Alphen, Netherlands. 13 January. “Act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world”, so advised eighteenth century German philosopher and father of Universalism, Immanuel Kant. Kant is the darling Philosopher of the EU elite which believes that an entirely European concept of international law can replace power. Is that possible?
A new report from European Geostrategy (www.europeangeostrategy.org) seems to suggest that Europeans in principle still enjoy sufficient state power to be influential political realists. In “Audit of Power” the group cites state power as a “productive force” based on “cultural pull, diplomatic influence, economic strength and military reach”. The report concludes that in 2014 the United States is still the world’s most powerful state followed by Britain. Thereafter in order of power come France, China, Russia and Japan with Germany a lowly seventh, just above Australia and Canada.
The report’s conclusions contradict my new book “Little Britain? Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (www.amazon.com). My book uses CIA figures to conclude that Britain is at best the fifth or sixth most powerful state in the world (at least on paper) and in rapid and exaggerated decline.
One event this week helps to explain the friction. Two groups of left-wing lawyers have submitted a 250 page dossier to the International Criminal Court citing systematic abuse of Iraqi detainees by British politicians and military chiefs. Their aim is as much political as legal; to replace state power with international law and thus prevent direct action by Western states.
The dossier highlights the dilemmas Europeans today – the balance to be struck between law and power and its locus – national or supranational. The EU is a consequence of Europe’s many power struggles over the ages. Indeed, so many of Europe’s leaders act today like reformed power junkies – afraid that one ‘puff’ of state power might turn Europeans back into addicts of state power, with legalism the only antidote.
Europe’s leaders are retreating into a definitively ‘rules-based approach’ to international politics in which law is progressively replacing power in the form of ‘universal’ EU ‘laws’ that go way beyond the intent of treaties. In so doing Europe is abandoning traditional concepts of state sovereignty in favour of pan European rights. The problem is that because Europe no longer sets the rules of the global road legalism detaches European security from world security. So, whilst European states might on paper look powerful by paralysing action with legalism Europe punches far below their international weight.
Legalism explains the friction between European Geostrategy’s rankings and my new book. By trying to remove the balance of state power from Europe the EU has removed Europeans from global power reality. My book cites Britain which more than any other member-state gold-plates EU rules and thus has drastically reduced London’s ability to run Britain let alone influence others both within the EU and without.
An attempt to create a rules-based international system happened once before in the immediate aftermath of World War One with the creation of the League of Nations. It was also based on Kantian notions of Universalism and also sought the replacement of power by law. The reason it failed was that no effective sanction existed to punish defection. Instead states were to be judged by the “court of public opinion”. In 1939 the League’s international order collapsed in the face of Nazi Germany’s power perversion which haunts Europe to this day.
Today, Brazil, Russia, India, China and many others are challenging the world-view of the European elite. They share a very classical view of the world based on state power and the need to compete for their respective interests. And, in spite of the rhetoric of the Obama administration, the US also shares much of that view. Indeed, implicit in last week’s attack by former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates on the Obama administration is a Democrat/Republican split over where state power ends and law begins in international relations.
If the West is to survive into the twenty-first century its essential mission will be the search for a new balance between political realism and idealism. The future of the EU, NATO and the transatlantic relationship are all dependent on such a balance being stuck. Equally, for the West to prevail Europeans must first stop turning their noses up at power because Kant’s paradox is that if “purpose of action” is to become law then it must first be informed by power.
If Europeans continue to replace power with rules and laws then once power predators will render themselves power prey. Security in the twenty-first century world will not be achieved by Europeans simply abrogating power. Rather, Europeans should better heed the words of seventeenth century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes who famously said that, “Covenants without the Sword are but words and of no strength at all”.