Noah’s post on the Libyan adventure is great but I just want to harp on a tangential point that not many people get.
Would a united Europe have intervened? If so, would we have been called upon to help?
People often ascribe Europe’s reluctance to “punch its weight” militarily in global affairs to its disunion, but I just don’t think that’s the case. I think the reason Europe doesn’t punch its weight is because it doesn’t want to.
Right now the EU, population 500 million, GDP $16 trillion, has four aircraft carriers. The United States, population 300 million, GDP $14 trillion, has eleven, each bigger than the biggest European aircraft carrier.
Whether these four aircraft carriers operate under the authority of three executives (France, Britain and Spain) as now, or under the authority of one, would not automagically increase their number. Nor would it grant the capacity to fire 110 Tomahawk missiles in one night.
The reasons “Europe” has a low military spending are the following:
1- Europe gets security from the United States for “free”;
2- It’s expensive;
3- It’s unpopular;
4- The weight of history.
Europe being united under one central government would change approximately zero of these. Arguably a united Europe might want to finally take charge of its own security at some point in the distant future, but that strikes me as unlikely.
Did Germany’s reunification, or the end of the Soviet threat that justified its reliance on America for security, end it? Would Korea’s? Pax Americana is very convenient for the protectorates.
In a conversation, a former French Foreign Minister said that while pro-Europe European elites say they want a united Europe that would behave like a “United States of Europe”, when you look at what they really do, they want a “European Switzerland.”
To be sure, Switzerland takes charge of its own security, with better success than any other nation mind you, but (because?) it doesn’t do anything about repressive regimes outside its borders, either.
The political machinations that go into getting “Europe” to sanction military action against Dictator X when Big Country A would like to intervene and Big Country B would not are interesting, but ultimately what they affect is the delay in, not the capacity of Europe’s intervention.
The reason why Europe wasn’t able to take care of Milosevic alone is the same reason why it’s not able to take care of Qaddafi alone: because it can’t. The reason it can’t is because it won’t, but the reason it won’t isn’t because it can’t agree with itself, the reason it won’t is because it doesn’t want make the political and financial investments that the capacity for independent international action requires.
And the reason we don’t want to make these investments is because we have been making them on behalf of the world for 500 years and nearly destroyed ourselves several times in the process, and now it’s time for someone else to oversee the Augean stables.
What we want is what old people want: to grey quietly and peacefully. And every once in a while we might enjoy berating our tall, grown-up son and tell him what a better job we’d do at tearing out the weeds in the backyard. But really, our back is shot and we’d much rather get back to that book.