A garden can’t survive in the jungle

A garden can’t survive in the jungle

If the West is not united it will be unable to compete with China. That much is clear. And if we include Australia and Japan in the “West,” there is no doubt that their strategic cooperation with the United States is deepening and becoming increasingly necessary. Those two countries are, after all, located in the East and are facing a huge China with constantly increasing geopolitical ambitions.

However, the question is what will happen with Europe. The statements made by French President Emmanuel Macron on his way back from Beijing highlighted the issue, as well as the European dilemma. The French president spoke, once again, on the need for European strategic autonomy in relation to the United States and questioned whether the EU should follow the US in a tough cold war. Because the French are loose with their use of language. Even concerning completely tangible subjects, it is very difficult to understand exactly what strategic autonomy means, how much it costs, and how it will be achieved. Can “Europe,” whether it is the contemporary form of the EU or a smaller group of European nations, create its own army in the next five to 10 years, or its own intelligence service? Can “Europe,” without the United Kingdom, in fact replace through its own means what is provided by NATO, and in practice the US?

When I was discussing the issue with a friend, he told me a story. He had visited a US Navy aircraft carrier on an official visit and at some point, the ship’s commander hosted the delegation for dinner along with high-ranking American officers. What made an impression was that the meal consisted of tuna salad sandwiches or ham and cheese sandwiches, soft drinks, and a few beers. Next to the dinner table, the crew had set up another table to sell cookies and mugs. Some time later, he was again invited by his counterparts to visit a French aircraft carrier. This time dinner was three courses and some relatively good wine. In the eyes of my experienced friend, the difference was clear, as was his answer to the question “Who is in a better position to fight?”

Another friend who was in Afghanistan during the chaotic days of the exodus from Kabul describes how the US made a mess, but later set up a mechanism that for a few days operated the evacuation efforts and a complex airbridge. The Europeans felt completely dependent and at the end of an operation that they had toiled to set up were left facing a US military captain telling them if they could or could not enter the airport’s controlled zone to leave.

There is a long way to go for Europe to achieve strategic autonomy. It must achieve it, but that means becoming tougher, no longer being spoiled, and – most importantly – having a leadership that wants to play that part on the international stage. Because right now it looks like a calm and tidy “plot of land” that wants to remain unchanged by the rapid and relentless changes around it, as the post-war certainties are collapsing, as is the sense of security provided by the US umbrella. That cannot be though. No tended garden can be preserved and maintained when a jungle grows around it violently and without order. It is decision time for Europe. Just that, as usual, until it can reach one… 

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