The fall of the Berlin Wall led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which had been suffocating half of the continent under a merciless communist dictatorship. The liberation of the people of Europe heralded the true reunification of the continent, notably thanks to the European Union, which reintegrated the States that had been held by force on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Questions related to the defence of Europe were turned upside down. Thirty years after this historic event where do we stand?
Are we at the same point? No! Despite some real disappointments, the new international context seems to have awakened the Europeans.
Having won the Cold War, NATO was not dissolved and this was a mistake.
The defence of the continent therefore has remained under the responsibility of the USA. Seventy-four years after the end of the Second World War, for convenience sake, comfort or weakness the Europeans still look to others to ensure their defence, which firstly defends their distant vision and their closest interests.
Europe is struggling to define, defend and promote its interests that are now global. It is not doing any better on its borders.
“Europe Defence” has been gestating for sixty-five years. Hesitant efforts are emerging, notably on France’s initiative, but especially in the face of a new international landscape.
Shared European interests have become clear in trade, technologies, the environment and security. This involves rules that are applicable in these areas, but also alliances and attitudes. America’s withdrawal leaves Europe very much alone in terms of promoting the Western ideas of multilateralism and of an organised international society. In terms of security it is panicking more than it is stimulating.
Although France is pushing hard for independent analysis and action in Europe, for the time being the latter is simply seeking “an autonomous strategy” in the conduct of its defence policies. The European Commission has succeeded in launching the foundation of a European Defence Fund, the initial pooling of European resources for joint research and military capacity programmes. But in no way does this step forward meet with unanimous approval and is criticised by those who think that Europe does not have to defend itself and by others who believe that America’s protection is enough.
To understand this hesitant attitude, we should note that European Union is neither a State nor an empire. It is unique in history in that it has succeeded in pacifying the continent and has offered it 70 years of peace. But it is now facing new urgent challenges.
Russian revisionism demands a credible, sensible response on the part of Europe. Turkey’s ambiguous antics in the Middle East highlight the importance of real European presence in the great game which is disrupting this region. Challenges in Africa should be considered more seriously to avoid the emptying of the continent of its populations and also because, as Robert Schuman said, in the 1960’s, the fate of both continents is linked together. The efforts made by Europe are financial, but also involve security and the military and France can be proud to have led many European partners in foiling terrorism.
Europe has lagged behind in learning all of the lessons from the fall of the Berlin Wall. It has cashed in on the “dividends of peace” and been lax in its work regarding defence, and it is now struggling to catch up on this. It is discovering the virtues of its “strategic autonomy”. Brexit and the international situation should convince the Europeans to think of themselves as an autonomous power. It is now a duty for them to defend and promote their values and their interests. It is time to wake up. They have the means to do so.
This article was published in La Croix on 4th November 2019