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Europe faces a challenge

  • Published at 12:09 am November 24th, 2019
British and EU flags
FILE PHOTO: British and EU flags flutter outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain January 30, 2019 REUTERS

How to facilitate global integration

The complexity with regard to Brexit, and conflicts in opinion within Britain have created concern not only within the UK, but also within the European Union. This anxiety has persuaded EU analysts to re-visit the international factors that could affect strategic autonomy within their future matrix.

The consideration of Europe’s strategic autonomy reflects the uncertainty surrounding European integration and the EU’s future role in the world from the perspective of current developments. 

This includes changes such as the surge of multi-domain competition on the international stage, the unilateral policies of the Trump administration in the US, the rise of China as a more assertive power, and Russia’s antagonistic posture related to certain aspects. 

There is also the pressing question about Europe’s ability to foster peace and safeguard security within and beyond its borders.

Strategic autonomy has created a requirement for Europeans to shoulder more responsibility for their own security and collaborate better with allies and partners. On the other hand, strategic autonomy in security and defense might be potentially detrimental to the existing trans-Atlantic bonds in the areas of economy and technology.

This controversy has also led to the identification of serious gaps and shortcomings in the EU institutional frameworks, capabilities, and key technologies in a more competitive world. 

These drawbacks are hampering the pursuit of strategic autonomy, whether it is in security and defense, technological leadership, or economic statecraft.

Nevertheless, one point is generally been agreed upon -- there is a consensus that the meaning of strategic autonomy assumes special importance in a world that is not only more contested but also more connected. 

Consequently, given the contemporary context, effective action depends not only on self-reliance when needed but also on the ability to join forces with others, whenever possible.

Since 2016 the international environment and the perception of threats and opportunities therein have changed significantly. It is accordingly agreed by academics that Europe must respond to the threats and challenges it faces -- but a truly strategic approach to them requires preparing to counter and mitigate the drift towards a zero-sum world.

It must be remembered that a variety of countervailing forces is shaping the international system. The cumulative impact of these developments is that competition in the system is growing, making it more unstable and vulnerable to disruptions. 

In a connected world

The technological revolution is re-shaping industries, politics, globalization, and strategic affairs. However, one thing is generally agreed upon -- interdependence can be leveraged to gain an advantage over rivals while connectivity can become a vector of political influence.

In this context, the current standoff between the US and China has been an example of rivalry among great powers in a connected world. It is also an example of competition and cooperation. 

Major powers are unlikely to use force against each other but they will, in the pursuit of national interest, compete across multiple domains including trade, finance, cyberspace, the military, and more. 

In this regard, the technological revolution can be a powerful multiplier of both competition and cooperation.

Another factor also needs to be taken into consideration. The last few years have seen the rise of nationalist forces and leaders in all global regions, fuelling a revival of identity politics. 

These forces have played the nationalist card to claim to defend their national community against the disruptions brought by globalization, allegedly masterminded by liberal elements. 

Nationalism is often mobilized by them to provide legitimacy to leaders and rulers, portrayed as standing for national greatness and values against external threats. 

However, this nationalist surge is turning out to be a major factor in generating a crisis within the sphere of multi-lateralism, as strongmen generally tend to favour power politics or one-on-one transactions over the constraints of rules-based cooperation.

The EU will have to continue playing a central role in the development of the international order through its active engagement. The size of the EU implies that when Europeans take joint positions, considerable agenda-setting and rulemaking power is generated. 

Despite all the complexities pertaining to Brexit, the EU can make a difference on major geopolitical issues -- in striking a compromise with regard to the Iran nuclear deal (the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) or in responding to Russia’s actions related to Ukraine.

The EU must understand that it can play a central role in the development of international order. It can exert considerable shaping power on the global stage as long as it acts strategically by setting shared goals and equipping itself with the means to achieve them. 

In other words, strategic autonomy within the EU can become a means towards Europe’s contribution to the resilience, reform, and effectiveness of the multi-lateral order.

EU can also support multi-lateralism in many ways despite severe pressure on this process by populist dictatorial regimes. The EU is a crucial partner to bodies such as the UN and the African Union. 

The EU could also further mobilize its links with regional bodies to create common ground on new issues of global governance, such as the regulation of new technologies. The EU can and should also make a strong contribution to the reform of international institutions while engaging with key partners.

On trade matters, the EU has also been presenting since 2018 its own approach to the reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO), particularly areas related to the functioning of the WTO’s appellate body.

The world recognizes the EU’s role and constructive engagement in using multi-lateralism to bring about vast benefits not only in Europe and the US but to all global regions and powers. 

Now, at this juncture, multi-lateral cooperation appears to be delivering less. The classical example in this regard is the sorry plight of the Rohingyas driven out of Myanmar through ethnic cleansing and now unable to return to their Rakhine state in Myanmar. 

Action in such matters should be taken at two levels: Addressing the gaps and gridlocks, if need be, on a mini-lateral level, to begin with; and then ensuring that globalization delivers similar benefits for all citizens. This will facilitate global integration.

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, can be reached at [email protected]