantly reduce their military spending. However, are these advantages really entirely cost-free? If we entrust a third party with our defence, we indeed waive our right to disagree with the way it is ensured, warns Tzvetan Todorov.

Armed conflicts between EU member states have become impossible – in this respect, the wishes of the founders of united Europe have been realised. The new generations of Europeans born after the Second World War sometimes have the impression that war is a thing of the past. However, one only needs to have kept abreast of recent historical events to realise that the conflicts of all kinds which marked human history from its origins are far from having been eliminated. Whatever the explanation for this – whether biological or sociological – the facts are incontrovertible: the aggressiveness of human beings (or groups) is not declining. If we do not want to be the passive victims of such aggressions and to renounce what we hold most dear, we have to be ready to defend ourselves and therefore we need an army.

As a matter of fact, the governments of the countries of Europe pinned all their hopes not on the gradual disappearance of war and all kinds of violence, tyranny or mass crime, nor on the protection that may be offered by law and international institutions. Since the end of the Second World War, they have chosen a more traditional means of protection, shielding themselves behind the army of another country, their faithful ally the United States. This solution offers them a twofold advantage: first, their alliance with the most powerful army in the world shelters them from all kinds of dangers; and second, they significantly reduce their military spending and can allocate their resources to other priorities. They thus have the impression that they are benefiting from a sort of free ride, since they have the advantages of a defence (security) without its disadvantages (the costs). However, are these advantages really entirely cost-free?

The problem lies in the fact that if we entrust a third party with our defence, we waive our right to disagree with the way it is ensured – they can always tell us that it is the only possible way. At the same time, it is by no means certain that public opinion in Europe approves all the forms taken by this defence.

Torture, drones, whistle-blowers : why EU governments keep silent

Let me cite three examples. President Bush declared an all-out war on terrorism, and one of the methods of waging this war was to use torture when interrogating prisoners. It is well known that, in the course of history, many governments, including those of democratic countries, have closed their eyes to acts of torture when they deemed that the circumstances so required. However, the Americans’ decision was novel in that this was the first time that a democratic country instituted torture not only in its practice, but also in its legislation. Nevertheless, no European government publicly expressed even the slightest reservations concerning this approach, not to mention any condemnation of it. The obvious explanation was that these governments themselves benefited from the intelligence extracted under torture. The outrage caused at world level by this recourse to torture was therefore not targeted at the US Government alone but also at its European partners.

President Obama did not close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, as he had promised during his first election campaign in 2008. However, he drew conclusions from the indignant reactions the use of torture had provoked in other parts of the world and even in his own country. These conclusions are actually quite paradoxical. Since it is indeed shocking to torture prisoners so as to force them to reveal information, he decided that those concerned would no longer be taken prisoner but would instead be executed. This practice was made possible by progress in drone technology, giving the capability to send missiles remotely controlled from US territory to strike individuals in Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia. This intervention technique offers many advantages: with drones there are fewer victims than are caused by the military occupation of a foreign country, they are far less costly and they involve no risk for American military personnel, since the latter do not leave the bases in their home country. This policy in fact meets with virtually no opposition in the United States, or from allied European governments. France, visibly full of admiration for the possibilities offered by drones, has moreover recently ordered a few of these aircraft. And yet there are many reasons to be outraged at this practice. First, because it is impossible to avoid cases of mistaken identity (this can be deduced from the manner in which Bin Laden was executed, by a human commando and not by a drone). Second, because all suspects are automatically declared guilty, and all those who are guilty are sentenced to death without any form of trial, while at the same time it is known that misinformation and manipulation are rife in intelligence circles. And last, because when the drone explodes it is not just the target who is killed but also other people who find themselves nearby. This practice reflects a complete disregard for law and sanctions the deployment of brute force. It brings to mind urban gang warfare in which targeted assassinations of the leaders of rival criminal gangs are common practice (except that the leaders of the terrorist movements do not yet have access to drones).

In recent years the United States has had to contend with information leaks concerning the treatments it reserves for adversaries in times of war, and also for its allies in times of peace, ranging from the commission of war crimes to cyber-spying. Surveillance contributes to national security, but it must not escape all forms of supervision and accountability. However, none of these disclosures has resulted in those responsible being held liable for their acts. At the same time, those behind the leaks have been hunted down with the utmost rigour. Two of them sought refuge in extraterritorial locations, Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and Edward Snowden in Moscow international airport (he has since been granted asylum in Russia). A third, soldier Bradley Manning, was arrested and imprisoned under conditions worthy of Guantanamo Bay. He has recently been tried and sentenced to 35 years in prison for espionage-related offences. His greatest crime was releasing video material showing American soldiers deliberately slaughtering civilians in Iraq. The soldiers concerned have never been bothered. Once again, there was no protest from the countries of Europe, which silently acquiesced to the persecution suffered by the whistle-blowers and even supported the measures taken against them. To sum up, the European Union at present remains a US protectorate, and the price of its security is its independence.

Europe should become a “tranquil power” not to remain a US protectorate 

Although NATO, a US-European army under American command, was established to protect European territory, in accordance with its leaders’ wishes, NATO troops are now sent to distant theatres of operation. On the international political scene, the 28 dwarfs of the European Union do not represent a genuine force; they do not form one of the poles of the new multi-polar world.

For these reasons it seems clear to me that Europe should become a military power. More precisely, as suggested in the book The new world disorder, published in 2003, it should become a “tranquil power”. In that sense Europe should set itself a number of limited tasks: defending European territory, possessing deterrent weapons, preventing any armed confrontation within European territory, intervening on an ad hoc basis in the rest of the world at the request of friendly governments or to prevent genocide. Other tasks would however be ruled out. This military force would not seek to guarantee global security or to stamp out tyranny or terrorism. Nor would it participate in any conflict between Japan and China, India and Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia and Iran. Nor would it be used to conduct so-called “humanitarian wars” – a contradictory word combination meaning interventions justified by the desire to promote democracy and human rights, but which compromise these noble ideals through the means used to attain them.

(1) Article excerpted from the book We Need to talk about Europe – European identity debates at the Council of Europe 2013 – 2014.

On the same topic :

The core EU challenge: democratic deficit or trust deficit?, by Ana Palacio (video)

L’identité européenne, un passé en attente d’un avenir, par Robert Salais (vidéo)

Europe: Culture at the Edge of the World, or who are the losers?, by Yuriy Andrukhovych

Copyright : Études européennes. La revue permanente des professionnels de l’Europe. / www.etudes-europeennes.eu – ISSN 2116-1917 / Picture : Takomabibelot

About the author: Tzvetan Todorov is a French essayist, philosopher and historian born in Sofia.

© EuTalk / www.eutalk.eu – ISSN 2116-1917 / Les propos exprimés par l'intervenant sont l'expression d'une réflexion personnelle. Ils n’engagent que leur auteur, et en aucun cas l’institution à laquelle il appartient ou qui l'accueille.