hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 15 November 2013

Transatlantic Heaven and Hell

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 November.  There is an old Brussels joke about European heaven and hell.  Heaven is a place where the cooks are French, the lovers Italian, the police British and it is all organised by the Germans.  Hell is a place where the cooks are British, the lovers are German, the police are French and it is all organised by the Italians.  This week at a Brussels event organised by the Egmont Institute visions of transatlantic heaven and hell competed.
The subject of the discussion was the US ‘pivot’ to Asia and by implication away from Europe.  The trouble with this kind of event is that too often we get the wrong type of senior Americans.  Now, the Americans in question are good friends of mine for whom I have great respect.  However, they are simply far too damned reasonable to Europeans. 
I knew the day was going to be rough when my American friends described EU foreign and security efforts as a “glass half full” and “work in progress”.  Sometimes I think I could be Dutch EU Ambassador Rip van Winkle who dozes off for a century only to awake in 2113 to nice, senior Americans telling the Brussels elite that European ‘external engagement’ is a “glass half full” and “work in progress”.  How long is it going to take to fill this bloody glass? 
What Europeans need to see is more of those nasty, growling, utterly unreasonable Americans that I meet in DC and who permit me to growl back.  I do a good growl.  They are the Americans who think we Europeans are a complete waste of strategic space and that even if late they won all and every war that was ever worth fighting even if they were not actually in it. 

A bit like “Pearl Harbor”, that awful and badly spelt film a few years back in which some farm boy from Ohio looking awfully like Ben Affleck single-handedly won the Battle of Britain from an airfield in front of a stately home complete with its own thatched pub called “Ye Olde Bullshit”.  It was utterly wrong – the Poles did that.
Sadly, these house-trained Americans allow EU officials to bang on endlessly about Europe’s ‘successful’ approach to soft security and talk ‘strategic’, Europe’s most over-used and utterly meaningless word (except that is for ‘solidarity’).  Take the European External Action Service (the EU’s foreign and security policy executive and not an office cleaning company).  It is still designed more to manage crises in Brussels over which member-state is represented where and by whom than to actually manage real crises.  Add never-ending attempts by the European Commission, European Parliament and other assorted super-statists to encroach and the result is a Europe that punches below not above its weight.
To paraphrase a certain American president, “It is about power, stupid”.  Europe must generate real power – soft and hard - if Europeans (however organised) are to generate that most precious of ‘strategic’ (that word again) commodities; influence.  That will mean a Europe prepared to compete and properly engage in the real world rather than talking endlessly about almost empty glasses in the Brussels virtual world. 
Sadly, the Americans are their own worst enemies because they are still not at all clear about what Europe they want; strong, weak or simply irrelevant.  Washington seems to veer between the ‘Europe is a waste of space’ school of thought, the ‘USE is a putative USA’ school of thought and the current fashion for a ‘German empire is a good thing’ school of thought’.  The latter view is killing Britain, leavened by a healthy dose of strategic incompetence from Britain’s useless leaders.  Indeed, as far as the Americans are concerned the British now rank somewhere between Luxembourg which has money and Iceland which has volcanoes.  Britain has neither.   
The trouble is that the American world view and the German world view are just about as far apart as two democracies can be and still call themselves allies.  Trade apart whilst Americans and the rest of the world play global poker the Germans (and ‘friends’) want to play a quiet game of strategic chess…with themselves and forever.  By encouraging Germany to lead the US is contributing to European pacifism.
So, transatlantic heaven and hell.  Transatlantic heaven would be a place where Americans and Europeans together look at the world in a largely similar fashion, invest in largely similar diplomatic efforts with roughly but by no means completely similar armed forces prepared to share the same risks in crises confident in the strength of their mutual support. 
Transatlantic hell would a place where Americans take a very hard-nosed politically realist world view whilst Europeans retreat onto an isolationist/pacifist ‘moral’ upland in which process rather than strategy reigns supreme occasionally launching hysterical tirades accusing the Americans (and British) of dastardly doings whilst demanding self-same Americans (and British) defend them.
Ho hum…
Julian Lindley-French

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