The South China Morning Post

Tuesday  May 11  1999

Europe's global slide



Just as East Asians are climbing out of the depths of their crisis, so the Europeans are slipping down the slopes of self-doubt to their own. The strategic trigger for Europe's crisis is the war in Kosovo but, much like Asia's crisis, is far more than a matter of exchange rates.

Europe's crisis is only partially manifest in the shenanigans within the European Commission or in the 10 per cent decline of the new single European currency since its launch in January.

Despite the celebrations at its launch and the congratulations within the grouping yesterday, European Union day, a weak euro in a weak European economy will not become a major reserve currency until there is a shift in the relative success of the United States and EU economies.

The more far-reaching challenges come from Europe's capacity to cope with Kosovo and the most egregious violations of human rights in the developed world since World War II.

Crisis has a way of testing theories, leaders and institutions, and in nearly all respects the Europeans are in shock. Remember the ways in which Europeans used to lecture the rest of the world about the virtues of creating new political unions that transcended sovereignty? Especially in Asia, there was resentment at the notion that Europeans could teach the world how to overcome deep ethnic rivalries and cast off out-dated notions of sovereignty.

The Balkan war shows the opposite. Wealthy Europeans, with their refusal to risk blood and treasure in a ground invasion of Kosovo, are drawing a line and saying our values are only good for us and we will watch our neighbours be tortured rather than risk our own cosy life. We will not expand our union to these lesser people.

For those countries, most notably Britain, which are prepared to see human rights as a basic element of national security for democratic countries, the lowest common denominator approach to a common European foreign and security policy is deeply disturbing. British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to see greater European defence co-operation, but if its effectiveness depends on the Greeks, then he will think again.

Remember also how Europeans used to preach the virtues of its new approaches to conflict resolution and arms control? How many times did you hear lectures about how the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) or intrusive Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) could play a crucial part in preventing deadly conflict?

Well, the OSCE was in Kosovo before Slobodan Milosevic's thugs went to work but the observers were withdrawn when the going got tough. Where are the much-vaunted CBMs when you need them? It seems that Europeans have the worst of all worlds, neither being able to prevent war nor win it once it starts.

Far from demonstrating the value of previous European preachings, the Balkan war teaches us some new and less pleasant lessons. The most obvious, and one that equally applies to the US, is that democracies are terrible - especially when in coalition - in effectively fighting a war. As General Klaus Naumann, the outgoing head of Nato's Military Committee, said, European allies in the coalition have prevented the serious use of military power.

With coalition politics the norm in Europe, every leader has an excuse for opposing, for example, the use of ground forces necessary to win the war. Only Mr Blair, who has no effective opposition at home, is free to speak his mind. For other democracies that may count on help from the West in times of crisis, the idea that democracies will only fight when their soldiers will not die in war is deeply disturbing.

South Koreans, Japanese, Taiwanese and Southeast Asians who count on US deterrence will sleep less easily. So will Israelis and other Western allies in the Middle East.

The second lesson of the Balkan war is perhaps more comforting to some. Contrary to the fears of many outside the Atlantic world, Europeans do not seem interested in doing very much to spread Western values or to maintain a Western order. Despite strong American campaigning, Europeans refused to sanction a new Nato strategic concept that would allow for the defence of Western interests beyond the Nato region. Europeans correctly pointed out that if they were unwilling to defend such an expansionist strategy in their front yard, it was incredible to suggest they would do it further afield.

Europe is, therefore, set to be far more insular. Expansion of the EU will be even slower and more limited than expected. Europe's claim to share leadership of the global system with the US will be severely diminished.

Expect to hear far more from Europeans about the virtue of "civilian power" and the out-datedness of military power. Decoded, this means Europeans have no intention of organising themselves for any serious military operation. They will only send troops into "permissive environments" where the risk of being shot at is minimal.

It was thought that Europeans were ever so slow on the road to building an effective defence capability so they would need to rely less on the US. The post-Balkan conclusion will be that there is no will to do so because there are no conditions in which such European power may be used.

In short, Europe's crisis, and Asia's economic crisis, is showing that we are living in a much less globalised world than we thought. Just as an economic crisis in one region does not bring down the global economy, so Europeans are proving that military conflict is narrowly regional or sub-regional.

In this world, India and Pakistan will be left to get on with their own risks of proliferation. In the coming years, Iraq and Iran will test how much the will of the West to maintain order has faded, and China will test the US-centred order in East Asia. Twice in the 20th century the collapse of European orders led to wars and the re-shaping of global security.

Could it be that in not fighting seriously in the Balkans, the Europeans are playing a similar role for the start of the 21st century?

Gerald Segal is Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies

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Crisis has a way of testing theories, leaders and institutions, and in nearly all respects the Europeans are in shock





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