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Is there a future for the EU among increasingly assertive world powers?

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BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: In the buildings of the European Union (EU) and NATO, the lights are turned off in solidarity with the people of Ukraine due to the power cuts in the country following the damage to the infrastructure because off Russia's attacks, on December 21, 2022 in Brussels, Belgium. (Ömer Tuğrul Çam - Anadolu Agency)
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Dec 23, 2022 - 08:43 AM

ANKARA (AA) – Many have hailed the EU’s response to Russia’s war on Ukraine as unexpectedly resilient and cohesive, and a sort of display that raises hopes for the bloc to remain relevant in a world increasingly informed by hard power.

Joseph Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, went as far to say that it could herald the birth of “a geopolitical Europe.” This optimism seems warranted when one thinks of the union’s undecided, and rather hypocritical, reaction to Russia’s wars on Georgia in 2008 and eastern Ukraine and Crimea in 2014.

However, none of this can stem the sense of cynicism surrounding the EU’s future, with the bloc already in an era that requires tough decisions in the face of numerous structural challenges, internal and external threats, and increasingly unfavorable geopolitics.

To begin with, the Ukraine war yet again reaffirmed the critical need for hard power to defend or advance the interests of a nation or bloc.

For decades, the EU has relied on the US military might.

The hundreds of thousands of American troops and nuclear weapons deployed in Europe during the Cold War enabled European countries to focus on rebuilding, without having to deal with the fiscal, social, and political consequences of massive defense spending.

Even though US military presence on the continent declined significantly after the end of the Cold War, European countries went ahead and chopped off massive chunks of their military research and development funds, while also reducing the size of their armed forces.

The EU, apparently, was under the illusion that its economic power, deep commercial ties with Russia and China, and the military backing of NATO – despite its reduced post-Cold War size – would be enough to ensure its place as an influential actor in the global order.

It is noteworthy how European academia and media played a part in convincing citizens that armed conflicts on the continent were a distant possibility.

This was part of a wider endeavor for the “de-militarization of European culture,” which has become one of the main reasons why European nations struggle to enlist enough soldiers to fill up their ranks.

By the time the Ukraine war began on the eve of Feb. 24, Europe had already lost its capability of being a deterrent and its credibility as a truely global actor.

It was, therefore, no surprise to see the EU rely on the US to counter Russia, a country that was once viewed – particularly by Germany and France – as an indispensable part of the European security architecture.

This crippling overreliance on the US, however, poses major risks for the EU’s future.

First and foremost, it is unsustainable.

The US sees that the axis of world history is shifting from the Atlantic toward the Pacific, and is already reorienting its diplomatic attention and military power to the wider Asia-Pacific region, a move that will only accelerate once the Ukraine war ends.

As that happens, Europe will be forced to spend much more on defense, an added pressure for many countries already drowning in debt.

Secondly, the US will exert all its influence over the EU – an influence that has grown exponentially during the Ukraine war – to make the bloc fall in line with its increasingly assertive and confrontational approach toward China.

This will leave Europe, which has greatly benefited from trade with China over the past four decades, with an impossible choice between security and prosperity.

Irrespective of what the bloc decides, there is no guarantee that all its members will be on the same page, further undermining its fragile cohesion.

All this leaves the EU, long a bastion of peace and prosperity, facing a bleak future with some tough – and costly – choices to make.

Unfortunately for it, the course of history is meandering toward realities that the bloc has been adamantly denying or imprudently ignoring.

 

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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