The next global policeman

Posted by FS On Tuesday, 29 January 2013 0 comments

Given America’s eagerness to wind up its military commitments around the globe, Europe may be the next best superpower to look up to. “A decade of war is now ending,”...
Given America’s eagerness to wind up its military commitments around the globe, Europe may be the next best superpower to look up to.
“A decade of war is now ending,” President Barack Obama declared last Monday. Maybe that is true in America, but it is not true anywhere else. Extremists are still plotting acts of terror. Authoritarian and autocratic regimes are still using violence to preserve their power. The US can step back from international conflicts, but that will not make them disappear.
Fortunately, there is another power that shares America’s economic and political values, that possesses sophisticated military technology and is also very interested in stopping the progress of fanatical movements, especially in North Africa and the Middle East. That power is Europe.
Don’t laugh! I realise that even a year ago, that statement would have seemed absurd. I certainly could not have written it in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 Libya operation, during which, France, Britain and a dozen other nations were barely able to sustain a brief war, involving no ground troops, against a poorly armed and unpopular regime. Unverified reports at the time alleged that the French ran out of bombs and were dropping lumps of concrete. Be that as it may, without the intelligence and coordination provided by American warships and airplanes and the CIA, the French planes would not even have known where to drop them.
Yet, here we are in 2013, watching the French Air Force and troops come to the aid of the formerly democratic government of Mali, which is fighting for its life against a fanatical Islamist insurgency. Furthermore, this French intervention ha, so far, broad national support. Although there have been public criticisms of the operation’s logistics, preparation and ultimate goals, almost no one in France questions the need for intervention. Hardly anyone is even asking “Why France?”
The French have a special, post-colonial sentiment for Francophone Africa (and, according to a French friend, for Malian music) and have intervened in the continent militarily more than 40 times since 1960. However, the context of this intervention is different from many previous ones. The aim is not (or not entirely) to prop up a pro-French puppet regime, but to block the progress of Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — the brutal organisation that fuelled the Malian insurgency and took hostages at an Algerian gas complex last week.
In other words, the French are in Mali fighting an international terrorist organisation with the potential to inflict damage across North Africa and perhaps beyond. Not long ago, this sort of an international terrorist organisation used to inspire emergency planning sessions at the Pentagon.
Now the French have had trouble getting Washington to pay attention. Some US transport planes recently helped ferry French soldiers to the region but, according to Le Figaro, the Americans at first asked the French to pay for the service — “a demand without precedent” — before agreeing to help.
However, other Europeans are offering money and soldiers. The European Union (EU) has authorised funding to train African troops who will assist — and it does have more experience than you would think. EU forces, operating far beneath the publicity radar, successfully attacked pirate bases on the Somali coast last spring. “They destroyed our equipment to ashes,” a man described as a “pirate commander” told The Associated Press.
All told, the EU has intervened militarily in more than two dozen conflicts. Not quite as much as the French since 1960, but getting there.
A number of obstacles must be overcome before the EU can become the world’s policeman. Although combined European military spending does make the EU the world’s second-largest military power, it still is not enough for a sustained conflict.
Some Europeans, most notably the Germans, will have to overcome their post-Second World War abhorrence of soldiers. Other Europeans, most notably the British, will have to be convinced, as others have concluded, that Americans just are not that interested in Nato anymore. An added complication emerged last week when British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his intention to renegotiate his country’s relationship with the EU. However it unfolds, this process is unlikely to aid in the development of a common European foreign and defence policy.
These are big obstacles, but what is the alternative? If America is to enjoy “peace in our time” — an expression now deployed by both Obama and Neville Chamberlain — while the rest of the world remains at war, then someone else will fill the vacuum. A glance at the other candidates — China, Russia, perhaps Qatar or some other Gulf nation — ought to make us all stop giggling about cheese-eating surrender monkeys and start offering logistical and moral support. Europe may not be the best superpower, but it is the only one America has got right now.
By Anne Applebaum


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