N. 49 November 2008 | The world balance lacks a European pole

Facing the absence of a European group the United States is forced to play solo, by playing an unsustainable role as a world power. After all, as a consequence of being a dispersed crowd, europeans will have to disporportionately foot the bill as a result of the West's loss of power represented by the Russian-Georgian conflict, and the collapse of many banking giants followed by that of the stock markets isnt' but the latest event.

In recent months the world has been rocked by two severe crises. The first, a military emergency with regional political implications, is the conflict between Russia and Georgia. The second is the financial crisis, with repercussions on the global economy, caused by the collapse of a number of banking giants and the resulting worldwide plunge of the stock markets. While these two crises are destined to impinge on our own countries to vastly differing degrees, they nevertheless both stem from the profound changes that are taking place in the global balance. These crises, having helped to strip away the veil that continued to conceal the end of American unipolarism, have opened up scenarios that are still very difficult to interpret.

One thing is certain. The strategy pursued by the United States after the collapse of the Soviet Union has run out of steam; more than that, it has been, substantially, a failure. There are two reasons why the main objective of this strategy (to conserve America’s hegemony) was not reached: first, because new emerging powers began to appreciate and impose their own status as international leaders, and second because the global power model embodied by the USA began to find itself in trouble, showing its inherent limitations and enjoying less and less consensus. On an economic and financial level, America attempted to use its position of superiority to exploit the emerging markets, but failed to take account of the capacity of the largest of these markets, China in particular, to turn laissez-faire logic to their own advantage. Meanwhile, on the strategic-military side, the United States, pursuing a vain project for global hegemony, refused even to consider the possibility of collaborating on an equal footing with other states that might have been able, even just on a regional level, to exert some influence. At the centre of this whole strategy was the will to re-arm so as to widen further the gap, in the military field, between the United States and the rest of the world, primarily with the dual aim of taking control of the Middle East, a strategic area on account of its energy reserves, and of isolating and neutralising Russia, the only nuclear power with the capacity to challenge the USA, to this end exploiting the enlargement of the European Union and of NATO. While the failure of America’s policy in the Middle East is plain for all to see, Russia, for its part, has provided definitive proof, through its intervention in Georgia, that America’s attempt to keep it subordinate has not worked either. What is more, the conflict between Russia and Georgia has shown that America, heavily involved on another front, can do nothing (declarations of principle aside) to defend its own allies, a message that has been received loud and clear in the countries of Eastern Europe.

Russia thus comes out of this crisis having confirmed its renewed status as a regional power determined to make its weight felt in global affairs. It has foiled America’s plan to surround its territory with NATO countries by managing to establish special relations with some of the countries, such as Kazakhstan, that the USA had hoped to make its allies, even though this plan failed also because “Old Europe” decided, in the end, not to support the US line completely and began to procrastinate over the issue of the Ukraine and Georgia’s entry into NATO. Furthermore, Moscow, by strengthening its influence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, has definitively put paid to the US plan to restrict Russia’s control over the Black Sea area and over the gas pipelines that supply the West and, by so doing, has delivered a harsh blow to hopes for a more autonomous and diversified European energy policy.

None of this means that tensions have risen to the levels they reached during the Cold War. Now, unlike then, there is no ideological conflict reflecting and accentuating the world’s division into clearly separate and opposing blocs; above all, the fact that many large states are now emerging as regional powers suggests that the world is moving not in the direction of a bipolar confrontation, but rather in that of a still ill-defined multipolar order. Furthermore, the United States, in spite of its loss of power, is still superior to all the other countries in the world in economic, technological and military terms and continues to serve as the main point of reference in international balances. This means that Russia cannot harbour any hopes of again becoming a power capable of challenging the USA on the global stage, even were it interested in pursuing such a design, which it is not. However, the fact remains that Russia, in addition to wielding enormous influence as a supplier of raw materials, is also the world’s second nuclear power, capable of constituting a threat to America; this means that, to be effective, any measures to tackle the problem of the proliferation of nuclear arsenals, or to reduce them, must necessarily be agreed with Moscow; the fact also remains – and the Europeans should not forget this – that Europe is the area where tensions could build up, for the same geostrategical reasons that applied during the Cold War and that are today strengthened by our countries’ substantial dependence on Russian gas.

Europe thus has a very clear interest in this new global framework that is starting to take shape. The standoff between the USA and Russia constitutes a very serious threat and Europe’s priority must be to take steps to avert it: to do this, the Europeans will have to redefine their relations with both the nuclear superpowers. As far as the USA is concerned, what is needed is a new kind of partnership. It is really America that needs, primarily, to tackle the problem of rethinking its relations with Europe, but the establishment of new European-American relations will depend to a great extent on the capacity of the Europeans to become a responsible political pole, capable of playing a key role in global power balances. Europe, as long as it continues to be a politically weak area without a genuine single foreign and defence policy, cannot be a resource for the world, only a problem. Europe’s political weakness forces the USA, in particular, to build its own international policy around the need to look after Europe’s security, but this is a burden that is now too heavy for the USA to bear, a burden that could crush it. Europe’s political weakness is a source of enormous risks and the Europeans, unable to see them, fail to act accordingly, in other words, they fail to make that political leap forwards that is their only means of gaining their autonomy: the creation of a federal state.

Russia itself could benefit greatly from the presence of a strong Europe on its borders: in fact, the absence of a European power feeds the more aggressive tendencies that have, historically, always been present in Russian politics, reducing the chances that the institutions and society of this great Euro-Asian country might develop along democratic lines and instead reinforcing an autocratic style of government there. Neither should it be forgotten that Russia now wants to become fully integrated with the West and that, in this regard, Europe is its only possible intermediary. But, to be able to play this crucial role, the Europeans would need to pursue a coherent and responsible policy, something that is quite inconceivable in today’s 27-member Union.

The Europeans, and the world, have needed a European federal state for many decades now. In recent years, in particular, the absence of an effective European pole in the international field has been one of the main reasons for the growing difficulties experienced by the United States, forced to play an insupportable role as a lone global power, politically, economically and culturally. Contrary to what some European governments seem to think, now is not the time to be taking pleasure in America’s weakness, in the hope that it might mean a bigger role for Europe, both as the EU and as single countries, on the international chessboard. Because, after all, it is not the Europeans who are gaining a little more power, rather, it is the West as a whole that, compared to the rest of the world, is losing real power. And in the West it will be the Europeans, a multitude divided among many inadequate and anachronistic states, who will inevitably pay the highest price for this new situation.

For historical and geographical reasons, then, Europe’s destiny remains linked to the destinies of the United States and of Russia: to America’s because of the positive contributions that the Europeans and Americans, together, could make to defusing the global crises that threaten mankind; to Russia’s because of the importance, to world peace and security, of Russia’s integration with the West. But America’s future role and Russia’s integration prospects both depend, now more than ever, on Europe’s capacity to create a solid federal state, naturally beginning with an initial core of countries ready to take this step.


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