Alphen, Netherlands. 23 December, 2015. 2016 will be a tipping point for the West between power and weakness. The other day I spoke at an event at the Clingendael Institute here in the Netherlands on the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Most of my colleagues were focused on technicalities and what for me are justified concerns about the relationship between power and the individual in the West. The elite penchant for grand architectures such as the EU and TTIP are shifting the balance of power away from democracy towards bureaucracy; efficiency at the expense of accountability through the creation of sham democracy.
Equally, in a room in which there were many elephants implicit in the debate over TTIP was the creation of a new American-centric West. Indeed, if one combines TTIP with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a new form of West becomes apparent, one which is more idea than place. All well and good? Well no. The problem with such grands dessins as TTIP, TPP and indeed the EU, is that far from aggregating the capacity of states to act experience suggests such architectures exaggerate inaction. The EU is the most obvious and dangerous example of that.
Western powers will need to act. From Libya to Syria and on to Afghanistan the anti-state is defeating the state and by extension the West. This morning David Miliband, Chairman of the International Rescue Committee, described the world as “interlinked but instable”. In Afghanistan the Taliban are threatening to take Sangin, a key strategic town in Helmand province in Afghanistan which over 100 British soldiers died defending between 2006 and 2014. If Sangin falls the chances of President Ashraf Ghani creating an inclusive Afghan state in which the Pashtun tribes invest will be much reduced and Western strategy will again be seen to have collapsed.
And yet 2016 will see the West on strategic hold. The US presidential elections will consume much of America’s political energy. Sure, the US administration will go onto automatic and holding operations will be conducted across the world. However, as America debates its next president much of the world’s many contended spaces will be vulnerable to adversaries. Russia will continue to be the West’s ‘frenemy’, co-operating on Moscow’s pro-Assad terms in Syria (forget the talk of a new peace process as Russia is not going to abandon Assad), whilst seeking to extend its influence over an arc from the Baltic States in the north through to Georgia and Central Asia to the south. Eurasian Union? China will continue its efforts to exclude the US from the East and South China Seas and in so doing push forward its long-term strategy to establish strategic hegemony over Japan, the Koreas, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
That EU will also continue to fail in the face of an unfixed Eurozone and a chronically mismanaged migration crisis. Then there is Brexit. It was strange listening to former British Prime Minister Sir John Major the other day suggesting that the EU had made Britain more prosperous, more secure, and more influential. The EU is hopelessly over-governed, uncompetitive and insecure with much of the problem the EU itself! The EU’s open borders have helped migrants and indeed terrorists march at will across Europe. As for Britain Germany continues to block key areas of the Single Market which favour Britain, whilst France and Germany force Britain into a form of serfdom by denying Britain its rightful leadership place.
The only way to fix these dangerous structural problems is to create a new EU. Moreover, experience suggests a new EU will mean a) a new treaty; b) more elite bureaucracy in the guise of ‘ever closer union’; and c) less democracy. The new EU will also need a new political settlement for Britain and all non-Eurozone member-states if cost is to be matched by benefit of membership which frankly is ever harder to see. Whatever happens it will take years before Europe’s infernal, eternal struggle over internal ‘ordnung’ is resolved and Europeans can at last play the role to which they should aspire in the world.
With an EU unable to act, and major Europeans rendered incapable of action, Europe has been rendered effectively impotent. Worse, two of Europe’s major state powers Britain and France are too often constrained to act by the EU, whilst Germany now apparently takes it for granted that European ‘integration’ should effectively mean the abandonment of sovereignty by all other EU member-states abandon so that Berlin can govern Europe through Brussels. Reminds me of something.
Worse, the very existence of European states is now threatened by the Balkanisation of Europe. The EU helped almost destroy my country Britain in 2014 and could do so again if England votes to leave the EU next year and Scotland does not. Indeed, all European states with significant minority groups are now threatened because minority nationalist groups invariably look to Brussels as an alternative to national capitals. This week Corsican separatists were elected in what is a region of France.
For all the above reasons 2016 will be a tipping point. Until and indeed only if, the Americans elect a president willing and able to re-commit the US to leadership and the major European state powers break out of their EU-induced strategic torpor my fear is the West will continue to retreat. Sadly, the world will be a far more dangerous place for the West’s retreat.
Hold on to your hats! 2016 is going to be a bumpy ride.