Washington does not want a Europe united in its Foreign Policy

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Mosaic Blog

With Donald Trump as President of the United States this affirmation may be obvious.  But my argument is timeless.  No U.S. Administration is going to foster the European integration process, and much less its Defense and Foreign Policy dimension. Actually, the United States not only will show any enthusiasm but it will do all the possible to avoid a political united European Union, regardless who may occupy the White House.

In Political Science it is very risky to make predictions as I have just done. In order to apply the scientific method we need empirical evidences but the future does not provide them till it becomes present. A rigorous alternative is to use theories validated empirically that offer some level of confidence.

For this reason I resort to John Mearsheimer’s offensive realism to support my point. Briefly, this theory tries to explain the behavior of great powers through the following principles:

  • In a World without a centralized authority –international anarchy– states must be able to defend by themselves its core interests.
  • The competition between states to accumulate relative power lead in certain circumstances to the emergence of regional hegemons.
  • Once a great power became regional hegemon, it tries to preclude the emergence of hegemons in other regions of the planet. There are three reasons: 1) to avoid peer competitors; 2) because these hegemons would difficult the influence of others in its own regions; 3) because these hegemons could try to interfere in the sphere of influence of the great power; in its backyard.

According to Mearsheimer these principles explain the main lines of US foreign policy history. After its independency USA attempted to expand in Canada against the British (failed), in the West against the natives and in the Southeast against Mexico (successfully). Afterward United States secured its position at the regional level expelling the European great powers, a process that culminated with the war with Spain in 1898. A few years later United States overcame its traditional isolation in order to avoid other great powers became hegemons in other regions: Imperial Germany in World War I, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany in War World II; URSS in Europe and China in Southeast Asia during the Cold War.

The interaction of those principles also explains the rivalry between United States, China and Russia today. Both Moscow and Pekin try to secure its respective sphere of influence. At the same time Washington support the balancing coalitions of the neighboring against both great powers (offshore balancing): East European and Baltic States against Russia; and Japan, South Korea and India –plus other minor powers as Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam- against China.

Of course, there are dissimilarities between the different U.S. Administrations. The US National Security Strategy of 2017 mentions twenty five times the term ‘competition’; while the last National Security Strategy of the Obama Administration uses it four times. But beyond the rhetorical aspects, the Pivot to Asia (Obama Administration) and the invitation to Ukraine and Georgia to joint NATO in the 2008 Bucharest Summit (Bush Administration) aligned perfectly with the strategy of avoiding regional hegemons.

In the last years Mearsheimer has repeated in different articles and lectures that the economic rising of China (in the case it last in the next decades) will not be pacific. Or in other words that the relative power increasing of China will provoke an intense security competition between Pekin and Washington. According to Mearsheimer China will try to apply the Monroe Doctrine in Southeast Asia, and at the same time United States will oppose to be displaced of the region. Actually these are not simple elucubrations. The excessive territorial reclamations of Pekin in its circumvent international waters, the construction of artificial islets by China in South China Sea and the challenging response of the US Navy (Freedom of Navigation Operations) reflect this increasing rivalry.

Mearsheimer pays scarce attention to the European Union political constructions process (perhaps because of its own inconsistencies). Nevertheless offensive realism permits interpret the attitude of United States in this regard. Not only the foreign policy of a given Administration but the structural impulses that orientate the great strategy of the nation.

From the perspective of offensive realism a European Union with a single foreign policy, with a global strategy and supported by a true European Armed Forces, would represent a formidable geopolitical competitor. In addition the success of the European political integration would diminish the influence of United States over single European states. The federal government in Brussels would have more room for maneuver in its relations with some rivals of the United States –like China and Iran– and it would strength the influence of the European Union in Latin America in a context where the links of Russia and specially China with some countries of ‘Washington’s back yard’ are currently enough concern for United States strategists.

United States wish a prosperous and stable Europe, an open market for its companies and products, a Europe sufficiently strong to balance Russia and to accompany the United States in its coalitions of the willing. Nevertheless, Washington does not want a Europe with a concerted foreign policy, and overall, with enough military capacity for defend its global interest in competition with the United States.

Javier Jordan is Associate Professor of Political Science and member of GESI at the University of Granada, Spain | Twitter: @JavierJordanE