Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The sponsors of “moralizing internationalism,” as historian Corelli Barnett called it, are busy trying to spin the Russo-Ukrainian war as a crisis that has renewed European unity. For globalists, Russia’s return of Europe to its benighted past of invasions, destruction, and slaughters––horrors that the “rules-based international order” supposedly ended––has instead strengthened and highlighted two show-case institutions of that order, the European Union and NATO. Globalists claim that rather than an indictment of globalism’s failures, the war is restoring both institutions and confirming the superiority of supranational institutions in keeping order and creating prosperity.
But all the spin can’t hide the real lesson of the war: that the centrifugal, conflicting nationalist self-interests that wrecked the League of Nations and reduced the UN to an arena for maximizing those interests, remains the critical factor in interstate relations.
A good example of this dubious happy-talk about “unity” appears in a recent column by Thomas Freidman, a long-time Davos man and cheerleader for technocratic, antinationalist globalism. Take this sentence: Russia’s brutal invasion “explains why practically overnight, Germany’s government dispensed with nearly 80 years of aversion to conflict and maintaining the smallest defense budget possible, and announced instead a huge increase in military spending and plans to send arms to Ukraine.”
The key word, of course, is “announced.” Action is another thing. As James Snell writes in Spectator World: “And yet, as the war ends its first hundred days, German weapons deliveries to Ukraine have very visibly failed to materialize. For more than a month, the delivery of fifty Flakpanzer Gepard self-prepared anti-air systems has been authorized by Berlin. They have not arrived. Nor have the seven 155mm howitzers of German manufacture which have been promised. No German tanks, long a subject of Ukrainian requests and promises from other countries, are on the way.” According to documents leaked to the newspaper Die Welt, “deliveries from Berlin to Kyiv have slowed to a crawl, and then a trickle––all of this deliberately.”
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are keeping the line to Putin open, apparently hoping to mediate between the two sides, even though they have no leverage: “They have nothing to bargain with, yet still reduce their contributions to the Ukrainian effort in some bizarre one-sided quid pro quo,” Snell writes. This behavior has troubled Ukraine and its supporters. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Public statements by the leaders of France and Germany and comments by those countries’ officials suggest they are skeptical Kyiv can expel the invaders and they have called for a negotiated cease-fire, triggering complaints from Ukraine that it is being pushed to make territorial concessions,” including ratifying Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Other Western European nations as well, the Journal writes, are “losing appetite for sustaining a war they think is unwinnable and has reached a bloody stalemate that is draining European resources and exacerbating a looming recession” caused in large part by high energy costs brought about by sanctions on Russian oil.
So much for “unity.” As the Journal headline on the above story reads, “Cracks Show in Western Front against Russia’s War in Ukraine.”
Speaking of sanctions, Friedman’s celebratory metaphor that describes them as a “precision economic-sanctions missile right into the center of Putin’s economy” is preposterous. Russian fossil fuels are still being purchased by the Europeans, and further reductions are scheduled for the end of the year. If the conflict drags on until winter, the reduction in available energy for heating European homes will put even more pressure on governments to settle the conflict and reopen the Russian pipelines.
This premature touting of European unity is clearly globalist wishful thinking. But it’s nothing new. It reflects the long, unresolved problem that has bedeviled the idealism of the “rules-based international order”––the incoherence of an international structure created by treaties among sovereign nations that sign them not because of some lofty shared principles or “harmony of interests,” but because they serve each nation’s interests.
The conflict between idealism and interests was obvious in the Versailles settlement and the creation of the League of Nations a few years after its birth. In 1923, League member Italy bombed fellow member Greece’s island of Corfu, killing 15 Greek and Armenian refugees from Turkey. Greece appealed to the League for justice, but in the end, was forced to pay Italy reparations. The Secretary-General of the League, Sir Eric Drummond, commented that this unjust outcome “has brought into question the fundamental principles which lie at the root of the new world order [NB!] established by the League.”
Drummond was prescient, as the following two decades saw not just the principles of the League, but also the terms of idealistic multinational treaties like the Locarno Treaty (1925) and the Kellogg-Briand pact (1928) that “Bar[red] War Forever,” as a New York Times headline announced. Both would be serially violated by League Members and signatories of the treaties Italy, Japan, and Germany. Along with disarmament, pacifism, reduced military spending, and growing social welfare spending, this naïve reliance on “parchment barriers,” as James Madison called them, paved the way for the most destructive war in history.
The history of those two decades between world wars alone should have been enough to confirm the wisdom of George Washington: “No nation can be trusted farther than it is bounded by its own interests.” The histories of NATO and the EU likewise illustrate the primacy of national interests over obligations to a treaty.
For example, the problem of NATO states, including rich ones like Germany, failing to spend adequately on their militaries––a violation of Article 3 of the Washington Treaty, which requires members to fund militaries large enough to “maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack”––has been going on for half a century. That’s why in 2006 NATO members pledged to spend at least a modest 2% of GDP on their militaries, which only a third of members reach today. The reason is obvious, given that the U.S. is willing to bear the brunt of military spending, and that most members prefer spending on social welfare and entitlements.
Since the Russo-Ukrainian war broke out, Germany has excited globalists like Friedman by pledged to meet that requirement. Whether it actually does and continues to after the current crisis abates, is doubtful given how thoroughly pacifism had shaped Germany’s national identity since World War II. But even if it does, 2% is shamefully low for a country as rich as Germany, one within easy reach of Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
Some EU states have also ignored rules that conflict with their national interests, especially economic ones. This bad habit became obvious during the 2007-8 Great Recession. The rule prohibiting bail-outs, which Article 125 of the Lisbon Treaty created, was violated in order to rescue Greece and other economically distressed members. Before then, the 1998 Stability and Growth Pact put a 3% of GDP limit on budget deficits, and a 60% limit on national debt. In subsequent years, every member except three has at some point violated those rules. In 2021, the average national debt of EU states was 88%, and 95% for the Eurozone.
The primacy of national interests is not the only impediment to the “rules-based international order.” National interests differ, and often collide, because of the great diversity of nations, which reflects differences in language, history, law, customs, mores, and religion. Eastern Europe’s history of Muslim occupation, for example, and its Orthodox faith spurred a different reaction to Muslim immigration than a mostly secular Western Europe’s. Similarly during the Great Recession, talk of the South’s poor work ethic compared to Germany’s, fueled resentment against what was seen as an arrogant, condescending surcharge added to the economic assistance. For all the EU’s talk of unity, Greeks are still Greek, and Germans are still German.
These still potent national differences and interests, particularly among European non-elites, ensure that European unity will remain fragile, except for the cognitive elites who run the EU, and nationalism will continue to trump supranational rules and interests. Those globalists hoping that the current crisis will unify Europe will be disappointed.
Leave a Reply