Background Briefs


After the Irish No: Few Good Options

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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Joëlle Attinger, President of the European Institute. And on behalf of Jacqueline Grapin, our Chairman, I'm especially pleased to welcome you to this very timely discussion with Ambassador John Bruton, Head of the Delegation of the European Commission to the United States. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for joining us at this most pivotal time in the history of the European Union.

It has been almost a month to the day that the people of Ireland voted to reject the Treaty of Lisbon, and the implications continue to reverberate throughout Europe and beyond. Indeed, in the wake of the Irish Referendum, doubts have been raised in both Poland and the Czech Republic about their country's willingness to ratify the Treaty. On the other hand, the Dutch Parliament this week joined 19 other members of the European Union and voted for ratification.

So, what does this all mean for Europe's efforts to implement fundamental institutional reforms and assume a more unified voice in global affairs?

As Prime Minister of Ireland from 1994 to 1997, Ambassador Bruton is in a unique position to assess his nation's historic vote and what it may mean for Ireland, for the European Union and for relations between Europe and the United States.

A principal in the drafting of the European Constitution, Ambassador Bruton has been a tireless advocate for enhanced EU-wide democracy. First selected to the Irish Parliament as a member of the Fine Gael party at the age of 22 in 1969, Ambassador Bruton became party leader in 1990. During his distinguished political career, he has served as Ireland's Minister of Finance, Minister for Industry & Energy and Minister for Trade, Commerce & Tourism.

Ambassador Bruton, it is an absolute pleasure and honor to welcome you back to the European Institute. The Celtic Tiger has roared and we look forward to hearing your personal assessment of what it means.

Ambassador John Bruton:

I have a script, which, if I were to deliver in full, would take somewhere in the region of 70 to 80 minutes. I thought it would be appropriate to prepare something quite studied on this matter because this is an important issue. But in the interest of time, I will summarize it and take questions at the end. Copies of the full script are available.

I should say at the outset that I'm speaking here in a personal capacity, not on behalf of the European Commission, but in the capacities that were described in the introduction.

I believe that there are solutions available to the current situation, but none of them are easy and all of them are quite risky.

How did we get to this point? In December 2001, the European Council decided that we needed to revamp the EU treaties to make them capable of absorbing more members into the European Union. They established a convention, the first of its kind, for not just representatives of governments, which had been the previous entities involved in negotiating treaties, but representatives of the European Parliament and representatives of national parliaments to come together. And they introduced, in 2004, the draft Constitution.

Unfortunately, that draft Constitution, in 2005, was rejected in the referenda in the Netherlands and France. Although it was accepted in referenda in Luxembourg, Spain and Britain, which had promised to have referenda on the subject, didn’t go ahead with them in light of the decisions in France and the Netherlands.

It was decided that there would then be a period of reflection on the result. I would suggest that there wasn't actually any reflection during the reflection period. A great deal of emotional energy had been devoted to putting together the compromises that were contained in the Constitution. And fundamentally none of the Member governments really wanted to revisit those basic compromises.

So, with some changes and some opt-outs, it was decided that the Constitution would be made less constitutional, or so it was thought, by presenting its contents as a series of amendments to existing treaties, rather than as a single consolidated text called a Constitution.

In other words, what was a single – although long – readable text containing all the information that people needed to know, was converted into a document that was fundamentally unreadable in the sense that it was a series of amendments to other documents, which you couldn't read sensibly unless you had the other documents available. So, although the Lisbon Treaty was designed to make the European Union more transparent, the instrument through which this transparency was created was not transparent itself.

In previous periods of European history, this may not have mattered so much because the Internet didn't exist and people were prepared to accept, from their leaders, summaries of what was contained in the document. But, in Ireland's case, in May and June of this year, most people had access to the Internet and decided that they would read the Lisbon Treaty for themselves on the Internet without relying on the Prime Minister or Taoiseach or anybody else to tell them what was in it. They tried to read it themselves; and that, of course, proved to be impossible in any sense of acquiring an understanding of it. And that, I think, was the principal reason – it wasn't the only reason – but, the unreadability of the document was the principal reason why it wasn't accepted in the referendum.

Why did Ireland have a referendum when nobody else had one? The reason for that is that the Irish Constitution drafted in 1937 requires that any diminution in the sovereignty of the Irish State involves an amendment to the Constitution. And amendments to the Irish Constitution can only be made with the support of the people in a referendum.

That probably reflects the historical era in which that Constitution was produced, when plebiscites were more popular, shall we say, than they were in the post-war years when most of the Constitutions of the other European countries – which allow for amendments to their Constitutions by parliamentary, extraordinary parliamentary, majorities rather than by instrument of referendum – were adopted.

Before going into the politics of this, I'd like to explain why I am so disappointed that the Lisbon Treaty, at this point, is not set to go into effect. And I think my reasons for disappointment may not be the ones that are most currently canvassed in public discussion on this subject. By far the most important reason for my disappointment is that the Lisbon Treaty would have equipped the European Union to deal effectively with cross-border crime by introducing majority voting and direct applicability of the EU laws in this field.

At the moment, the requirement of unanimous votes on issues in this area is holding up the application of the EU-US Extradition and Mutual Agreement. It's holding up the implementation of the European Evidence Warrant and a number of other very important tools that Europe needs to be able to combat cross-border crime.

Virtually every crime that takes place in Europe today has a cross-border element. It is either fuelled by a need to get money to pay for drugs that have come across a border from some other country, or it is using a weapon that has been manufactured in another country, or it is lodging the proceeds of the crime in a bank account in another country or it is actually a crime against residents of another country.

Crime is inherently a cross-border phenomenon and the European Union is the only instrument available to Europeans to fight cross-border crime on the sophisticated level that it requires to be fought. Member-states cannot do the job on their own.

Unfortunately, that case wasn't made with the force that it ought to have been made to the Irish people in the May/June period. For reasons that I cannot understand, the Irish and British governments decided that they would opt-out of that particular part of the Treaty. And this, of course, stopped the Irish politicians from arguing for the ratification of something from which they had opted-out. In my view, that was by far the most populist part of the treaty in terms of its ability to appeal to the general population.

Another important area and populist moment in the Lisbon Treaty was the enhancement of the Union's capacity to deal with energy policy, a very important issue in every household in Ireland, Europe and the United States at this time. Again, I don't think that point was sufficiently stressed.

Further reason for my disappointment is that the Lisbon Treaty would have provided for significant improvement in the democratic life of the European Union by giving more power to the European Parliament over large parts of the budget on which Parliament currently doesn’t have the say that it has on the rest of the budget. For example, it would have given them budget power over agricultural policy and, as I said, cross-border crime.

Furthermore, with the Treaty, national parliaments would be engaged in scrutinizing all EU proposals for legislation before they went to the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament. They would judge whether each proposal and decide whether it was appropriate to deal with it at an EU level or a lower level that was more proportionate to the problem.

That involvement of the national parliaments would have done two things. First of all, it would have helped to develop a case law on what constituted “subsidiarity” – our EU terms for whether something should be dealt with on a European level or on a lesser level. And it also would have meant that national public opinions, through their national parliaments, would have been aware of prospective EU legislation before it actually came into effect, in many cases five or six years ahead of time. With the current situation, many people find out about EU directives, as they apply to them, three or four years after the thing has already been enacted -- maybe 10 years after the minister from their country voted for it in the Council of Ministers and only then when some of friend of theirs has been prosecuted for a breach. This would be entirely changed by the proposals in the Lisbon Treaty.

It would also have instituted a fairer system for distributing seats in the European Parliament, eliminating the need for horse trading every time there was a new enlargement or a reduction of the population of a country. A formula of “degressive proportionality” was to be instituted in Parliament and the double-majority system was to be instituted in regard to voting-weights in the Council of Ministers.

Such an automatic system, based on the fall in the population of one country relative to another, would have been able to instantly adapt the weightings on the basis of census results or the addition of new members. It would have eliminated the need for haggling and new deals about how many votes people would have because the formula would already be there.

Furthermore, the Lisbon Treaty would have given the Union more power to deal with cross-border health threats. Many in this country are justly worried about avian influenza, for example. Combating such a threat would probably involve the introduction of draconian measures to restrict personal freedoms in the interest of personal survival. And this could only be done effectively by a number of countries acting together.

The Lisbon Treaty would have given the European Union a legal base upon which to do that sort of lifesaving work. In the absence of the Lisbon Treaty, there's doubt as to whether we would be able to make the decisions to deal with such a matter in the very short timeframe.

Also, some have argued, I think erroneously, that the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty means the European Union can no longer enlarge to take in new members. The Nice Treaty can, in fact, be used as a basis for enlargement, for further enlargement. And any adjustments in the existing Nice Treaty can be made in the Treaties of Accession. Those who are saying that there cannot be further enlargement unless Lisbon is ratified are expressing a political opinion. They're not talking of a legal requirement.

Another area, the one perhaps most doubted, where the Lisbon Treaty would have been beneficial is in the area of foreign relations. It would have enabled the European Union to have a single, legal personality, which would enable it to negotiate treaties with other world entities on all its areas of activity. At the moment, there is much confusion around the subject because some parts of international agreements are a national competence and some are union competence, at the moment. This disables the negotiators and their negotiations.

It also would have established clear legally binding criteria upon which European foreign policy was to be conducted, set out in the relevant article of the Treaty.

It would have established two new offices, as well: the Office of a full-time President of the European Council, who would have responsibilities in foreign matters, and a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who would be both servant of the Council of Ministers and a Vice President of the European Commission.

And, of course, the President of the Commission would continue in office and would continue to do his External Relations. So, these three people involved in External Relations would be assisted by a new External Action Service, which would bring administrative coherence to the work of the three parties concerned.

Some concerns have been expressed that the collegiality of the European Commission might have been adversely affected by the fact that one of its members would now be a servant for some of its work of another entity, the Council of Ministers. At the moment, all Commissioners only serve the common European interests as members of the Commission and may occupy no other post.

Others were also concerned that the Foreign Minister, or High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, would have had too much to do in the sense that he or she would have to attend Commission meetings every week and involve him or herself in Commission business, would have to meet foreign dignitaries coming to Brussels on a regular basis, would have to chair all meetings of the Foreign Ministers and would have to travel the world to familiarize himself or herself directly with problems in other parts of the world. Four tasks, one person. And I think, you know, there are concerns about how workable that might be.

I have no doubt, if the right personalities are selected, there would be no problem. But, Jean Monnet, in his founding thoughts about the European Union, emphasized the importance of institutions as well as the importance of personalities.

Another issue that was of concern in the Irish Referendum – and a concern in other states, as well – was whether Ireland would have a Commissioner all the time.

Under the Nice Treaty that could not have continued because if there were to be further enlargements of the European Union, there was an obligation in the next Commission to reduce the size of the Commission below the number of members.

So people voted against the Lisbon Treaty. I think they voted mistakenly because, strangely, the Lisbon Treaty was the only way in which there was any possibility of every member having a Commissioner. The Lisbon Treaty said that, in general, the aim is that two-thirds of the Member-states will have a Commissioner at any given time and one-third won't. But, it also says there could be unanimous agreement to vary that. So, the only hope anyone in Ireland had of having a Commissioner all the time would have been by voting "Yes" to the Lisbon Treaty. But, unfortunately, they voted "No" to the Lisbon Treaty in error on that point.

A final structural reason for my disappointment about Ireland's decision is that it seems as though it will be much more difficult for the EU to amend treaties in the future. And Ireland having now rejected an EU Treaty for a second time is constituting itself a “stumbling block.” And being a stumbling block is not comfortable either for the block or for anyone who stumbles over it.

It's not comfortable for the European Union that Ireland is constituting itself as a sort of stumbling block. But it’s not comfortable either for Ireland, even if it in accordance with its Constitution, to find itself in practice as the stumbling block.

What does the Irish result tell us? Well, young people voted "no" more than older people. Woman most likely voted “no” more than men. The biggest reason given by people who voted "no" was that they didn't understand the Treaty. Twenty-two percent gave that reason. Only six percent of the people gave Irish neutrality as a reason. Only six percent gave keeping a Commissioner as a reason, and six percent gave lack of trust in politicians as a reason. But more than 70 percent of those who voted "no" thought the Treaty could be relatively easily renegotiated.

Basically, if you wanted to characterize the people who voted "no" and the people who voted "yes," you look at the democratic primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and exclude from your calculation the African-American vote. Amongst the non-African American voters, you could broadly say that the type of person who opted for Hillary Clinton was the same type of person – more women, more rural, less well off – more likely to be voting "no" and the type of person who voted for Barack Obama more likely to vote "yes."

And I think this sort of demographic divide is something that we find in all countries because of concern about globalization, which affects some people differently than others and it affected – affects – the "no" voters in Ireland and the Hillary Clinton voters in the United States a little bit more severely than the others.

However, this vote in Ireland does not indicate any negative feelings towards the European Union on the part of Irish people. Irish people voted on this not in a vote for or against the European Union, but because they persuaded themselves that they were being asked for their opinion. They thought that they were being asked to give their honest opinion whether they thought this was a good treaty or not and they thought that their opinion would be taken seriously. That's what they thought. They may have been innocent in thinking that, but that's what they thought and that's the basis upon which they took their decision.

Whereas 52 percent of Europeans have a positive view of their country's membership of the European Union, 14 percent believe it's a bad thing. Seventy-three percent of Irish people believe being in the EU is good, much better than the EU average. Eighty-two percent of Irish voters believe that their country has benefited from EU membership. Only Denmark comes close to that, 77 percent. In some EU countries at the moment, only 36 percent believe their country has benefited from an EU membership.

Trust is a very important ingredient in politics, and I think trust is at the heart of the problem here. Fifty percent of the Europeans trust the European Union. Only 32 percent of Europeans trust their national governments. The highest levels of trust in national governments are to be found in Cyprus, Finland, Malta and Spain, possibly because those are countries that have recently had elections, and trust seems to diminish with the passage of time. In Ireland, 62 percent of Irish people trust the European Union. Only 37 percent trust the Irish government.

So reassuring people that it doesn't matter what is in this Treaty because your government will be able to say "no" -- for example, that they will be able to move certain further things to qualified majority under what we call “the passerelle clause” -- isn't very reassuring to people except the 37 percent of them who trust their government. The people that don't trust their government aren't going to trust them to make that decision.

So, the problem of trust, in my view, is more a problem of trust in national governments throughout Europe. Ireland is not an exception, then, in its degree of trust in the European Union.

Globalization is also an issue in which Irish people have reservations. Only 34 percent have positive attitudes to globalization, similar to the 25 percent in France, whereas 78 percent of Danes and 64 percent of Swedes have positive attitudes. And I think that difference may also explain why Ireland was inclined to vote "No" in current economic circumstances where a housing bubble is presently bursting.

Another more profound reason, which I think needs to be addressed by those of us who want this Treaty in whatever form to be adopted by the Irish people, is that a lower percentage of Irish people than in the rest of the European Union believe there is such a thing as distinctly European values. Sixty-three percent of Dutch people believe there is such a thing as distinctly European values as distinct from global values. Fifty-eight percent of Belgians, 54 percent of Swedes, 52 percent of French, 51 percent of Germans believe there is such a thing as distinctly European values. Only 36 percent of Irish people have that view and, interestingly, 39 percent of British people believe that there are distinctly European values.

So, in terms of having belief in European values, the British have a higher level in European values than the Irish do. Even though the Irish, of course, believe in being in the EU much more, which makes me think that the problem in Ireland is that Irish people are in the European Union for material reasons. They have not been convinced by their political leadership, which includes myself in my time in office, that Europe is not primarily about material things at all. The European Union is, in fact, about shared values. It is about shared sacrifice. It is about shared belief systems. And I think the problem that needs to be addressed in Ireland, in any attempt to get this Treaty adopted, is that the Irish people need to actually become Europeans in their hearts as well as in their pockets.

Unfortunately, I think that by adopting a sort of minimalist approach to European commitment, by looking for exceptions and exemptions, by trying to play down commitments to Common Foreign and Defense Policies, for example, rather than state them fully and honestly as to what they are, Irish political leaders are actually increasing this sense of detachment in Ireland from the European Union. This is a big problem for Ireland in its rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.

It is a big problem for Ireland. It's a problem for Europe, too, but it's not a crisis for Europe, and I think it's important to avoid using that term. The European Union continues to function very effectively in a whole range of areas, which I will not go into now. You’ll see this if you actually look at the performance of the European Union since 2004, in the four years since 2004, and in the four years prior to 2004, when we enlarged and everybody said, "As a result of enlargement and not getting the Constitution, there'll be all sort of problems." In fact, I think you could probably show that the European Union has been more effective in the four years with 27 members than it was in the four years with only 15 members in terms of decision-making. The problems of enlargement, which are so touted as a justification for changes, haven't actually arisen. So, it's not a crisis for Europe. It's a problem for the future and for future amendments to the Treaty that this stumbling block exists and it needs to be treated. But, it is not a crisis and we shouldn't treat it as a crisis.

What can happen now? I have identified in my vanity, four possible solutions. Every one of them is bad. But you can decide for yourselves whether they're better than doing nothing, which is the fifth option, which I won't go into.

The first option is to ask Ireland to vote again on the same text. It's arguable that this time people will actually understand it. And if the main reason was not understanding it, maybe this is a good option. But, the risk is that pride will come into it and people will say, "Well, we actually made a decision on the 12th of June, and you're coming back to us with the same document accompanied by a few political declarations, which we know perfectly well have no legal value at all. And you're asking us to vote on that again."

The risk is that even though people ought to vote "Yes" when they know more about it, they might be inclined to vote "No" simply because they felt that they weren't being taken seriously, and you've got to take voters seriously. We don't choose the voters. The politicians are chosen by the voters.

Also, if Ireland were to vote "No" a second time, I think suggestions like those that were recently made by the Center for European Policy Studies would emerge, whereby it would be suggested that the rest of the EU should go ahead and ratify the Lisbon Treaty in a consolidated form. This would of course mean re-ratifying it in all other countries, but leaving Ireland out.

That would involve a revolutionary change, in the true meaning of the sense revolutionary; it would abolish the long-established fact that EU treaties can only be amended by all countries agreeing. And that, I think, would have long trails of suspicion into the future where small members, for example, amongst the 26 who might go ahead in those circumstances, would feel much less secure in their membership with the European Union. I think it's a bad idea, but it's an idea that has been canvassed by responsible people. The risk of a second referendum is that it would tempt people to canvass that more seriously if there was a second "No."

Can the Lisbon Treaty be renegotiated or can the Lisbon package be renegotiated? That's my second option. Well, if one were to attempt to renegotiate any of the content of the treaty, one would have to re-ratify the treaty all over again. And there are some countries that don't want to do that for all sorts of reasons, and there are other countries that would see that as an opportunity to demand further exceptions for themselves. So, it would start out as a negotiation for one country could end up being a renegotiation for 27.

There is one thing that could be done, as I indicated, and that is, if it was thought wise, to address the concern about having a Commissioner all the time by setting aside the Lisbon formula for only having a Commissioner two-thirds of the time with a unanimous decision. That could be done without a treaty amendment, but I think it would run into an awful lot of difficulties with other countries who would say, "Reducing the size of the Commission was one of the reasons – maybe the main reason – why we agreed to other things to our disadvantage."

A third, equally difficult option would be to adopt the approach that most countries adopt when they go to amend their Constitutions. Even though they have never been called such, the EU Treaties are our “Constitution of Europe” anyway [because] they're the supreme law that guides our lesser forms of law.

The normal way that most countries would amend their Constitution is by putting individual proposals, one-by-one, either separately on the same day or separately on different days, to ratification either by their parliaments or by the people in the case of those who require referendum. And you could, without altering the Lisbon content, segment it up into a number of treaties, some of which wouldn't require a referendum in Ireland, because it's only the ones that affect sovereignty directly that require it to be in a referendum. So, those parts could be passed by Parliament.

But, again, this would involve controversy over how you slice it up. Some would say, "Well, you can't put that piece in a treaty without putting another part with it because we voted for that because we wanted to get the other." So, it would be extremely difficult to do such a segmentation. But, it would be more transparent. People would have more options when they come to vote. They would understand more fully what they were voting on because it would be a succession of individual proposals rather than a "take it or leave it blockbuster" that they had only one choice of saying either "Yes" or "No" to.

And the fourth option is to deal with the important Lisbon reforms in the next Accession Treaty, which will probably be an Accession Treaty for Croatia. You could include the essential reforms in Lisbon in the Accession Treaty, and since the Accession treaty has to approved by all Member-states anyway, the issue would then hinge on, do you want Croatia in, and if you do, you must have these reforms.

It would be a different question. It wouldn't run into the same difficulties that having another referendum in Spring would have in Ireland because it wouldn't be happening next Spring; it would be happening in a few years. But, it would reconstitute the same text and have it put people through the pain again. But, you know, it might be harder to say "No" to a particular country like Croatia than it is to say "No" to something dreamed up by bureaucrats and others meeting after good meals in Brussels.

The last thing I want to say is that it's possible to envision a way of sweetening all of these changes by introducing more direct democracy into the European Union. And this could be done either by amending the Lisbon Treaty or even without amending the Lisbon Treaty. One could agree that in the future, the new President of the Council or the President of the Commission would be elected directly by the people.

One of the reasons that it was hard to campaign for the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland was that, as the Americans would say, there was no "bumper-sticker issue," no signature point to which you could say, "This is really what the Lisbon Treaty is all about in three words."

Well, directly electing the President, that is a bumper-sticker issue. It means that just as people could change their government at national level by throwing the expletive deleted people out, they could do the same to the expletive deleted people at European level, which is something that's missing in European democracy, but very present in American democracy.

Would that command support? Probably not. Would it be a good idea? Certainly it would be a good idea. Would it close the gap between Europe and its citizens? Most certainly it would. Would that make some of the people sitting at the heads of government meetings in Brussels more comfortable? Most certainly not, which may be why it won't happen for a while. But, I've always taken the view – I suppose this is the only reason one could stay 35 years in politics as I did – that every problem is potentially an opportunity. So, I think rather than being weighed down by, "Oh God, those awful Irish. How ungrateful have they been? How stupid they have been? And what are we going to do about them?" and that sort of attitude, I think a more creative approach would be to say, "Are there ways in which this difficulty can be turned to an overall advantage to build a demos in Europe?" A democratic space in Europe of a kind that's not present at the moment, but that, in my view, Europe most definitely needs.

Ambassador Bruton then took questions.

Two questions, Ambassador?

Which parts of the Lisbon Treaty make it an issue of Irish sovereignty requiring you to actually have this referendum? Secondly, in Denmark, the country I represent, the way we got around our "no" in 1992 was to get some opt-outs. This would certainly not be something I would recommend, but are there particular issues that might be relevant for such Irish opt-outs?

Ambassador Bruton: In my view, Ireland already has more than enough opt-outs on all of the issues that were raised in this campaign. In fact, I'd like to see Ireland get rid of some of those opt-outs because I think they have a negative psychological effect on Irish attitudes towards Europe.

Among the issues in the Lisbon Treaty that touch on sovereignty and require a referendum, I think the proposed shifts to qualified majority voting (QMV) would be in that category. I don't think the changes in the composition of the Commission or other organizational changes make that much difference.

There is a moot point as to whether the EU's taking on new competencies would be something that would have an effect on sovereignty. So it would be well worthwhile, I think, to have a test case on that before the Irish Supreme Court.

But certainly I think the QMV things would be critical. And as I said, I think they're the most important and most valuable part of the treaty, much more so than some of the things that got more notice.

Question: Thank you for your very insightful explanation of the sort of psyche of the Irish people. I wanted to ask a question about the perception that some Irish people tend to look at the EU through their wallets rather than through their hearts or their minds. That, of course, is a concept that we Americans understand perfectly. Is it possible that if there were a second referendum and the volume of discussion about Europe without Ireland rose, that the impact on the Irish people would be to think with their wallets the second time around and say, "I don't understand it, I don't necessarily agree with it, but I'm economically better off because of it" – and vote yes.

Ambassador Bruton: -- I think anyone who is persuaded of something against their will isn't persuaded at all. Coercion is not a good means of achieving desirable election results. That's another reason why I don't think that strategy would work apart from some degree of natural closeness with Americans that Irish people have in some ways. It's probably true of every people feels that they have some particular sort of stubbornness built into their generic makeup. The Irish certainly believe that and would react very negatively to this half-mercantile, half-bullying approach [from the outside] to how they might vote.

I think there's another factor. While Ireland has been benefiting enormously from the EU membership since 1973 in terms of prosperity, partly due to the success it has got within the EU, Ireland is now reaching the point where far from getting money, it will actually be contributing money to the EU. So the argument might not work quite so well.

In my view, it's an approach to be avoided, at all costs. I'm a little bit worried that the logic in some things that people are saying now, is somehow leading inexorably in that direction, without people really thinking through whether they really want to go there. That's one of my reasons for saying that all of the four options that I put forward are actually bad options. We may have to pick one of them but I think we want to be very, very careful in thinking through the implications of any of the options – specifically, what we would plan to do if the option we chose goes wrong.

We cannot afford to travel in hope anymore. We've got to travel in knowledge of where we're going to reach and we've got to game-plan the whole thing fully, working back from the worst possible outcome to the best possible outcome, and seeing what would happen in between.

Question: The Netherlands, the country I represent, also voted down the treaty in an earlier referendum, so I feel your pain. I was wondering, among your "no" voters, which sort of feeling is stronger? Their negative attitude in their "no" about the referendum or their overall positive opinion about the EU? France's President Sarkozy has said that at the end of his EU presidency this year, he might have found a way out. If he proposes a political deal of some sort, would that create resentment among the Irish voters or would they welcome such a political deal, given the fact that they are in favor of EU cooperation?

Ambassador Bruton: All other things being equal, I think the Irish people's overall appreciation of the value of the EU – to them and to Europe as a whole – would win out. The Irish do appreciate the EU, maybe not as much as others do, but they do appreciate it as something for Europe as a whole.

But a lot depends on how things are approached. What are the psychological circumstances in which this is presented? If a more favorable psychological climate can be created, I think it be one in which Irish voters will look again at the Treaty and see in it things that they didn't see before, and appreciate the significance of some of the things that are in it in ways that they didn't appreciate before. They would feel they are doing that of their own free will, in an atmosphere where their judgment is being respected and will be respected whatever decision they take. But that requires enormous care, not just on the part of the Irish government. What is said by other statesmen in Europe or in any other part of the world about this issue will, within a few seconds, be relayed in Ireland and is capable of being misinterpreted in Ireland. So this is going to require a lot of careful thought.

I think it can be done. And one of the options that I suggested can work, but it's important whichever of them is taken, that it's done in the right set of circumstances, which I described as best I could.

Question: In this country, as you know, immigration is say a hot-button political issue and looking across the Atlantic, we have the impression that that's true there too. We read about immigration from new member states to more prosperous EU countries, including newly prosperous countries like Ireland. Has that affected Irish attitudes and Irish perceptions of the EU?

Ambassador Bruton: The Irish economy has continued to grow fast up to the last year, partly thanks to the arrival of Europeans from other EU countries who have come to work in Ireland in significant numbers. Immigration from other EU countries peaked in 2004. That has been vitally important in keeping the Irish economy going forward, up until last year, and people have a very positive view about it. Remember, Polish people coming to Ireland are not immigrants: They're Europeans going to live in another European country. And I think that's the way they are seen in Ireland.

There are in Europe as a whole, however, concerns about immigrants from non-EU states arriving in Europe with very little means or the skills for supporting themselves. That is creating problems for those countries. One of the reasons I'm sorry about the Lisbon Treaty it that it would have given the EU stronger powers to act in the area of common policies on immigration and refugees.

I don't think that that part of the Lisbon Treaty was one that had any influence on the vote in Ireland. And I think it's going to be difficult to reach agreement on at least some of these issues whether we have the Lisbon Treaty or not. But, no, I don't think it was a factor in the outcome, politically speaking.

Question: Ambassador, I was taken with your discussion of the degree and manner in which the Irish shared European values. I wasn't entirely clear whether you were saying that they do, in fact, share European values, but don't recognize it. Or they don't and that their values should be shaped in that direction. If the latter, how one might go about doing that?

Ambassador Bruton: That's a very acute question. I think most people don't talk about values all the time, and it's mainly elites who appreciate value-type discussions. When you think of it in this way, it's possible that it is not as important as it seems when one focuses on one question in the Eurobarometer poll Ireland where seemed to give a rather unusual answer. When it asked Irish people, do they believe that there are distinctly European values?, and they got a lower proportion saying "yes" than in other EU Member State, that may be due to the fact that so many Irish people look not only to Europe, but also to America, where so many of their relatives live, in determining what they feel comfortable with and what they think is their "value system." There is no other country in Europe, apart from Germany, that has as many of "cousins," so to speak, in the U.S. as the Irish do. So, I think some Irish poet described the Irish as having a "transatlantic mind," and that may have colored their answer to the values question. That is quite compatible, in my view, with the Irish being supportive of European values because really there isn't that much difference fundamentally between the values being promoted by the EU and the values of the United States -- some differences of emphasis perhaps, but not fundamental differences.

The more interesting question, I think, is a possible emotional reality that suggests that Irish people possibly haven't emotionally identified sufficiently with the EU and don't quite have the sense of ownership of the overall project that they ought to have. And that's the thing that Irish politicians need to address in a very serious way if they want Ireland to be a fully comfortable member of an evolving EU.

Question: Can I follow up on that? To what degree do you see Brussels' role in helping define that European common ethos?

Ambassador Bruton: I think it's probably going to be something influenced, in part, by people who are not involved in politics. The Pope (both the current one and his predecessor) has made very strong calls in favor of European integration. Europe's bishops virtually endorsed the Lisbon Treaty, and I think the same applies in other churches as well. So those who concern themselves with values, and with questions of how you express your identity without disrespecting someone else's – the leaders in these sectors need to be more vocal on this issue in Ireland. The Irish Catholic bishops issued a good statement which wasn't an outright endorsement of the Lisbon Treaty, but it came very close to it.

But in Ireland, just as in other countries, there are fundamentalists who believe, you know, that the devil is conspiring to bring us all down and that, for some of them, he lives in Brussels [laughter]. People of those types did have some impact, unfortunately, in the campaign, but it was not something supported by mainstream churches.

Question: I would like to congratulate you because I remember in the aftermath of the "no" vote in my country, France, there was no authority from the EU really ready to speak up. One of the reasons why the French people voted "no" was that politicians during the campaign for the referendum gave bad examples about globalization. In addition, some politicians in France argued for 'no'. If they had behaved differently, we would have got a majority.

Ambassador Bruton: I took part in the referendum campaign in France on that occasion, and the difficulty is, I guess, that if the politicians appear to be all on one side, voters feel that it is a conspiracy. On the other hand, if the politicians are on opposite sides, it can confuse people just as much.

I think the interesting thing in the French case is that those who led the "no" campaign haven't actually profited by it in their subsequent political careers. So I don't know that one can draw any conclusion that people who may have supported the "no" campaign, like Sinn Féin, in Ireland are going to benefit particularly from that.

It was a very bitter campaign in Ireland. A prominent leader, canvassing for the treaty, told me that he experienced jostling and sort of -- well, not actual violence, but threats of violence -- of a kind not experienced since the height of the famous hunger strikes involving the IRA. Why I don't know: I really can't understand why some of these groups, who are opposed, were so angry.

One of my worries, I have to say, about some of the thinking being advanced at the moment -- to the effect that the Irish might be asked to have another referendum next spring -- isn't to do with objections in principle to such a course, but rather with the tactical reality that Ireland may be in much worse economic condition by spring 2009 than it was in June 2008. Of course, it may be different again by spring 2010: Ireland may be in much better condition by then:I think it has a pretty resilient economy. But at the moment, there is a housing bubble being deflated, and people in Ireland are going to be very angry in spring of 2009.

I'm of a generation of Irish people who knew both good and bad times. But many of the people under the age of 35 or 40 in Ireland have never known anything but continuing prosperity, until this year. And they're not going to be in great humor about it next spring. So, some of this irrational anger that was present last June may be even more acute next year.

Question: I wonder if you have sensed, you and your colleagues, any slowdown in momentum, any new dimension of skepticism in dealing with Americans and other people with whom the EU works as a result of the disappointment and with the failure to ratify in Ireland.

Ambassador Bruton: No. I think, in fact, the EU has a more favorable view of the United States than it had a year ago, by a considerable measure. This is due to a number of factors. The outreach by the current administration, but also the election campaign here in the United States, which has presented the U.S. in a much more vibrant, democratic light than Europeans might have seen it previously. So I think the willingness on the part of the Europeans to cooperate with the United States, will be strong.

The EU has a lot of powers under the existing treaties as well to do work on defense and security issues with the US. Maybe not as many powers it might have if the Lisbon Treaty were in force, but still quite considerable powers. And I think the European Union should be persuaded to use those powers to the fullest.

As this is the last question, may I compliment the European Institute on your work, on the way in which you make Europe known here, on the very high quality of your publications, which I find extremely informative and useful.


By Ambassador John Bruton, Head of the Delegation of the European Commission to the United States
(Remarks as delivered at The European Institute meeting on 11 July 2008 held at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC)

The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Commission


Georgia: Breakdown of Vision the West had for a New Europe

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Since the Russian Federation sent tanks, troops, and planes slicing into Georgia, commentators have reached for a variety of historic parallels. 1968 and the Soviet Union snuffs out Prague Spring. 1939 and the Nazis thrust into Poland. 1938 and the Czechoslovaks are sacrificed to the unwillingness of democracies to confront evil. None of these supposed parallels catches the current situation. A better – but still imperfect – parallel is 1914, when an assassination in a remote corner of the world set larger and destructive events in motion. The trigger-event with outsize results this time was Georgia’s attempt with military force to reoccupy South Ossetia.

Of course, this is not 1914. Great Powers are not treaty-linked so that one event can start a whole chain of disasters. There is no prospect of a wider war. After a first wave of strong language on both sides, tempers have begun (slowly) to cool, even though the Russians are falling short of their pledge to withdraw from Georgia and have now recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent. But there is still something in the parallel: the world of Europe and of its powers and other countries will not be the same. The implications will be lasting; the requirement for wise and temperate leadership on all sides is critical to contain the consequences of what has already happened.

As always, the post-mortems offer clear insights that could and should have been there in advance. At the local level, tensions over South Ossetia and Abkhazia had been slowly approaching the boiling point, but never so close as to energize the Western powers or the United Nations to do something serious about them. At the same time, the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, had repeatedly stated his intention to reintegrate the two semi-breakaway provinces back into Georgia – as he had done successfully in May 2004 with Ajara, the Black Sea enclave on the Turkish border. And Russia had warned about what could happen if he tried.

At a larger level, many leaders and commentators in NATO countries, notably the United States, had pressed for admission of more countries to the alliance, notably Georgia and the other near-term contender bordering Russia, Ukraine. That followed logic of helping fledgling democracies, but it ignored a basic characteristic of NATO membership that was clearly missing for both these candidates: NATO is first and foremost about its guarantee that “an armed attack against one or more of them…shall be considered an attack against them all.” If current allies are not prepared to give such a pledge, without reservation, then offers of membership must not be made and great care must be taken not to give a false impression. And NATO – again led by the United States – also forgot the basic principle of the Alliance’s post-cold war policies that efforts to increase any one nation’s security must also at least consider the potential impact on the security, real or perceived, of other nations.

All this happened, in fact, at the NATO summit in Bucharest last April. President George W. Bush was pressing to see Ukraine and Georgia advanced along the path to NATO membership through the development of a Membership Action Plan (MAP). Many other allies, notably Germany and France but backed by most of the others, resisted the move and had made their objections clear. Much commentary at the time focused on these countries’ concerns about Russia and some U.S. critics even hinted at the dark word from the 1930s: appeasement. Much less commentary noted the inherent problem of most allies’ unwillingness to provide security guarantees even at some point in the future.

At Bucharest, NATO reached what was represented as a compromise. MAP was to be postponed until later consideration in December 2008. In its place, the allies “agreed today that these countries [Ukraine and Georgia] will become members of NATO.” Meant to be a throwaway line, a sop and a stopgap, that was in fact a profound statement, it was in effect the moment at which the allies declared that they were prepared to give their solemn security guarantees to these two countries – the essence of NATO membership. Most of the allies did not see it this way or at least believed that they would be able to push off any practical consequences of what they had done into the indefinite future.

But two people clearly took NATO at its word: one was Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, for whom – in the case of Georgia – this was NATO’s embracing a country that was by no stretch of the imagination important to the West in terms of preventing a future conflict in Europe. Its situation did not involve any of the uncertainties about the strategic status of countries in Europe’s heartland, uncertainties that had been proximate causes of the First and Second World Wars. From Putin’s perspective, this was a provocation, at least politically, an action of “disrespect” for Russia and its interests. And, it transpires, he was prepared to show the allies “who was boss” in the South Caucasus.

The other person who apparently took NATO at its word was Georgia’s president. Mikheil Saakashvili, who then acted as though he had license to act as he saw fit in South Ossetia, apparently in the belief that, faced with a fait accompli, the NATO allies would back him up. Tragically, he was proved wrong. In an effort at its Bucharest summit to push off a difficult issue and to avoid embarrassing the US president, NATO had helped set the scene for a gross miscalculation on the Georgian president’s part. The Russians were prepared for an excuse to act. Saakashvili recklessly give it to them.

At a larger level still, the Georgia crisis was produced by the failure of the NATO powers – led by the United States – to continue building on the promise contained in the former President George H.W. Bush’s historic vision of a “Europe whole and free and at peace.” For NATO, four objectives were key: to keep the US engaged as a European power; to make sure there would be no backsliding – however remote – from the grand reconciliation among the combatants engaged in the West European battlegrounds of World War I and II; to take Central Europe permanently off the diplomatic and strategic chessboard; and to engage Russia rather than treat it like a defeated power to be isolated, spurned or punished.

This agenda was followed rather well in the 1990s. Where the allies fell short was – in this author’s view – in the inadequacy of their efforts to engage Russia deeply in the global economy, in order to bind it to the West. Admitting it to the Group of Eight (G-8) “talk shop” was symbolically useful, but Russia is still being kept in the waiting room for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Admitting Russia should have been done many years ago as a matter of grand strategy regardless of whether the Russians had met the technical membership criteria.

Now, after a decade witnessing the rise of the Russian petro-economy, Kremlin leaders are less convinced of Russia’s need to draw upon economic relationships with the outside world – even though Russia, in reality, remains largely a rentier state, with all of the limitations that term implies. At the same time, the rise of Vladimir Putin and his ilk led to an effort to reimpose Moscow’s control over all of Russia, reduce the relative autonomy of different regions, gather the reins of power in his own hands to the degree possible, keep democratic developments under control and reduce the impact of outsiders on Russia’s development. An often-cited example of this last-named trend was the every-tighter restrictions placed on non-governmental organizations in Russia.

So, too, Putin has sought to reassert Russia’s role as a significant power, at least on the Russian periphery. How this is characterized depends on perspective: varying from “demanding respect for Russia’s legitimate interests and right of engagement in major regional developments” to “reassertion of its natural sphere of influence” to “starting the process of recreating the classic Russian empire.” The last-named is certainly reminiscent of what happened after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk stripped Ukraine from the Soviet Union in 1918: When the treaty was annulled after the war, it took Moscow only four years to re-absorb Ukraine into the Soviet empire.

Whichever interpretation best explains Russia’s role in the deterioration of relations, the West – particularly the United States – played its part. NATO agreed to create military bases, limited to be sure, in new allies Bulgaria and Romania, designed to facilitate access to areas of incipient turmoil farther east, now including Afghanistan. And the United States pressed for sites in Poland and the Czech Republic at which to base elements of an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system designed to counter potential threats from Iran and, depending on the azimuth of an attack, from North Korea. None of these steps can conceivably be seen as posing any kind of military threat to Russia and Moscow knows it – although it has chosen to represent the contrary and also tried to use the ABM issue to split the allies by recalling the (false) parallel of Euro-missile deployments in the 1980s that led to mass demonstrations in many West European cities. This Russian tactic includes threats to reply in some fashion with military force if the ABMs are deployed at some point many years from now. At the same time, however, these Western military developments do seem to Russia as encroachment by NATO – more particularly, by the US – on territories increasingly close to its borders. Moscow has depicted them both as taking advantage of Russia when it had no capacity to resist – precisely the opposite of the dictum propounded by President George H.W. Bush – and as coming perilously close to violating the spirit if not the letter of a commitment in the1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act that the alliance, as it took in new members, would engage in no “additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.”

On the Western side, two events this year stoked the crisis of August, along with the troop build-up on the Russian side. Even before the Bucharest summit, the West blessed Kosovo’s independence in February. Much has been made in the US and elsewhere in the West that this was the “least worst” alternative for Kosovo and that it set no precedents. The Russians have disagreed, seeing in it not just a further taking advantage of their weakened state but as a valid parallel to both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The differences are not so striking as to demonstrate that the Russians are entirely wrong. At the same time, the NATO-Russia Council, created to give Russia a special though limited voice at NATO Headquarters, had largely become an empty vessel, more because the Russians reduced their engagement than because of any NATO reluctance to continue some cooperation.

Overall, what has happened in recent years has been an unfortunate drifting from the original conception of NATO enlargement. It was conceived in the mid-1990s as part of an effort to move beyond the old power politics and spheres of influence in Europe, to a political and security system that could, over time, draw on the same developments in politics, economics, and social organization that had led the countries of Western Europe to abolish war as an instrument of their relations with one another – one of history’s small handful of truly positive achievements. But as time went on, there was too much nibbling at the edges of this concept, as noted above. At the same time, the West did not do enough to ensure that Russia was not pushed aside in the process; nor did it do enough to ensure that geopolitics would not ride on the back of valid and worthy efforts and thus undermine the vision of a lasting European security based on cooperation and inclusion rather than confrontation (however mild) and exclusion (however partial). For its own part, Russia was too slow – or too incapable – of understanding that moving beyond the world of geopolitics and the calculus of the zero-sum game would have significant benefits for Russia and both its security and its economic advance. To a considerable extent, therefore, the Russians under Vladimir Putin isolated themselves.

The crisis over Georgia has also sharpened some fault lines in the Western alliance. It was notable that the emergency meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on August 19th produced so little in terms of common action or even firm language: “We have determined that we cannot continue with business as usual [with Russia].” Along with agreement to set up a NATO-Georgia Commission, this achieved at least some measure of agreement. It also avoided the spectacle of an alliance ready to be split apart by Russian actions, possibly therefore becoming vulnerable to more bad behavior by Moscow. But it was clear that not all the allies saw developments the same way – and in the word “allies” can also be seen differences on the part of various members of the European Union.

In general, differences fall along the line that had been defined by former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in an offhand comment, as “old” versus “new” Europe. For countries that had once been under the yoke of the Soviet Union and communism, Georgia is a fearful harbinger of things to come. For countries with none of that experience, dependence on Russian for natural gas looms larger; or, where that is not a factor, there is concern lest events in a distant part of the world, where the Georgian president had been part of the problem, will undercut longer-term efforts to forge some kind of positive, mutually-beneficial relationship with Russia. For its part, the United States falls more into the category of “new Europe,” certainly in terms of rhetoric – which, strikingly, has emanated from Democrats and Republicans in almost equal measure.

Today, therefore, the Georgia crisis needs to be seen not just in terms of what has happened in the Caucasus or even in terms of what now transpires there. And what needs to be done is more or less obvious, at least in terms of Russian troop withdrawals, the insertion of outside peacekeepers (EU or OSCE), and assertion of the sanctity of Georgia’s frontiers as a principle of sovereignty and pending the outcome of diplomacy, including about the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Also, there needs to be a shoring-up of support for Georgia’s democratic development – as far from completion as it clearly is. In addition, there are obvious needs for large-scale humanitarian relief and for major economic reconstruction and investment, to demonstrate that the West – including the European Union – sees Georgia as a country with a proper and valid vocation to be part of Euro-Atlantic institutions. This needs to include assuring that Georgia will retain control of its major East-West highway and of the cross-Georgia pipelines that extend from Baku to Ceyhan (in Turkey) and Baku to Georgia’s port at Supsa. This economic engagement should also be offered to Abkhazia and South Ossetia – on the proviso that, whatever diplomacy’s outcome, they must remain formally independent of the Russian Federation.

What the West should not do is pour massive military aid into Georgia, beyond what is required to make good losses and to symbolize the same kinds of engagement that are generally provided to Partnership for Peace countries. To go beyond that level would risk creating the illusion that Georgia could defend itself or sending a message that allies see the military dimensions of the continuing crisis as more important than the diplomatic dimensions that now must emerge.

At the same time, the prospect of Georgia’s (and Ukraine’s) someday joining Euro-Atlantic institutions as full members, including the EU and NATO, needs to be held open. Indeed, while what NATO did at its Bucharest summit helped to create the crisis, now abandoning the possibility of NATO membership for Georgia – in theory as well as for the time being in practice – would send the wrong signal to Moscow about its ability to interfere in NATO’s sovereign decision-making. Whatever the cause, the Russians went much too far; in particular, they reminded the world of their inglorious past, as Russia and as the Soviet Union, when it comes to the treatment of near neighbors, especially weak near neighbors; and they at least have to understand that others cannot be entirely “buffaloed.” There is also Ukraine to think about, as well as watchful Central European peoples worried whether NATO will now overbalance in the Russians’ direction.

The extent of fears on the part of other “new” members of NATO can be seen in Poland’s immediate dropping of conditions it had been imposing – mostly financial compensation – on the deployment of US anti-ballistic missiles on its territory. Poland also asked for bilateral US guarantees to supplement those of NATO’s Article 5, arguing that NATO itself could not be relied upon to provide support in a (possible) hour of need. The US has rightly resisted this request, since to accommodate any one anxious ally in this way would cheapen NATO’s guarantees everywhere and set off a clamor for similar bilateral commitments and very likely move everyone in the direction of a new cold war.

The West certainly needs to step up the integration of all the societies of Central Europe and the Caucasus into the global economy and to buttress their domestic development.

This is not all that needs to be done. Indeed, it is now clear that the issue of Russia, where it fits within the broader scheme of things, and what to do about it has risen to become one of the top priorities for the next US administration, for the NATO alliance, and also for the European Union. Vladimir Putin has “sent a message” that the West must take more notice of Russia, and the point has been taken. But that does not mean that the West – along with its various national and institutional components – needs to accommodate Russia where its demands are excessive by any measure or where what it wants comes at the expense of the rights of others, in this case Georgia and, later on, countries like Ukraine. With respect to Georgia, itself, it must be “off limits” for any Russian efforts to depose its sitting president – however difficult for the West and less-than-democratic he has proved to be; similarly unacceptable must be any Russian efforts to “hold hostage” key Georgian economic assets, including the port at Poti.

Nor should the West be cowed into believing that somehow Russia has returned to the fray as a true great power, much less a superpower. Besides its oil and gas, it continues to have a second-rate economy. Its rate of economic innovation still falls behind almost all Western societies. Its military is still very much second-rate and not heading toward first-rate status very fast. Its population is falling at a faster rate than any other country in the developed world. And it is crowded along its Eastern frontier by “the new kid on the block,” China. Indeed, it was ironic that, while Russia was working to show its mettle in a tiny part of the world and finding it a bit rough going, China was showing off at the Olympics, as a society that creates more economic advance in a week than Russia could hope to achieve in a year or much, much longer. It is also a China with a huge and vigorous population that abuts the wide open spaces of Eastern Siberia, which are being steadily depopulated of Russians.

In short, this is not the early 1920s, when Lenin could shut the Soviet Union off from the outside world in pursuit of “Socialism in one country;” nor is it the late 1940s, when Stalin could spurn involvement for his fledging empire in the Marshall Plan in order to rebuild his shattered country and East European satellites on the basis of autarky and to try challenging the West in military power and industrial production – and in the end fail in one of history’s greatest collapses of a country or empire. Russia, including a Russia structured according to the desires of Vladimir Putin, needs the outside world; indeed, as much as anything, the lack of that connection is why the Soviet Union collapsed. And following what Russia has done in and to Georgia, countries and institutions in the West, however much they would like to have positive relations with Moscow, will find it politically hard to do so, at least anytime soon. For the next US president, in particular, that time could be a while in coming.

At the same time, the West, including the United States, NATO, and the European Union, cannot easily dismiss Russia as a potential partner. There is, of course, rising dependence on exports of Russian hydrocarbons: that has created dependencies that Moscow can exploit, but it has already been a spur to finding alternatives, even though that could take years. There are also issues of strategic and other forms of arms control, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction (especially nuclear weapons), countering terrorism, prosecuting the conflict in Afghanistan (where trans-shipment of supplies through Russian territory is helpful to NATO), the future of the Middle East, and longer-range issues of the environment and, yes, climate change. Thus Russia is not the lone demandeur; there are some interests and objectives on each side in relations with the other. (One near-term casualty will almost certainly be any hope for continued Russian cooperation over Iran – a development that could prove a blessing in disguise for those who want the US to find a strategy for dealing with Iran that is not based solely on containment).

In the period just ahead, it will be important that the various nations and institutions of the West begin to craft a common set of policies toward Russia, even if getting the politics right will take some time – a process that can be hastened by a reduction in rhetoric and an increase in analysis. Under no circumstances, in the absence of future Russian behavior that makes such a course inescapable, should there be talk or preparation for a new cold war. The facts don’t justify it; only a bad psychological state or inability to let go of old habits of mind can take us there.

At the same time, the Western allies, flanked by the European Union, need to return to the basic premises of transformation they embraced following the cold war: engagement and not isolation; inclusion not exclusion; understanding of the legitimate political, economic, and security requirements of all countries in the region – without acceding to anyone’s purely nationalist definition of the adjective “legitimate;” and positive reciprocity to positive actions by Russia. When the time is right, the US, NATO, and the EU should each select a few areas of potential cooperation with Russia and test whether Moscow is prepared to follow suit.

In the final analysis, the West and its institutions need to concentrate on not making matters worse, through some feeling about the need to “punish” Russia or cut off potential avenues of future cooperation. The Western allies need to stick to their principles, notably the fostering of democratic development in European and other states, and keep the door open to new entrants to Euro-Atlantic institutions, including a path, in ways that can be appropriate, for Russia to enter these institutions. They need to make clear that what Russia now does regarding Georgia and also Ukraine will set patterns of possibilities – or lack of possibilities – for a long time to come. Above all, the West and its institutions need to promote and sustain their own cohesion. If they do these things, a waiting game may lead Russia in the right direction: to chose, finally, to try living in the 21st century, with all the opportunities the future can offer, or to look back to the 19th century and suffer the consequences of decreasing relevance. Russia now has much to prove – in its own self-interest and that of its potential partners in the outside world. It also has a lot to gain by making the right historic choices.


By Robert E. Hunter, senior advisor at the RAND Corporation. Former U.S. ambassador to NATO (1993-98). In 2002-06, he conducted a project in Georgia for the U.S. Department of State.
This article will appear in the Volume 9 Number 3 - Fall 2008 issue of European Affairs, the public policy journal of The European Institute.


America – with its Unique Resilience – Remains the Indispensible Power

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Despite Barack Obama's election victory as impressive evidence of the vitality of U.S. democracy, the financial crisis emanating from that country has set off voices, again announcing its demise. Once more this is premature, at best: the resilience of the United States is chronically underestimated.

True, the 44th President will inherit a difficult legacy and daunting challenges: a sustained financial and economic crisis, huge budget deficits and trade deficits, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and his country's seriously damaged international reputation as a result of his predecessor's controversial war on terror. Phrases such as "imperial moment" and "hyperpower" status (in which a majority of Americans never believed anyway) already seem forgotten. U.S. decline seems all the more plausible as rising countries such as China and India, Russia and Brazil – and the European Union too – keep extending their economic, and hence political, influence and thus seem bound to at least dilute the leading international position of the United States.

Together with these major weaknesses and challenges, however, the United States possesses enormous strengths. They form a foundation on which the U.S. can continue – for a good long time to come – to play the leading role in an emerging multi-polar world. These strengths include:


The United States not only possesses large deposits of natural resources and vast areas of productive farmland but also enjoys favorable demographic trends in the medium and long term. Thanks to immigration and a high birth rate, the United States has a young population compared with those of its potential competitors. The U.S. population is likely to increase by 65 million by 2030 to over 370 million – in contrast, population growth is stagnating in Europe. So by 2030 Europe will have twice as many senior citizens (over the age of 65) as children (under 15) whereas the U.S. will still have more children than senior citizens. The ratio of working-age people to pensioners in Europe will fall from the present level of 3.8:1 to 2.4:1, while in the U.S. the decline will be from today's 5.4:1 to 3.1:1. This makes the financial burden of an ageing population far less onerous in the U.S. The same trend is even sharper when comparing the U.S. with Russia, Japan and China (where the long-standing policy of one child per family is exacerbating problems in the country's welfare system).

Business and research

In spite of the present crisis, the U.S. economy has been historically vibrant. Its GDP of almost 14 trillion dollars accounts for more than a quarter of the world's aggregated domestic product and over the past 25 years averaged more than 3 percent annual growth – significantly higher than in Europe and Japan. U.S. productivity growth has exceeded that of Europe by a full percentage point over the last ten years. The U.S. economy is adaptable and more innovative than any other. It has the world's biggest and best universities and research institutes. (Its research establishments regularly occupy three quarters of the top slots in global ratings.) The Davos-based World Economic Forum acknowledges the U.S. economy as the most competitive in the world, identifying its particular strengths in crucial strategic areas such as nanotechnology and bioengineering. The United States also trains more engineers in relation to its population than any other major economy. It invests 2.6 percent of GDP in higher education – compared with 1.2 percent in Europe and 1.1 percent in Japan. Even if the present recession were to bite harder in the United States than in Europe and elsewhere, the basic conditions described above probably ensure that the country emerges strengthened from the crisis.

Military power

In the military domain, no other country comes close to matching the capability of the United States. No other country is able to project its military power on a global scale. The United States' defense budget is bigger than the combined total of the 14 countries that follow it in the table of military expenditure, accounting for almost 50 percent of global military spending. (The United States spends six times more than its only potential rival, China, even using the unofficial estimates of the Chinese defense budget as triple the official figure.) Current U.S. defense spending (4.2 percent of GDP) remains far below the 6.6 percent figure under the Reagan Administration. Even if the cost of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan runs to an annual figure of $125 billion that is less than one percent of GDP (the Vietnam War cost 1.6 percent of GDP in 1970). Military power is not the reason for U.S. strength but its consequence. It is fuelled by the solid economic and incomparable technological foundations of the United States.

Soft power

The war in Iraq (and consequences such Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib) have severely dented the image of the United States, diminishing its "soft power." But the structural components of U.S. soft power remain intact – from U.S. mass culture (including the dominance of American providers in global communication media such as the Internet and television) to the unflagging appeal of its universities for the world's best and brightest. Of all students studying abroad, 30 percent are enrolled in U.S. universities. The election of Barack Obama as President has restored much of U.S. "soft power," according to Joseph Nye, the Harvard professor who coined the term. This assessment may be premature, but the new President has a great opportunity to make rapid and lasting improvements to the United States' image in Europe and elsewhere.

The will to lead and to shape the future

Part of the ability to exercise leadership is the political will to do so. Even if the experience of recent years with the intervention in Iraq and some of its disastrous consequences have reduced the ranks of advocates of an interventionist U.S. foreign policy to a small minority, it is hardly likely to have given rise to a second "Vietnam trauma" marked by an instinctive escape into isolationism. Under Obama, the United States will not devote itself to maintaining the status quo, but it will continue to support democratization globally on the basis of a conviction that democracy is the most legitimate form of government. The policy of using military power to bring about regime change, however, will be abandoned for the foreseeable future.

Potential rivals

There is no doubt that the relative power of the United States in the world is diminishing. The percentage contribution of the U.S. economy to global GDP is falling, particularly because the emerging economies of the populous newly industrialized countries are growing faster than the U.S. economy. The global connections of the U.S. economy are also expanding rapidly, particularly with the People's Republic of China, which has replaced Japan as the United States' main creditor. Europe has become the preferred partner for many countries. In spite of these developments, however, there has been scarcely a sign, not even here in Europe, of any significant "ganging up" on the United States, which has been extremely unpopular here under the presidency of George W. Bush. No country or coalition of countries has emerged as a credible adversary or worthy rival if one sets aside the long-term possibility that China might one day be able to mount a serious challenge to the United States.


Europe's GDP is larger than that of the United States, and in the realm of economic and fiscal policy the EU has long been an equal partner of the United States. But for want of progress in political unification, the Europeans are not yet strategic players on the world stage. So the EU at best is a major power in the making. With Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy in charge in Berlin and Paris, the principal EU capitals, there has been a reversion to a more realistic view of the union's role in the world: their immediate predecessors seriously harbored the intention of making the EU a counterweight to the American "hyperpower."


Russia undoubtedly has the political will to challenge the United States. Over the past two years, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev have scarcely missed any opportunity to stake their country's claim. With a national economy comparable in size to that of the Benelux countries, however, its economic basis is too weak and its dependence on revenue from energy exports too great. These factors, along with a spectacular decline in the size of the population (already only half that of the United States), hardly provide a basis for Russia to aspire to global leadership, even in the long term.


China has a great interest in internal and external stability. Although China has achieved an impressive economic, and hence political, upsurge over the past 30 years, the social and environmental "debit side" of this development is becoming ever more plainly visible. Since China's high rate of economic growth, which is regarded as a prerequisite for the country's social stability, and thus its political stability, is dependent on exports and on imports of raw materials and energy sources, China has a great interest in global free trade and stable international relations.


India undoubtedly possesses great growth potential. But its oversized bureaucracy and inadequate infrastructure still weigh like millstones on this emerging economy. There are also major social challenges and a growing terrorist threat of the sort seen in the recent attacks in Mumbai. India needs regional stability to be able to concentrate on its major domestic challenges.


Japan has a declining, ageing population, and the idea of playing a leading role in international politics is alien to its political culture. In view of the growing strength of China, whose long-term political intentions are distrusted in Tokyo, Japan's relations with the United States, particularly in the realm of security policy, have become even closer in recent years.

For the time being, all potential rivals are lacking either the will or the strength to challenge the leadership of the United States. This is due in part to U.S. policy since the Second World War, which has been designed to ensure that these countries do not perceive the United States as a threat to their vital national interests. Moreover, the United States has created and maintained an international order from which these and other countries have greatly benefited and the preservation of which remains very much in their interests.

Still the indispensable nation

During the election campaign, both Barack Obama and his Republican opponent John McCain expressed the view that the United States is and ought to remain the guarantor of international stability and the indispensable stabilizing power. Against the backdrop of the present financial and economic crisis and the rekindled discussion about the decline of U.S. power, it is easy to overlook the fact that the United States is structurally superior to all other countries today and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Beyond the assets cited above, liberal political and economic traditions are the ingredients of U.S. superiority. It has a capacity to heal its own wounds unmatched by any other country. The United States is frequently underestimated, and we Germans are no less prone to that mistake than others.

From the perspective of the President-elect and his advisers, more U.S. leadership rather than less is needed in present-day international politics. The threats currently posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, by terrorists operating on a global scale and by "failed" and "failing" states but also by climate change and risks to energy and food security demand vigorous involvement on the part of the United States. It is clear to the new team that the security and prosperity of U.S. citizens depend on the security and well-being of the people of other countries.

In Obama's view, leadership means, first and foremost, leading by example – an approach that distinguishes him sharply from his predecessors. By contrast with George W. Bush, he is not likely to let his foreign and security policy be guided by the war on terror. Even though no one could suggest that the danger of terrorist attacks on U.S. facilities abroad or within the United States has been eliminated, Obama's statements during and after the election show his intention to opt for a liberal and multilateralist interpretation of his country's leadership role. To this end, he might borrow from the U.S. foreign-policy blueprint that emerged after 1945 and revive the role of a liberal or benign hegemon for the United States. It is no coincidence that he not only cited Franklin D. Roosevelt on domestic issues during the presidential campaign but also embraced Roosevelt's vision of a new multilateral world order which created international institutions whose rules were to apply to all countries, including the United States. Obama wants the existing institutions to be reformed because they still reflect the world of the immediate post-war years and need to be adjusted to take account of subsequent shifts in the balance of power and thus be made stronger. In particular, emerging powers such as India, Brazil, South Africa, and Nigeria would be given greater responsibility. He wants to see new institutions or agreements, particularly with a view to strengthening the global financial architecture in the light of lessons learned from the current crisis in the financial markets. With regard to the shift in the balance of power to and within Asia, the Obama administration is confronted with the question as to how China can be integrated into the East Asian and Pacific region in the field of security, and Obama apparently intends to form a permanent security forum for the region, building on some strategic reflections of the Bush administration that led to the institutionalization of the six-party talks designed to resolve the second North Korean nuclear crisis.

As the incoming President, Obama has raised great expectations, not only in his own country but throughout the world. Besides a substantial contribution to solving global problems, what is most expected of him is strong international leadership by Washington.


By Dr. Heinrich Kreft, a German Career Diplomat and currently the Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to the CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag