THE tragedy of Europe becoming, initially at least, a satellite of the US came about in 1945. Twice in its history, Europe begged America to intervene in its civil wars — in 1916 against the German and Austrian empires and in 1940 against the German-Italian Axis. The US Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles (1919) which also contained the Covenant of the League of Nations. The US could not become a member of the League. It withdrew into its own shell. A powerful school of isolationists grew.
But America had tested European waters. In 1945, it did not withdraw from Europe. Quite the contrary, it dug its heels in. Shortsighted Europeans withdrew. Two great men wished to stop it, each in his own way. Winston Churchill wanted a settlement with the Soviet Union and a summit with Stalin. On Roosevelt’s death, the US acquired as its president a small-town man. Harry Truman whom Americans hail as a hero today enjoyed the power that had fallen into his lap but did not know either its complexities or its limits. He set his face against a summit with Stalin and soon made plain to Britain the limits of the so-called ‘special relationship’ it so enthusiastically wanted. Western Europe accepted the spider’s designs.
Archival disclosure, since 1991 when the Soviet Union broke up, revealed that in 1945-46 the Soviet Union was too weak to wage a war against Europe. It had lost over 20 million lives during World War II. Its economy was ravaged. Western Europe had suffered. The US emerged as the world’s sole superpower. Meanwhile, by using the most brutal means, Stalin imposed his rule on the countries of Eastern Europe for which Russia has not been forgiven.
Two great Europeans wanted to have a deal with Stalin. Churchill had made the famous Percentages Agreement on spheres interest in Eastern Europe with Stalin at Moscow. Roosevelt sabotaged it. He made a deal with King Ibn Saud, bypassing his partner Churchill who got Iran. He also gave Britain short shrift on the bomb.
Haunted by fears, Europe has flown into American arms.
The other European was much more far sighted. Charles de Gaulle of France had the foresight to sense that the US wanted global hegemony. The Quaid’s friend Lord Ismay became the first secretary general of Nato. In his famous words, Nato’s aim was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down”. Till the very last, prime minister Margaret Thatcher pleaded with Mitterand and Gorbachev against Germany’s reunification.
Haunted by fears of the Russian invasion, Europe flew into American arms. Alas in 2022, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gave a sense of reality to European fears. And Europe will not be the same again.
But it is not unlikely that Europe will regain its vision of old. A Chinese commentator Zhang Yunbi wrote early this month: “As the Ukraine crisis and its impact loom large, an increasing number of European policy insiders are discussing the region’s strategic autonomy, a decades-old concept aiming to boost its independence from outsiders in shaping its own security, diplomatic and economic policy. … The concept of European strategic autonomy nowadays covers security, economy, diplomacy, digitalisation and climate change, but security now stands out as the weakest link.”
“Since the end of World War II, European countries have been overly dependent on the US and Nato in areas such as security and defence, and in the face of the current crisis, all nations should decide their position with a cool head and great prudence,” Feng Zhongping, director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of European Studies, is quoted as saying.
According to Feng, “Although the Europeans have realised that they cannot rely too much on Washington, they have failed to reach consensus on topics such as defence and common security, not to mention building an effective security framework.”
During a virtual summit with French and German leaders last month, President Xi Jinping said that his country backs France and Germany in promoting a “balanced, effective and sustainable European security framework”, reflecting China’s position on European integration and strategic autonomy.
The article quotes Wang Hongjian, charge d’affaires ad interim of the Chinese mission to the EU, that China always supported European integration and an EU with greater unity and prosperity.
But there may be divisions inside. For observers, according to the article, have spoken of “divergence among European countries over strategic autonomy — countries such as France and Germany support the concept while some Eastern European countries disagree amid concerns they may lose defensive support from the US”.
The solution to this problem is a treaty on the lines of the Brussels Treaty of 1948 between the West European countries — in effect, a wider European framework.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2022