We support this expressed desire of Ursula von der Leyen. To achieve it, however, she will have to break the spell of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Europe’s destiny lies in being neither subordinate to America, nor weak against China nor in permanent conflict with Russia; such must be the fate of the EU.
“It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world.” Robert Kagan, American political commentator.
The day following her appointment as head of the future European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen announced that she wished to lead a “geopolitical commission.” At the very moment when Emmanuel Macron asserts that “Europe will disappear if it doesn’t think of itself as a global power” and that “NATO is brain dead,” with Donald Trump meanwhile repeating that NATO is “obsolete” ever since he took office, we can only support her ambition for Europe to finally pursue its own geopolitical interests.
Taking Control of Its Destiny
It is hard to see exactly what such a thing would mean to her, though, because she has never articulated it, but for Macron “thinking of itself as a global power” implies the European community taking its destiny into its own hands in the face of all the climate, demographic, economic, social and security challenges of the 21st century. This must be done while taking into account Trump’s “America First” strategy (really America’s policy since 1945), the emergence of China’s “New Silk Road” strategy and soon the birth or rebirth of grand ambitions by others, such as Russia, India, Southeast Asia and South America.
For the European Union, taking control of its destiny means defining its own strategy, meaning its right to make its own decisions in everything in which it has its own interests, including its own defense and security. For as Belgian Ambassador Baron Frans Van Daele so aptly put it, “If you don’t have military capability, it reduces your ability to speak with authority.”
Making the Point
Here is a description of the EU’s present geopolitical situation:
1. As commander of the United Nations protection force in Bosnia in 1993, I was able to clearly see, sadly, the nonexistence of Europe in the political and military spheres. It was always that way, even when I was appointed a chief EU representative for foreign affairs, in which capacity I invented what were called “Petersberg tasks” to make it seem that the EU was militarily important;
2. Apart from itself, the greatest opponent of the establishment of a politically unified Europe is the United States. Even in 1942, the American geopolitical strategist Nicholas Spykman wrote, “A federal Europe would constitute an agglomeration of force that would completely alter our significance as an Atlantic power and greatly weaken our position in the Western Hemisphere.” The U.S. has encountered little difficulty in achieving this objective;
3. Indeed, after 1945 the Americans logically—and for a while, fortunately—became the defenders of a Europe exhausted by World War II and confronted by the Soviet empire. If at that point Winston Churchill laid the foundations of a common European defense, he nonetheless kept Britain out of it, preferring a special alliance with the U.S. As for France, it was mired in the Indochina and then the Algerian wars, and in 1954 it rejected the European Defense Community, an organization that in every respect was merely a part of NATO; and
4. The creation of the Common Market in 1957 had nothing to do with defense, but it is worth remembering that Charles de Gaulle, who returned to power in 1958 in the middle of the Cold War—which was much worse than today’s anti-Russian gesturing—withdrew France from NATO in 1966. With his sad experience of World War II and his awareness of France’s setbacks elsewhere in Europe, such as the 1963 Franco-German treaty, which the Bundestag rendered meaningless, he concluded that if France were to exert any influence it must have its own nuclear deterrent, which it developed in the 1960s. He thus made France secure and outlined a strategy that can be summarized as France, the master of its own decisions, perhaps an ally of the U.S., but not its vassal. Macron inherited de Gaulle’s strategy, so maybe it is strange to see him pleading so earnestly for European military autonomy and “thinking of itself as a global power” when France is the best-defended country in continental Europe. He might recall that François Mitterrand said that France’s greatness went through Europe’s; but isn’t he rather alone in saying that today? Basically, with the exception of France, the EU states are content to entrust their defense to NATO, which is dominated by the U.S., and thus renounce their strategic independence.
The EU: American Vassal?
In its present form, the NATO treaty suddenly became “obsolete” with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. That day, a humiliated Russia was erased by the complete failure of communism and ceased to be a threat to Europe. With its population of only 150 million falling, and numerous challenges to face, Russia under Vladimir Putin has tried since 2000 to become a great power again with its nuclear arsenal and more importantly, its vast natural resources as protection. But in the 1990s, European leaders lacked the ability, or rather the daring, to tell the Americans that from now on it was up to them to deal with this faltering Russia and bring it back into the continent of which it is a part to achieve the ultimate goal of peace from the Atlantic to the Urals.
Helmut Kohl won a brilliant victory with the reunification of his country with the unexpected help of Mikhail Gorbachev, yet he was unable to control NATO and prevent it from expanding beyond the borders of the former German Democratic Republic. Maybe that would have constituted a truly European geopolitical policy. So many mistakes have been made by the EU in this regard since 1989.
Madame von der Leyen, while stationed in Cologne, I witnessed the reunification of your country. It made me very happy, for to me it was synonymous with peace in Europe. Your project is to lead a geopolitical commission for Europe—how could I not support you! At the same time, I am disturbed to hear Angela Merkel say in response to Macron’s remarks that NATO remains the cornerstone of European security. Many choose to believe this because it does away with envisioning any alternative, but it also means that Europe must not think of itself as a global power and will continue as an American vassal that is weak in relation to China and in permanent conflict with Russia. Madame von der Leyen, I wish you luck, but my belief is still that if you want to create a real European geopolitical policy, you must some day break the spell of NATO.