In the NY Times on Friday (but I don't notice it until reading a Buzzmachine post today), Timothy Garton Ash writes a piece celebrating the "soft power of the supranational". Tim Worstall appears not to have noticed this piece of lunacy so it falls to me to fisk the thing for him.
LAST week I stood among flag-waving demonstrators in Independence Square in Kiev and heard the leader of Ukraine's "orange revolution," Viktor Yushchenko, triumphantly declare that Ukraine was a European country. Not Western, not merely democratic, and obviously not American - European.
Do you truly believe that a "European country" has anything to do with your thesis about the EU? or indeed anything other than a not so subtle jibe at Comrade Putin next door?
Yesterday in Brussels, the leaders of the 25 member states of the European Union agreed to open negotiations with Turkey next year to join the union. Mr. Yushchenko, meanwhile, who will probably be elected president on Dec. 26, is also expected to seek a promise of eventual membership in the European Union for Ukraine soon after his inauguration.
These two large, poor states on the edge of Europe will pose a huge challenge to the adaptive capacity and internal coherence of the political, economic and security community that is the European Union. But their desire to become part of the union is a tribute to the magnetic power of a body that American policymakers have dangerously underrated in the last four years.
Note comment above. The Ukraine is adjacent to Russia, and has been ruled by it for centuries, joining the EU is a way to make it clear that (some of) the Ukraine wants as little to do with Moscow as possible. But I admit you've got it in one when you note that letting in Turkey and the Ukraine into the EU will be a "huge challenge", although as I said yesterday it is unclear whether the EU will be around in the form that it is now by the time these countries get around to joining. However that is probably about as much agreement as we can have, I'm absolutely unconvinced that these countries are joining the EU out of love for Brussels, the CAP and the like, rather they are joining because of external pressures that make joining a flawed EU preferable to going it alone. It is a decision driven by fear of the alternative not love of what is on offer.
There are signs that in his second term, President Bush is preparing to take the European Union more seriously as a union - not just a collection of diverse states from which Washington can pick and choose its allies. This is a welcome development, since only by working together can the United States and the European Union hope to surmount the challenges that face these twin heirs to the Enlightenment in today's dangerous world.
Really? outside the economic sphere (the WTO and the like) I see no sign at all that the US gives a toss for what the EU as a whole thinks, and if the US is indeed taking the "Union more seriously as a Union" that is not necessarily a good thing, it could just mean that the White House has decided that the EU is a collection of delusional pygmies that can be ignored one and all.
The most immediate challenge, of course, is terrorism. And one could make a strong case that the European Union's agreement to open membership negotiations with Turkey will be a bigger contribution to winning the war on terrorism than the American-led occupation of Iraq.
Why should Turkey joining the EU a decade from now cintribute to the war on terrorism - explain please
Iraq is now a bloody playground for existing groups of Islamist terrorists - and probably a breeding ground for new ones. The European Union's offer to Turkey, by contrast, sends a clear signal that Europe is not an exclusive "Christian club," that the West is engaged in no crusade, and that a largely Islamic society can be reconciled not only with a secular state but also with the rules and customs of modern liberal democracy.
Iraq is also going to have the first free multi-party election amongst arabic speaking nations, that is a big thing. The fact that, unlike any other "election" in the Arab world, no one knows who will win is a huge demonstration of trust in the ordinary citizens of Iraq and far more symbolic than the EU condescendingly letting Turkey know that it has been begging for long enough that it can start serious talks about joining. Moreover, given the effectiveness of US firepower, I think Iraq is more of a cemetary than a breeding ground for terrorists. The breeding grounds are those neighbouring states where there is no choice or freedom of expression.
It is also significant that the European Union's offer has been made to a Turkish government headed by a devout Muslim, Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, who was jailed just five years ago for publicly reciting a poem containing the lines, "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful are our warriors." Mr. Erdogan is now doing everything in his power to meet what Turks call "European standards."
See what I mean by condescension? Don't strain your arm patting yourself on the back now for your tolerance will you
Why is it that Americans do not understand the power of the European Union? Is it because they are simply not well informed by reports from Brussels and other European capitals? Or is it because, as citizens of the world's last truly sovereign nation-state, Americans - and especially American conservatives - find it difficult to acknowledge the contribution of a transnational organization based on supranational law? It's as if they can conceive of power only in the old-fashioned terms of a classical nation-state.
Boy there's a lot to pick at here. One might suggest that it is precisely because Americans are "well informed by reports from Brussels and other European capitals" that they understand the powerlessness of the European Union. Also one feels that some other nations - China perhaps or Australia or India or Brazil - would be rather surprised at learning that they were not a "truly sovereign nation-state". Also it is unclear what precisely the EU, as a transnational organization, has in fact contributed abroad. It bungled Bosnia and cocked up Cyprus as two examples. Its CAP and mindless fear of GM crops appear to be major causes of agricultural failure and resulting poverty in Africa and its funding of the PLO seems to have helped kill a number of Israelis. Wonderful contributions.
Robert Kagan describes the difference between America and Europe as the difference between power and weakness - American power, that is, and European weakness. This description is sustainable only if power is measured in terms of military strength. In the way that some American conservatives talk about the European Union, I hear an echo of Stalin's famous question about the Vatican's power: how many divisions does the pope have? But the pope defeated Stalin in the end. This attitude overlooks the dimensions of European power that are not to be found on the battlefield.
The pope defeated Stalin? really when? Ronald Reagan defeated the heirs of Stalin, the pope was in the main an interested bystander.
In economic power, the European Union is the equal of the United States: the combined gross domestic product of the union's 25 member states is some $11 trillion at current exchange rates, about the same as the G.D.P. of the United States. American business has long recognized the importance of the European market, and it is also beginning to understand the influence of its regulators. Three years ago the union blocked the merger of two American companies, General Electric and Honeywell - after American regulators had already approved the deal.
So Tim, have you failed to notice that when the US economy catches a slight cold the EU seems to suffer a month of flu? The EU may have the same GDP as the US but it also has a higher population and lower economic growth. As a result the average EU citizen is poorer than his US counterpart and less likely to get richer. The fact that US companies also get caught in the red tape emanating from Brussels is not exactly something that I would see as a high point of EU power.
The European Union is also strong in a less tangible kind of power - what is known as "soft power." The European way of life, its culture and societies, are enormously appealing to many of its neighbors. Meanwhile, the policies of the Bush administration have prompted a wave of hostility toward America around the world, while its security measures have made it more difficult for foreigners to study or work in the United States. So Europe may currently have a comparative advantage in the exercise of soft power, if only temporarily.
Evidence please? Around the world people watch movies made in Hollywood not Paris. Pizza restaurants may have spread everywhere to compete with Macdonalds but one suspects that most Pizzas are modelled more on the ones that originated in New York or Chicago than their forebears in Naples. The European way of life is appealing in comparison with the previous totalitarian way of life that most of its neighbours had. In that respect it is hard to say that it is Europe, rather than America, which is the inspiration since both are varieties of liberal free-market democracies. And that hostility to the US? its funny how the same people who are hostile to the US seem so keen to get a part of the American dream by buying cokes, big macs, Hollywood movies and so on.
Yet the most distinctive feature of European power is a fourth dimension - one that the United States wholly lacks. It is the power of induction. Put very simply: the European Union is getting bigger, and the United States is not. Haiti cannot hope to follow Hawaii into the American union, and even an American territory like Puerto Rico faces resistance in becoming the 51st state. But Ukraine can hope to follow Poland into the European Union.
So bigger is always better eh? sounds rather like British Empire chaps in the 1920s thinking that the Empire is bigger therefore it must be better. Of course in fact the Empire in the early 1900s was better than the one after the first world war because less resources were wasted governing marginal bits of real estate that had been grabbed from other failing empires.
AS we have seen across central and eastern Europe, and now in the Balkans and in Turkey, countries that wish to join the European Union are prepared to make profound changes to their economic, social, legal and political systems in order to qualify. Indeed, in the run-up to accession, the union has intervened extensively in the affairs of candidate states, but it has done so with the consent of their democratically elected governments. This is regime change, European-style.
On the whole I do agree with this. While the EU has not been perfect it has helped a lot of ex-communist nations get the basic liberal free-market going. But it is a bit cheeky to compare this with American interventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Unlike the latter the former communist countries have generally had an earlier tradition of free-markets etc. and are have considerably more developed infrastructure. Comparing even Romania, probably the poorest country that will shortly join the EU, with Iraq is like comparing a Rolls Royce to a Yugo. Ceaucescu was indeed a dictator as ugly as Saddam but it has been 15 years since he was shuffled off this mortal coil and in those 15 years much has changed and would have changed regardless of the carrot of EU membership.
The history of the European Union can be told as a story of the expansion of freedom: from the original six postwar democracies in western Europe; to 12 member states, including three former dictatorships in southern Europe; to 25, including many of the former Communist states of central and eastern Europe; and now on to the Balkans, Turkey and, one day, Ukraine.
It can't go on forever, obviously. If Europe is everywhere, it will be nowhere. So the European Union must decide what to offer neighbors that cannot be members. But for now, the European power of induction is working its magic on the streets of Kiev and Istanbul.
Well just maybe the EU is in the same position the US was in the mid 1800s, lots of territory still to annex rather than the position the US is in today. It should be no surprise that the EU is growing while the US is not. It is a question of borders. The EU has helped anchor more democratic principles in states where democracy is not well estalished, but as I said earlier, it is hard to say that the choice these nations had was between Europe and the US. The choice was really betwene Europe and nothing.
"The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom," President Bush has said. Yet by overlooking the true dimensions of European power, America is failing to recognize the potential of what could be its greatest ally in the most hopeful project of our time: the advancement of liberty around the world.
A sarcastic person (who me?) would suggest that in fact the US is indeed recognising the potential of the EU, as a do nothing talking shop unable to do anything on its own. The EU's coddling of dictators, its blasé acceptance of corruption, and its hypocritical attitude to the US seem to be rather odd attributes for an ally in the advancement of liberty. The fact that the EU and its mooted constitution is mostly a step back from liberty is just the icing on the cake.