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Atlanticism

Atlanticism is the Achilles' heel of European security, self-identity and collective will, argues John Williams

July 5, 1997
12 min read

Europe suffers from an identity crisis. The consequence is a crisis of collective political will in organising its own post-cold-war security system. This has resulted in Europe failing both to identify its actual security requirements and to generate the necessary collective political will to fulfill them. The root cause of these combined failures lies in Atlanticist theology. Like all theologies, the theology of Atlanticism is based on a myth – namely, that the geo-political and geo-strategic interests of Europe and America being inseparable in the final analysis. Like all theologies, too, it is theology that dictates a code of long term accumulative behaviour irrespective of the logic or illogic underpinning it.

Hence the fundamental characteristic dominating post-second-world-war international relations has been the lack of a distinct European identity. This is because post-second-world- war international relations, rather than being governed by geo-political and geo-strategic logic, was dictated by Atlanticism generating a cold-war syndrome based on the myth of the Soviet threat. Split into two, Europe’s potential post-second-world-war collective international identity and political will were the casualties. This has resulted in Atlanticism generating a false sense of European security. Europe, having been sapped of its collective self-identity and political will, consequently finds itself in a self-identity crisis concerning how to fulfill Europe’s post- cold-war security requirements.

This European self-identity crisis needs to be analysed within the context of Atlanticist “European Security” and how it functions. Here a fundamental cause of this European self- identity crisis, a crisis in which Europe’s body politic is failing to identify its own distinct security requirements to itself, can be traced to what may be described as suppressed schizophrenia. This is crystalised by the logic of Euro-federalists in relation to European security. Ostensibly the issue should create an insurmountable dichotomy between European Federalists and Atlanticists. If taken to it’s logical conclusion, a fully fledged federal Europe, namely the possession of a completely integrated, independent and self-sufficient international relations role, undermines the very basis of Atlanticism. In practice, suppressive schizophrenia constricts this geo-political logic when focusing upon European security issues.

The phrase suppressive schizophrenia, rather than dichotomous, is advisedly used here to describe the stance on European security matters taken by the European political establishment. This is because it describes the sapping effect of that conflict of logics upon the development of genuine European self-identity and political will. Being schizophrenic, it denies to itself its dichotomous existence. The result is that the conflict of Euro-federalist and Atlanticist geo-political logics gets resolved in the latter’s favour by Atlanticist crisis management taking precedence over, and at the expense of, both European self-identity and long term European security.

Nato’s involvement in ex-Yugoslavia illustrates the functioning of this mechanism. Here the United States’ peace initiative last autumn had all the elements that enabled Clinton to reconcile the conflicting US foreign policy objectives of withdrawal from it’s Bosnian commitment and Nato’s maintenance. The consequent Dayton Agreement is in essence a stop- gap favour by Clinton to Europe which he needs quick political returns upon. In this context, Mark Frankland, writing recently in The Observer, reported Non-Government Organisation sources expressing contempt for western policy. He refers to them describing the Dayton Agreement’s implementation as being based on the hidden agenda of enabling President Clinton to withdrawal American troops from Bosnia by the time of the US Presidential Elections whilst giving the impression of having completed a successful peace-keeping operation.

This report’s significance lies in its realistic analysis of the Clinton Administration’s order of political priorities. Such an analysis sheds light upon European Union’s failure in formulating and implementing its own security policy concerning ex-Yugoslavia. Thus, Clinton’s implicit priority is to achieve a second Presidential term of Office. Within the context of achieving this, Clinton will use Nato to provide the European Union with a stop-gap within which to formulate, develop and institute its own security arrangements – if within that stop- gap Nato imposes pre-conditions harmful to future European security, tough. Such an interpretation of Clinton’s order of political priorities, far from condemning Clinton’s political cynicism (it just reflects geo-political logic), serves to focus upon the European political elite’s failure to take due responsibility for Europe’s post-cold-war security independent of the United States.

Such a failure on the part of Europe’s political elite is caused by its dependency upon Atlanticist theology as its frame of reference concerning European security. Stability and Security in Europe, a report by the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy, 1995, exemplifies this. The Report’s avoidance of questioning Nato’s validity as the only long term option for implementing Europe’s post-cold-war security requirements hampers it from making imaginative and constructive proposals in this respect. For instance, in its analysis of the possible regionalisaton of the United Nations peace-keeping functions it just briefly reflects upon the potential for the merging a forseeable European Union military capability into the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe as the European peace-keeping agency of a greatly enhanced United Nations peace-keeping and enforcementcapability. The avoidance of developing an in depth analysis of such a geo-politically logical option by this Report is symptomatic of the degree to which the raison d’etre crisis management within Atlanticism takes precedence over from the actual long that issues of post- cold-war European security.

More precisely, it is symptomatic of the European Union subconsciously absorbing itself in the crisis management of Atlanticism’s raison d’etre, to the degree of contracting out to Nato its medium term security arrangements, as a means of avoiding the challenges confronting it as it inevitably evolves into a fully fledged supra-national State. This is almost inevitable. The challenges involved in restoring raison d’etre to a known entity, namely the nation-state structure of Atlanticism, are far less challenging than those involved in developing a collective self-identity and political will for a rapidly evolving structural entity. Nevertheless, it is an avoidance mechanism that creates a vicious circle wherein the failure to develop a collective self-identity saps the collective political will required to foster that collective self-identity.

The British Government’s obsessively Atlanticist nation-state orientation at the Inter- governmental Conference, reflected implicitly in the stance adopted by the British Labour Party, illustrates the functioning of this vicious circle that drives such an avoidance mechanism. This becomes pertinent because it is an orientation which overtly manifests the subconscious Atlanticist nation-state orientation adopted by other European Union Member States in their adjustments to the need for European security based on supra-national decision-making. A speech given by Malcolm Rifkind, the British Foreign Secretary, to the London based Royal Institute of International Relations in January 1995 provides a good initial illustration. Here Rifkind admits the international relations of the cold war were the exception, the international relations of the post cold war reverting back to the nineteenth century pattern. Nevertheless, his stated first priority in establishing a post cold war international relations system namely, ‘to maintain a relevant and robust Atlantic relationship between North America and Europe’ is a direct contradiction of this observation. (The very foundation of cold war international relations was the transatlantic relationship, a relationship that made cold war international relations both exceptional and perverse.)

Rifkind’s rhetoric for example, ‘It ( the transatlantic relationship) continues to provide the only reliable means of bringing forces together into a military effective coalition’ – reveals how mesmeric Atlanticism is as a means of avoiding the consideration of European security issues in supra-national terms strictly within the European context. This rhetoric leads Rifkind into a geo-politically schizophrenic logic whereby he insists upon a stronger European defence capability, but strictly within the nation-state framework of Nato. Thus, referring to the Bosnian situation in another speech, this time to the INSTITUT FRANCAIS DES RELATIONS INTERNATIONALES in Paris this March, Rifkind admitted: ‘European countries need to have the option to act if our North American Allies choose not to participate in peacekeeping, humanitarian or crisis management operations.’

In essence, this geo-politically schizophrenic logic consists of the conflict between the actual evolving geo-political and geo-strategic European realities, on the one hand, and what politicians accept as being the permanent nation-state political reality, on the other. In British politics, the latter concept of actual political reality dominates because the geo-politically logical resolution of the underlying conflict remains unresolved. This is due to the lack of political leadership in the process of adjusting to the increasingly unavoidable supra-national evolution of the European Union. An example of such a lack of political leadership was exhibitted recently by Robin Cook, the Labour Party’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, in an interview with the New Statesman. Responding to Tory Party accusations of Euro-federalism, here Cook goes out of his way to assert that: “it is simply absurd to describe us as federalists. Labour’s vision of Europe is of independent Member States voluntarily together to co-operate. We do not want to surrounder our independence to some kind of super-state.’ In this context Cook emphasised that Labour supports majority voting within the Council of Ministers’ on decision-making relating to social, environmental and industrial policy, but not on policy issues relating to home affairs, taxation and security.

This arbitory distinction by Cook between the sphere of supra-national decision-making, on the one hand, and the nation-state sphere of decision-making, on the other, illustrates whatever political energy that gets channelled into the European Union’s supra-national transition process is political rhetoric rather than political leadership. Here the obligations of political leadership, even in terms of political realism, takes second place. Thus, commenting upon Cook’s tactical positioning of the Labour Party behind the British Government’s stand on the inviability of the Nation-state as stated in its Inter-governmental Conference White Paper, Will Hutton argues that such a political reliance on the Nation-state concept is politically unrealistic. It is politically unrealistic because the momentum of the European Union’s development, a momentum the logic of which forces the European Union either into further integration or disintegration, turns the Nation-state concept into a mere rhetorical device for adjusting national politics to the supra-national realities of European Union politics.

It is in this context that the development both of a collective European political identity and of a collective European political will gets undermined by reliance upon “Nation-state” rhetoric as a means of national adjustment to supra-national reality. Its relevancy lies in the European Union’s need to disentangle itself from the web of Atlanticist theology as a prerequiisite to developing its Common Foreign and Security Policy. It is the context in which the dictates of Atlanticist theology, divesting Europe of whatever self-identity it could be developing, inter-acts with the rhetoric of the Nation-state to stall the generation of the collective European political will necessary for the development of that European self-identity. Here Atlanticism performs a pivotal function – or malfunction – in the diversion of political leadership energy away from the European Union’s process of adjusting to this supra- national transition. This is highlighted by a comparison how the British and French respectively adjust to such a collective transition. The comparison is made the more revealing by the British assumption that they possess a “Special Relationships” with the Americans which the French lack. The resulting distinction between British and French Atlanticism is one of degree reflecting upon how they respectively adjust to their mutual need to participate in the European Union’s supra-national transition and self-identity development.

The significance in these differing degrees of Atlanticism gets emphasised by the contrast between German and British conceptions of how a future European security system should evolve; namely, either within the Euro-centric supra-national framework of the European Union, or within the Atlanticist nation-state framework of Nato. It is a context that brings into focus the contrast between the British maladjustment to post-cold-war geo-political reality, in terms of its failure to identify itself with consequential European security needs, and the adjustment of the French to these needs by committing itself to their fulfilment. It is a contrast that focuses upon the need to develop a supra-national collective European identity, a supra- national collective European identity that generates its own supra-national collective European political will.

Such a context, a context in which Europe’s political agenda is left open by default, offers the European Left the opportunity of taking the political initiative. It requires the European Left to redefine European security in supra-national in terms that override the interests of Nation-States whilst encompassing regional, local and minority group needs within those Nation-States. It also requires the European Left redefining European security in holistic terms that correspond to its own value judgements concerning socio-economic, environmental and Human Rights issues.

It is a context requiring the European Left to formulate, develop and propagate a supra- national concept of Europe identified by, and founded upon, the ongoing implementation of these ideals. More specifically, it requires the substitution of the Atlanticist “European Security’ concept by the concept of supra-national, holistic European security as the basis for generating a collective European self-identity. Indeed, the very process of European Union integration through such phenomena as the shift of emphasis from the European consumer to the European citizen, identity politics within the symbolic European Union framework, and trans- European non-Governmental organisation networking within that same framework, generates a European identity in itself. Such a strategy would guide the logic and momentum of European integration into progressive channels of evolution.

Here the constitutional logic of integrating the Common Foreign and Security Policy into the Maastricht Treaty’s second pillar could have the potential of playing a pivotal role in developing the process of EU enlargement along a more holistic concept of European Security. That it is also a constitutional conflict over the EU’s Cfsp orientation and consequent political identity gives the European Left the opportunity to perform a vital part in posing question of whether the European Union should subsume and ultimately eject Nato, or whether Nato should subsume it. Hence it is a strategy that would, if adopted by the European Left, not only be based upon manifest political idealism. Of greater political pertinence, it is the only strategy that would defend Europe against evolving into the European sector of a transatlantic free-trade area based upon free-market forces, the ultimate Atlanticist goal.

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