French President Macron: “Europe Can Die”

by Paolo von Schirach–

WASHINGTON — In an April 25 speech at The Sorbonne focused on security issues French President Emmanuel Macron stated exactly this: “Europe can die”. Let me more dramatic: “Europe will die”, unless Europe, that is the European Union, or EU, wakes up and decides to engage in a massive defense spending effort while at the same time creating a federal constitution headed by a federal government, with clear authority on security and defense. This new EU federal government will be in command of the new European armed forces. With an aggressive Russia at Europe’s door step, the security threat to Europe is real and palpable. Do the Europeans care about safeguarding their liberty, their civilization, values, and culture? If so, they will do all they can to protect them. That means that the Europeans must invest money –a lot of money, beginning now– into a comprehensive effort aimed at creating powerful military means that will discourage its enemies. The European armed forces will be under the command of a strong federal executive that will be created by a new European Constitution. Worst case scenario, should deterrence fail and war break out, Europe will have the tools to vigorously defend itself. All this sounds obvious, but may be not obvious enough.

A fitting analogy

An example taken from a recent unrelated tragedy will illustrate what is at issue here: the high cost of failing to invest in prevention. On Tuesday March 26, 2024 a horrible accident happened in the port of Baltimore, a major maritime hub located on the Eastern shore of the United States. The Dali, a very large container ship, all loaded up and on its way out to the open sea, destination Sri Lanka, suddenly lost all power, (reasons for this massive and rare malfunction still unknown). The harbor pilot could no longer steer the Dali. The huge ship drifted, and ended up striking a column supporting the massive Francis Scott Key Bridge. After this tremendous impact, in no time most of the bridge collapsed.

The cost of inaction

The accident caused the death of construction workers who were making repairs on the bridge at the time of the ship’s impact. As the collapsed bridge and the stranded container ship blocked access, the port of Baltimore came to a standstill. The city of Baltimore and the surrounding region lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Hundreds of businesses that depend on the port suffered. Tens of thousands of workers had to be idled. While special equipment has been deployed on site to begin removing thousands of tons of twisted metal from the water and from the ship’s deck, this difficult operation will take several weeks. All in all, because of this one accident, we are talking about losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars to Baltimore and the surrounding regions whose economies depend on an active, well functioning port. Beyond the enormous cost of removing from the water the collapsed, twisted bridge, constructing a new one will take years and it will cost at least $ 2 billion. All in all, we are taking about billions of dollars of lost revenue and huge hardships for thousands of businesses and their workers. Ironically, had the Dali’s power loss occurred just a few minutes later, after the gigantic vessel has sailed under the Key Bridge, none of this would have happened. But no suck luck.

Prevention was possible

That said, the real tragedy is that we now know that this terrible accident that destroyed in a few seconds Baltimore’s Key Bridge could have been prevented. How so? For years, engineers, looking with concern at ports, rivers and bridges and at the increased volumes of marine traffic sailing under them, especially super sized container ships like the Dali, have been advocating the construction of “dolphins”, specially designed large cement structures, to be placed around the columns supporting bridges such as the Key Bridge in Baltimore. Large, well placed “dolphins” would serve as barriers and powerful shock absorbers in case of ships accidentally striking them. Their mission is to take the blow of the collision with a big ship, this way protecting the columns supporting the bridges and thus the their structural integrity.

Prevention is expensive

The problem is that effective, large dolphin barriers cost a lot of money. The Key Bridge in Baltimore was protected by a few dolphins. But what was built was inadequately small and not strategically placed. Those dolphins did nothing to prevent the accident. Experts say now that a robust dolphins protection would have cost about $ 100 million. This was not done.

And here is the issue of investing or not investing in costly preventative measures. Why invest additional millions of dollars with the goal of preventing a possible future accident that may never happen? Case in point, the Key Bridge in Baltimore was inaugurated in March 1977. For 47 years nothing happened. No accidents. But, as the Dali collision of March 26 demonstrated, one freak accident due to causes still unknown is enough to destroy an entire massive bridge, kill people, and cause catastrophic economic damage to a city and a region, affecting tens of thousands of people.

What is the point of all this? Very simple. Adequately investing in prevention is very onerous, and it may seem too expensive, if not utterly frivolous, when there are other issues that may seem more urgent, such as repairing smaller bridges in the region. Yes, catastrophic accidents are rare and therefore unlikely. But one is enough. In a very similar way, Europe today is confronted with a similar choice. Keep under investing in defense and military preparedness, hoping that nothing bad will happen? Or invest heavily in order to deter potential armed aggression, or other threats to its sovereignty –unlikely but quite possible developments?

Europe is unwilling to pay

Just like the case of the modest dolphins defenses that were after all built around the Key Bridge in Baltimore, many Europeans would argue that, as NATO members, they are already doing a lot for defense. They spend money with the goal of maintaining credible armed forces capable of deterring an attack, or ready to face it, should one take place. In theory, they are right. After all, many of them have met or will soon meet the magic threshold of military spending equal to 2% of GDP. Can you imagine that? 2% of GDP for the defense of Europe. So, in their own defense the European members of NATO say that much has been done and more will be done. In practice the Europeans are engaged in self-delusion. It is true that they are doing “something”. However, what they do is a fraction of what should be done.

The Americans will do the heavy lifting

Yes, in theory the Atlantic Alliance –read the United States of America– is there to defend all NATO members, big and small, should they become the target of an attack. However, in truth, we know that the NATO Alliance is vastly under equipped, and is therefore very vulnerable, even assuming America’s help.

We also know that old, not totally public, political tensions between the US and Europe, caused primarily by the US resentment for the chronic under investment in defense by most European members of NATO, any day may culminate in an unprecedented Atlantic crisis, especially if Donald Trump will be elected President this coming November.

Indeed, during his first term in office, Mr. Trump repeatedly and openly accused the Europeans of doing too little for the common NATO defense. It should not be excluded that Mr. Trump might want to terminate NATO altogether, if elected to a second mandate. Unlikely, but entirely possible development. At that point, with America gone, Europe’s weakness will be fully exposed. Right now it is still possible for timid European leaders to hope that a stronger America will do the heavy lifting in case of a conflict, this way allowing the European members of NATO to have the excuse for doing more of the same: just a little defense spending, with vague promises of some increases in the future.

Europe’s predicament

And this brings us back to the stern warning issued by French President Emmanuel Macron on April 25, 2024, at the Sorbonne, in Paris. Macron noted the obvious. Europe is militarily weak. It does not have the equipment and the armed forces necessary to credibly deter adversaries, or fight them successfully should an attack come. Equally important, the EU also lacks the recognized, robust command and control structure that would have the statutory authority to raise the money necessary to pay for and manage the defense of Europe and call armed forces into action, whenever necessary.

So, here we have it. Small European defense budgets. Not enough troops. Not enough weapons. No European Government. No Commander in Chief. No European Minister of Defense with the recognized authority to conduct a war on behalf of Europe. Even within the current NATO context, notwithstanding NATO’s existing peace time integrated military structure that includes the United States and Canada, with a NATO SACEUR, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, sitting at SHAPE, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, the well known European military weakness in terms of troops and armaments makes NATO’s effectiveness in case of a conflict very questionable. Even assuming full support from America as the strongest NATO partner, the Alliance remains weak. This structural European military inadequacy, now somehow hidden underneath the NATO blanket, would be fully exposed, should the Alliance end on account of political changes in Washington –changes that it would be unwise to rule out.

Enormous challenge, timid leaders

President Macron has the merit of having sounded the alarm. He pointed out the really serious issue of a Europe’s dramatic military fragility –a problem routinely ignored by all or most European elected leaders. He suggested remedies. But here we see how this issues to be tackled are so huge that they may be set aside as intractable.

Indeed, it is not just a matter of more money, even though much more money for Europe’s defense, starting today, is vitally necessary. The problem is the European Union itself. If by “Europe” we think of a state, let’s be clear: a European State does not exist. We have of course the European Union, EU. But the EU is a set of complex agreements among sovereign states. The EU is not nor is it likely to become any time soon a federal state, with a clearly defined federal government, with real power. No such plan leading to this qualitative transformation exists.

This being the case, it is hard to imagine how a credible, well organized European military force will be paid for, organized and directed without the creation of a clear, legitimate European federal political authority that will manage the new defense spending programs, the European armed forces, and issue binding orders in real security emergencies. Even more difficult to imagine quick decisions when situations deteriorate but there is no immediate military threat.

“Europe can die”

So, here we go. “Europe can die” –said Macron. His stern warning resonated across Europe, and across the Atlantic. He was on the cover of the prestigious and influential The Economist. But, in the end, not that much resonance. I see no inflection point here caused by his speech. Even though with the ongoing Russian engineered conflict in Ukraine war is at Europe’s door step, most Europeans would like to pretend that it is not so. Most of the calls these days are for a “negotiated solution” with Putin regarding Ukraine. And we know what that means. Since there is not even a small chance that Putin’s Russia will withdraw from the Ukrainian territories that it occupied via a war of aggression, a negotiated peace will mean a Russian victory and a Ukrainian defeat imposed on under resourced Kyiv by tired and anxious Europeans who want peace, no matter the cost.

If this is is indeed the prevailing mood –and I believe it is– not a chance that the complex and costly agenda that Macron urges for the sake of Europe’s survival –a new form of EU government that will lead the massive defense spending increase that Europe needs– will be enacted any time soon. Just like the authorities in Baltimore who knew very well that a catastrophic accident might happen and did almost nothing to prevent it largely because of the high cost of prevention, the Europeans will continue to believe that the best way to secure peace in Europe is to keep a low profile and talk peace. Unless this attitude changes, Russia, China and other aggressive powers may be in real luck. They will be able to subdue Europe without firing a single shot. And so the Europeans will learn that peace at all cost may also mean peace under foreign domination, otherwise known as colonialism.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Professor of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.

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