Events in Ukraine and the expansionist policies of President Putin naturally raise questions about the defense of Europe. Whatever Russian aims might be, there is no doubt that a heavily armed country with dwindling economic assets poses a threat, however theoretical, to an affluent neighbor with only tenuous means of defense. In the days of the cold war, when President Reagan took the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) seriously, an effort was made to counter the military might of the Soviet Union, and to impress on the Soviet leaders that any attempt to annexe the countries to the West of them would lead to the destruction of their empire. The strategy worked, and eventually it became clear to the KGB that it would be easier to give up the struggle, transfer assets to Switzerland, buy a house in London and create a fake democracy back home.
NATO’s strategy worked because it was believable. It was clear to the Soviet elite that President Reagan really did intend to introduce defenses that would make the Soviet missiles ineffective. It was clear that America was not only the backbone of the Western alliance, but also entirely committed to its ruling doctrine, that an attack on one member is an attack on all. The Falklands war delivered a shock to the KGB, which had planned on the assumption that the Western powers would relinquish territory rather than embark on so costly a defense of it. Nor was this assumption absurd. Officer Putin and his fellow spies were well connected with the Western European left, and knew how hostile the European socialist parties were to the strategy of deterrence. The British Labour Party was committed at the time to nuclear disarmament(CND), the German Social Democrats were half-hearted members of NATO at best, the Scandinavian socialists were more or less neutral and the French, whether right or left, pursued an independent strategy whose only clear meaning was that they didn’t take orders from America.
Since that time the Atlantic Alliance has become radically less credible. Three factors are principally responsible for this. The first is the growth of the European Union, and its policy of dissolving national borders. The EU has set out to delegitimize the nation state, to make it irrelevant to the ‘citizens’ of the Union whether they be French, British, Polish or Italian, and to abolish the national customs and beliefs that make long-term patriotic loyalty seriously believable. The EU’s attempt to replace national with European identity has, however failed, and is widely regarded with ridicule. Moreover the EU’s inability to think coherently about defense, and its policy of ‘soft power’ which makes defense in any case more or less inconceivable, means that the motive which leads ordinary people to defend their country in its time of need has been substantially weakened. Patriotism is seen as a heresy, second only to fascism on the list of political sins, and the idea that the people of Europe might be called upon to defend their borders looks increasingly absurd in the light of the official doctrine that there are no borders anyway.
The second reason for European weakness is connected. I refer to the guarantee, under the European Treaties, of the right to work and settle in any part of the Union. This has led to a massive migration from the former communist countries to the West. The people who migrate are the skilled, the entrepreneurial, the educated – in short, the elite on whom the resolution and identity of a country most directly depends. Very soon countries like Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, all of which are directly threatened by a militant Russia, will be without a committed and resident class of leaders. No doubt, should the tanks start to roll, the émigré populations of those countries will protest. But will they return home to fight a pointless war, leaving their newly-won security and prosperity behind? I doubt it.
The third factor tending to the indefensibility of Europe is the dwindling American commitment to the Western alliance. President G.W. Bush was prescient enough to revive the idea of anti-missile defenses in Eastern Europe, and the military in both Poland and the Czech Republic were prepared to go along with it. Putin displayed his KGB training immediately, by declaring that these purely defensive installations would be an ‘act of aggression’. All the old Newspeakwas trotted out in the effort to influence the incoming administration of President Obama against his predecessor’s policy. And the effort was successful. Obama weakly conceded the point, and the anti-missile defenses were not installed. Since then the Obama administration has continued to divert resources and attention elsewhere, creating the distinct impression in Europe that America is no longer wholeheartedly committed to its defense.
Nor can the Americans be blamed for this. Is it not somewhat absurd that the USA should still be maintaining troops in Germany, at great expense to the American taxpayer, 70 years after the end of the Second World War? Is it really acceptable, at a time when America has 60,000 troops stationed in Europe, that the Netherlands has committed only 17,000 people to its own defense? Writing on this page back in November 2012 Doug Bandow pointed out that ‘today the U.S. is effectively bankrupt, but continues to write security checks which it cannot cover. America accounts for almost half of the world’s military expenditures and provides defense guarantees to prosperous, populous allies throughout Asia and Europe. Moreover, U.S. forces wander the globe attempting to create democracy and stability ex nihilo. At the same time Washington props up unpopular dictatorships throughout the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. This strategy is unsustainable.’
He was surely right, and President Putin is aware of the point. The American people cannot go on defending a country like Germany – a country that enjoys a standard of living calculated to arouse envy in its impoverished Eastern neighbor, while self-righteously preaching ‘soft power’ and ‘non belligerence’ to its pampered people. At some point Americans are going to wake up to the fact that they are being unscrupulously exploited. Their armed forces are trained to fight and die in Europe, on behalf of people who would not dream of doing the same for America, and who are not prepared to die even for their homeland.
For those reasons, it seems to me, Europe is rapidly becoming indefensible. Even if Putin would prefer a ‘soft’ to a ‘hard’ way of acquiring the continent’s assets, the availability of the ‘hard’ way will surely strengthen his hand. And what is Europe doing about it? It is perhaps worth pointing out that the European Commissioner for Foreign affairs – in effect the EU’s foreign minister – is Baroness Ashton, a Labour Party appointee to the House of Lords. Ashton began her political career in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a KGB-funded ‘special operation’ which almost achieved its goal of making Britain indefensible. Advancing through leftist NGOs and Labour Party affiliates, and never standing for an election in her life, this woman is now my representative in the world of international affairs. Do I think she is going to risk her career to defend me, when all her privileged networks are at risk from doing so? Ask that of President Putin.
More information: My Dictionary of Political Thought has relevant entries.
Roger Scruton is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.