By Daniele Meloni, an Italian journalist, covering foreign affairs
The outbreak of the Afghan crisis has once again exposed the many challenges facing America, NATO and transatlantic relations, amid continuous change in international politics. While the leadership of Joe Biden – the man supposed to “bring Washington back onto the world stage” – has been plunged into a deep crisis as a result of the images from Kabul, Brussels has shown, once again, how it has really vanished in this theater whereby for 20 years, EU countries had been standing side by side with the U.S., ultimately culminating in the disaster which brought the Taliban back to power.
First of all, the EU’s “High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”, Josep Borrell (picture) – probably the most mocked diplomat in the world – did not grasp the change which saw the Taliban recognized as interlocutors by NATO and the US Presidency as a result of the agreements of February 29, 2020, as he quipped that to him “they look the same, but speak better English”. Despite the fact that Taliban Leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and his followers still advocate the same obscurantist and misogynist ideology, it is imperative to note that today, unlike 20 years ago, the U.S. is maintaining relations with the new Afghan regime, as demonstrated by the – not even very secret – meeting between the Taliban and the CIA.
At this point, not being able to pull any military option or with any real diplomatic leverage, Brussels has revived two of its mantras: First of all, the humanitarian theme, with the constant attempt to appear “better” than its “warmongering” allies, and in particular those Americans that created the chaos out of which the Taliban re-emerged. And, secondly, the decades-old mantra of the need for the EU to have a European defense and army.
A “humanitarian” EU?
When it comes to the first issue, the EU made a poor impression: the Slovenian EU presidency abruptly blocked all attempts to relocate Afghan refugees fleeing from Kabul. Austria, Poland and Hungary joined in, to the chorus of “let’s avoid repeating the mistakes made with refugees from the war in Syria”. If at first, the dominant rhetoric was that of “saving women and children from the Taliban”, once the emotion of the moment had passed, more cynical political reflections prevailed, and the focus was shifted towards the security aspect.
Refugees move people when they are in Afghanistan. When they arrive in Europe, they are a cause for concern and for greater support for anti-system and anti-European movements, a scenario which the elites in Brussels want to avoid. The defeat became even more evident when the hated British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced overnight a reception program for 20.000 Afghans, of which 5.000 already this year. Being able to decide alone on its preferred migration policies has certainly contributed to the speed of the decision of the government in London.
Predictable calls for an “EU army”
A few days after this mockery, we could witness a déja vu: on the pages of the Corriere della Sera, in an interview with pro-European journalist Federico Fubini, Borrell stated EU governments needed to push for a European rapid reaction force, in order to defend the continent, given the retreat of the U.S. and the difficulties NATO is going through.
To be fair, something has moved on this front, as the EU’s new Multiannual Financial Framework foresees a first allocation in favor of policies oriented towards the construction of a European defense. This is a project strongly desired by France, where “Europeanism”, unlike in Italy, assumes the EU to be a multiplier of French national power, not a replacement for it Then this project fails to take into account that the U.S. does want to leave Afghanistan but has no intention of abandoning Europe.
It is very important to realise that in order to create a European army, this army should serve a purpose. Are we really willing to see “our boys” going to die in Afghanistan, Iraq or the Sahel? Judging by how the media and public opinion treat the news of Italian casualties in military interventions abroad, it does appear we are not. Also in America itself, voters seem increasingly wary to pay for the wars of the U.S. superpower, both in financial terms – wars cost money – and in terms of loss of life. Europe may have been boasting for years of wanting to achieve some kind of Kantian “perpetual peace”, but it lacks the military means to support international missions and is overly focused on the primacy of trade and economy.
There are also geopolitical implications that should not be underestimated. At the moment, a “European army” could only be a French-led army, the only EU power with a “Force de Frappe”. A real European army would necessitate the formation of a real German army, integrated into the EU army. A European army would ultimately imply necessitate significant transfers of power from EU Member States to Brussels, a prodrome of the formation of a single European government. This really is a dream that is completely disconnected from the realities on the ground and from geopolitical dynamics.
Even during the Afghan crisis, the language coming from Brussels was unrealistic and incapable of affecting reality. Brussels preferred to bask in the defeat of its U.S. ally, which is somehow weird. Didn’t they tell us that we got along fine with Biden? The whole point of this was so not to have to admit to the EU’s political and military impotence.
It’s not possible to play the card of humanitarian intervention without politics, and it is not possible to play the card of politics without a State and a military. Many people blame European impotence on EU Member States for wanting to jealously keep power for themselves and think that everything will be solved with the birth of the United States of Europe, neglecting how utopian such a project is.
Originally published in Italian by Atlantico