By: Evan Myers, Staff Writer
On Sept. 3, Bruegel — a European think tank that specializes in economics — kicked off its 2018 annual meetings. The two-day conference featured sessions on European and global economic governance, finance, energy, and innovation. I had the opportunity to attend and came away with one resounding message: Europe is more threatened, less united and further from self-reliance than at any time since World War II.
Co-Chair of European Council on Foreign Relations and former Prime Minister of Sweden Carl Blidt perhaps said it best during Bruegel´s session on Europe’s Geostrategic Positioning in a Volatile World. “Europe is toast,” he said, and I agree. A new world order is emerging, and Europe is the odd man out. As China continues to assert itself in the East, Russia regains its strength and the United States reconsiders its international commitments, Europe is floundering for a common foreign policy.
During the Cold War, world power was bipolar — there were two great powers: the United States and the Soviet Union. These two powers faced off all around the world. The Communist East and Democratic West met on the Korean Peninsula, in Vietnam, and even on the United States’ front step in Cuba. Europe, however, was perhaps the most important ideological battleground of all. As the East encroached further upon European states, it was in the United States’ interests — as the champion of Western democracy — to form an Atlantic alliance and protect Europe from the Soviet threat. The most obvious manifestation of that alliance is NATO.
In the 1990´s, however, the Soviet Union dissolved, the Berlin Wall fell and the West won. In winning, the United States and Europe no longer had a common enemy. There was no communism to contain, no expanding Eastern power to stop at all costs. Hence, U.S. foreign policy should have changed. But it didn’t.
Instead, the United States became what it always wanted to become: the global hegemon. Rather than conquering territory, however, the United States flexed its muscles with self-restraint, electing to leverage its powerful position in an enduring, multilateral international system. In this new system, American exceptionalism — the idea that Americans are God’s chosen people called to elevate the human race — was institutionalized. Groups like NATO, the United Nations and the World Trade Organization became the new frontier. No longer, however, was the United States expanding westward, fighting for colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific, or protecting its interests from a Nazi or Soviet threat. In the post-Cold War world the United States — the sole superpower — was quietly crusading, reforming the world in its image through international institutions.
But what was Europe’s role in this new international system? As long as American troops and defense systems remained in Europe, Europeans had no motivation to strengthen their own security and military structures. Instead, under American protection through organizations such as NATO and the UN, the European Union incorporated more states and developed a strong position in international trade and diplomacy.
Expansion of the European Union and the development of soft power sowed a false sense of unity and security across Europe. Today, this sense of unity and security is crumbling, and Europe is reaping the effects of its own naive approach to foreign policy.
As the rise of China forces the United States to reconsider its global position, Washington’s unwillingness to support the international system that has protected Europe for decades is hardly surprising. In fact, the Trump Administration — regardless of its rhetoric — is simply questioning American commitments abroad that should have been questioned after the close of the Cold War. In essence, Trump is asking, ‘Where does the US stand in the new world order?’ In turn, European policy makers,like the ones I met at the Breugel Annual Meetings,are asking, ‘Where does Europe stand in the new world order?’ And generally, their response is that Europe, in its current state, is toast.