Sunday, February 05, 2006
Europe needs to wake up
We seem to be witnessing an alarming growth in hostility between Europe and the Islamic world. The cartoon incidents show that even very trivial perceived slights from the most moderate western countries can become pretexts for some to embark on violence, threats and the destruction of Danish and Norwegian Embassies. Meanwhile Iran seems to be developing its own Atom bomb, complete with its promise to wipe Israel off the map.
There seems to be no shortage of voices in the Islamic world seeking confrontation with not just the West in general, but with Europe specifically. European efforts to negotiate with Iran seem to have been contemptuously dismissed by the Iranians and the situation has reached such a stage that even the German Prime Minister is warning of danger.
This should be a wake up call for Europe. Since the 1940s we have been lulled into complacency. The defence of Western Europe for most of the Cold War was largely provided by the US military and their nuclear deterrent. Once the Cold War ended, even the modest military capacities of most European states were reduced to virtually nothing. The successes of the European Union in preventing war happened under this protective umbrella, yet the US role was played down by European leaders and the EU was talked up as a model which could be applied to the rest of the world. All conflicts were thought capable of peaceful diplomatic resolution. All that was needed is the operation of enlightened self-interest, as war was in nobody's interest. No problem was insoluble with some good will, the principles of international law and a bit of economic development.
Unfortunately this peaceful vision of the world relies on the rest of the world sharing Europe's love of material luxury and its denigration of nationalism and religion. If material progress is the only important thing, nobody will bother to fight over nations or religion. Unfortunately a lot of the rest of the world has quite strong, often Islamic, religious beliefs, anti-western nationalism and little economic prosperity. Diplomacy might have replaced arms in Scandanivia, but even on the Balkan and Caucasian fringes of Europe ethnicity, nationalism and religion are much stronger forces.
One consequence of the European vision of the world, where diplomacy has replaced arms, is that European countries have allowed themselves to become virtually undefended militarily. Social spending was seen as a higher priority than arms and armaments. Entire European states now exist with virtually no defences, becaues we live in the complacent belief that war is somehow a thing of the past.
If current trends continue we are likely to be heading into a new cold war, between the West and the Islamic world. Europe has laboured under the complacent belief that because we do not back Israel, the way the US does, we will somehow be ignored by the Islamic extremist fringe that seeks to provoke conflict with the west. This is a hopelessly naive view. Very few in the Islamic world would have the courage to burn down their local US embassy, as they know that they might face retribution from Uncle Sam. Yet they are quite prepared to walk past the local representatives of the great Satan and go on to burn down the Embassies of the peace loving Danes and Norwegians. Theyknow that when they attack the Europeans they are quite safe, nobody in Europe can do anything about it except give them a stern talking to in some tedious diplomatic forum. By leaving our continent undefended we have left ourselves vulnerable to being the first casualties if a shooting war ever emerges between extremist Islam and the west.
Europe needs to wake up. We must abandon our 1930s style vision for appeasement and re-arm our nations and renew our commitment to NATO and common transatlantic defence before it is too late. Only a militarily strong Europe has any long term future. We cannot continue to behave as if we can talk ourselves out of any trouble. In a war an enemy usually attacks at the weakest point. In the west, Europe is the weakest point.