Washington’s decision to place elements of an anti-ballistic
missile battery in Poland and the Czech Republic has become a
catalyst to a complex process in Europe. This affects not only the
relationship with Russia, but also the «Old World’s» strategic
future as well.
In two weeks the European Union will celebrate the 50th
anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for
integration. Most of the original goals of the EU’s founders have
already been realized, including a durable peace in Europe,
economic growth and social prosperity. The one goal that has yet to
be met fully, however, is strengthening Europe’s global political
Jean Monnet, the founder of European integration, never tired of
repeating that only unity could prevent the marginalization of the
European powers. The end of World War II sounded the conclusion of
the epoch of the great empires and the beginning of their slide in
international influence. The influence of the different European
countries had to be combined in order to preserve Europe’s position
as a leading international actor.
It was unnecessary to exert external influence to accomplish
these goals. During the Cold War, Western Europe hid under the U.S.
political and military umbrella. The United States, involved in a
global confrontation with the Soviet Union, gave its blessing
willingly. But the need for a trans-Atlantic partnership between
Western Europe and the United States diminished after the fall of
the Iron Curtain. Washington began trying to reshape the world
according to its own vision, while Brussels focused on pushing
forward a deeper and broader integration of European countries.
The EU has now reached the stage where its socioeconomic
achievements have to be transformed into a common political
identity, especially when it comes to foreign policy. It has become
increasingly evident to the United States, meanwhile, that it
cannot single-handedly shoulder the weight of the world order it is
attempting to establish. The United States needs allies that can
help provide the necessary financial, technical and human
resources. But Washington does not yet seem ready to share overall
responsibility or to cooperate more in the decision-making
The United States expected support from its allies across the
Atlantic in return for the protection and economic help it had
provided Europe in the postwar period. Europe, as it turned out,
had a different understanding of this debt.
During its development, Europe fostered a special kind of «civil
power» — a culture of peaceful expansion based on the spread of
the rule of law. This expansion did not involve a military force
component. As Germany’s former foreign minister, Joschka Fischer,
explained: «The expansion of the EU is the projection of force
according to a European understanding.» It is clear that this
approach is only possible within Europe, and that the farther away
from that cultural and political nucleus, the less effective this
approach becomes. This is a problem for the United States, which
needs Europe’s support in other parts of the world.
As for more traditional, «hard» power, only Britain has retained
anything close to its full military strength. France maintains
sufficient military capabilities to defend its own immediate
interests, but Western Europe as a whole is not militarily capable
of participating in the global undertakings the United States has
initiated. Moreover, the culture of making progress through
compromise that has made Europe’s accomplishments of the last 50
years possible runs counter to the methods currently employed by
the United States.
The fatal contradiction for modern Europe is that it cannot help
but be a major player in global politics, considering its
financial-economic, cultural-historical and human potential, but at
the same time, it is ill prepared to be active on a global
political stage that has become more militarized and characterized
by geopolitical rivalries.
The European Union is facing a dilemma.
Europe has to gather its collective strength and establish a
strong foreign policy that works toward guaranteeing its security
and then put that policy in practice as it applies to all of its
partners, including Russia, the United States, China and the rest
of Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America. This process is
fraught with danger, including that of ending up in competition
with the United States.
Otherwise, Europe will have to accept a global role only under
outside patronage, functioning as the U.S. «rear guard.» This would
mean limiting the development of its powers to the regional level
and continuing work on the development of countries on its borders,
while demonstrating its solidarity with Washington when
This less ambitious approach is the one favored by governments
in Central and Eastern Europe that don’t believe «Old Europe» can
provide for their own security or that of their younger partners.
The new members prefer relying on the United States, even if this
means involvement in some foreign conflicts. At the root of this is
the U.S. guarantee of protection against Russia, which remains the
primary threat for the former Eastern Bloc countries.
These countries also look to the EU to continue its eastward
expansion. With the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, the EU
crossed a new boundary into the area bordering the Black Sea,
including Ukraine, Moldova and the South Caucasus. These countries
are likely to be the focus of any future expansion activity. Since
the EU also relies on support from Russia in trying to solve global
problems, however, further expansion to the east risks provoking
Moscow into an unwelcome confrontation.
EU leaders today are calling passionately for consolidation of
the union, but the discussion surrounding the future placement of
anti-missile battery components in Poland and the Czech Republic
have put unified Europe in a difficult position.
On the one hand, when Strategic Missile Forces commander Nikolai
Solovtsov threatened to re-target missiles at Poland and the Czech
Republic, the other EU member states were obliged to back them up
with a show of solidarity. Solovtsov’s declaration, however, was
provoked by the fact that Washington is playing strategic games in
Europe without recognizing a need to consult seriously first with
its old European allies or the nearby nuclear-wielding superpower,
Russia. This is an approach that goes over well in both Prague and
Europe and the United States had a single enemy during the Cold
War — the Soviet Union — and that common threat helped cement the
trans-Atlantic brotherhood. But the countries of Central and
Eastern Europe, though perhaps not entirely cognizant of it, are
pushing toward a situation in which the Russian threat serves as an
external force promoting EU solidarity. While this model helped the
EU move ahead 50 years ago, today it is more likely to bury
The escalation of aggressive rhetoric we are witnessing is
capable of reviving the outward appearance of the Cold War, which
will do nothing toward providing real security, inasmuch as the
real threat does not come from any real conflict between Russia and
the West. But it is far simpler here for politicians on both sides
to fall back into familiar patterns of behavior, than to try to
resolve the real problems they actually face.