As the Indo-Pacific security alliance between the United States, Britain and Australia demonstrated, the international geopolitical landscape is changing in rapid and unforeseeable ways. The center of gravity is shifting eastward as Europe is endlessly discussing ways to enter the hard power game. Should the Europeans continue in empty talking-shop mode, they will one day wake up to realize that no one takes them seriously. At the same time, they will realize that their security totally depends on the United States (although details about Washington’s commitment to Europe remain unclear).
I recently asked a senior European official how many years it would take for Europe to reach between 30 and 40 percent of America’s strategic capability (if Europe actually decided to make the effort). “Eight to 10 years,” he replied. Over that period, the major European countries would have to ensure that their defense systems are truly compatible. It makes no sense for each state to produce their own type of military aircraft or frigate, instead of following the successful example of Airbus.
And here is where the difficult part begins. If you are to be counted as a serious player, you need a solid rapid-reaction force that can promptly respond to Kabul-type missions, information-gathering capabilities and a proven management system. These are all things that the NATO alliance possesses, but Europe does not; and this means that some hard decisions have to be made.
These are the operational issues. Besides those, there are also existential ones. What would decision-making look like if Europe were to use military force? Would such decisions require unanimity or just a plain majority? Who exactly would the enemy be that would help glue that new alliance, like every alliance, together?
French President Emmanuel Macron has some answers to these questions, but the Germans are reluctant to follow. Europe is more divided than ever and there is no such thing as a powerful leader that could pull it forward with bold decisions.
After the Second World War, a carefree Europe was able to prosper by free-riding on the security system provided by the US. Now we are finally getting around to the fact that things will only get more complicated and that Europe has been desperately late in growing up.