The EU needs a foreign policy doctrine

Today's world contains two declining global powers (Russia and the US) and two emerging ones (China and the EU). While China's rise is unstoppable, the EU must establish its own foreign policy doctrine, which in an interdependent world must be one of "inclusiveness" and soft power, writes Romanian MEP Adrian Severin, vice-president of the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament, in an exclusive commentary.

This commentary was sent exclusively to EurActiv by Romanian MEP Adrian Severin.

''Today's world counts two declining global powers – Russia and the US – and two emerging ones – China (with its political and military assets and its social and economic liabilities) and the EU (with its economic and social assets and its political and military liabilities). The other 'rising stars' are still far behind this group.

The rise of China is unstoppable. The only result of any policy aimed at slowing down the emergence of China as a global power would be to push it to give up its non-expansionist (see non-exclusivist) traditions and to become nationalistic instead of being universalistic. This will increase the threat of global confrontation, with consequences in terms of instability and insecurity.

The rise of the EU can only be stopped by Europeans themselves. This will depend on the outcome of the main current European contradictions, namely:

  •  The contradiction between the Christian autochthonism of conservative ideologies and the secular internationalism of progressive ideologies;
  •  the contradiction between real transnational economic governance, which has an oligarchic nature (occult and inclined towards speculation) and the emerging transnational social (and economic) governance, which has a democratic nature (transparent and production-oriented);
  •  the contradiction between the national egoism of the member states and the transnational solidarity of the European community (between national and transnational democracies);
  •  the contradiction between the more developed and more secure North-Western EU states and the less developed and less secure South-Eastern EU states. This bunch of contradictions has a complexity which might eventually prove beneficial for the development of the EU, because it could lead to a more dramatic definition of the option between war and peace in Europe.

Russia and China have a strange 'complementarity': the former has the territory; the latter the population. Such a complementarity could hardly be the source for the solidarity of strategic interests which is the foundation of any long-term alliance.

The US and the EU are also complementary: the first is hard power; the second is soft. Together, they could form an unbeatable couple able to assure – at least for the time being – world stability and impose world order, at least in the Nordic hemisphere.

However, both live in a state of mutual double feelings. Some Americans see in a strong politically united Europe as an indispensable ally who could allow them to better share the burden of guaranteeing global security and stability.

For those Americans, today's EU is too loose, slow, bureaucratic and incoherent to be a reliable strategic partner in global endeavours. They are of the opinion that a political EU would not only offer them the comfort of having a single phone number to call their transatlantic ally when in need, but also symmetric global sensitiveness, concerns and reactions rooted in the symmetry of strength.

On the contrary, other Americans believe that the US does not need yet another competitor that is always inclined to call into question the pax Americana and eventually desirous (because it has the ability) of decoupling the European defence and security identity from the American one, thus leaving America without its capacity to have a right of regard upon European internal policy.

Such a competitor would be more embarrassing, and make more evident the hereditary difference between Europeans as descendants of Venus and Americans as descendants of Mars.

Thus a weaker EU, as a second-hand regional power, might look better.

The EU is geographically cached between the US – from which it is separated only by an ocean primarily controlled by the latter – and Russia – from which it is separated on the central front by a few former Soviet states in permanent turmoil, most of them Slavic in cultural origin, and which are considered by Brussels as its common neighbourhood and by the Kremlin as its traditional area of exclusive influence.

As a result the EU might find itself at a certain point as an newly-arrived global player surrounded and strangled by two old ones, who could be tempted to cut deals behind its back and at its expense.

That explains why Europeans themselves are sometimes divided between Russophilia and Russophobia, as well as between Americanophilia and Americanophobia, some of them being in favour of a trilateral cooperative system at the Nordic hemisphere, while others look towards a more confrontational approach.

Anyhow, for a Nordic trilateral to function properly two prerequisite conditions must be accomplished: 1) the EU must transform itself from a mere emerging soft global power into a political real global soft power with muscles; 2) China must be supported by the EU not only to emerge as fast as possible in the constellation of global powers, but also to do it as a new soft power.

Any foreign policy is the synthetic expression of the internal fundamental common interests of a particular collective entity. These interests are subject to the specific identity of that entity. The EU is no exception. Therefore the identification of the vital international interests of European citizens depends on the EU's capacity to define its identity both in cultural and geopolitical terms.

Against this background, the EU, while remembering that any foreign policy is driven by the dynamic of interests and circumscribed by the balance of power (the foundation of power being control over resources), must acknowledge the existence of several doctrines on international relations and must choose its own clear option, eventually by defining its own doctrine.

The first possibility is the neo-conservative doctrine. The main principles of this doctrine are:
 The nature of the internal political regime of a state decides the nature of its external action (policy), which is a mere continuation of internal policy by using different instruments;
 the change of a political regime could not be achieved by soft external means, the recourse to which would look like an attempt at socio-political engineering;
 neither could international organisations achieve such a change as long as they are based on the principles of sovereign equality and non-interference in internal affairs;
 democratic states which are by their nature attached to the ideas of peace (democratic security) and freedom have the right and the obligation to intervene – either militarily or by non-military means (e.g. by linking aid for development to political conditionalities) – in order to change the political regime of failed states (namely those states whose different political regimes generate a foreign policy meant to spread fear and death).

This doctrine of a Manichean and confrontational character represents the theoretical foundation and the ideological excuse for imperialistic external action by the self-declared 'axis of good' states against the unilaterally identified 'axis of evil' ones.

It matches best with and asks for a mono-polar global order which, in spite of the secular vocabulary, follows a fundamentalist Christian Messianic syntax driven by the concepts of the 'promised land', 'salvation', 'saviour' and 'damnation'.

The EU must reject such a doctrine, both in its muscled and its soft form, since it will eventually either place democratic, secular Europe in the position of a submitted satellite power or will condemn it to spill its blood in modern but no less terrible identity wars as a neo-crusader.

Secondly, the realist doctrine. According to this doctrine, the foreign policy of each and every state / international player, irrespective of its internal political regime, has as its only purpose to get for its perpetrator more power (in absolute and relative terms) – i.e. deeper control over a bigger amount of resources – and thus an increased capacity to determine the other to comply with its exigencies and to accept its requests.

This doctrine of a confrontational character is based on the logic of the zero sum game. It was developed during the Cold War and corresponds better to the bi-polar world system.

The EU, as an essentially soft power, must reject such a doctrine. A bi-polar world system is by definition based on the equilibrium of threats and the balance of fears, while the EU philosophy – emerged from its vital interests in their turn circumscribed by its natural resources and its historical background – is based on the concepts of cooperation and solidarity of interests; a bi-polar order is therefore unavoidably tensioned, while the EU cannot afford to do anything other than look for security through mutual comprehension, mutual compassion and mutual support.

The third possible doctrine is a neo-liberal one. According to this doctrine, anarchy is the natural and unchangeable state of international relations and therefore the latter's stability is a matter of self-regulation on a freely entered into and spontaneous contractual basis only.

The more the obstacles to such consensual arrangements are removed, the better the world will be (self)-disciplined and organised. Flexible international institutions whose number should be kept at the lowest possible level should not regulate or guide the global or regional order but play, when necessary, the role of an arbitrator with the task of safeguarding freedom (of trade first and foremost).

Mighty international actors will prefer the power of the right simply because they need predictability, which is good for business. The rule of international law will be observed by weak international actors, because they know that the breach of the covenants will only worsen their situation.

For all the minimal level of regulation of the international order is a guarantee of the maximal respect of that regulation associated with the maximal adaptability of national interests (which are eternal) to the international context (ever-changing).

This doctrine is, basically, the translation of market liberalism into the field of (international) political relations. It speaks in favour of a non-polar world order in which failed states are similar to bankrupt companies, while migratory flows are the expression at international level of social marginalisation and exclusion.

Such a model and such an approach push unavoidably to a revised version of the 'concert of nations' mechanism. In a dynamic world, that concert will unavoidably have variable geometry moved by the 'balance of powers' principle.

The EU should reject such a doctrine, not only because it is a return to past habits, which ultimately proved to be recipes for war, but mainly because as a federation of nation states (civic, multicultural and secular) – therefore neither superstate nor superpower – it is interested in a clearly and equally structured global order that is well-regulated and properly disciplined, and thus predictable, stable and peaceful.

Fourth, the inclusiveness doctrine. Such a doctrine could be shaped as an alternative to the above-mentioned ones. It starts from the observation that globalisation put all world actors in interdependence and therefore security became indivisible.

That indivisibility is the source of solidarity of interests, which represents the foundation for a general strategy of common projects. Such a strategy imposes the value of 'inclusiveness' which is a deeper and updated (modern) expression of the value of 'equality' forming the hard core of democratic thinking.

The development of the (sovereign) equality principle to the level of (global) inclusiveness requires a multi-polar world within which the respective power centres are in equilibrium, thus forming a global check and balances mechanism in cooperation, thus leading to a global subsidiarity mechanism able to assure the coherence and positive character of global progress.

The main principles of the inclusiveness doctrine are:
 Global security is a common universal goal, in the reaching of which the whole international community must be equally involved, irrespective of the political regime of each international player;
 International security – understood in its broadest sense as economic, social, environmental, political, cultural, geostrategic and military security – is indivisible;
 Consequently, the promotion of each player's self-interest, while accepted as legitimate and moral, must be achieved within the logic of  the win-win game which requires among others to put in place mechanisms of global equilibriums, global subsidiarity, global checks and balances and global solidarity;
 A comprehensive system of international security asks for a Global New Deal (economic, social, environmental, political, inter-cultural, defensive, etc.);
 This Deal must lead to a new Global Order which should reflect the basic values of European democracy accepted by players which have otherwise opted for different systems of values.
 To promote such principles and to reach such goals the EU must:

Conceive and promote itself as an external action player inspired by and reflecting European democratic values and only accessorily/subsidiarily asking non-European players to adopt the same values;
 Distinguish between European values without whose recognition a true international communication and co-operation could not take place and values which are not indispensable to this end;
 Distinguish between those European values whose violation could generate internal destabilisation with the capacity to spill over to regional or global level (these violations could justify the exercise of a right to international intervention which represent a limitation of the absolute character of  sovereignty); those European values whose violation represent an offence and a threat against basic humanitarian principles (e.g. genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass murder, physical repression of the difference of opinion – these violations could justify an obligation to international intervention / to protect which represent another limitation of the absolute character of sovereignty); those European values whose violation, even if deplorable, does not represent a threat against EU security or cultural identity (such violations do not justify any external intervention, be it by force or by imposition of political conditionalities);
 Recognise the diversity of the international players (conventional and non-conventional – e.g. states, NGOs, international organisations, business media and mass media, national and transnational political parties, etc.) and the necessity of a division of labour between them following their scope and nature (e.g. the political actors are bound to produce direct results at the end of each endeavour, thus being obliged to compromise while the militant non-political actors are bound to defend certain values without compromising and thus possibly without tangible results in the short term);
 Reject any attempt and any policy which might try to transform respect for human rights into an instrument for promoting geo-political agendas.

Against this background the EU must admit and state emphatically that:
 Its legitimate duty is to protect the interests of European citizens, namely to grant them ever-stronger security – individual, social, national (cultural) and international;
 to this end, respect for the diversity of the world is the foundation of secular external action and a prerequisite for successfully operating within a diversified environment - while believing in our values and being convinced that we are right, we must admit that sometimes we could be also wrong as well as that others have the right to be wrong too;
 the divergence of values reflected in institutional, legal and political incompatibility makes impossible international co-operation while at the same time values (like the EU ones entrenched in our concepts on democracy, rule of law and human rights) could not be exported (only dictatorship and disrespect for human rights are exportable) but must be helped to grow naturally form inside the society concerned;
EU external action must express European specific values but the external promotion of those values is only a means facilitating the accomplishment of the EU's duties towards European citizens and not the scope of EU external action;
 there should be recognised but also regulated in international law (conditions, procedures, limits, oversights, protection obligation, international responsibility) a right and a duty of political actors to intervene whenever and wherever the violations of human rights (civil, political, economic, social or cultural) in a certain part of the world might create reactions which might affect international security (therefore the respect of human rights is a matter of international and not only of national concern and political jurisdiction);
 in a globalised world where security (including social) is indivisible, peace could be achieved through general sustainable development and solidarity is the best recipe for defending self-interests, the EU should act as a political body and not as a charitable institution.
 The balance between the protection of self-interest and the humanitarianism of EU policies could be synthesised in the formula 'the only intelligent way to be selfish in a global world is solidarity'.

From this prospective, one could identify the following self-interest-related values to be placed at the foundation of EU external action: co-operation; solidarity; subsidiarity; respect for diversity; secularism; equilibrium; checks and balances; proportionality; synergy; transparency; accountability; openness; rationality; positiveness.

We must check our foreign and security policy in the light of these values. They are guarantees of political effectiveness and not only of moral legitimacy. They must be enhanced with strategic firmness and tactical flexibility.

On such a basis, the EU should prioritise updating and upgrading relations with the US, resetting relations with Russia and redefining relations with China.

While reaffirming its determination to keep the US as a European power, the EU should promote this goal by overcoming the asymmetries of strength between the two shores of the Atlantic Ocean, thus sharing better the burden of defending the world order and security.

At the same time, the transatlantic strategic alliance should be developed towards a confederative body. Such a body should justify and make possible the participation of both the EU and US in all negotiations with third global players (traditional or emerging) aimed at shaping the global or regional order paradigm.

Regarding Russia, the main challenges are the approach of common neighbourhood policy and the agreement of mechanisms for sharing international responsibility. As far as the common neighbourhood is concerned, a two-track policy must be followed: on energy and security policy (including the military neutrality of common neighbours) a trilateral format of arrangements must be enhanced; on economic and political cooperation bilateral arrangements should be foreseen following the options of the common neighbours and their assessment of their geo-economic and geo-political interests.

Global empowerment and global subsidiarity when dealing with international responsibility should be addressed by redefining the security and cooperation arrangement in the Nordic hemisphere (from Vancouver to Shanghai) within a new Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, leading to a ‘Helsinki plus’ agreement. This should be doubled by a Global Defensive Pact, which must address issues of non-proliferation, nuclear power and coping with non-conventional threats.

Finally, the EU must opt for associating with and assisting China in its implacable emergence as a global power rather than for trying to slow down or even stop such a development. Any attempt to stop the rise of China could only transform it into a nationalistic and therefore exclusivist empire. On the contrary, by association, the EU could help China to become another soft inclusive power able to act as a useful counterweight in a global system of checks and balances.

Within this context, the support of the EU for the development of a network of strategic infrastructures connecting China with Europe through a new 'Silk Road' will prove to be an overture of paramount importance in the long term.