A recent story published by Global Post outlines the fears currently settling into Central Europe and Washington regarding Russia’s recent expansionist tendencies – and the U.S. response. Listing the complexities at play here, the article shows us how some, such as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, are beginning to lean toward Moscow and statism rather than toward Washington and liberalism. Others, though not leaning toward Russia, find themselves in a position in which they are being put at risk by Vladimir Putin’s need to dig in deeper in response to Washington’s overt criticisms of his policies.
This is not a new problem for Europe. Since the aftermath of the Second World War, it has been caught in a tug-of-war between the world’s two strongest military powers. However, in the second decade of the 21st century, the fact that Europe continues to allow this to happen is simply ridiculous.
When Russia seizes land from Ukraine, a potential EU member, and threatens current EU members such as Poland and the Baltic states, why does everyone automatically look to Washington? Why not Berlin, Rome, Paris, Madrid, or London? If Russia were to threaten seizure of the Aleutian Islands from the US, Americans would not look to Europe: they would look to Washington for swift and decisive action. Any attempt to seek international support would be an afterthought.
The answer comes easily enough: Because the US is the world’s premier military power and a friend to Europe. However, that is not enough. The EU currently embodies the world’s largest economy, with a GDP of over $18 trillion (in nominal terms). Compare that to $16.8 trillion for the US, $9.5 trillion for China, and $2 trillion for Russia. The EU also has three member states ranked among the world’s top ten military powers – with Turkey, a prospective EU member, making a fourth.
Considering Europe’s vast economic, political, and military strength, why does the EU continue to cower before Russia and appeal to the US for aid? More specifically, why do Washington’s opinion, policy, and rhetoric seem more important to the states of Central Europe than do those of the EU? Why isn’t the EU’s military might seen as the prime deterrent of Putin’s border games instead of the military of a country that lies an ocean away?
Because the EU’s unity is still very loose, and because very little unity exists in military terms. While the people of Europe have largely acknowledged the benefits of building upon their mutual interests economically, they remain unconvinced that such unity in terms of military and foreign policy would be beneficial. This, of course, stems from the deep cultural divisions that remain in Europe. While the US certainly has its share of cultural conflicts, one can hardly compare the differences between Cajuns in Louisiana and surfers in California to the differences between Scots, Spaniards, and Bulgarians. After all, while the American Civil War seems to have been fought eons ago, memories of the Second World War are still fresh for many in Europe. Also note that the United Kingdom, though being the seat of what is the closest thing Europe has to a unifying language, is perhaps the least likely EU member to support any closer unity.
The difficulty is understandable, but Europe must overcome it. EU member states must come to realize that their internal differences are hardly as meaningful as the common threats that they face, of which an expansionist Russia is only one. While Europe continues to argue, and while the global influence of the US continues to wane, the bear to the east is happily turning the European powers against each other and picking them apart. In current terms alone, the personnel of a federal EU military would outnumber Russia’s active personnel by roughly two to one, while the EU’s economy – about nine times as large as Russia’s – would give it the power to either produce weapons considerably more advanced than Russia’s or quickly purchase such weapons from the US.
Some would say that the Russian seizure of Crimea was a fluke and that Putin does not at all intend to invade Europe. However, it is already happening. Expect future incursions to occur in a manner quite akin to this one: unofficial, gradual, and destabilizing. Europe needs to realize how strong it is before it becomes too late.