The Corner

A Proud Tower?

Writing in Forbes, the philosopher Roger Scruton ponders the waning of the Atlantic Alliance and puts much of the blame on the EU.

The reasons he gives are characteristically thought-provoking:

There’s this:

The EU has set out to delegitimize the nation state, to make it irrelevant to the ‘citizens’ of the Union whether they be French, British, Polish or Italian, and to abolish the national customs and beliefs that make long-term patriotic loyalty seriously believable. The EU’s attempt to replace national with European identity has, however failed, and is widely regarded with ridicule. Moreover the EU’s inability to think coherently about defense, and its policy of ‘soft power’ which makes defense in any case more or less inconceivable, means that the motive which leads ordinary people to defend their country in its time of need has been substantially weakened. Patriotism is seen as a heresy, second only to fascism on the list of political sins, and the idea that the people of Europe might be called upon to defend their borders looks increasingly absurd in the light of the official doctrine that there are no borders anyway.

I suspect that the patriotism of “ordinary people” may prove more resilient than Scruton fears, at least for now. But this will make less and less of a difference as the institutions of the continent’s nations are dissolved into a curious euro-amalgam to which few feel loyalty, and for which quite a number feel disdain. They are not just not prepared to die for that blue-and-gold flag; they want to burn it.

And related to that point, it’s worth noting that one of the paradoxes created by the EU, an organization that has done so much to shepherd Europe’s former satrapies into the West, is the way that Brussels’s relentless encroachments into national sovereignty are now making some of Europe’s most traditionally patriotic voters look with more sympathy at Mr. Putin than they reasonably should. That’s not so great for security either.

Scruton then throws a second problem (as he sees it) into the mix, the right of any EU citizen “to work and settle in any part of the Union.”

He continues:

This has led to a massive migration from the former communist countries to the West. The people who migrate are the skilled, the entrepreneurial, the educated — in short, the elite on whom the resolution and identity of a country most directly depends. Very soon countries like Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, all of which are directly threatened by a militant Russia, will be without a committed and resident class of leaders. No doubt, should the tanks start to roll, the émigré populations of those countries will protest. But will they return home to fight a pointless war, leaving their newly-won security and prosperity behind? I doubt it.

Scruton’s fears of depleted national elites are an exaggeration (and I don’t think that the tanks are going to roll into any of those countries any time soon), but there is nevertheless something to what he says. When I visitedLatvia in the midst of its crisis some five years back, a number of officials there told me about their worries that the country was losing its best and its brightest to emigration. And this was not a fear confined to that nation alone. That said, the ability to find work elsewhere in the EU (which, with somewhat Swiss caveats, I support) operated as a useful safety valve at a tough time. Indeed, there is now some evidence to suggest that improving domestic economies are bringing some of those emigrants back home. Over the longer term, however, the centrifugal tendencies of the EU do present a troubling problem for a number of the nations on its periphery, as people and capital drift to an economic center located beyond their borders, leaving just what, exactly, behind.

And then there’s this:

The American people cannot go on defending a country like Germany – a country that enjoys a standard of living calculated to arouse envy in its impoverished Eastern neighbor, while self-righteously preaching ‘soft power’ and ‘non belligerence’ to its pampered people. At some point Americans are going to wake up to the fact that they are being unscrupulously exploited. Their armed forces are trained to fight and die in Europe, on behalf of people who would not dream of doing the same for America, and who are not prepared to die even for their homeland.

The calculation of American interest is considerably more complex than that, but there is, nonetheless, a very uncomfortable truth running through those words. I note, incidentally, that Germany spends roughly 1.3 percent of GDP on defense, a figure far below the suggested NATO minimum of 2 percent.

Making matters worse still is the fact that the EU in many senses sees itself as a rival to the US, something that is hardly the stuff of a productive alliance.

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