Speaking recently, UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond explicitly called upon Germany to help ‘deliver more useable firepower to the NATO alliance’ and Europe, adding that the Second World War had happened a long time ago. Stan Boardman would no doubt be incredulous at such a statement, probably screaming ‘The Germans? They bombed our chippy!’ It is also safe to say that anyone else who was affected by Hitler’s destructive war machine and racial policies would be distinctly unimpressed too. However, with the imminent collapse of the Euro and a US military pivot to Asia only months away is it time for Germany to substantially increase their military capabilities in a bid to offset a rapidly weakening European NATO?
On the face of it there doesn’t seem to be much need. As the world’s foremost military power the United States has taken an active interest in the military protection of Europe since the Second World War through the operation of a large network of bases and training facilities. Additionally, both Britain and France feature fourth and fifth respectively on lists accounting for global arms spending. As usual though, statistics and broad foreign policy statements do not tell the whole story.
Whilst big spenders, the literal ‘bang’ that Britain and France gets for their ‘buck’ has diminished distinctly since 2010. Grappling with huge structural deficits, the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review announced eye-watering cuts which resulted in the early retirement of a British aircraft carrier capability, serious reductions in mechanised infantry and compulsory redundancies for thousands of highly trained soldiers, airmen and sailors. Furthermore, further announcements by the Ministry of Defence have highlighted the need to shed another 4000 posts by 2017; such cuts no doubt shattering the illusion that Britain can unilaterally project anything more than a few missiles around the globe.
Likewise, whilst grappling with their own financial difficulties the United States has also been forced to make some tough choices. Recognising the dramatic rise of a resurgent, territorial and potentially economically unstable China, President Obama recently announced a new American foreign policy doctrine – one in which American military power is directed away from Europe and towards Asia. Indeed, the Americans are canny enough to realise that the 21st Century will belong to Asia, not Europe. Ultimately this means that Europe is no longer completely protected by the United States.
Whilst politically damaging for European outsiders such as Britain, the shedding of NATO military resources and an American pivot to Asia is more worrying for Europe and the future of a young, incoherent and militarily weak European Union. It is an unmistakable historical fact that Europe has only known continued peace and prosperity for as long as the NATO alliance has enabled stability within Western Europe; as a former Cold War battleground and largely responsible for two World Wars the European borders are among the most politically unpredictable and volatile regions on the planet.
To find evidence of this you do not have to look far. For instance, the breakup of the former Yugoslavia created a multitude of problems for the European Union which were made more so complex by limited European firepower and an almost complete lack of support from Washington for a prolonged military operation.
Likewise, continued Russian support for the morally bankrupt, repressive and repulsive Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad despite massive international pressure highlights the issues that the European Union is likely to face in the future. Bordered in the East by Russia and former Soviet Bloc states, the European Union will no doubt be expected to respond to further Russian provocations now Moscow is awash with cash due to a current commodity boom. Additionally, with further ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions predicted in the Middle East it is almost a certainty that European military forces will be required to undertake combat roles with increasing frequency. A NATO strengthened by Germany would undoubtedly help to ease pressures on both American and European allies.
After reading the above you would be forgiven for thinking that I am an arms dealer in favour of creating a ‘fortress Europe.’ However, whilst amusing, such assumptions would be incorrect. As the most populous country with the largest economy in Europe, Germany increasingly finds herself as the leading European power to which all others seek guidance and support. Indeed, all recent European economic solutions have focused upon using the strong German economy as a base for either bailouts or recovery options. Ensuring that Germany has the military firepower to match economic and political capabilities is only fair.
And as the strongest and richest Eurozone nation, the colossal might of the German economic machine could be used to ensure that even when other NATO allies are sacrificing military units the security of Europe is not affected. Undoubtedly, a strong European economic recovery would no doubt greatly benefit from a continued secure, stable and confident Europe, supported by a strong and confident Germany.
Everyone deserves a second chance, right?
It was back in 1987 that Turkey first applied to become a member of the European Commission. Situated at the fringes of Europe and with a blend of Western and Eastern cultures, Turkey is a cultural melting pot at what is often referred to as the ‘crossroads of the world.’
Whilst much progress towards Turkish European Union membership has been made, a recent diplomatic spat with France has highlighted the problems facing Turkey and a liberal European Union only too well. As reported by BBC News, the French National Assembly passed a bill on the 22nd December 2011 criminalising denial of the 1915 – 1916 Armenian genocide, of which the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) was the chief protagonist. Whilst the bill is unlikely to be passed by the French Senate, the sabre-rattling has been highly successful in highlighting an issue that EU negotiators would rather ignore, gaining the attention of Ankara and bolstering support for President Sarkozy from the sizeable Armenian population within France.
The Armenian Genocide is not the only historical grievance that European countries have with Turkey. Whilst the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus occurred over 35 years ago in response to an alleged Greece Cypriot coup, Cyprus is still divided along a United Nations monitored Green Line. Although several solutions have been offered and a recent, high-profile ‘Kofi Annan’ plan endorsed by Turkey, the United Kingdom and United States was produced, an agreement between the Greek and Turkish governments has yet to be reached. For many European countries, Turkey’s history is a sticking point; and unfortunately for Turkey a sticking point that will hinder full European Union membership until errors are recognised and apologies are made.
Although important to some Europeans, history would appear to be irrelevant for a sizeable section of the Turkish population. In 2004, a poll taken among Turks placed support for EU membership at 73%. By 2010, this figure had declined to 38%; interviewees citing growing economic prosperity and hopes of greater Turkish significance in the region as reasons for the lack of support. Whilst support for full membership has undoubtedly declined, it is likely that support will once again increase as the European economy recovers and the current rose-tinted view of the Arab Spring darkens. Similarly, it is predictable that the resulting Turkish advances for a fast-track membership will be welcomed by an EU hoping to use Turkey as a bridge to influencing euphoric and naïve governments set up in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Aside from historical and public support issues, Turkey has primarily been withheld from full EU membership because of the failure to adopt and adhere to the 35 chapters of the ‘acquis communautaire’ – in effect the EU Law which all member states must abide by. For instance, considerable efforts are still required with regards to agricultural and rural development, the environment and ensuring implementation of legislation allowing female equality. Despite the best efforts of negotiators, negotiations have stalled several times due to Turkish intransigence and it is still unclear as to whether these obstacles and other considerable hurdles can be resolved within the next decade.
So, will Turkey ever join the European Union? At present, there is no reason why it should not, and it is highly likely that Turkey will join the EU in the not too distant future as European leaders take measures to maintain political, economic and military influence when faced with the growing might of a resurgent Asia. Likewise, the push from European leaders for diversification of energy suppliers will only become stronger as time progresses and Russia becomes more erratic, this forcing Turkey into the spotlight due to Turkish geographic location and proximity to Middle Eastern oil and gas pipelines.
Additionally, despite tough-talking rhetoric from France and Germany, Turkey enjoys substantial support for integration from the United Kingdom, United States, Spain and Italy. France has also recently watered down amendments to the French constitution that called for a public referendum when Turkey is eligible to succeed to the EU; instead choosing to leave the decision to elected officials.
The only certainty with regards to Turkish membership of the European Union is that Turkey will not be fusing with Europe within the next decade. This is due to two reasons – one being that Jose Barroso, President of the European Commission has stated that succession will not be possible until at least 2021 so that differences can be resolved, and two being that the European Commission is currently distracted with the on-going Eurozone economic crisis. Rightfully so, the EU should ensure that the status quo is stable and free from further shocks before adding more strain to an already fragile system with a country such as Turkey that will no doubt require substantial economic, political and agricultural assistance in the early stages of integration.
However, despite this positive outlook it should not be forgotten that the EU is currently in severe trouble. Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal are at risk of economic collapse, their political collapse already complete. In the face of economic disintegration intense political negotiation designed to find a solution has only produced bickering and deadlock; this resulting in a failure to produce any long term plan to soothe global financial markets and bring down borrowing costs to a manageable figure.
Such a peculiar political situation begs the question – if European leaders are unable to negotiate constructively and agree over a matter survival now, will they ever be able to agree enough to allow a controversial Turkey to join the EU?
It would not be unfair to say that 2011 has not been a good year for many of the above. Due in large part to the actions of protesters participating in the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions across the Middle East and a renewed American determination to pursue terrorist networks with drone aircraft, several tyrannical regimes and terrorists have been ousted from power across the globe.
In the Middle East, what began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor in protest at the confiscation of his goods by local authorities led to wider political and social protests throughout Tunisia; this in turn providing the catalyst for similar ‘revolutions’ across the region. This series of events became known as the ‘Arab Spring’ and has since resulted in the downfall of the autocratic Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan and Yemini governments.
Furthermore, Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaida, was eliminated after a daring raid into sovereign Pakistani territory by US Navy Seals. The information gathered from Bin Laden’s lair in turn led to the death of high ranking Al Qaida leader Al-Awlaki in Yemen following a CIA drone strike; his demise severely disrupting Al Qaida’s operations in the Arabian Peninsula and having the added bonus of taking out an important American born, internet savvy jihadist recruiter.
So, at the risk of making a series of fanciful predictions akin to the one made by Yale University economics professor Irving Fisher in 1929 when he stated that “stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau,” are further dictators and tyrants likely to fall in 2012?
Unfortunately the short answer is no, there are not. Despite all international media attention currently being focused upon Syria and its authoritarian President, Bashar Al-Assad, the end result is unlikely to result in victory for the protesters and rebels. For instance, although in a recent ludicrous interview with the American network ABC Assad claimed that he was not in full control of Syrian security forces, the United Nations has since stated that this is unlikely to be the case and that troops loyal to Assad will continue to brutally clamp down where needed.
Additionally, unlike Libya, there is virtually no chance of Western nations imposing a ‘no fly’ zone to protect civilians and remove Syrian armour to the benefit of protestors due to a lack of political, financial and public support. Instead, the United Nations has chosen to pursue a policy of enacting sanctions – although such sanctions are doomed to failure since there is a crucial lack of support from both Russia and China, and also because Syria has been an international pariah for years and is therefore well-versed in dealing with Western threats.
Similar to Syria in some respects, the North Korean state under the ‘Supreme Leader’ Kim Jong Il is also unlikely to buckle soon. Isolationist, isolated and weak, the country is often referred to as a Stalinist dictatorship with one of the lowest human rights rankings of any country.
Despite such horrors and other issues such as a widespread famine and continued international pressure, the family dynasty has remained intact and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future – mainly due to the elaborate government controls on all aspects of North Korean life.
Presently, one of the only authoritarian countries showing signs of potentially abandoning autocracy is China. With the prospect of increased personal wealth and travel opportunities for millions of urban Chinese threatening the absolute authority of the Communist Party, the Chinese leadership has begun to slowly grant citizens more personal freedoms in a bid to retain control.
Even with such a small increase in personal freedoms it should still be noted that there is still complete government control of the media and political system. Political protesters and citizens routinely go ‘missing’ and many never return, often presumed to have been executed by the authorities.
Whilst still a cause for concern, if compared with the paths taken by other industrially advanced countries it is hoped that further Chinese economic development will fuel deeper international involvement and responsibility; this in theory leading to increased personal freedoms and an abandonment of authoritarian practices. It is unlikely however that this process will occur anytime soon, even if such predictions were to prove correct.
Despite what would appear to be an overwhelmingly negative outlook with regards to disposing of more dictators, tyrants and terrorists, the future is actually not as bleak as it may seem at a first glance. Not only are my predictions just that – predictions – but they are also based on rationale and logic; both these things are inherently difficult to apply to the constantly morphing world of international politics.
An example of this constantly morphing political world can be seen during the height of the Cold War when despite high-level meetings between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev no political commentator from either the East or West predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead, complacency and a purely accidental misunderstanding on the part of Soviet press secretary Günter Schabowski led to the downfall of Communism in Europe.
There are also far more dictators, dynasties, terrorists and tyrants remaining in the world than covered in this article; these including the governments of states such as Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Burma as well as the second in command of Al Qaida, Al Zawahiri. Each has their own unique circumstances and to analyse all would be a task of enormous undertaking.
And to answer the question posed earlier in the article? Yes, there are many despicable people and governments left in power and yes they will eventually fall. History has repeatedly proven this. All that remains to be seen is how, when and where.