PARIS — There's something both pathetic and surrealistic about France's obsession, at the moment, with a rather unremarkable economic reform bill (the "loi Macron") while to the east and to the south, in Ukraine and Libya, real threats are edging closer to our continent.
It's time to wake up! Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe needs to redefine its entire security policy. The question lies in whether it can do so within the EU's institutions or rather through the individual but coordinated efforts of its member states.
In the aftermath of World War II, in the context of the Cold War, Western European countries — with the notable exception of France and Britain — handled defense issues within the framework of the NATO and thus placed their security, for all intents and purposes, in the hands of the United States. The choice proved a wise one. The war remained cold and the Soviet system collapsed, a victim of its contradictions.
But success can be both misleading and dangerous. Lulled by the illusion that security issues were a thing of the past — the Balkan wars being just an anachronism — the EU very quickly looked to a postmodern future, seeing itself as both a guide and model. Europe was from Venus and America was from Mars, as Robert Kagan commented in an essay that hit the bull's eye, even though Mars soon found itself entangled in its contradictions in the Middle East.
To guarantee its security, Europe had three cards at its disposal. The first was the U.S., which you could criticize or denounce at will but served, nevertheless, as a sort of ultimate life insurance. The second, that of EU enlargement, proved particularly effective at the beginning of the 21st century as an incentive mechanism. "Do you want to join our peaceful and prosperous club? Behave." But this policy, which worked well in the Balkans and Central Europe, could never be a universal model.
The EU couldn't nurture the ambition to integrate, in successive waves, all countries around it, close or far. That's why from 2002, and this was its third card, the EU expressed the will to develop an area of prosperity and stability on its extended borders. Thus was born the European Neighborhood Policy. This led in 2008 to the creation of the Union for the Mediterranean and in 2009 of its eastern twin, the Eastern Partnership.
The problem today is that all three of these cards are outdated. Cannons are roaring, men are dying and chaos is gaining ground — less than three hours from Paris. The neighborhood policy, in other words, must be entirely revamped.
The power to convince is one thing. The power to compel is another. When Italy is calling for help in the Meditarranean in the face of ISIS" advance in Libya, when Poland or the Baltic countries worry about Russia's rising ambitions in Ukraine, can we really act as if nothing or not much is happening?
Better control of Internet access and border entry points are certainly necessary steps. But given the world we now live in, we also need to increase defense budgets. We can't, as used to be case, rely on the U.S. to defend us. America is still strong, but it no longer has the means or the will to be the sole policeman of the Western world and its values.
Salvation won't come from China either. It's too far away. Nor can we rely on southern neighbors like Egypt, Turkey or Algeria, which are too obsessed with their own security and the survival of their regimes, and which look at us with a mixture of historical resentment and cultural, if not directly religious, ambiguity.
Simply put, we're back to a point where we must enforce our own security. Nobody esle will do it for us. There is, however, a structural contradiction between the EU's mechanisms, which were intended to offer a new sovereignty model in the postmodern world of the 21st century, and the now absolute necessity to reinvent a culture of security to defend our values and our models.
Faced with those who dream of recreating the Soviet Union and those who state their ambition to conquer Rome, Europe has no other choice. It has to become once again a "tough power." This isn't about sinking into some sort of imperialistic or colonialistic nostalgia. It's simply a matter of clarity, lucidity and common sense. "If you want peace, prepare for war," the Romans used to say.
Should we intervene once more in Libya, three years after toppling Colonel Gaddafi and his regime? The answer is probably yes. There's an emergency. The threat is edging closer to Europe and we can't afford another failure in our attempt to reconcile the will to change and the desire for order and stability.