In my last post I criticized Europe’s elites for the arrogant and anti-democratic manner in which they approached what should have been a terrific project: the unification of Europe. The failures of the elites – exposed by the Global Financial Crisis – has stopped unification in its tracks and sent it backsliding, possibly never to recover. Across Europe, anti-unification parties have exploded into prominence. And France is walking away from its partnership with Germany, preferring to ally with Italy and thus calling into question the entire rationale for the unification project.
I also noted in the last post that European unification was never a real-world project. Instead of growing out of the rubble of World War II into serious polities willing to accept responsibility for themselves as independent countries who were unifying by consent, the Europeans were content to rely on the US for protection. Sovereign nations that are unwilling to see to something as basic as their own national defense are unworthy of the name.
As an example, we could observe the laughable amounts the Europeans spend directly on their own military preparedness – a risible 1% of GDC in Spain, just for starters. But if we really want to watch an entire continent behave with brazen irresponsibility we need to look at NATO.
When NATO began, back in the dark days of the early Cold War, Europe lay in ruins. Germany, Italy and France were prostrate in defeat, while Britain was prostrate in victory. Even so, the Europeans as a whole dug deep and paid for half of NATO’s costs, with the US picking up the balance. The idea of NATO was a temporary one – as the Europeans got back on their feet, it was assumed that they would shoulder their own defense costs, possibly converting NATO into a pan-European military force fully capable of standing up to the Soviets.
But it didn’t happen. As the Europeans became wealthier and wealthier their contributions to NATO got lower and lower. Today, although the EU is the largest economy in the world, the US pays 75% of NATO’s costs while all of Europe together grudgingly puts up 25%.
And that’s just the out-of-pocket costs. As you might expect, nations that are unwilling to compromise their cushy lifestyles to pay for a military force are the same nations that long ago lost their nerve when it came to actual fighting. Back in the Cold War the US stationed troops in Berlin (and elsewhere in Germany) to serve as “tripwires.” In the event of an invasion by the Soviet bloc these soldiers would die, but their deaths would enrage Americans, who would thereupon swarm to the defense of Europe. Today another tripwire has been established, this time in the Baltics and Poland, to stand against Russian adventurism. But, once again, though it is Europe that is imperiled, the soldiers in harm’s way are all Americans. America’s ally turns out to be, as Camille Grand put it, “a coalition of the unwilling and unable.”(1)
Yet, “without NATO, there could have been no European Union.”(2) Europe, that is to say, snubs its nose at the very reason for its own continued existence. Without the US there is no NATO, and without NATO Russia has its way with Europe. The Europeans bought their wealth by skimping on their own defense, and now they are so rich and soft that there can be no question of re-arming. No one in Europe is prepared to stand up to Russia if it might harm their GDP.(3)
And note that this is a failure based not just on enervation, lack of courage or irresponsibility. It’s a failure to understand the very nature of the human condition. Europe’s elites, ever more global citizens as they’ve become, ever more disconnected from their own nations, have forgotten why it is that nations exist. It is a colossal, an incomprehensible failure that elevates their own haughty vision of the future above democracy, human liberty and even human life. As Philip Stephens put it in the Financial Times, European appeasement of Russia “merges into contempt for the freedoms of others.”(4)
Though the populist, nativist parties that recently won the European Parliamentary elections seem positively scary, a throwback to fascism and collectivism, their success was the inevitable result of the failures of the European elite. Europe has reaped what it sowed.
(1) Grand is the Director of the Paris-based think tank, Foundation for Strategic Research.
(2) Robert D. Kaplan, “Why the European Union Will Survive,” Stratfor, 4/23/14.
(3) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: “The price of cowardice will only be evil; we shall reap courage and victory only when we dare to make sacrifices.” This unfashionable sentiment, from Solzhenitsyn’s 1970 Nobel Prize Lecture, would certainly be sneered at today by the elites of Europe.
(4) “German Angst is Leading Europe Back to Yalta,” Financial Times, 5/9/14.
Next up: Our Floundering Elites, Part 4: The Chinese
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