By Matthew Mai
Europe these days seems to be on the verge of irrelevance and with the recent conclusion of the G-7 summit in France, it is worth reflecting on the state of the continent in relation to the current international climate.
Despite regular attempts to appease Iran and salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic has regarded European capitulation as a pathetic maneuver. Tehran has made clear that they are looking for an American commitment to the deal and have indicated the only role the Europeans play is to try and force the Trump administration to make the necessary concessions. To the mullahs, European cooperation and their willingness to placate means nothing if America won’t join them. In the face of Russian aggression, the European bloc has been largely apathetic. Other than suspension from the G8 summit, Russia has faced no substantial repercussions for their 2014 annexation of Crimea and their continued support for the insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Contrary to isolating the authoritarians in Moscow, in a bid to secure higher energy imports, Germany and Russia have moved forward on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project despite security risks cited by the United States. Far from isolating Moscow, the de facto leader of the European Union (EU) appears willing to embrace them for commercial purposes.
Last week, British prime minister Boris Johnson signaled his conviction to leave the European Union without a deal by temporarily suspending Parliament in order to prevent any last minute legislative challenges before the October 31st deadline. While Parliament currently remains in a gridlock, the new prime minister is willing to risk a possible short-term economic slowdown and drug shortages for a restored sense of sovereignty and the possibility of free trade deals with the United States and Australia (in addition to the deal signed with South Korea). Brexit plays a role in revealing weak and largely ineffective status of Europe as a geopolitical power. Despite all the talk about the value of continental unity, a majority of Britons considered the EU to be against their national interests and not worth the cost of staying. Given the United Kingdom’s geography and historical relationship with the mainland, Brexit represents an attempt to reclaim the status of being an island state with the privilege of physical and political separation from Europe.Southern Europe has proved to be the weakest link in the eurozone with Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Cyprus having all received EU bailouts as the result of sovereign debt crises. The collectivization of European economies, while enabling substantial trade and commercial activity, has tethered systematically weak economies to otherwise prosperous ones. Europe as a whole is further weakened with this obligation in a way the United States, China, and Russia are not. With Italy on the precipice of a debt crisis, it is certain French, German, and Belgian funds will be used for another rescue. One only has to look at the past willingness of European financial ministers to produce bailout packages to recognize that no country is too big, or small, to fail.
The latest example of European weakness is the approach they have taken to China. Instead of addressing the mercantilist and imperialist policies pursued by Xi Jingping, they spent much of the G7 summit blaming their own slowdown on President Trump’s trade war. While the actions by the Trump administration are not entirely immune from criticism, they have woken up the political class to the naivety and subsequent failure of the once held idea that economic liberalization would democratize China.
Despite the obvious abuses of the international trading system, malevolent infrastructure projects like the “One Belt One Road” initiative, and militaristic behavior in the South China Sea, European leaders couldn’t even produce a “get tough on China” soundbite. The irony of Europe’s attitude towards Beijing is that despite China’s signature on the Paris Climate Agreement, they continue to be responsible for 29% of global carbon dioxide emissions. A study by Greenpeace found that in 2018, these emissions had grown at the fastest rate in six years. For all the talk of diplomacy and multilateralism, when it comes to China, Europe offers the free world nothing but criticism.
Finally, instead of cooperating in good faith with requests for increased defense spending and support for global security commitments, European leaders have repeatedly stuck up their nose at the United States. Yet their militaries simply do not have the capabilities for establishing deterrence abroad. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, it is American power that has taken the lead role in defending Western ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz. The great irony in Europe’s determination to publicly undermine the United States is that without us, they would be powerless to defend their ships in addition to vital international waterways.
As a collective, Europe’s posturing and appeasement have emboldened China, Russia, and Iran. The very notion of breaking off from the continent speaks to the majority of Britons who consider Europe to be largely irrelevant as a geopolitical power and not worth the cost of membership. Weak economies drag on the EU economic arrangement and put the bloc at a notable fiscal disadvantage. As the post-Cold War international order continues to fray, it is becoming ever more clear that mainland Europe is being driven into irrelevance by the ambitions of competing global powers. At the moment, Europe is in a feeble state.
Matthew Mai is a student at Rutgers University studying public policy.