May 21, 2018 at 12:23 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , )

This article manages to summarize the most damning prejudices of the current groupthink bubble of Brussels:

  • NATO, originally, was less squeamish about values (…) The end of the Cold War definitely changed things: democracy now is a strategic necessity. The consolidation of democracy in central and eastern Europe has become a key objective of NATO and EU enlargement.

Entirely true but done for capricious normative ideological reasons rather than strategic ones. Logically, if the EU member states keep alliances with non-EU authoritarians, that means that such bonds CAN work. If the Cold War was a much more dangerous period and it required ignoring normative qualms in favour of strategic pragmatism, then it stands to reason that such a doctrine is more efficient.

  • That the governments of Hungary and Poland are, at the very least, weakening democracy in their countries is beyond doubt.

True but the same is true for Western Europe and the US where civil servants break laws to undermine incoming administrations, where the police regularly enforce modesty laws, blasphemy laws, bans perfectly harmless activists and hinders free speech more and more, and certainly where Brussels forces 2nd referenda, vertical protectorate structures (Bosnia, Kosovo) as well as ‘caretaker’ governments (Italy).

  • Whatever populists claim: the choice is between democratic and non-democratic government.

Since the described governments generate a fair amount of controversy, the very term ‘populism’ is erroneous. Far more ‘populist’ are the ‘democratic’ governments who lie about the consequences of mass immigration or moral interventionism in their fanatical pursuit of political correctness. Additionally, fringe parties who question the EU and/or NATO are by no means necessarily authoritarian. UKIP and many libertarian movements are actually quite dismissive of governmental authority. It is a slander to classify ‘populists’ as such.

  • The purpose of NATO today is to defend not just the territorial integrity of its members, but also the model of society that they have constructed on their territories.

This is entirely true but not consistent with democracy or sovereignty. If a certain society decides to be conservative or Marxist, the EU and NATO then are constitutionally forced to move to curb that choice. The ostracism of the Haider coalition government is exhibit A of that trend.

  • In European society, the state is to guarantee security, prosperity, and democracy for its citizens. This triad cannot be disentangled: a citizen can only benefit from security, prosperity and democracy together or not at all.

This is very interesting. It is first and foremost untrue since plenty of authoritarian regimes actually experience less insecurity – for obvious reasons – and greater prosperity than open liberal societies. But it is also interesting given that catastrophic mass immigration and the disastrous reckless belligerence that ‘democratic’, ‘liberal’ and ‘non-populist’ policies have caused of late. Regardless of regime, citizens depend far more on policy-making.

  • Security from violence doesn’t mean much if one dies of hunger, just as wealth doesn’t mean much if the government can take it away, or even imprison you, arbitrarily.

Rule of law does not mean much if it is conditioned by an ideological police, and freedom doesn’t mean much if disastrous policies come attached. A propos of wealth, in the BBC there are now public proposals to artificially cap the salaries of male employees and redistribute the income through the female staff. Arbitrary?

  • If an ally no longer upholds this European way of life, then what exactly is NATO supposed to defend?

The territorial integrity and sovereignty of its members.

  • A government that undermines its country’s democracy thus ipso facto puts its security at risk too.

Is that a threat? Once again, many non-democratic states are safer than many democracies …including in Europe.

  • The more authoritarian a government becomes, the more it puts the bond of solidarity in the Alliance into question.

Not really: Haider’s Austria and Brexit Britain have been put under greater pressure than Erdogan’s Turkey.

  • To put it very starkly: which democratic government could justify to its citizens putting its forces in harm’s way in order to defend an eventual dictatorship in another NATO country?

But it is others that are ‘populist’ and put allied solidarity at risk…

  • Russia definitely will not hesitate to use any opportunity that presents itself in order to weaken NATO, if only to stop the Alliance from interfering in its strategic design of re-establishing predominance in the former Soviet republics.

Inverted responsibility: Russia was the one that was already predominant in its periphery and NATO was the one that “used any opportunity to weaken it”.

  • Hence Russia actively supports various populist actors.

…because NATO and the EU support various liberal/progressive/?populist? actors in Russia and its periphery.

  • populist tactics include Euroscepticism. It is both acceptable and necessary in a democratic polity to criticise EU policies, and even the EU project as such. But when countries decided, by democratic means, to join the EU, they subscribed to a set of objectives and limitations. If a government no longer is willing to abide by them, it cannot expect that its country’s status in the EU will remain unaffected, even if such were the free and informed democratic choice of its citizens (which today is questionable).

This is disingenuous. As was the case with NATO, the EU’s declared and practiced goals changed during the years. In several cases it is obvious that a number of members – chiefly the UK – were simply stunned by the rapid subversive trends emanating from Brussels. This is precisely why the opt-out mechanisms (for which the pre-Brexit UK governments were routinely berated by Brussels officials) were enacted, to begin with.

Worse still, the parenthesis implies that there have not been ‘informed and democratic’ Eurosceptic choices (because of populism? Because of Russia? Both?). Where was such cynicism when ‘constitutional treaties’ were pushed through in spite of strong popular resistance or when referenda were repeated to serve the convenience of the European project?

  • if the EU adopts sanctions against a government that violates the basic principles that it subscribed to when joining the Union, this does not constitute a violation of the sovereignty of the state in question… Democracy is as important, if not more, to merit the solidarity expressed by Article 5.

This is a frequent excuse on the part of federalists in Brussels. The truth is that, often, many new ‘basic principles’ are inaugurated without popular feedback while membership is in place and that the EEC was never supposed to become an abrogation of nation-states but rather just another international organization, in the eyes of the European peoples. Ultimately, is it easier to force different cultures to abide by the same standards or to relax those standards? Of course, when certain societies start questioning those ‘basic principles’, they are called populist and their ‘informed and democratic decision’ is put in question…

Of course, many principles are advisory and non-binding in nature. The main problem is with the very logic behind this reasoning. If indeed the EU is bound by enforceable basic principles, then necessarily, as people regularly disagree ideologically and vote for different parties, by definition, the EU does NOT represent, nor will it ever represent ALL the citizens. If that is so and one adds democratic elections putting ‘populists’ in power frequently, then membership in the EU should be a regular inconstancy with states dropping in and out of membership.

Here of course, we arrive at the crux of the rabid bias behind this article: that ‘true’, ‘genuine’, ‘legitimate’ democratic elections can NEVER empower Eurosceptics; much the same logic behind the American leftist derangement syndrome regarding Trump. If the Left is the ‘true’ representative of ‘the people’, the people can never elect someone the Left despises. If that occurs, there must be foul play at work.

  • certain governments not only violate the EU’s values, they also actively undermine EU policies, notably the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). What is worse, they appear to be doing so under the influence of foreign powers such as Russia and China.

True but again, when certain governments expand and go well beyond the common policies (or undermine them), under the influence of, say, the US, no one seems particularly concerned. That would be the same ally that is regularly found spying on European governments and the EU institutions themselves. Intelligence gathering is not shocking but rather that geostrategic alliances are judged according to normative standards rather than objective ones.

  • In full contradiction with their nationalist rhetoric, some governments have willingly become instruments of outside actors

Speaking of contradictions then, if the ultimate goal is a European federation and the extinction of national sovereignties, why don’t EU politicians run for office promising their constituents that they will be ruled by Brussels and by nationals of foreign states?

  • not only proto-authoritarian but even some fully democratic governments are undermining the EU in this way,

So, not all populists are [proto]-authoritarian? I thought that had been established…

  • it has become increasingly difficult for the EU to take a resolute and united stance in issues involving China and Russia

Of course, it could be that successive enlargements adding more actors to the deciding table, more disparate national cultures to the decision-making process, and increasingly confrontational policies towards the neighbourhood, are the phenomena to blame for an increasing lack of coordination and cooperation… but let us not allow the utopian dream to be questioned, lest we act in contravention of the already agreed upon EU Treaties’ ‘basic principles’…

  • Certain governments even undermine EU positions on general human rights policy, directly affecting the core of the Union’s value-based foreign policy.

Again, so why aren’t all rebels expelled? Would any core EU members be expelled if they broke the rules? Because it is a safe bet they sustain and arm more human rights abusers than the eastern ‘proto-authoritarians’.

  • A multispeed EU is in the offing anyway, and it is the (suboptimal) solution if there is no other way to advance European integration (and it must advance, for there still are areas in which only a stronger EU role can safeguard the national interest of the member states).

This is called a contradiction in terms: if European integration continues to impose itself on more and more areas of sovereign decision-making, how can it possibly augment the emphasis on safeguarding the national interest? It is after all EU officials themselves who keep denouncing ‘nationalism’ as a peril. That does not go hand in hand with claiming to defend the national interest.

  • NATO and the EU can no longer be disentangled. If one weakens the bond between nations in the EU, ipso facto one weakens ties in NATO.

So, those states that decided it was wisest to remain members but of one… Were they populist? Were they “weakening the bond between nations”? Which other international organisations are now sacred to the point that apostasy is sin? If only the EU and NATO are sacred, is it now blasphemy to maintain parallel structures such as EFTA or the Council of Europe? Like the Francophonie?…

  • Even without the suspicion surrounding Trump’s links to Russia …  and his apparent links with Russia

What links? Do actual factual ‘links’ with less than recommendable regimes in MENA and the Eastern Neighbourhood count as ‘suspicious’ if said links favour pro-EU politicians? No, I would think not…

  • at a time when the US is less than fully invested in Europe’s institutions, they are actually isolating themselves.

But not the EU/NATO when they decide that no one else but them can pontificate or judge democracy and human rights? These institutions are, by the way, the ones that embargo and sanction the most in the entire world and on issues such as Kosovo independence or the Crimea annexation, it is very much Brussels that is isolated.

  • by artificially stirring anti-EU feeling they are rendering their citizens more vulnerable to Russian propaganda.

All countries propagandise. As for ‘artificial’, a very curious word to use by someone who speaks on behalf of an organisation that spends billions promoting itself… What? No faith in the ‘natural’ unsponsored views of its citizens and potential sympathisers?…

  • In a reversal of history, a strong democratic EU can act as a beacon for democratic forces in the US

This is perfectly delusional since north-Americans are the ones who possess a cultural distrust of the power of the state, not Europeans. Even if it were to take place, this is one more proof that what is being defended in this article and by the EU institutions in general, is a private ideology and NOT the overall national interest of the member-states.

  • The European Commission is keeping up the pressure on governments that violate the Treaties, including, most recently, by proposing to leverage financial support in the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework

Is this in the national interest of those member states too? Would those citizens share that view?

  • People must understand that in reality neither Russia nor any other outside actor has anything to offer to a citizen of the EU.

Not biased nor extreme in the slightest. What happened to all the talk of anti-isolationism and international cooperation?…

  • Or would anybody opt for a Russian pension plan?

Crimeans did. Fairly certain a number of Ukrainians would too, at this stage…

  • This means investment in the economy, but it probably also means that a new deal in European social policy is the indispensable bulwark against foreign intrusion.

Except the kind of foreign meddling that effectively abrogates sovereign competencies and subverts the national interest, that kind is not intrusive in the least.

  • the equality of European citizens,

then they complain the EU is equated with the USSR in the east…

  • and thus the cohesion of European societies and the stability of European politics,

Yes, EU multicultural policies and NATO radical interventionism have worked wonders for European social cohesion and political stability.

  • unanimous decision-making on foreign policy (CFSP, not defence or CSDP) should be abandoned in favour of decisions by qualified majority voting.

Yet additional emphasis on the national interest and defence against foreign intrusion, no doubt.

  • giving up on individual short-term interests guarantees everyone’s interests in the long-term.

This is true but not in the form of the EU/NATO. Brussels characterises itself, in fact, by the very opposite: by populist and emotional appeals to humanitarian principles and international pacifism which are always popular among voters, IN DETRIMENT of cold and rational approaches to the harsh reality of international politics. NATO is more vulnerable today with liabilities such as the Baltic or Balkan bantustans as members, not safer; and its interventions are always portrayed as humanitarian crusades, yet invariably end in disaster.

In the long term, the post-modern iterations of NATO and the EU have been hurting the national interest and security of its members.


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Learning the Lessons of Intervention in Libya Idealists Aren’t Empirical

March 22, 2016 at 6:03 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , )

French naval aircraft striking Qaddafi regime forces in 2011

French naval aircraft striking Qaddafi regime forces in 2011

Those who allow ideology to trump national interests are poorly equipped to learn from experience. Specifically, euro-federalists are constructivists who believe and work towards the utopia of politically uniting the continent that bred the nation-state. Constructivists are philosophically positivist since they believe that solutions can be engineered without regard for the past or for the context. These old world bastards of the American Enlightenment are thus simply unable to draw conclusions from experience.

This is alas a recurring problem in Brussels – and in Washington D.C., I imagine – where problems arising everywhere never seem to elicit a logical consequential response from those in power, or at least not one that questions the legitimacy of the system in place. Eurosceptic populism, failed nation-building efforts abroad, social conservatism in allegedly euro-enthusiastic societies, challenges from regional hegemons, none of it is worthy of reconsidering the very legitimacy of the sacred union. Instead, bland politically orthodox conferences and workshops in Brussels focus on communication: how does one ‘communicate’ to the European citizens that Brussels is actually doing what is right for them? The fact that past policies fail is admitted on occasion only insofar as it serves the purpose of justifying why European governments must double-down on such policies and/or endow Brussels institutions with even more power to make the policies work; a line of argument all too similar to the neocon creed that “history will do us justice”.

Empiricists on the other hand, look to the past for guidance and usually with greater success. That which is not questioned is that which has worked longest: the nation-state. There is room for innovation but not revolution and utopias. Take Vladimir Putin who finds no alternative but to fight XXI century wars around the control of population centres – as terrorism and the age of humanitarianism now force all states to do – but who also understands that wars must be kept limited in scope and always proportional to the means available. He is not one to go on crusades around the world, intervening in ungovernable exotic vacation spots for whichever asinine cause du jour. Putin doesn’t shy away from war but he tries to negotiate first. The Russian President seeks military control to achieve strategic goals, not to defend idealistic causes.

This long introduction thus serves to prepare the reader for what will be an analysis of what goes wrong when a positivist tries to analyse empirically.

Committed euro-federalist Daniel Keohane set upon himself to learn lessons from the intervention in Libya, a topic made pertinent given that “(…) there is mounting speculation that a coalition of Western countries will launch a new military campaign there to tackle the growing threat from the self-styled Islamic State”. As he tells it, since 2011 “(…) a civil war has prevented the formation of a functioning Libyan government”. In truth, that civil war is not quite so …random. It was the idea of some NATO member-states to abuse a UNSC humanitarian resolution in order to launch a full scale military campaign against the Qaddafi regime which ultimately killed him. It was also the responsibility of both NATO and the EU to abstain from supporting any other strong man – such as General Hiftar for instance – after the Qaddafi overthrow to fill in the power vacuum. That would have pre-empted the emergence of some nasty actors like the Islamic State but of course, that would have meant the puritan Liberal democracies getting their hands dirty …

The Libyan civil war – if one posits the existence of such a coherent entity called Libya – also caused according to the author “(…) large flows of migrants and refugees into the EU”. Oh by Jove, such a nuisance … Say, how come that is identified as a problem but not one single brain in all the think-tanks of the grey city ever came up with an obvious response: stopping the flows? How quick they are to assign military vessels to the Mediterranean …to rescue the illegals, to welcome them, not to stop them. Here’s a thought: if the flows are not a positive development, what about not encouraging or facilitating them?

“(…) Europeans have more direct security interests at stake in Libya, which is why France and the UK initiated the 2011 intervention”. This one is particularly rich: British and French have strong interests in Libya, thus a military intervention that turns the territory into an anarchic hell hole is the way to go. How can someone be so blind or disingenuous? How exactly were the interests of the UK and France defended by overthrowing Qaddafi? Because if the dictator was the problem and only a democracy can serve those interests, then I dare say that relations with any Middle East state are pointless. If the instability resulting from the Arab Spring was the problem then an easier and more productive solution would have been to follow the Michelle Alliot-Marie doctrine: launch an intervention all right, but one on the side of the dictators! In all likelihood the real reason for the Franco-British intervention was the prospect of easily getting rid of Qaddafi along with a regime which had been a geopolitical thorn in the Atlanticists side for decades. No love lost for Qaddafi here. Normally the French are utterly pragmatic about their interventions – if Françafrique is anything to go by. What is precisely the corrosive element in the mix here, is the ideological influence of organisations which should have remained intergovernmental but slowly grew into lobbies of their own importance – aimed at self-perpetuation. The EU and NATO are no longer instruments at the service of governments, they have developed rather as a cancer working against the interests of their member-states by promoting normative ideologies irrespective of results. The closer to Brussels a military intervention is carried out, the more compliant it will have to be with the politically correct narrative of the NATO HQ or the European Commission/Parliament. Hence the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy ignited a ‘Ring of Fire’ around the old continent whereas France’s client states in Africa or America’s in the Middle East remain quite stable: idealism breeds disaster, time-tested pragmatism ensures stability.

“(…) NATO now seems unlikely to act, partly because the image of its 2011 intervention is tarnished among some Libyans due to a lack of follow-up, and partly because the alliance is busy deterring Russia in Eastern Europe”. Again, if by lack of follow-up he means that another strong man was not backed to replace Qaddafi, then by all means, this is a valid statement. That, however, is not what he means: he means that more funding, more troops and more state-building would have staved off anarchy – you know, much like it did in Iraq or Afghanistan. In practice what Brussels sees as a solution in Libya, is a more muscled Bosnia-Herzegovina paradigm. “(…) the EU has strongly supported UN diplomatic efforts to form a unity government of rival Libyan factions and has deployed four missions to tackle some of the security challenges emanating from Libya since 2011”, see my point? The solution is to bribe and pacify local contenders ad infinitum. As for the Russian ‘threat’, if the supranational utopia’s legitimacy weren’t tied to universalist maximalist ideological principles, strategic compromises and tactical choices could be made to divert resources from one theatre to another. Yet the EU is no state which therefore prevents it from acting amorally. Therefore the actions of supranational ideological actors will always be maximalist irrespectively of the available means, and they will always move to confront all those who divert from their normative universalism regardless of the level of threat they represent: for universalists, every dissension is a vital existential problem.

Royal Navy's combined operations

Royal Navy’s combined operations

The second lesson is that the EU shouldn’t assist countries without legitimate governments”. True but only if one accepts the unwillingness to support non-liberal-democratic solutions. That said, whereas some EU states such as France have a national interest in protecting certain authoritarian regimes, most EU states in the East and North have nothing to gain by investing the political capital. Once again, divergent national interests prevent interventions overall.

The third lesson is that the EU has a useful military role in European homeland security”. Comes to mind that enforcing borders against mass migration could be useful but probably not what is on his mind: “(…) a search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean code-named Operation Triton and coordinated by the EU’s border agency, Frontex (…) has saved thousands of lives since November 2014”…

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The Corrosive Legacy of the ‘Good War’ Standard

April 28, 2015 at 12:22 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , )


The Second World War is still held by many intellectuals as the best example of ‘the good war’. Hollywood often pays it tribute by devising heroic epics that depict Allied courage in the face of Nazi barbarism – the same honour is not bestowed to Vietnam War films… Pundits in the West spend their days portraying contemporary conflicts in the light of WWII teachings: analogies with Munich or Pearl Harbor are invoked ad nauseam, Churchillian anecdotes and quotes abound.

For Liberals, WWII represents a true victory of good Vs evil and no other conflict comes close to such a clear moral crusade. In fact, it is probably the worst possible conflict to admire. Yes, Liberals won, and yes, a very destructive force was defeated but it is not a coincidence that it was a ‘moral war’ that caused the greatest conflict the world has ever seen. While technology played an important part in the scope of the war, it was conventional means that caused the most causalities; gas chambers , atomic bombs and planned starvations being responsible for roughly only 15% of total casualties. The key factor was in fact the totalitarian nature of the conflict. If states had not been fighting wars of absolute survival/annihilation, the methods employed would not have been equally absolute. Also relevant are the exceptions: liberal Finland was an enemy of the Allies and an ally of the III Reich, the totalitarian USSR was an ally and did most of the leg work of the ground war – not to mention co-presiding over the Nuremberg Tribunal… – and then of course it was the Allies that burned Dresden, used atomic weapons and equally starved indigenous populations.

Yet, it is crucial to realise that the current narrative is highly pernicious in this regard: a student of International Relations or History will learn that the Bismarckian balance of power system was very flawed and that WWII’s outcome – however horrific – was in fact a blessing in disguise because it set the world on the righteous path of progressive ethics. Then there are those who believe that the result of WWII was not even a matter of chance but that Liberal values would have always triumphed, given their natural superiority.  In truth, as Azar Gat demonstrated very lucidly, WWII was won largely because of “contingent factors”, not because of any practical superiority of Liberal ideals. If the Axis powers had enjoyed the large imperial holdings of the British Empire, the USA or the USSR, they too would have won what it ultimately became a war of attrition.  

The Second Great War should instead be regarded as  the worst possible conflict because it consisted in a complete erosion of the Westphalian system in Europe. Whereas Münster and Osnabrück had established a structure averse to moral/ideological interventionism and reliant on geostrategic alignments to ensure a balance of power – and, in turn, limited war – the outcome of WWII was precisely the destruction of Westphalia by allowing as victors two out of three universalist powers. If in the east of the old continent the Brezhnev doctrine was to rule until 1989, in the west the Washington Consensus would, in its triumphalist moment of the post Cold War, seek to intervene to punish dissenters on a regular basis and even promote gratuitous evangelizing interventions.

The direct result of the victory of one of the ideological empires was a predictable hegemony of the values of said empire in the predominant political narrative; it helped that the United States also functions as the main source of Western soft power and lingua franca. The American revolutionary enlightenment and liberal exceptionalist narrative has in time contaminated states that used to be particularist by their very nature, namely in Europe. The commonality stems from the replacement of utopian internationalist and universalist ideologies of the past such as communism or Christianism, with democratic liberalism. The idealists of the past have either left politics/political philosophy behind or converted to the doctrine of the temporal winners of WWII – and only consequently, spiritual winners.298822-alexfas01 - Cópia

Problems arise when the very structure of polities around the world is incompatible with a specific ideology which is why universal doctrines are usually a bad idea. In Europe, those facing such a reality eventually turned to the European Union and NATO as the natural bridge between their admiration for their new Church/International – carrying the mantle of ‘leadership of the free world’ – and the millenia of antecedents sustaining political power as a measure of local ethnic identity. In the case of such nations as Britain or the Netherlands, it is actually easier because much of their historical experience has been based around liberal values such as Grotius’s Mare Liberum or England’s parliamentary system. In more homogeneous and unitary nations such as Poland or France, more perverse forms of populism come to the fore as a consequence.

The most serious problem of American/Liberal exceptionalism is not however related to the domestic dysfunctions that it causes in nation-states – and not, as in the case of America , idea-states – but rather in the overall conduct it incites in Western states’ foreign policy. Every conflict that pits a Western democracy against a non Western or non liberal-democratic regime is automatically viewed as a Manichean moral contest whose outcome must be an absolute victory of the ‘good’ against ‘evil’. Apart from a complete absence of consideration for the national (not ideological) interest, there is also an inherent and fundamental strategic incompetence of not considering means when advocating for ends. In other words, the moral cause is the casus belli, not whichever specific political grievance motivates it. This implies that a limited political settlement involving territorial or economic concessions is not the desired end but rather an unconditional surrender of the morally inferior opponent.

WWII has been reified by its own ultra-normative admirers because they mythologize it. Had they been in power then, they would have never allied with the USSR and probably would have gone to war with it over its invasion of Finland by the time Berlin arose as a threat. Finally, there is enormous danger in looking at the least ‘normal war’ the world has ever seen and viewing it as an example to follow and emulate.

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Brussels’s Achilles Heel

April 17, 2015 at 11:33 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , )


Greece has been a migraine for Brussels since the onset of the financial crisis but it became a very inconvenient headache with the recent election of the Syriza party led radical left wing government of Alexis Tsipras. Until now Greece had been the poster child of the structural problems of the EU currency union but it is now the poster child of radical political populism as well. How have we come to this?

On the financial level, Greeks have no one to blame but themselves. When the euro (€) was created it endowed all EU member states with a currency backed by German reputation. If financial management elsewhere in Europe had paralleled that of Berlin’s – highly inflation averse and fiscally conservative – all would have been well but because mentalities differ according to nation in Europe, the priorities of politicians also differ in expediency.

Hosting international sports competitions for instance, is a luxury that few can afford but whereas Germans or Dutch, with much bigger economies, would do so in a time of economic growth, in 2004 during a time of economic stagnation, the small economy of Portugal hosted the European soccer competition (with 10 new or renovated stadiums) and equally small Greece hosted the Olympics.

Another interesting example is the South’s real-estate bubble. Politicians encouraged the youth and lower classes to purchase property since that was the fulfillment of many a socialist’s dream. Historically low interest rates, brought about by the EU’s single currency, provided the opportunity. Politicians provided the incentive by putting pressure on the banking system to take risks in this regard. In small economies, the number of banks is limited and their ties to politics abound since they are usually a family operation, hence requiring political connections to make it big. In more northern industrialized economies, the multinational nature of the banking institutions voids them of nepotistic traits by opening them to international scrutiny. On the other hand, it also exposes them more to international financial crashes – the 2008 US crisis didn’t much affect smaller economies in southern Europe and the Middle East until northern credit and tourists dried up.

Because self-reliance is not the European South’s prime commodity, people have come to expect much from the state in the way of entitlements: education, healthcare and social security making up the bulk of public expenditure in the Mediterranean belt. The social-democratic model of northern Europe serves as paradigm but the North is highly industrialized and wealthy. For poor economies dependent on mostly agriculture, tourism and residual foreign direct investment (FDI) – attracted mostly by low wages – though, expecting the same resulting standards is asking too much from the state but it is outright unreasonable when one factors in the relative profligacy of corrupt politicians as well as ordinary tax-evasion schemes of the citizenry.

In a way, the political narrative also demanded it. Greece went through a civil war in the aftermath of World War II, with the communists on the losing side. Centrist politicians have a special burden to prove to the population that communism is not needed for prosperity and social well being. In Portugal, over 90% of its territory was abandoned by the post dictatorial regime between 1974-75 during the decolonization, with a million Portuguese displaced and most of those moving to Portugal. In return, the new democratic regime promised to have Portugal accede to the EU to guarantee prosperity.

Therefore, endowed with a strong currency, southern EU states began to rack up debt at record levels. Worse still, this debt served to hide the economic stagnation from the public and was therefore used for consumption rather than investment. In general, no politician wants to be the bearer of bad news but additionally, the more south one goes in the planet, the more politics resembles a rent-seeking scheme for parallel interests, with certain parts of Africa and Latin America going to a kleptocratic extreme.

Bank of Greece

Bank of Greece

It is the Greeks’ responsibility and theirs alone to manage their own budget and bear the consequences of their own actions. Some say that banks should not have lent irresponsibly and unsustainably but the banks not only depended on ECB and EU goodwill to operate in the single market, they all bought into the ‘German guarantee’. They were right to do so as indeed Germany and northern Europe did come to the rescue of the southern trouble-makers by making available loans at generous rates, at a time when the ‘PIGS’ were no longer able to finance themselves in the international lending markets. The price to pay was to enact budgetary reforms to ensure the problem would not repeat itself.

Both Greece and Portugal have been mentioned so far because this is where they parted ways: Portugal went on to enact austerity measures involving tax hikes and cuts in salaries – particularly painful cuts considering that the state apparatus in southern nations, invariably accounts, directly and indirectly, for about half of the GDP – but Greece dragged its feet. Austerity was implemented but not only were many of the intended targets not met, the debt had to undergo a ‘haircut’ and there was a public backlash which reflected, first in the threat of a Greek PM to hold a referendum on the deal with the IMF and European lenders, and now in the actual election of a government which promises to “end austerity”. The result is patently obvious: in the same EU finance ministers Council of February, where the Greeks tried to renegotiate the conditions of their loans, the Portuguese instead asked to be authorized to repay their loans from the IMF early, and thus save half a billion euros in the process.

At this point, it is important to make a distinction between accounting and development. There are many paths to development, many economic models one can follow, depending on the conditions of the economy in question: some states become tax havens, others tax heavily; some are transit hubs and others are export economies; some depend on natural resources, some on competitive labor force. Development models are not universal but mathematics is; no human culture has ever, in the history of Mankind, been able to spend more than it produces. From the most high-tech society in the northern hemisphere, to the most traditional tribe in a southern rainforest, accounting obeys the same rules of arithmetic. Mathematics really is the only universal language.Lisbon

This must be understood because some on the Left have argued that Greece be allowed to relinquish austerity altogether. Utopians believe a Greek default would have no impact on the country’s reputation; somewhat less utopians want the EU to foot the bill, ignoring the so-called ‘moral hazard’ involved. They all argue for European unity though. Economists have pointed out that a currency union without a fiscal union is systematically dysfunctional. The European Left therefore argues that there should be systemic wealth transfers within the EU, from the most productive members to the most in need. This would reproduce the US system where impoverished US southern states, obtain proportionately higher federal funds, than their northern counterparts.

There are two problems with this proposition.

Firstly, the impoverished countries already receive higher EU budget transfers. The ‘cohesion funds’ serve to finance member-states struggling to reach average EU development standards, ‘accession funds’ sponsored the economies of – almost exclusively – impoverished states before they acceded to the EU, through the EU budget many non members of the euro currency area have been paying for members that actually possess the strong currency and the EU rescue package for the PIGS was predominantly a northern transfer of wealth to the south. This state of affairs makes one wonder what would change with additional transfers, and perhaps more importantly, whether such a ‘solution’ would not be …artificial.

Secondly, the problem runs much deeper in structural terms. Cultural individualism prevents EU statesmen from being open to discriminating between different societies, thus being condemned to trying to square a fundamentally imperfect circle. Brussels is the perfect storm in this aspect because technocratic economists operating under the assumption that individuals behave equally across borders, come together with politicians who must toe the euro-federalist line of an “ever closer union”. Brussels, like Washington D.C., is a micro-cosmos of EU dependent interests and all who live and work in the ‘EU bubble’ have a vested interest in transferring additional political competences to the EU.

The dynamic is such that national politicians, regularly meeting in Brussels to deal with EU matters, aspire to retiring from their national careers to a comfortable position in the Belgian capital. They are also influenced by the ‘groupthink’ that develops in a city where every solution offered by experts will deal with what they know best: the EU.

Then there are the ‘Eurocrats’. One of the basic principles of economics is ceteris paribus or ‘everything being equal’. Inhere lies a big problem for EU economic planning since different societies behave differently. How then to apply such common standards as the ‘Maastricht criteria’ – for acceptance into the Euro area – or the actual ‘Luxembourg criteria’ – for accession to the single market?

Deficit problems amounting from the introduction of the euro were not unknown to the EU and a number of policies had been attempted to address them, prior to the financial crisis. The ‘Stability and Growth Pact’ was one of these and envisaged 3% caps on annual budgetary deficits, with penalties to be paid by transgressors. It was dropped after Germany and France both broke the 3% cap. This too reveals much in the way of differences within the EU for the bigger the economy and the more central to the economic system, the less fragile it is to the moods of the markets. Germany and the US can actually afford to run high deficits or tax heavily because the size of their markets will always guarantee investment. Smaller economies like Greece need to value their reputation much more highly since the slightest hiccup can drive away FDI.

Apart from critical mass, there are inherent incompatibilities with the American model applied in Europe. Economist Robert Mundell wrote on ‘optimum currency areas’ and observed these required such factors as: labor mobility, free flow of capitals, similar business cycles and a risk sharing system in the likes of an automatic fiscal transfer mechanism. Not all of these are in place in the EU’s single market but even if they were, they would not overcome such basic differences as language or work ethics. The best economist in Greece cannot be recruited by a German bank unless he speaks German. More fundamentally, if sovereignty were to be removed from the equation, which state’s interests would ultimately drive a unified European federal interest? Whereas California and Texas bargained their adhesion to the Union without territorial subdivisions and were able to remain institutionally influential, most small EU members could never hope for the same.

Worse still, if the intention actually were to standardize culture within the EU and one were to choose to forget the obvious social engineering involved, who is to say that the German culture is the one that should serve as template? It is one thing for Texas and California to join the American Federation since these societies were already run by American elites and settled by Americans. It is another altogether to Germanefy or Nordicise entire nations. Nationalism was not born in Europe by accident.

The inconsistencies in Brussels policy and the faults of the Greeks aside, why did Greece so fundamentally underperform the other economies under austerity?

Europe is usually divided into three linguistic areas: the Germanic, the Latin and the Slavic. Perhaps in the case of Greece, it would be more useful to work with political theology and separate between protestant, catholic, orthodox and Islamic.sacramentofconfession

Italian historian Merio Scattola studied the differences between the models in what concerned the relationship between Church and State and found a line of gradation spanning from Mecca to Wittenberg regarding the preeminence of spiritual power. In Islam, the spiritual is zealously ritualized and religious authority is highly centralized. The Caliph rules the Ummah on behalf of the divine first and the temporal second. In Protestantism however, the believer’s connection to God is personal with rituals and symbols being seen as obstacles to devotion and communion with the divine. Political authority is merely political and even in monarchies, the role of the royal head of the Church is purely nominal. In between there is the catholic model where temporal and spiritual are parallel and the orthodox where they are melded. The line of gradation pertains to the individual’s role in the metaphysical: the more individualized the culture the more responsibility the individual assumes in his own salvation, the more collectivized the more the social hierarchy will assume competence.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule and no society is perfect, even in terms of financial management. Moreover, political leadership has a deep impact in financial policy and the human factor is unpredictable. Regardless, if there is a lesson to learn it is that there are limits to political and economic integration and that the EU’s “ever closer union” formula is in dire need of an overhaul.

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The Soft Power of Nordic Individualism

March 7, 2015 at 2:05 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , )


In his theory of cultural dimensions, Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede identifies a number of dimensions of national cultures. One of them is that of individualism and it pertains to a “preference for a loosely-knit social framework”. According to comparative studies of the Hofstede Centre, the most individualistic nations on Earth are found in the north Atlantic with Scandinavians and Anglophones on top.

At least part of the explanation can be found in the Ricardian model. Northern winters are harsh and farming is more difficult in adverse weather. Thus from very early on, the scarcity of food stuffs originated a sparsely populated territory. Unlike southern Europe where the weather is mild and farming easy, in the north, the number of potential workers being limited and the territory vast, causes social hierarchy to remain levelled. In the south, conversely, the bargaining power of a landowner with his workers is higher given the bigger competition amongst labourers.

Northern cultures also naturally emphasize entrepreneurship: summers must be efficient to make up for long winters.

The industrial revolution was particularly beneficial to individualistic cultures but especially so for the smallest and most homogeneous ones. Mechanization robbed densely populated nations of their natural comparative advantage in relation to individualistic ones. Israel, Switzerland, Austria and the Nordic tigers, thanks in large part to their cultural homogeneity, can quickly adapt to global trends in trade – since they are export economies – and are not as dependent on agricultural and natural resource based economic models.

One of the features of individualistic societies is also their tendency for universalism and formal political structures at large. With parallel structures such as family, clan or tribe weakened by distance and self-reliance, the social imperative is for individual equality to be enforced impartially. Neutral bureaucratic constructs such as a state apparatus, are therefore crucial for the maintenance of the national individualist ethos. Larger, more complex and diverse societies on the other hand, deal badly with formal structures of governance because the emphasis on direct links between individual and government is corrupted by parallel social loyalties. This in turn explains why democracy tends to become dysfunctional in ethnically heterogeneous societies and why the grey economy is so prevalent in those cases too.

This reality is of interest for those who study the current economic crisis and how well the international institutions are faring in their response.

The European Commission, of course, is a regulatory entity par excellence. Its original mandate was to manage the implementation of the common market and its current legislative power stems from that mission. However, by legislating in more and more areas of governance within the European Union, the Commission is also inadvertently exporting the northern relative disadvantage of regulation, to weaker and less export driven economies in the south.

BIERMEISTER AND WAIN STEEL FORGE, 1885 BY PEDER SEVERIN KROYERSouthern cultures such as Italy while legislating plenty, also legislate worse and the effectiveness of regulation is further eroded by competing loyalties to family connections and the inertia of strong vertical hierarchy. Yet, a less effective legal system also provides more room for the informal economy and works as a competitive advantage in relation to more efficient economies; these, in spite of providing higher quality products, also impose more of a burden on investors in regards to rules compliance. Informality however can be an asset when fostering commercial ties with other informal societies.

Given that the EU’s benchmarking models feature the Nordic tigers as the paradigm of best practices, the incentives given to poorer nations such as the PIIGS, when it comes to ‘cohesion funds’, are bound to be based on further industrialization and export intensive models. This is best epitomized by the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy which basically tries to transpose Nordic virtues in the mythical Green or Knowledge Economy, into general European practice.

This is not necessarily negative since modernization is always welcome. The problem lies instead in whether the Nordic model is actually adaptable to different realities. In Mediterranean countries for instance, agricultural industrialization can only do so much if the majority of explorations are too small to sustain industrial monocultures. In Eastern Europe the funding of education will only go so far if the free flow of people facilitates brain drain into the bigger markets of Western Europe.

This concurrently begs the question of whether the northern economies themselves are subject to the same push for reform, as their southern partners are. If all the member-states have something to offer to the Union, then what exactly are the Nordics being asked to adapt to? If the answer is ‘not much’, then more serious issues are at stake such as whether the Commission’s envisioned path is unidirectional – and where that leaves countries that struggle to adapt – or how fair is a Union whose reforms are meant for some but not all.

This debate is not just theoretical. In matters of foreign policy as well as trade policy, the EU as a general rule pushes for more regulation and compliance with universalist – international law based – principles. Once again, this course is typical of knowledge economies in northern Europe: Norway has long since specialized in conflict mediation, the Swiss founded the Red Cross and most Nordic, Alpine and Low Countries capitals have at one time or another served as venues for major diplomatic treaties or organizations. These countries are also coherent with their foreign policy goals and regularly call for embargoes or sanctions against international human rights violators.

Of course it is easier to do so for a small export based economy. Many European member-states are not. They have larger populations whose economic fortunes depend much more on the market price of commodities and many have also historical links to the developing world which suffer every time the organizations in question denounce illiberal regimes or promote international discriminatory legislation against them.

The current crisis in Europe has exposed many fault lines. If we do not mean to widen them, then the opportunity must be seized by European decision-makers to rethink their approach to the process of European integration. It is time the EU embraces the diversity of its unity.


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Why Won’t the West Just Let Ukraine Go?

August 9, 2014 at 11:34 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, seemingly by action of pro-Russian separatists in East Ukraine, has reinvigorated the Russophobe wave in the West. Interventionists and Russia-isolationists alike, feel vindicated in their view that there can be no compromise on Ukraine with Moscow. As tragic as the loss of life may be, it is difficult to conclude the downing of the aircraft changes much in the way of political calculations to any of the actors in question.

If indeed the separatists did it, the intention was surely not to down a civilian airliner, much less one carrying Australians, Malaysians and Dutch. It was not even a surprise attack as the separatists have been shooting down Ukrainian large transport and attack aircraft for the past months and weeks. The much referenced analogy of the German sinking of the ship Lusitania in 1915 is not an analogy at all as that attack was intentional and the result of a clear policy; MH17 was most likely an accident – but an avoidable one if the airspace over a warzone had been appropriately closed.

What is Russia’s motivation in Ukraine? Ukraine is perhaps the most important state for Russia: its market, industrial interdependence, cultural and historical ties and strategic location make it imperative for Russia to preserve Ukraine in its orbit. Moscow had apparently even been willing to allow Kiev to pursue an equidistant path under the leadership of Viktor Yanukovych, so long as that path never strayed from neutrality. Ukraine’s Finlandisation however, was interrupted abruptly by the forceful removal of Yanukovych from power earlier this year. That event empirically proved to the Kremlin that its influence over Ukraine was no longer accepted: its economic subsidies and electioneering could not buy it coexistence of interests with the West as the West was more than willing to recognize and support violent forces in Ukraine, so long as these were pro-Western.

Faced with what it saw as a betrayal – after the West’s governments had declared themselves guarantors of a power sharing agreement between the Yanukovych regime and the Maidan movement, but then reneged on it – Moscow decided to pay back in kind and play the game with the same methods: by exerting force and sponsoring violent pro-Russian movements.

Can the West boast the same concerns and interests? Hardly. Washington, Paris or London don’t have much in the way of economic interests in Ukraine, they share no cultural or historical ties and Ukraine’s location can only really be useful when planning a conflict with Russia. The Atlantic powers do have some economic interests in the country but so far those interests have not been threatened. On the contrary, it will be more difficult for Russia’s economic interdependence with Ukraine to linger with Kiev increasingly tied to the EU.

Never one to discourage the West from defending its interests, there is however a cost-benefit ratio to assess in the matter: is Ukraine worth antagonism with Russia? It often happens that smaller countries become strategically more important than bigger powers. For instance, Israel may be a small economy relatively speaking, but it is a regional power in its own right, culturally close to America and a much more stable regional ally than any Muslim nation. History also teaches that economic ties are not a guarantee for peace in and of themselves: France and Germany, China and Japan, Turkey and Iran, all were great economic partners and the greatest geopolitical rivals.mi24

Thus Russia should not be given a break simply because its economy is more important to the West than Ukraine’s. The problem is that the West has a number of challenges to deal with and creating new ones should not be a priority. In Africa and Latin America, Western powers face increasing economic rivalry from Asian powers, in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, their interests are threatened by regional spoilers such as China and Iran. On top of all this the West is facing a severe economic crisis which limits its power projecting abilities. It is very difficult to see how France’s interests would be served by redirecting its power projection from sub-Saharan Africa and the MENA, to Eastern Europe; how Britain’s interests would be served by involving itself in a continental dispute when its navy is already the weakest it has been in decades; how America’s need to balance its military budget, keep sea lanes open and counter-balance regional spoilers would be positively affected by a new deployment to a region that not only cannot help America but is in fact characterised by its perennial security deficit.

All this assuming, of course, that Europe and America will continue to cooperate rather than rival each other, around the world.

To leave Ukraine to its own fate would not constitute a loss to the West because the West never had Ukraine to begin with. To leave Ukraine would be a statement of stability, it would be a mere recognition of the status quo. The more pressure is put on Russia and Ukraine, the more Moscow will seek to cut its losses by weakening Kiev’s central rule.

In his op-ed at Offiziere, Nick Ottens writes:

1. “Russian president Vladimir Putin stands to gain little from continuing to incite rebellion in Ukraine (…)Russia’s economy expected to hardly expand this year at least partially as a result of Western financial sanctions”

Russia has everything to gain from protecting its interests in Ukraine – hard to see how the opposite is true – and what is at stake is a strategic asset, not a short-term gain. By the same token, what would the US have to gain by defending Taiwan? Or China, by seeking to co-opt it? Russia’s financial pain is to the Kremlin an investment in a more strategically safe future, where a buffer better insulates Moscow from threats from the West – which Western ideological universalism has only made more urgent.

2. “(…) Putin’s strategy failed (…) only hardened most European leaders in their resolve to draw the country into their orbit”

Russia actually needs Ukraine and Russia’s strategic focus does not have a short attention span. Hypothetically, does Nick Ottens believe that Russia should also surrender Siberia to China to avoid short-term economic pains from a Chinese embargo?…

3. “Putin’s actions also alienated the vast majority of Ukrainians”

This is perhaps the most irrelevant of arguments which are often raised in the West. Not only because it in no way changes the calculation of interests but also because; since when do interventions hinge on the targeted populations’ approval?! This is absurd. Should Israelis wait until Palestinians are fond of Benjamin Netanyahu before enacting reprisals against terrorist rockets? Or perhaps the US should wait until Iran’s ayatollahs are sufficiently unpopular before targeting a hypothetical nuclear weapons programme…

“it turned most Ukrainians decidedly away from Putin’s regime and convinced them their future lay in Europe”

Ottens needs only to speak to the instigators of the current regime in power in Kiev to quickly learn that Putin’s regime was never very tempting. Quite to the contrary, if Western Ukrainians were already Russophobic, it was Crimeans and East Ukrainians who became far more pro-Russian with the current crisis.

But lets face the argument’s validity head on: when a state intervenes, it does so to defend the interests of the citizens it represents, no one else’s.

4. “Putin had appeared to warm to the fantasies of the likes of Dugin”

This is another meme that deserves to be disproven since it is another Western lazy myth. Putin is a politician and does not follow any one person’s advice unconditionally. Aleksandr Dugin himself seems anything but Kremlin’s favourite these days. Most importantly, Dugin advises autarky and strategic counter-balancing of both the West and China. This Putin has acted against time and again: by collaborating with NATO on AfPak, with the West on Iran, by siding with China against the West, etc. By contrast Dugin would’ve preferred an alliance with Germany, Iran and Japan against both China and America. Oddly enough, Western mainstream media analysis resembles something more akin to FOX News or Russian media these days, which is ironic given its strong pride in objectivity.

5. Ottens goes on to accuse Russia of crony capitalism and claiming Moscow’s stance on Ukraine is a way for Putin to shore up the support of the working classes. Yet, Putin’s Russia always reacts to any perceived threat – be it in Chechnya, Georgia or Ukraine – regardless of who is voting for Putin at any particular moment.A10soverM1commanderart

I would suggest Nick Ottens applies the same analysis instead to the West, whose Liberal post-modern elites persist in mobilizing the limited resources of their respective nations, to serve the interests of the limitless, universalistic, radical and autistic project of converting the planet to the mantra of Western liberal democracy.

Only this tremendous bias could possibly justify Western obsession with a territory it is barely connected with or thinly depends on. Western obsession with Ukraine is ideologically corrupt – no other conflict deserves as much Western attention under the justification of the same declared principles – but most of all it is incommensurately strategically incompetent.

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Nicolas Sarkozy’s Foreign Policy Should Be Vindicated

July 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

George W. Bush and his acolytes are these days fond of claiming that history will eventually judge the administration of the former American president kindly. This is supposedly especially true of their foreign policy legacy: the “freedom agenda.” They went as far as to claim the “Arab spring” as vindication.

Bush and the neoconservatives are unlikely to ever find their swan song adequately praised in history manuals but by no means is foreign policy out of fashion as far as swan songs go.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency for one was controversial enough but unlike Bush’s, his track record may yet be vindicated.

In France itself, Sarkozy is currently reviled for his collaboration with Germany and toeing the line of “austerity” as far as dealing with Europe’s financial crisis goes. This, too, while more of a domestic legacy may also be vindicated as François Hollande’s reforms seem to amount to a “spare no expense” doctrine in a country on the verge of financial collapse. Then again, that was what he was elected to do.

In terms of foreign policy though, the Sarkozy doctrine should stand as a standard for future foreign policy decision-making. Not only did it promote French business interests; it promoted Paris’ strategic imperatives in the European Union.

Sarkozy had his ups and downs and his tactical populism did not always serve France well. Polemics over the Chinese Olympics for instance were unnecessary and France’s ties with China may have suffered from it. Equally less worthy of praise was the overall reaction to the Arab spring where Sarkozy and his government, while weary of the outcomes of the revolts, still chose the populist path of appealing to the success of the rebellions.

However, in policy arenas from Europe to the United Nations, France was extraordinarily assertive, pragmatic and ultimately efficient.

Facing an ever more independent Germany, Sarkozy chose to safeguard the Berlin-Paris axis as far as European questions were concerned but sought to hedge France’s bets by re-approaching Britain and the United States and reconstituting the Atlantic allies. France rejoined NATO’s political structure—mind you, at a time in which NATO’s political coherence is far from what it once was—thus pleasing its transatlantic ally—and paired with the United Kingdom in a number of industrial, military and geopolitical projects.

Germany, in spite of the French president’s efforts, turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Berlin united with the Central and Eastern European member states to downgrade Sarkozy’s Union for the Mediterranean into a meaningless discussion forum and inefficient member bloated exercise. The original plan, however, had been good. The point was to endow the EU’s southern neighborhood with a Finlandized area of its own. Open to preferential trade with the EU, willing to apprehend European values but devoid of actual membership—tout sauf institutions.

Sadly, Germany’s insistence for the inclusion of all EU member states in the Mediterranean Union would finally prevent it from ever emerging as a meaningful institution. It managed nevertheless to alter the EU’s paradigm of political approach to its southern neighborhood from a post 9/11 belief in promoting normative reform in illiberal regimes, to a more pragmatic and non-interfering engagement.

It was also Germany that prevented an easier French triumph in the Libyan war. France followed its diplomatic victory in Côte d’Ivoire, where it succeeded in replacing the regime with a more reliable one while using relevant international organizations as the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations, with another impressive diplomatic mobilization of international organizations into adoption of the French narrative in Libya; Paris now being very likely to inherit the preferential commercial and military ties Tripoli used to respectively maintain with Italy and Russia and freed from Muammar Gaddafi’s nefarious influence over Françafrique.

Sarkozy wasn’t shy in advocating a heavy hand against Iran, a state which seeks to undermine Western interests in the Middle East. Along the way, apart from making France a front seat player in the world’s major developments and organizations (two successive French presidents of the International Monetary Fund) Sarkozy was good at securing a ceasefire between Georgia and Russia which for the most part secured the previous status quo (appeased Moscow, cooperative Tbilisi).

The truth is that Nicolas Sarkozy served the French people well in foreign affairs. One hopes that they are sensible enough to apprehend as much.

(Originally published in the Atlantic Sentinel)

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Bandwagoning isn’t Strategy – Italy and the Failure of the Bureaucratic Model

March 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

These days the western media can’t help but give in to their magical feelings of wonder before a contemporary crumbling of a dictatorial bloc. Their darlings in the Middle East – the university educated youths – are a veritable intellectual vanguard for the overthrow of patriarchal royalty and the rise of a benign liberal democracy that will liberate the poor Arab masses…

The American right has caught on to the inherent problem that the West’s allies are falling and Iran is celebrating for a reason. This doesn’t make Fox’s pundits any less hypocritical but at least they are one step ahead of the liberal media which under the leadership of CNN has had nothing but kind words for the fall of loyal allies. In fact the western media in no way falls behind such outlets as Russia Today in the absolutely partial coverage of these events. The demonstrators always represent ‘the people of Egypt’, the regime is always tactical and never concerned for the national interest of the state in question.

The harsh reality is that much of the vulnerability of these regimes stems from liberalising reforms result of Western pressure. The reality is that many of these youths have no political platform whatsoever to replace the falling regimes. The reality is that corporatist domestic elites had a vested interest in ‘facilitating’ the exit of the economically liberal Mubarak clan. The reality is that the intellectual elite which is out in the streets may be secular but it also is leftist and will likely drive Egypt into a neo-Nasserite wave if elected. In fact the January 25th movement is not unlike the May of 68 one. A new order is envisioned based on lofty ideals, but just as the southern European democracies (5th Republic France, post-Franco Spain, 3rd Republic Portugal, 3rd Hellenic Republic) failed to emulate the civic and economic achievements of their social-democratic heroes of northern Europe, so too will Arabs fail to become liberal democratic republics – with the possible exception of Tunisia – even if so self-proclaimed in name.

Every regime distorts history in blaming its predecessor system for the economic faults of the state. In the case of Egypt and the Arab world, this will likely drive the new elites into a social endowment wave which will degrade even further the financial health of the different Arab societies. For all the hype that the corrupt regimes have left the Arab youth in poverty, Egypt was a notable case of fast economic growth in spite of a sluggish and over-centralised state apparatus. In fact Egypt’s credit ratings are still higher and healthier than Greece’s for example. All this will be endangered by any dramatic increase in social benefits. It is true that Egypt’s youth was driven to the streets by economic difficulties but it is also true that these are much more due to exaggerated demographic growth rather than economic mismanagement on the part of the government. Besides, there are protests against the effects of the global crisis all throughout the world and governments needn’t fall for that. No, the rhetoric of the youth of Egypt says nothing of one-child policies or birth-control, its platform is simply ‘more employment’ and this can only translate in more artificial government sponsored jobs. Any benefit in tackling corruption that freedom of speech might bring stands to be quickly squandered by more bureaucracy and true economic negligence stemming from demagogic policies.

If all this is true for many Arab states, Libya is a special case. Libya unlike Egypt, has never truly been an ally of the West. While the recent overture to American and European investment prevented further trouble for the Qadhafi regime – after all the country is located in NATO’s Mediterranean pond – Tripoli has persisted in remaining outside of the American sphere of influence. Its military purchases are made in Moscow, its diplomacy favours African and Arab fora and much of the investment that rivals with that of the West comes from Russia, China and Turkey. While Libya has apparently reversed its pro-terrorism pan-third-world stance, it is still rabidly and irrationally anti-Israel and anti-American.

For all these reasons, it isn’t as strange to find a lack of goodwill towards Libya in Western capitals, as it is towards Mubarak. Libya also demonstrates that the national interests of western states differ irrespective of the nature of their regimes (democracy) or constructivist arrangements (EU, NATO).

Not all capitals of the West would like to see Qadhafi gone. Rome stands out as the state with most to lose from an overthrow of Qadhafi. Half of Libya’s exports to the EU wind up in Italy and the Italian Republic provides for almost 40% of the Jamahiriya’s imports. This is mostly the result of a legitimate and natural pursuit by Italy of close relations with its former colony. The Berlusconi governments in particular have been avid pioneers in Libya’s opening to the West, also using in their favour the special relationship Italy has entertained with Russia for some decades now. Companies such as ENI, Finmeccanica, Ansaldo or UniCredit are to a great extent interdependent with the Libyan economy.

But Rome suffers from an original sin which is common in the West: lack of strategic posture. Scholars such as Patrick Porter have been keen on pointing out – a propos of Britain’s defence review – that “with no obvious major enemy to focus the mind, British strategy has been shaped by Washington’s agenda, and become overly concerned with ‘narrative’”. The same is true for much of Europe since naming likely enemies is politically incorrect and choosing interests over values, a media suicide.

Let us look at the foundations of modern Italy. Italy was born a kingdom for a reason yet the Allied Powers led by the US thought it best to turn it into a federal republic after its fascist experience during WWII. Usually the US despises the royals and with the exception of Japan, it is America’s model that serves as a stepping stone for the re-engineering of other countries (Germany, Italy, Iraq, Afghanistan). Consequently, without strong tradition in democracy, Italy becomes an expectedly fragile and unstable republic. Italian governments rarely fulfil their constitutional term and the country has become a ‘dictatorship of the Directors-General’. While some may see in this the technocratic ideal of governance, one of the problems is the inherent lack of strategic planning. It is all too well that Rome’s bureaucracy understands what Italy’s needs are and how to get them. Berlusconi’s opportunistic behaviour certainly brought a high degree of success. Ultimately though, Italy’s interests in Libya were not protected by any coherent strategy, as the diplomatic debacle of Berlusconi plainly demonstrates it now.

In simple terms: what’s the point of getting there first if you can’t hold your ground?

Strategy shouldn’t be too complicated but it should also be sustainable and coherent. Italy has in effect lost Libya (If the current regime falls, its replacement will seek ties with those who in the past aided the Benghazi rebellion. If the current regime survives it will become a pariah, probably under EU and UN sanctions, and giving preference to those who do not morally condemn it – Russia, China, Turkey) because it did not anchor its economic conquests with the necessary diplomacy to sustain dealings with radical regimes. At first the Italian government kept quiet and then it felt it had no other choice but to jump into the train of European and Western condemnation, thus risking forfeiting its business investments. Apart from incoherent positioning, Italy also found itself isolated. Couldn’t the Italians have reminded the French that they weren’t the only ones protecting a dictatorial regime? Couldn’t Rome have persuaded Germany that actively siding against Qadhafi might cost money in a near future? What about partnering with Turkey and others in demanding that the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) be put in charge of the response to the crisis – and in so doing prevent a consensus on intervention?

It is comprehensible that Paris and London are interested in removing Qadhafi, it is not that Rome doesn’t move a finger to salvage its assets.

This is also due in part to the pacifist indoctrination the country experienced to counter the legacy of Mussolini’s militarism. A great part of Italy’s elite, civil servants and diplomats abhors unilateral action. Italy embarks on every multilateral project without regard to the consequences. It doesn’t hold a permanent seat in the Security Council and indeed the ‘enemy state’ language is still in use, but Italy is one of the hardest proponents of UN backed legitimacy for intervention – hard to understand how it mustered the strength to prevent Germany from gaining a permanent seat in the UNSC. It is a central and founding member of the EU, yet it bows to the will of the Paris-Berlin axis. It adhered to the UfM, a structure under French leadership. It is a member of NATO and went along – even if reluctantly – with the campaign in Kosovo, even though it was for the benefit of Washington and Berlin.

The Italian MFA is a disgrace but so is Berlusconi for not having had the statesmanship to secure Italy’s national interest. Italy as a central country – in the Mediterranean, Europe – simply cannot afford to completely depend on others. It must engineer its own regional diplomatic framework to allow the prosecution of its interests. What good are its armed forces and financial power if only used for the sake of others? Libya is not a crucial territory for other European or Middle Eastern powers; if Italy can’t stand up for itself there, where can it do so?

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Drôle de Paix I – Lisbon’s Occident

November 21, 2010 at 7:36 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Portugal is the westernmost European state and it was also the country that brought forth the West’s global primacy. In 1415 Portugal became the first European kingdom to conquer territory outside of Europe and that date marks also the beginning of the Age of Discovery. Carthage, Rome and Byzantium, the Crusades and subsequent Mediterranean powers controlled territories in Africa and Asia but always in a regional pursuit for dominance. The Portuguese were first to bet on a global empire in pursuing their national interest and that mission began in the north-African city of Ceuta, marking its Christian dominance until today.

Portugal was not the first country to adopt a global strategy. Mongolia, China, the Caliphate did it first and Alexander tried it as well but managed only to turn the Hellenic community into Persia’s successor state. Portugal was two thousand years later, Europe’s pioneer in putting the teachings of the Renaissance to use on power projection beyond the ‘known world’.

Robert D. Kaplan calls the Indian Ocean the ‘hub of the twenty-first century world’ but the Indian Ocean rim has long been the best barometer of world power, from the Arab and Gujarati traders’ evangelisation to the Ming dynasty’s diplomatic armadas. The Portuguese though, were the first to export Europe’s technologies and values to a non-contiguous civilisation by establishing their ‘Estado da Índia’.

At the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon, the Portuguese PM referred to the Portuguese capital as a ‘safe haven’ from the EU’s troubles and he’d probably like to replicate just such an allegory with NATO. However just as Lisbon led the West into six centuries of global dominance so too today it seems to lead it to its twilight: the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon and NATO’s Lisbon Summit are the symbols of the Western civilisation’s fall from power. During the Pax Americana of the 90s and early 00s, America and Europe fought paid and nurtured the project of global liberal democracy. NATO’s and the European Union’s recent landmarks though are only meant to manage stagnation. The Treaty of Lisbon was an unambitious version of the aborted ‘Constitutional Treaty’ and even that will have to be amended very soon. Had the EU been less adamant on socially engineering a post-modern utopia, it might just have managed to convert some of its influence into hard-power. The euro-sceptic backlash that a normatively overbearing EU caused may just have pushed away further strategic cooperation and it is anyone’s guess how and when Europe will be rid of this crisis or the economic downturn. NATO in turn adopted Russia and became a more diffuse security mechanism. The missile shield is nice but for all intents and purposes NATO is becoming a more glorified OSCE; what else to call a military alliance that embraces the likeliest state to wage war – Russia – on the likeliest state to next join – Georgia – the organisation?

Lets be frank, the main security issues are not being tackled: border disputes in Europe are ‘crystallised conflicts’ – Cyprus, Gibraltar, Ceuta and Melilla, Olivença, South Tyrol, Kosovo, Belgium, etc – NATO or the EU refuse to touch the frozen conflicts – Karabakh, Georgia, Ukraine – and the hot spots are not working out that well – Iraq is falling under Iranian influence, the Afghan campaign is unsustainable. The only successes are unilateral or bilateral: the sanctions on Iran are the product of bilateral cooperation (5+1) and the missile shield is basically a US initiative with Russian acquiescence.

Then there’s the problem of Turkey, which in this summit seemed to be approached more as a NATO-Turkey Council than as an inner core NATO member. Certainly the Turks have valid reasons to object paying for a security structure which also serves the needs of an organisation (under the Berlin + agreement on burden-sharing) Turkey isn’t part of, i.e. the EU.

SAS Drakensberg - the South African Navy's ship on board which the new military cooperation protocols between Argentina and the RSA were signed, during the naval exercise ATLASUR VIII (this is also the ship dispatched to Ivoirian waters by the RSA, following the Ivoirian crisis of 2010-11)


As for the EU, if its apologists said that its successes were primarily in terms of soft power and cooperation, the rise of Germany shattered many europhiles’ delusions. This is not about Angela Merkel’s whims nor about a temporary lack of cooperation between the European capitals, this is about the same problem that drove Europe to the Great Wars: the emergence of a new power polity in the continent. This is structural, not cyclical. Russia and America kept Germany in check throughout the XX century in order to safe-keep their interests in a divided Europe. Now though, Russia is weak, America is waning and turning its attentions to Asia, and the traditional European powers have in the meantime been devoid of their colonial critical mass to be able to successfully counter-balance Berlin: Britain France and the western Europeans saw their grip on overseas possessions jointly subverted by the superpowers, Warsaw and Belgrade have been deprived of their Międzymorze and Yugosphere strategic depths and ditto for Vienna’s and Budapest’s Alpine-Carpathian dominions.

The German Empire never relied on Prussia or the eastern agricultural spaces for its strength, it was the industrial machine of the Rhein valley that drove them into hegemony and apart from the loss of Alsace-Lorraine they were allowed to retain it. Consequently the German population was always set to become primary in Europe. German reunification simply sealed the deal but it also destroyed the strategic balance between Germany and France which was at the origin of the European treaties.

It is ironic that after a century of American interventionism in Europe, the old continent will simply return to its old ways. In a way, just as Asia is reacquiring its role in the world, so is Europe falling back to its previous geopolitical configuration.

Now more than ever the US needs regional allies. The white star navy will have to undergo cutbacks and new deployments will have to be made in order to reinforce the 7th and 5th fleets in the west Pacific and Indian Ocean respectively. This means that those countries in Europe and the Atlantic which can regionally provide America with reliable help will be preferred but it also means that America is no longer available to aid in the maintenance of balances of power. The West will require realignments and in Europe there are already four major power zones emerging: the continental hegemons Germany Italy and Russia – in a new Molotov-Ribbentrop dynamic – the Mediterranean hegemons Spain Italy and Turkey, the continental middle powers France, Britain and Poland and the Mediterranean middle powers France, Egypt, Israel and Greece. Basically, Europe will be picking up where it left off prior to WWII, with an anti German alliance. In the Mediterranean things may be trickier since the states that control the chokepoints seem to have a lot to gain from cooperating with each other leaving transit states such as France or Greece dependent on them. Russia has already chosen to bow to Turkish dominance of the eastern Med and the odds are not good that the Greece-Cyprus-Israel connection will be able to successfully counter Ankara’s ascendancy.

If the continental hegemons choose to partner with the Mediterranean hegemons though, only an outside power will be able to help London and Paris in keeping alive a balance of power. Will America be able to keep projecting some power into Europe? Will the Atlantic concert resort to new partners such as Brazil?

There is a strong anti-interventionist tendency in America which may be happier dismantling the United States’ global intervention infrastructure and simply relying on regional powers for ad hoc arrangements. The rise of the Tea Party, while not strictly a libertarian movement, may in time vindicate the views of the Paul dynasty. Simultaneously, in Brazil the Labour Party’s foreign policy is strongly third-worldist and seems determined to rally behind Brazil the developing ‘South’. These ‘autonomistas’ are less likely to partner with industrialised powers than the Brazilian right’s ‘institucionalistas pragmáticos’ and little cooperation will be seen between the southern hemisphere and Europe while the Lula legacy is in power, even if not all of the south Atlantic Ocean rim seems to agree with Brazil’s preeminence.

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House of Cards

October 27, 2010 at 5:26 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , )


In my many discussions with Europhiles, they’ll often tell me that not everyone in favour of Europeanization is an idealist and that the project is also brought about for pragmatic reasons. Much to my amusement the recent controversy between the Commission and the French government serves to keep fresh my accusations that the Eurocrats’ promotion of the European project, however self-serving is grounded on a fundamentally idealistic assertion.

The Roma community is loathed throughout Europe for its persistent refusal to assimilate the culture of its host societies and for its overall lack of hygiene. This is not a prejudice, this is reality. I have travelled through Europe and have observed it. Of course there are exceptions to the norm but it remains the norm nonetheless and I believe that even the most radical leftist would have little problem recognising this. I am unsure as to how legal the French government’s actions were in regard to the Romanian Roma in France but what I do know is that the average EU citizen’s appreciation for the Roma is very low and that therefore it is no surprise that a government is finally taking action against a group of people who are less than welcome.

I find the French government’s actions justified if for nothing else, the principle of sovereignty. The French state has the right to decide who it lets enter its borders and who it does not. In principle ethnic discrimination is wrong but the left’s mistake is to refuse it on a matter of principle and to ignore all the practical consequences. It is a well known fact that the Roma people do not integrate and end up becoming a burden on France’s most generous welfare system, not to mention less legal enterprises.

What I find amusing in this affair is that many people on both the left and the right understand the actions of the Sarcozy government but are ashamed of admitting it. What is unbeknown to them but which they intuitively suspect is the unsustainability of the multicultural model. Like many theories it looks good on principle and morally ideal but in practice the multicultural society is a fiction and it was never put into practice very successfully for very long. As I’ve previously discussed this is not to say that we all should live apart in exclusivist societies, but cultural differences cannot coexist as easily as the model would indicate. Any attempt at forcing the coexistence of dramatically different cultures without any tradition to sustain it is nothing but social engineering.

Yet this is exactly what the EU is all about: to engineer a diverse, democratic and humanitarian ‘good society’ in the European continent.

The European Union though is a house of cards. Its growth/integration is built on incompatible cultures, on divergent legal systems, clashing strategic interests, and an ever growing lack of orientation and strategic thought – if there ever was one. In September I asked a panel of EU experts what the strategy of EU enlargement was, they smiled and rhetorically asked what the strategy of the EU itself was – the strategy was just the success of the project. They continued to smile, I did not. This is the typical pink destiny blind faith that Liberal Internationalists always display, believing themselves to be the creators of an end-of-history chronological exception which will generate paradise on Earth. I refuse to reckon an ounce of rationalisation in people who dismiss the need for strategy in a civilisational revolutionising endeavour.

The truth is that the humble origins with the coal and steel accords made sense in the context of the Cold War since the absence of war and the progressive economic integration were crucial for the cohesion of the western alliance and the resistance against the Soviet bloc.

West Germany however is not today’s Germany and the EEC is not the EU. West Germany was the most mutilated German state since the 1800s and existed basically as a Rhein Confederation of the XX century, serving the strategic and economic aims of the Allies against the USSR. Bonn was strategically par with Paris and together they formed the ‘European core’ par excellence which kept Europe valid and rational.

Post 89 Europe is a different world, with reunited Germany first among equals and the USSR gone as a raison d’être for the rallying together of western Europe. The 90s expansion of NATO and the EU was driven by the idealistic conviction in liberal democracy as a Hegelian final synthesis, and by moderates echoing Cold War maxims. The West’s ‘Moral Commitment’ – not my words folks, I just pass the europhile concept along – has led it to strategic overstretch and über-democracy sacrifices strategic imperatives for social endowments – Hervé Morin the French MoD has recently come to public criticizing the widespread cuts in defence that have been taking place throughout Europe but what is most hypocritical is that the same European leaders who formally make the case for European integration and the devolution of national competencies, later complain of threats to the national interest such as the sacrificing of strategic sector budgets.

This is one of the most important paradoxes in Europe’s fundamental inconsistency: more democracy and more integration only seems to cause more widespread euro-scepticism and less propensity for intervention abroad.

In fact this causes a certain federalist angst which ends up propelling a vicious circle of integrationist self defeating hyper-action. Appeals to the fight against the ‘democratic deficit’ and demands for more powers to European institutions are the pavlovian response of the universalists in charge of the Union. If the different European peoples feel disconnected from the EU then the problem cannot lie in the EU’s natural lack of legitimacy but rather in the supranationalist project’s lack of enhanced democracy, enhanced authority over the states and enhanced human rights initiatives. These in turn only make the EU appear even more over bearing on the different nations of Europe.

Realpolitik has also been named as one of the problems with the European project by the European Liberal Internationalists. According to them, realists only care about short term gains and their ‘lack of vision’ weakens the dream of a united Europe. This is of course a complete perversion of the Realist school and its critique of the European integration. It is true that Realists have little faith in the EU but their scepticism derives from historical empiricism, not electoral populism. Quite to the contrary, Libints are the ones who have been piggybacking on the benefits of populism: it is after all they who take advantage of the citizens’ disinterest in politics to advance Europeanization and legitimise it only later and through persistent referenda. It is they who use value based politics to acquire popular legitimacy and it is they who make use of personality politics by creating media darlings who fight corruption, legislate against monopolies and zeal for the Europeans’ health, while blaming national governments for failures such as irresponsible spending: as one Eurocrat famously put it ‘the Commission does not make mistakes, it acquires new experiences’.

Another nefarious consequence of the europhiles’ reliance on populism is the rise of the ultra-nationalist and Europhobic fringe parties throughout Europe. How did this come to pass? Not as you might think because the national governments blame the EU for the economic downturn and take credit for its successes. This too happens but then the EU plays the same game. No, it happened because the politically correct line of every mainstream party in Europe has involved unconditional support for more integration for the past decades, leaving the true critique of Europeanization to the extreme parties.

So do please allow Viviane Reding to proceed with her plan of referring France to the European Court of Justice and let the Court fine France for its non-compliance with EU Law. It is after all only logical that a member-state’s illegal actions should have consequences in a system where EU Law takes precedence over national legislations. It wouldn’t even be the first time: the EU subverted Austria’s political system in 2000 by diplomatically isolating Vienna in order to pressure for the end of the governing coalition that included the ‘right-wing extremist’ party of the infamous Jörg Haider. Hence let an indebted EU core-state be penalised for exerting its sovereignty; I look forward to it, I welcome it, I promote it, I will relish it fully, for the humiliation of one of the two essential states in the European integration process will foster one of the most Eurosceptic waves in the history of the European project and will wound it further.

As I’ve stated, European cooperation would be essential to the strategic success of the different European nations in a world of civilisation-states. To have delegated that strategic goal to universalists will unfortunately prove to be a historic mistake of epic proportions.

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