European Union militarisation:

Can imperial policies and wars
be avoided now?

PressInfo # 110

 January 3, 2001 


By Jan Oberg, TFF director



EU militarisation as an outburst of deep culture

How is it possible to militarise the European Union with so little attention and so little knowledge in the media, in public debate and in political decision-making circles? How come that an idea such as military humanitarian intervention, bombing, war-fighting strategies and a never-ending flow of new smaller as well as mass destructive weapons are sold to the general public as instruments of peace?

Let's start out with a few heuristic theses that I believe underpin the present global militarisation trends, driven as they are by the West:

1) In spite of all the good things that can also be said about it, the West, the Occidental culture, is a deeply militarist, violence-prone civilisation. Direct and structural violence, psychological, cultural and entertainment violence is so pervasive that they look 'natural' to the majority.
Thesis # 1: the system is culturally blind and fundamentally violent. Western social cosmology advocates a peace that permits, even requires and legitimises, violence.

2) Conflicts are about two parties, one of which embodies evil. The 'problem' is located inside an actor, not in the structure, thinking, or situation. Conflict-resolution is about eradicating evil, i.e. an actor, not the conflicting issue between actors. Thus, evil violence must be controlled or combated with good violence. In short: tell me about your cosmology and I will tell you what type of conflict-resolution you are likely to apply! The Buddha statement that the only thing we need to kill is the will to kill which points to the fundamental reverence for life is incompatible with the generalised Western cosmology and dominating political doctrines.
Thesis # 2: Western cosmology is monotheistic and believes in one truth -- our own, of course. Possible other truths are perceived as threatening, corrupt, rogue and 'evil.' Conflicting parties are seen as either wholly good or wholly bad/evil, not as complex, as mixed. Co-existence? Yes, but only with those who are basically like us or will live according to our cosmology ("us") but not with "them." This means limitless expansion, the larger the more to control -- and the more we fear to loose.

3) Complementary with that: the West in general and US/EU leaders see themselves as chosen people, as (self-aggrandising) princes of peace, as those who must take the "white, civilising man's burden" on their shoulders and bring peace to the world after having eradicated evil in less civilised regions.
Thesis 3: the leaders have Messianic motives.

4) The world is becoming so complex, information and decisions travelling so fast that most citizens do not have a chance to obtain the relevant, comprehensive knowledge and take part in a democratic debate before irreversible decisions have already been made. A menacing information and trust gaps between representatives and represented widen in proportion to these processes, if not faster.
Thesis 4: the citizens feel powerless and political apathy and alienation threaten democratic norms and rules. Citizens lack faith in politicians but, equally, messianic politicians show contempt for citizens when they are sceptical to the grandiose projects and the sheer speed with which they are pushed.

This is a dangerous mixture: violence more than nonviolence + mono-ism more than pluralism + Messianism more than humility + citizens alienation more than participation. With increasing system over-extension and even more mega(lomaniac) projects to repair the system, these elements in the modern body politic could cause overall system breakdown, accompanied by bouts of decentralised citizen-based violence, civil war or international war. Let's introduce a fifth thesis at this point:

5) The delusion of grandeur (thesis # 3) could be linked to another type of delusion in classical psychology: that of being persecuted. This can happen from inside and from the outside.

Could it be that the leaders of the West and of the emerging EU world power sense that they could be persecuted from inside by their political opponents and parts of their citizenry? I think here of e.g. populists, neo-nazism, the resource- and information-poor, left-wingers, greens, the women and the young - - who have different reasons to be anything but enthusiastic about the future that is being created for them over and above their heads? Look at the 'family photos' taken of the same few statesmen and ministers when they meet in the EU, NATO, OSCE, Davos, or IMF meetings; it is not unlikely that they have a strong group feeling and would be seen by their respective constituencies back home as being more loyal to each other than to them?

Could it be that the leaders - - more or less consciously - - sense they could one day be persecuted from outside, from the non-West, by virtually the rest of the world in two ways:

a) by the world's disadvantaged, the poor, the asylum-seekers and other victims of globalisation and of Western greed and luxury amidst a world where the basic needs of the majority are still unmet?

b) by new emerging powers in Asia and elsewhere who will no longer put up with a West that has no answers to the real global problems except to continue exploitation, marginalisation, perverse consumerism and, if need be, military dominance? Thus:

Thesis # 5: EU leaders fear that the West is shrinking, if not sinking, in a macro-historical perspective because of trends and dilemmas like these? They fear that US policies aiming at world dominance (see PressInfo 107) will increasingly antagonise everybody, including themselves, to such an extent that the end of Western supremacy will come sooner rather than late, and they want to guard the non-US West from that fate. In short, that they believe they can save the West, or save it longer, from this clash of civilisation (completely different from Huntington's).


EU as a counter-force to the U.S. or to imperialism?

Many Europeans are well aware of the risks and deficiencies of the EU project but promote it as a balancing force against U.S. 'imperialism' and dominance, somewhat along the lines of the theses above. But then the question must be asked: are they only against the U.S. as an imperial power but not against super power-ism and imperialism per se? Do they believe that EU imperialism and military intervention is compatible with what they also advocate as a peace project? That it will, over the next 30-50 years be more human and not display basically the same features as all the other imperial actors in history, that it will be a new kind of benevolent imperialism? Is there actually any point in being anti-U.S. imperialism and pro-EU imperialism?

Is it really true that there is no other way to counterbalance the U.S. but to imitate it - - and become as 'ugly' as the U.S. has become in the eyes of many around the world? It seems to me that the intellectual, political and moral challenge is to think more creatively, to do something entirely new for an entirely new phase of human history and not substitute one empire with another. Europe and the rest of the world should have seen enough, more than enough, of that by now.

I believe that we need something beyond political science, economics or defence to explain the EU project. I think we need a perspective that encompasses macro-history, world order and psycho-cultural dimensions. I've hinted at some elements and will leave it to people much more expert to criticise the five - - admittedly impressionistic - - theses above and provide much deeper insights and ideas. Let's return now to the micro-level of EU bureaucracy.


Democracy and accountability in militarisation


Point 1: How to persuade citizens, rather than listening to and representing them?

EU elites seem unable to imagine a new type of super power geared to values such as cultural, economic and political nonviolence, soft power, alternative security, ecological balance, justice and a world order that permits a basic standard for the many before the few climb further up on the material, consumerist ladder. So, it is heading for a traditional type imperialist power. As such, the EU is unlikely to develop without a strong military component. In the longer run it must become more autonomous and less dependent on the United States. Signs of a growing self-assertion and American worry are plenty already.

The new militarist mood will fizzle out without various concrete manifestations. Rationalisation, inter-operability and military-industrial mergers can achieve some results. But higher military expenditures is a sine qua non. This points to the democratic foundation of the project: will the European taxpayers automatically go along with all this in political and economic terms? Or will they only do so if told that the world is an increasingly dangerous place, even more dangerous than it was during the heydays of the old Cold War. EU leaders will be caught in the dilemma between politically arguing that all this is only for noble aims like mine-sweeping, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid and economically burdening the citizenry with higher military expenditures to make a militarised super power dream come true.


Point 2: Militarisation needs no threats and permits no transparency

The problem is that there are no threats in or around Europe to which EU militarisation and Rapid Reaction Force is the (most appropriate) answer. None of those advocating this development have set the limits: what tasks are we not going to perform, what missions are we not going to engage in, what geographical limits do we not aim to go beyond. It has become a mantra that all this new security 'architecture' is open, inviting, overlapping, networking and based on shifting groups or alliances, representations in different bodies and ad hoc arrangements which later, hocus-pocus, become permanent bodies. The media have lost track and merely quote press statements, i.e. what the decision-makers want people to know, not what there is to be known. They are filled with formalities and legitimations rather than with realities and problems.

In short, this is not a democratic deficit. It could become democracy made a mockery. It weakens responsibility, accountability and transparency. There are too many cooks spoiling the broth in this peace project, and they could well end up preparing wars instead, even without intending to. The EU systems are overloaded, the EU's vertical and horizontal integration coupled with attempting to play a world role is already overextended and unrealistic if you judge by the last ten years of remarkably confused policies in the Balkans. Decision-making norms and the division of powers, influence and votes are still unsolved - - while the EU keeps on racing towards new even greater mega-project such as militarisation.

To make all this look right and the EU noble, it will have to either invent a pseudo crisis/threat and blow it out of proportion or find a real one, preferably far away from European soil. Turning the attention away from inner problems and joining forces (literally) against a foreign challenge is nothing new.


Point 3: Europe's security more ramshackle than architectonic beauty

Take the impenetrable European security architecture as of today; there is overlapping membership of NATO, former WEU, the EU, OSCE, Council of Europe, Partnership for Peace, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the NATO-Russian Council, etc. There are no limits to the number of co-ordination bodies between them and to the number of sub-groups, ad hoc units, committees etc inside each. Non-NATO countries participate in NATO operations; non-EU countries will participate in EU operations. If a country for some reason cannot participate in an activity with one identity, it can find another among any number of ever-changing "alliances", "assemblies", "associative agreements", "arrangements", "initiatives", "partnerships" and "networks" and make its contribution anyhow.

Indeed, this proliferation is so complex, not to say chaotic, that one wonders how it will function if one day it has to. My hypothesis, using a sociological law, is simple: like in the case of the bombing of Yugoslavia. The strongest, those who are biggest and control information and intelligence and who make the larger investment will take the lead - - irrespective of formal decision-making structures which will anyhow be ignored to get things done in a war situation.


Point 4: Authoritarianism - voting about but not choosing the irreversible

Three democracy-related aspects can be brought in on the EU. First, for as long as it has existed, the Europeans have been told at each turning point that there was one way ahead or their country could be "left outside and loose influence where decisions are taken;" in short, they could vote but not choose among more alternative futures.

Second, there has been considerable system incrementalism; one option ahead is presented as 'natural given the decisions made or the Treaty signed at this or that meeting in the past." In other words, one decision holds a series of related decisions in store.

And, third, when a decision has been made it is irreversible. The price of having diverting views can be high in any organisation that strives to speak with once voice in complex matters.

Combine the three and you have a cocktail that increases the famous "democratic deficit" rather than diminishes it. No institutional reforms can remedy this fundamentally top-down, authoritarian character of the EU project. If they characterise the general EU development, they are likely to no less characterise the specific process of militarisation.


Twelve conflict scenarios

If the life cycle of modern weapons is some 20 years, that's the minimum time horizon with which responsible decision-makers should work. We don't know what the future will be in Europe and elsewhere, but various developments and situations can be imagined &endash; here with a view to what the real function of a militarised EU could be.

1. EU's citizens will make up about 5 per cent of the world population. How will the 95 per cent look at a militarised Festung Europa that keeps on sitting on privileges and extracting relatively underpaid human and natural resources for its own purposes? What if it becomes increasingly closed to those who knock on its doors even for very clear humanitarian purposes?

2. What about inner conflicts in the EU sphere -- ethnic, socio-economic, class, between a First, a Second and a Third Class Europe? What about increasing tension between its contending leaders Germany, France and the UK? It does not have to become military to be serious for the project. If the project eventually falls apart, what options will newcomers have, what other European structures, new or old, is there to build on? (It is unlikely that all goes well or according to declarations and action plans). And what about more or less militarised local, internal majority/minority conflicts in future member states? What about cases like the Albanian armed activity in Southern Serbia or a build up of tension between Belgrade and Podgorica?

3. How is the EU going to handle an increasing conflict with the United States? Will it be by staying its course and antagonise it more and more, muddling through or basically acquiescing to dictates of the big brother whose thinking has penetrated into NATO foreign ministries to such an extent that it is difficult to see how most of them would be able to switch and think and act independently?

4. What about the risk of a split into basically Northern, Southern, Western and Eastern regionalisation if the centre does not hold? Would Sweden in such a situation choose to re-group with other Nordic countries or become a vassal of Germany?

5. If the East European candidates eventually turn sour because of frustrated expectations, will they come together and form their own Eastern EU and link up with others further south in the Middle East and the Caucasus and a future, reformed and stronger Russia?

6. In case of, say, a future US and/or NATO military intervention in the Middle East (it can't go on as it does forever) or in the Caucasus how will the EU as EU react - will it be on one side, the other side or neutral vis-a-vis the parties, will it be with, against and neutral vis-a-vis NATO and the US in particular?

7. Since there is no evidence of a strategic concept on which the EU's conflict-management is based, can it remain neutral in a conflict about the Caspian oil and its flow to the West?

8. There is a serious conflict in Georgia between the central government in Tblisi and the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia and somewhat the same in the case of South Ossetia. What exactly is it the EU conflict-management experts would like the EU to do and not do in the event of increased tension? Are the force composition and the number of weapons allocated to the new EU force the result of an informed estimate of the needs, civilian as well as militarily? Or in this region: what about Chechnya, would the EU see a role there for its rapid reaction force?

9. The Kurdish problem might be another future flash point. It would be interesting to see some kind of list of possible actions that the EU should take &endash; and, for sure, such documents must exist and serve as a basis for the development of this military and civilian crisis management machinery?

10. Recently TFF adviser and member of the European Parliament, Per Gahrton, in a Swedish daily, offered a concrete scenario: a coup d'etat in Saudi Arabia. Some revolutionaries take over the oil, throw out foreign capital interests and begin to hang regime people in the lampposts and imprison hundreds of citizens. Given the importance of that country and its oil wealth, the US might go it alone immediately. But why not the EU at some point in the future? It too is dependent on oil and certainly can not just sit on its hands when human rights are violated to such an extent?

11. And then, why not take the longer view in time and space? The EU plans to be able to intervene as far away as 6.000 kilometres from Brussels: that covers places like the major part of Russia, Beijing, Thailand, Kuala Lumpur, the Southern tip of Africa, Sao Paolo, Equador and Columbia, Central America minus Mexico &endash; by and large all the former colonial territories, and perhaps some 40 of the worlds ongoing war theatres. To keep the peace within this &endash; probably about 75 per cent of the world's territories &endash; is not exactly a humble plan. The mere fact that there seem to exist such a framework is enough to call the project megalomaniac. How do EU leaders expect these "interventionable" territories and places to be "pacified" to react? How much arms proliferation could this horisontal militarisation spark off over the next few decades (while the United States take care of the vertical militarisation of space and of the oceans)?

12. A new cold and eventually hot war could make up a final "civilisational" scenario. If the West feels a relative weakening vis-a-vis upcoming powers they are likely to be China, India, parts of the Far East and a Russia which, as soon as it is capable, might want to rise from its present humiliation and restore its global status. It is not at all unlikely that these three giants will come closer in the coming decades. Others may join in the event of a new two-bloc system led by these three on one side and the US and the EU (NATO+EU Military) and American allies including Japan to the East (AMPO) on the other. So, the Orient and the Occident to a certain extent pitted against each other, of course not so clear-cut but something much more global, civilisational and fateful than the old inner-Occidental Cold War with its Iron Curtain hanging between an Eastern and a Western Europe based on Euro-Occidental philosophers such as Karl Marx and Adam Smith.


From now to the EU Gothenburg Summit: public debate and nonviolent action

Realistic? Probable? Are we just painting the devil on the wall? Scenarios are by definition speculative and heuristic. They may help us think more adequately about the future and how to tackle its problems as well as help clarify means-ends relations. The complete absence of such scenarios in the public debate and of publicly available plans for the employment of the EU's rapid reaction force and conflict-management mechanisms are, all said and done, perhaps the most worrying aspects of the militarisation of the EU. What EU leaders construct now, we must live with, pay for and see operate the next 5, 10 or 25 years.

None of the present EU activity is indicative of a philosophy, a policy or an organisation aimed at early warning, violence-prevention and peace with peaceful means. If European leaders put all their prestige and 95 per cent of the conflict-management funds and human resources into the build-up of military intervention forces, the civilian measures are destined to be the weaker element. They will come in after the weapons have been used by the conflicting parties and by the US/NATO/EU, when war-torn societies need to be re-constructed (the Kosovo experience). In short, today's mainstream thoughts on conflict-management are likely to permit, if not create, cycles of violence and counter-violence, locally and globally. Europeans have a right to know and discuss before it is implemented.

The next six months up to the June EU Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, is the right time to push for an open debate, to get the facts, to debate in the media and to dialogue with decision-makers about peace in Europe and European peacemaking. And about alternatives to it.

We saw violence in Seattle, Prague and Nice. The concern about Europe's militarisation and the presentation of possible and desirable alternatives can only be expressed nonviolently with dignity and solid arguments. Protesters who use violence because they lack creativity and a commitment to nonviolence have no moral capital to persuade politicians who lack creativity and promote violent conflict-management about the virtues of nonviolence!




 © TFF 2001



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