The strategic importance of Europe in global security

By Alan Cunningham

The security and integrity of Europe is an extremely sensitive and important issue in international relations, largely due to the Cold War and tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States. However, as we have seen the rise of issues that are of critical importance to global affairs, the strategic importance of Europe must be called into question. I believe that Europe is still integral to global safety and security and is a very important strategic location in the conduct of foreign policy and international security. In March of 2013, during a session of the House Armed Services Committee, Admiral James Stavridis, the Commander of the United States European Command, said, “To summarize, there are five key responses to the question: “Why is Europe of such importance to the United States?”

First, Europe is home to most of the world’s progressive democracies; nations with which we share the fundamental values that are a critical element in building effective coalitions. Second, with a GDP of $19 trillion— a quarter of the world’s economy—and approximately $4 trillion in annual trade with the United States, Europe’s importance to the U.S. and global economies cannot be overstated. Third, the European theater remains critical geostrategic terrain, providing the United States with the global access it needs to conduct worldwide operations and crisis response. Fourth, Europe is the backdrop for NATO, history’s most successful and effective alliance, and a vital partner for dealing with the challenges of the 21st century. Fifth, Europe is today a security exporter, possessing among the most highly trained and technologically advanced militaries in the world. No other region possesses such a comparable pool of capable and willing partners able to conduct global operations with the United States”.

The Admiral’s comments, I feel, are quite enlightening. Europe does have a large amount of allies who are similarly linked to the United States’ stated goals; liberal democracy, competitive markets and overall social, economics, and governmental freedoms. Protecting those who share our own views, desires, and goals is important as it would allow us to have allies on economic policies, global agreements, and military invasions and basically allows us allies to automatically turn to when needed on certain issues and problems. And having allies is important as it can be a very effective deterrent to despotic regimes or regimes that overstep (e.g. Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait). The economic factors, the ability for trade and production of materials and technology is significant as, due to the similarities these countries and the U.S. have, the U.S. can gain better economic incentives and deals and new and emerging technical innovations. The ability for the military to conduct training operations, engage in intelligence gathering missions, and work on broad and advanced alliances for the betterment of international and national security is also of extreme strategic importance; our textbook even pointed to the Bosnian and Kosovo Wars, both of which resulted in international trials for war crimes conducted in Europe and were only stopped due to U.S./UN/NATO intervention. The coalition aspect of Europe though is of utmost important as it is extremely beneficial to the conduct of foreign policy in many aspects.

As well, some may find that Europe is a secure location from foreign terrorist threats or is not of extreme tactical importance to terrorist organizations or foreign governments involved in the export of terrorism or is not susceptible to such conflicts like the Iran-Iraq War. However, as one can see from the end results of the Bosnian and Kosovo War in recent history, war is not purely limited to third-world countries, but can be brought upon seemingly perceived advanced nations not in regions that are “hot”. As well, there are many countries which are susceptible to terrorist action; since 2010, there have been 34 terrorist attacks in France, nearly all of those being committed by ISIS or al-Qaeda operatives or who were committed to the respective organizations. Spain saw two days of terror 2017 when ISIS killed 16 in Barcelona. As the RAND Corporation points out, Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula was found to have challenged the basic tenet of post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy, “that Europe is essentially stable and secure, thereby freeing the United States to focus greater attention on other areas, particularly Asia and the Middle East”.

Europe is a strategic partner and still remains a very important part of the global defense against terrorism and other international threats that face the globe and individual nations. I think that Europe should remain of key strategic importance going into the next decade of the 21st century due to the fact that they are an economic, social, and technological powerhouse and hold extreme value to the safety and security of liberal democracy.

To me, the key element behind such programs like the Marshall Plan was European integration. Taking the Marshall Plan as an example, the plan is named after its most prominent advocate, former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and then U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, however its true name was the European Recovery Program (ERP). As Debi and Irwin Unger point out in their biography of the legendary General of the Army, “to contemporaries [in conjunction with historians decades after] the prostrate nations of Europe did not seem in much better economic shape in mid-1947 than they had on VE-Day…the political fallout of cold, hunger, lawlessness, and despair had grown ominous. Everywhere within the still-free nations, but particularly in France, Italy, and the Western occupation zones of Germany, the Communists and their allies, playing on desperation and drawing on Soviet prestige, were making deep inroads into the support of conservative, centrist, and even socialist parties, with their goal of converting the free societies into subservient Soviet allies if not de facto Soviet puppets…They [the Soviets] were imperiling America’s security and must be countered with generous American largesse”. As we can see here, a big part of why the ERP was enacted was in an effort to economically and diplomatically counter Soviet aggression and influence in Europe. However, an undeniable benefit of this was the fact that America’s European allies would be saved from potentially coming under the influence of Soviet states and more of Europe becoming a security threat.

As well, European re-integration into the global economy was a key aspect of the program. Alan Axelrod, a prolific writer of history and business and a former professor at Furman University, has described the plan in detail. He writes, “[The Marshall Plan’s goal was] to finance European recovery with the proviso that the European nations themselves jointly decide how the American-supplied funds were to be used. Marshall understood that much of Europe was in the grip of an acute humanitarian crisis, which required immediate relief. He was also keenly aware of how the harshly punitive Treaty of Versailles…had created the conditions conducive to the rise of Hitler. Germany, Marshall reasoned, had been the most powerful industrial force in Europe before World War II, and its economic prostration was not holding back the recovery of all Europe.

Worse, the devastation throughout Europe made all the Western nations vulnerable to intimidation and domination by the Soviet Union. Truman and Marshall hoped that a massive infusion of capital would not only relieve the immediate humanitarian crisis, but also jump-start the entire European economy, restoring capitalism and blocking the inroads of Soviet influence…Marshall and Truman believed that the political, social, and economic future of Europe required the nations of that continent to overcome all motives of rivalry, vengeance, and nationalism”. While some of the most important parts of the program was to stop Soviet infiltration of Europe in a post-war society, it was also to build up their allies into an economic and social standing comparable to what they had experienced prior to the immensely disastrous conflict. To me, the plan had the dual purpose of reintegrating Europe into the global economic stage (which required the reassembly of infrastructure, the promotion of fair markets and a strong, centralized liberal democratic government) and the halting of Communism.

Alan Cunningham is a graduate student at Norwich University.

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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