The EU needs to learn from history and avoid punishing the UK too harshly for Brexit

    The EU needs to learn from history and avoid punishing the UK too harshly for Brexit

    Tuesday, 10 September 2019
    People visit NATO Headquarters in Belgium. Credit: US Secretary of Defence/ Flickr.

    From an American perspective, the EU’s attitude towards the UK is a sad commentary on the state of government throughout Europe.

    The EU has gone too far 

    The EU’s commonality of interests is easily discernable, but the conflicts are easily understood. The EU was a great idea, and still is; it has just been allowed to go too far in several respects, including massive regulation of things that shouldn’t have to be regulated.

    Rather than being nice and letting the English go, the EU insists upon being extremely tough on trade. It is understandable for Europe to fear the prospect that, if the EU does not inflict harsh punishment upon a deserter, others will follow the UK out of the EU. Let’s punish England with a heavy hand! How sad.

    The Euro was another great idea; wonderful in concept but increasingly difficult in practice. Weak countries have been accustomed to letting their currencies fall, enabling increased exports and boosting their economies. Being strapped to the Euro, Greece, and Italy will continue to face the question of Grexit and Itxit. You might add Spixit. Conversely, Germans will not want to keep footing the bill to bail out profligate countries. In the affected countries, this leads to public riots against the tough restrictions placed upon them. They have to have the money, but the voters do not want to pay.

    Few today remember how France chose to punish Germany at the end of World War I, a choice that led to Hitler’s rise and World War II just two decades later. Remember the rule of unintended consequences. At the end of WWII, the Marshall Plan cost the United States billions but helped Europe rebuild quickly, shielding it from communism. The country that started the war ended up being the most devastated, requiring the largest amount of financial help to rebuild. Wasn’t being nice and generous better than demanding harsh punishment?

    Global dependence on the US

    It is easy to understand why European governments don’t like Donald Trump and don’t accept the fact that for 75 years they have been dependent upon the United States for their protection, refusing for all those decades to pay NATO their “fair share” for their defense. The United States, via its taxpayers, is still paying trillions for a military that has served as protection for many countries worldwide. Instead of saying, as they did in 2014, that “we will begin to pay our share in ten years,” shouldn’t NATO’s European members start investing in their defense? As you will read later, that is not an easy question. Do, however, note that the self-imposed deadline set by European NATO members is not just four years away. Making progress?

    The United Nations was a splendid idea, but in too many ways it is failing. Despite some highly-worthwhile programs, it, like the EU and the United States, has become a bloated bureaucracy. To have so many countries that have evil, oppressive governments be on committees that decry the actions of countries that are humane is absurd.  The UN may serve as a peacemaker, but it is never going to be an effective military power capable of defending the world from China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. We are letting China claim the entire China Sea because nobody wants to go to war against what is thought of as the most powerful country in the world.

    Putin took the Crimea without facing adequate punishment, encouraging him to do it again.  After all, he could claim all those Russians in Crimea “wanted” to be part of Russia, not Ukraine. Think about that and consider the scary position in which Estonia now finds itself.  Estonia’s eastern border is with Russia and that area, Narva, is 86% Russian. Estonia belongs to NATO. Are we, both Europeans and Americans, prepared to go to war with Russia if Putin decides to “annex” Narva? If I were an Estonian, I would be extremely nervous, despite assurances from NATO.

    A European Army 

    When people study the steps that led to World War II, they usually think of Neville Chamberlain’s only famous quote, “Peace for our time,” failing to remember that France, despite having a worthless 1936 pact with Czechoslovakia, left the Czechs hanging out to dry when Hitler wanted to invade and, a few weeks later, the Soviet Union took the other half of the country. So much for mutual defense.

    Under Putin, Russia is not a “nice” country. Russia may, in contrast with China, be a weak economy, but it is proven repeatedly to be untrustworthy, greedy and eager to regain control of what was lost when the Soviet Union collapsed.  It is discouraging to see France, to save some money, become dependent upon gas supplied by Russia.  If it becomes necessary to stand up to Putin, do the French believe that Putin will not cut off the flow of gas upon which France will have become dependent? The unavoidable need to stand strong against Russia will come soon.

    It is almost certainly an impossible dream, but an effective European Army would be the best alternative, but, this development is highly unlikely. Also, the NATO requirement that every member country pays an equal percentage of their GDP on defense may sound good and “fair,” but the result is not what is needed. Were Latvia, Estonia, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Montenegro to pay 4% of their GDP on defense, it would do nothing to protect those countries from a nasty predator.

    NATO members should pay their shares to the US

    Other than the United States, nobody but China can afford to pay the enormous amount of money needed to build a meaningful army, navy and air force. What would be most efficient would be for the 27 European NATO members to pay their NATO “fair share” to the United States. Yes, laugh at that, but then think about it as the most effective way to defend us all.  That would be many times the unpaid amounts due to NATO.

    Let’s take a look at some basic facts.  Europe consists of about 1.7 million square miles with a population of 513 million and a gross domestic product of $17 trillion.  The U.S. is 3.8 million square miles with a population of 325 million and a GDP of $20.5 trillion. The US population is almost 200 million less than that of Europe and our people pay many times what Europe pays toward defense, a strength that has repeatedly helped protect everybody.  Is that “fair?” The US is spending about $700 billion per year on defense. Previous US Presidents have complained; only Trump has had the guts to confront the problem.

    Back to Brexit 

    Getting back to Brexit, it is time for European leaders, not bureaucrats in Brussels, to sit down and have a serious discussion about where things are headed on the continent and how best to protect all of us. That discussion should be between the heads of state of the major countries; not all of the EU or NATO. Don’t include China and Russia in those discussions; they are the most urgent issue. To accomplish anything, such a discussion would have to be highly confidential.

    The EU should thrive because it is strong and beneficial, not by being nasty. The best solution for all would be to relax the EU regulation that resulted in Britain’s wanting out.

    Thornton Clark