Earlier this month I participated in a seminar that the European Union organized for Israeli journalists. The seminar, in addition to acquainting the participants with the workings of EU institutions, was also an attempt to clear up misconceptions and rectify the EU's image problem in Israel. In terms of economic and scientific cooperation our hosts were altogether successful in showing us that the glass was more than half-full. I remained unpersuaded, however, when we were reminded of the EU's offer to provide upgraded economic collaboration and security guarantees to Israel and the Palestinians once they reached a final agreement.
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When the European offer was again mentioned at one of our sessions, I asked the European foreign ministry lecturer how Europe could pretend to offer security guarantees when, with few exceptions (notably France and Poland), its member states were slashing defense expenditures to the bone. To his credit, the speaker from Europe's Foreign Ministry (the EEAS) conceded that the EU was all about soft power. That same day Mr. Putin demonstrated convincingly in the Crimea that soft power was not enough.
Perhaps more disturbing was the impression created that Europe's overreliance on soft power was somehow a preordained and permanent condition. Polish Foreign Minister Radislaw Sikorski loyally defended his colleagues after the EU managed to agree on only symbolic sanctions against Russia. Sikorski told journalists: "The U.S. is from Mars and Europe is from Venus. Get used to it." This comment was voiced ironically by the representative of a country that - cognizant of its neighborhood and Russian rearmament -has actually increased military expenditures.
I suspect that the reluctance to seriously rearm in addition to the obvious cancelation of the perennial peace dividend, precisely in a time of austerity, is motivated primarily challenge that it poses to the European success story narrative.
The EU takes justified credit in presiding over an unprecedented era of continental peace, a peace that, like economic growth and ever closer union, was presumed to be irreversible. To counter Euro-skeptics, Brussels paradoxically invokes the converse of this conceit: The alternative to the EU is a continent plunged back into the horrors of war and self-defeating power struggles. Now that the assurance of peace and security has been punctured by the Ukraine crisis, Europe's leaders fear that the public will sour on the EU's most effective sales pitch.
First, it is time for Europe to admit that the European integration project does not deserve the entire credit for a peaceful Europe. NATO was also around with its three objectives of keeping the Germans down, the Russians out and the Americans in. As I am not Israel's defense minister, but merely a private citizen, I hopefully will not bring down the avenging fury of State Department mouthpiece Jen Psaki by observing that, under Obama, it is not certain that the Americans are all in.
Given American public opinion's aversion to further military involvements, the Europeans cannot expect that merely a change of administrations will restore American willingness to subsidize European defense costs.
Europe must display the same realism about American involvement and cost sharing that has motivated Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to scrap Japan's even more circumspect military policy in favor of rearmament, to cope with threats and territorial demands in Tokyo's vicinity. Saudi Arabia is also taking measures, ranging from solidifying ties with China to beefing up the Gulf Cooperation Council's military capabilities, to compensate for a diminished American involvement.
Once the idea of an enhanced European force was associated exclusively with the foreign policy vision of Charles De Gaulle with its fantasies of Europe playing the role of a third force mediating between the United States and the Soviet Union. In that version, the idea of enhanced European military power was a counterproductive nuisance and an exercise in duplication. This fear has been laid to rest. France has reintegrated herself in NATO and freedom fries have reverted to French fries. A European buildup would now be welcomed rather than feared in Washington.
Europe's reengagement in hard power would not necessarily be bad for the EU's public image. The foundation of a government's claim on its citizens' loyalty is engendered by its ability to provide them with security against domestic and foreign threats. Undoubtedly, public opinion in European Union member states most fearful of Mr. Putin's version of rollback would rally to such a policy and their bonds with Brussels would be strengthened.
On a deeper philosophical level, the EU's ties with its citizens will be enhanced by a return to hard power. Europe's democratic deficit will not be remedied if the likes of Martin Schulz or Guy Verhofstaedt replace Herman Van Rompuy or Jose Manuel Barroso at the pinnacle of the Eurocracy. What has nurtured Euroskepticism is the sometimes obstinate pursuit of policies that fly in the face of European public opinion or economic and political realities. If the EU can muster the courage to reevaluate soft power as a panacea, it will thereby demonstrate that it has the capacity to respond and change.
Dr. Amiel Ungar is a political scientist.