Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Irish Vote, European Hedging, and Continued American Hegemony

The Irish "No" vote on the Lisbon Treaty has led to serious resignation among the power leadership of Europe--in particular, the French, who are slated to take over the presidency next, show little excitement or hurry for trying to recussitate the treaty, or any other pseudo-constitution.

At it happens, many countries have had very large "no" minorities in their approval votes, and the odds that one of these would not turn into a small majority (the "no" vote in Ireland was 54%) was pretty low. Many countries, particularly smaller ones, do not want to give up such a large chunk of their sovereignty--they like the free trade pact, but not being bossed around by France, Germany, and the UK. Europe must find a new path.

But the behavior of the power players in Europe shows that they have been aware of the possibility of this result for some time, and have been hedging their bets. A pseudo-state EU would create an entity as economically strong as the Untied States, though probably not yet as militarily or politically so. Either way, Europe would be able to stand up to America's ability to unilaterally act. But even as hopes for the EU peaked, Germany, France, and the UK drifted towards the United States. Merkel, Sarkozy, and Brown have all maintained and emphasized friendly ties with the US despite disagreements over the War on Terror and War in Iraq. Such behavior shows that they have been making clear attempts to avoid alienating the United States--a mere irritation if the EU became a single foreign policy bloc with the power to pressure the US, but a disaster if it failed. Given that failure, pro-US hedging on the part of these great powers has paid off.

But that hedging leaves momentum, and a direction. The collapse of the Lisbon Treaty might otherwise leave the foreign policies of many European countries adrift, and their geopolitical positions unsure. But now these countries are turning back to the institutions left behind after the cold war--US bases in Germany, the UK-US "Special Relationship," and NATO--all provide a US-led network to fall back on in a potential crisis of decision. The French are triumphantly returning to full NATO membership, the first time since 1967, and upgrading their military; further, Sarkozy has essentially mirrored Bush's foreign policy since Sarkozy entered office. The British are hanging tough in Iraq despite domestic pressure to withdraw, and Bush and Brown are making clear that they have no disagreements over future Iraq policy. Merkel and Bush have collaborated in drafting UN resolutions against Iran on its nuclear program, and Merkel has made moves to improve ties with Israel, perhaps the US' closest ally.

Without a strong EU, the looming spectre of Russia will further push Europe towards America's umbrella. The Russians are starting to exhibit a disturbing pattern of natural gas extortion, threatening its dependents (one at a time) to cut off supplies should they swing too far out of the Russian line. The Germand and French both admitted that they vetoed Ukraine's entrance into NATO, fearing such an occurence, and would accept Ukraine later when they had established greater energy independence. Eastern European states, save the Ukraine and Belarus, continue to cling to the NATO alliance as a protection from Russia, and more small Russian neighbors, like Georgia, hope to join.

This reliance on the United States for foreign policy leadership is largely unchanged since the early 1990's. The EU looked like it was going to be the force that brought Europe out of the US umbrella once and for all, but EU hopes for a strong foreign policy seem to have been dashed. Without another grand idea or direction, and a Russia that is not only growing quickly economically and militarily, but also asserting itself with increasing aggression, European heavy hitters are likely to stay in line behind the United States for a long time to come.

China's rise and East Asia's willingness to accomodate it is likely to mean an eventual end to US dominance of East and Central Asia. India remains friendly to the US, but fiercely independent. The Middle East mostly continues to tolerate the US, but is looking forward to its exit from the region. Africa is almost certain to never become a sphere of US influence, given the West's constant neglect, and China's neocolonial opportunism. South America remains closer to the US than any other region, but most states in South America have a rather poor opinion of the US, save Columbia; further, Brazil's potential economic explosion with oil finds off its coast may give most Latin American countries a new direction to look. Mexico and Canada will certainly always respect the US' hegemony over North America, but there is little that can be done with that power, and even less that the US cares about.

Ultimately, and perhaps surprisingly, Europe may become the last bastion of US hegemony. Should it ever unionize, build its military, and assert itself in foreign policy, the US would be reduced to an oversized regional power in the next century.
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