Europe and the British Isles are the former colonial powers that have lost their status and until recently had survived quite comfortably as industrialized nations in a political bubble called the European Union. The first country to leave this bubble of comfort was the United Kingdom, which believed in the revival of global influence and independence. It looks like other countries may follow, especially now that the EU is facing the challenges posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also the realization that China, India, and America are not (only) friends but competitors. It has become a question of which alliances can guarantee a continuation of peace and prosperity.
The alliance with America has put the EU in deep water, especially considering America’s exploitation of NATO allies for its strategic goals, including interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, as well as its attempt to play world policeman. World competitors have viewed the role the EU has played with disdain but have done nothing to break the camel’s back – until now. NATO enlargement, which for the former satellite states of the Soviet Union was a hasty search for protection from a potential aggressor, has become a threatening phenomenon for Russia, which has been repeatedly marginalized by the West. Of course, past experience has made it clear that Russia is a potential threat, and from the statements coming out of Russia, they want to maintain that position. However, the armed intervention of NATO forces in other countries has undermined NATO’s claim to be merely a defensive alliance, no matter how repugnant the West found the regimes in those countries.
Germany in particular has misjudged the mood in Russia, and ex-Chancellor Schröder has played a major role in lobbying for Russian gas. The idea that interdependence could secure peaceful relations has proved to be an illusion. The balancing act between East and West was always viewed critically by both sides, and the prevailing illusion of military neutrality was a thorn in America’s side and the stationing of nuclear weapons on German soil an affront to the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union fell, a great sigh of relief went up in Germany, and the ensuing chaos in the East indicated that capitalist states were in the making, which the Germans quickly sought to promote. There were many voices that wanted an alliance with the “new” Russia and not with America, especially after Chancellor Schröder categorically ruled out participation in an invasion of Iraq. It was soon clear, however, that Putin had succeeded in bringing the oligarchs who had come to power under his control. Since then, a new nationalistic supremacist worldview has raised its head.
The situation is more precarious than ever for Europe, because its only strength lies in its cohesion. Europe is dependent on the raw materials of the blocs that now compete in world markets. If it is weakened by the loss of members, it will no longer have standing in world markets, as the United Kingdom is currently experiencing. The former colonial powers are then at the mercy of the whims of the superpowers and could experience a serious decline and loss of prosperity and peace on a scale that most Europeans cannot imagine. The last 60-80 years have softened the resolve of many in the EU, and the challenge ahead could represent a major turning point in world history. The UK has yet to find its footing and, in the worst case, could suffer the same fate as all of Europe. We could see an awareness of this in Boris Johnsons race to visit Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Ukraine, just after Ursula von der Leyen had been there to initiate the process of acceptance of the Ukraine into the EU. He was clearly attempting to build a reputation by doing this, as well as by delivering extensive weaponry, as an independent single partner.
Not only is the EU in danger economically, but it also lacks credible defences and is reliant upon the NATO-Alliance and the Casus foederis (Case for the alliance) if attacked. The measures declared after the invasion of Ukraine, which are designed to make Europe at least not completely dependent upon America, will take years to implement. It is also dependent on supply chains, which we see faltering even in the pandemic, and more so since the invasion of Ukraine. So, we see that politicians have been very naïve about the future and have relied more on the alliances of the past rather than looking to the future. However, as an aside, it can be observed that those who are against the EU would certainly gain from its demise financially, but they are also the ones able to make sure that in case of a disaster they have the possibility to leave the countries where they currently live. Not so most voters, who will then have to suffer the consequences.
The current crisis has exposed many weaknesses in Europe’s security and has not resolved the remaining disputes. Hungary has emerged as the first possible country to leave the EU in favour of an alliance with Russia. In France, there is an opposition that would favour scrapping the current arrangement, that is gaining ground in elections, and has been favourably disposed toward Russia in the past. So, the future of Europe seems open to what follows. Unfortunately, the changes foreseen by the critics would weaken rather than improve the situation of people living in Europe. This is not sufficiently appreciated.