Someone finally wrote the inevitable article about how the war in Georgia is good for the EU.
Bruce Ackerman writes in the Guardian that:
The Russian invasion of Georgia marks a decisive turning point in the history of the European Union. While the Irish referendum suggested an exhaustion of the centralising ambitions of recent years, the Russian invasion will generate a new centralising dynamic based on military security.
Which seems to contradict this other argument:
Whatever the Irish thought they were voting on, the Russian military threat wasn't on the radar screen when they recently went to the polls to say 'no' to Europe. But Georgia has decisively placed the security question on the agenda - raising the stakes, and putting a great deal of responsibility on Ireland to reach an accommodation with the rest of Europe that will allow the Union to move forward without another period of anxious renegotiation.
So Europe is going to become more centralised and become militarised... and that will encourage the Irish to vote yes? I think somebody missed an important episode here.
Ackerman's article is not quite as bad the comment by Graham Watson MEP that "Osama bin Laden has done more for European integration than anyone since Jacques Delors".
But why does every crisis has to be an opportunity for the EU?
The argument in the article is just wrong, wrong, wrong. This for example:
The collapse of the Soviet Union removed all serious military threats to Europe's eastern frontier. The Russian invasion changes all that. Quite suddenly, the new eastern members of the Union will be clamouring for security. And it will soon become apparent that the United States is entirely unwilling to reassume its Cold War role as guarantor of Europe's military integrity. The country is overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, without the political will to open up third or fourth fronts on Europe's eastern frontier.
No one was scared of Russia after 1991? Nonsense. Ask the Baltic countries. The Finnish army still all train to fight "the invader" (unspecified) who always, curiously enough, attacks from the east...
Nor is the obstacle to enlargement of the EU a lack of willingness of eastern European countries to join. Georgia has been talking to the EU for years (we met someone who had taken part in early negotiations in 1994) and was planning to formally apply in three years time. The problem is the lack of willingness of the existing members to let them in...
And will countries in the east really now conclude that the EU, not NATO or the US, is the best guarantee of their security? The Russian campaign seemed to stop after a step up in rhetoric from the US. The US also flew back Georgian troops from Iraq, much to Russia's chagrin.
No one wants to start world war three. But at least the US has options, whereas the EU is going to do what?
Perhaps the most serious problem with the argument here is the idea that EU members are now more likely to want to admit new members (more unlikely than ever, sadly) or that Europeans will do anything real about the state of their armed forces.
The Spanish PM has said that the EU should aim to be “the most important world power in 10 years”. But there is no sign of EU willingness to spend the money required to play the leading role.
Both individually and collectively, EU nations are loath to spend money on defence. NATO figures show that the US spent 4% of its GDP on defence in 2007, compared to an EU average of 1.6%. The US spent $545 bn in 2007 while the UK spent $63bn, France $60bn and Germany $41bn.
Having made major cuts after the cold war, EU members continued to cut spending during the late 1990s and this decade. Defence spending fell by €5.4bn or 4.6% between 2002 and 2006 in the 9 NATO-eurozone countries. Even in the UK, which is one of the most willing to spend, defence spending is at its lowest as a share of GDP since 1930.
Why will the short war in Georgia change this long trend when the other wars - which EU members are actually fighting in - have not?
If anything these figures underestimate the capability gap. Much of the EU’s military spending is useless, going on large, poorly trained, conscript forces which cannot be deployed outside their own country. The EU members are not equipped for any kind of expeditionary role. The EU does not have the capacity to sustain a major out-of-area military operation without American logistical support. It lacks air- and sea-lift, advanced communications systems, UAVs and modern military computers. While the US spends 32% of its military budget on salaries, 57% of the EU members’ spending goes on wages.
None of this is intended to simply knock the EU. In fact Mr Kouchner seemed to be playing a perfectly decent role in the Georgian war, touring the country calling for a ceasefire (to no particular effect). All perfectly laudable and wholly compatible with NATO.
But there is such a strong element of make-believe in europhile thinking about EU defence that it is almost impossible not to criticise it. If anything, the war should be a reminder about why we need still need NATO, and should be careful about relying too much on the EU's "soft power". Even Europe is still a dangerous place.