Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer is right: The European project is in trouble. In a recent article in Sueddeutsche Zeitung he even fears that a European suicide is a real possibility. Europe’s multiple crises could indeed derail the European project at a time when a common European voice is desperately needed to deal with the most serious refugee crisis since World War II. What the European Union now needs is a comprehensive initiative to save itself from the dual risk of a collapse of security at its borders while at the same time plunging into internal disunity as a result of a lack of strength to address the multiple crises the Union is facing. In essence, a forceful effort is needed to stop the dangerous process of de-solidarization within the European Union when faced with external as well as internal challenges.
But such a forceful effort is nowhere to be seen. As Fischer points out, a failure of the European Union and its institutions to act cannot be excluded. He sees the weakening of Pax Americana as the main reason for Europe’s troubles. While a failure of Europe to act cannot be excluded, one cannot expect that a solution for the continent’s misery will come from its transatlantic partner. In view of the profound instability in the Middle East and, more broadly speaking, the fast-changing power distribution with explosive consequences for the world order that enabled Europe to integrate and to become a pillar of stability within the international system, Europe must now save the European project itself. Pax Americana cannot last forever. The fathers of European integration did not want to remain permanently dependent on the United States and, conversely, American leaders did not want to carry the burden of providing security for others in perpetuity. Already as a result of the War in Vietnam—and more so today—the United States is looking for opportunities to shift responsibility for security from the center to the periphery, encouraging Europe on its trajectory to become its own source of attraction and ultimately power, including the capability to defend itself. Throughout history, the United States saw itself always more as a nation—and an exceptional one for that matter—than an empire. It never liked to carry the burden of imperial power. After WWII, America managed to put together a strong coalition in its fight against an expansionist Soviet Union and did so in the words of Geir Lundestad“by invitation” rather than by coercion, bolstered only by a Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe, not domination. The sources of conflict and strife in Europe today can only be addressed on the basis of a European initiative.
A decade and a half after 9/11 and a long and painful war in Afghanistan, as well as an unsuccessful intervention in Iraq, America has reached the limits of its capacity to shape the world in its own image. What worked in Japan and Germany after WWII could not be repeated in the Middle East. Lacking the legitimacy—if not the legality—to use force against Iraq, there was no commonality of purpose even with key allies. Europe must now come to the rescue of the European project with its own means. It will not be enough to deal with the multitude of crises on the basis of the scheduled meetings within the current institutional framework.
Now is the time to meet the challenge with the appropriate urgency, first by creating a credible task force of current senior leaders with a mandate to develop a comprehensive action plan for European security and also to assure its rapid implementation. Paramount will be the security of European borders. Without border security the EU will import the potential for paralysis of its capacity to act as a community. The EU was able to come with a €3 billion program to help Turkey manage the refugee crisis. But where is the more important investment in the long-term security of Europe’s borders by the European Union beyond the weak financial assistance for member states most dramatically affected by the refugee crisis? Migration will be a long-term issue and so will be the exploitation of the issue by criminal organizations if the issue is not addressed at its roots. Money should not be the issue when an investment in the future of the European Union is at stake. Europe needs a comprehensive crisis management approach for border security and to provide the necessary funds to implement the resulting action plan in order to survive.
Dr. Dieter Dettke is a Non-Resident Fellow at AICGS and an Adjust Professor in the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University.