Europe: from enlargement to Operation Atalanta

Banderas de la Unión Europea - PHOTO/FILE
Flags of the European Union - PHOTO/FILE

It is a well-known fact that humanity is going through a period of accentuated geopolitical change. According to an assessment by the newspaper El Economista, the Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) predicts that China will be the world's leading power by 2037. 

  1. The European reality

It remains a futuristic estimate that, given the speed of global transformation, may remain a simple prospective study. Daily reality also needs foresight into the immediate future, since, through clumsiness, ignorance or ideology, we all help to increase the complexity of processes, and it is well known that this increase in complication translates into an increase in uncertainty.

For his part, futurist political scientist Abishur Prakash, author of the book "The World is Vertical: How Technology is Remaking Globalisation" contributes his vision by asserting that "the world is entering a period of "vertical globalisation", with the formation of new geopolitical blocs around the world. And as the world splits into multiple groups, these new blocs - both formal (i.e. alliances) and informal (i.e. trade corridors) - could reshape everything from supply chains to sustainability".

The European reality

From the future to the past. Europe awoke from its reverie on a day in February 2022, when the military invasion of Ukraine by Russian armed forces began. This did not come as a surprise to Europeans who were used to the fact that, while they were in charge of enlightening the world with their ideas, their American friend was ready to defend it. Reality is imposing itself and the European project is writhing between uncertainty and this fertile field of ideas. And so EU enlargement could be seen as a symptom of unease.  

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has recommended opening accession negotiations for Ukraine and Moldova. She has also granted Georgia candidate status for EU membership. In addition, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as other countries in the Western Balkans, are projected to join the EU. The list of countries that would be profoundly influenced by the project is bound to expand further with Armenia.

Once enlargement is announced, the debate would focus on when and how enlargement will take place. Its implications, both at the global and European level, will affect the EU's own internal nature, nor have they been enunciated, as its internal balance would be profoundly changed. It seems logical that the "end state" of the project should be announced.  

Another very important aspect should also be carefully assessed: geopolitics. The new accessions would form a border with Russia, which, being eligible for NATO membership, could be perceived as such by Moscow. In this sense, Ukraine's membership offer seems conditional on the outcome of the war. The accession of Bosnia and other Western Balkan countries would also have repercussions for Russia's traditional role in the Balkans. It is more than questionable whether the EU's proposed enlargement does not entail a potential for conflict. The Ukrainian precedent should be reflected upon, as political opportunism often replaces reflection, with the result of providing less clarity on the facts. Russia's fear for its own security is one of the causes of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. 

It seems that the decisive premise for determining Europe's future is not enlargement but the sustainability of transatlantic security, which depends on Washington's ability to avoid the strategic dilemma of choosing between Asia or Europe. If former President Trump's threat to withdraw from NATO and Russia's invasion of Ukraine did not spur America's European allies to redress the structural imbalance in transatlantic defence, the question is: what could such a security partnership do as a sustainable project? 

During the period of US global hegemony, Washington was able to sustain efforts in Europe, the Middle East, the East and Asia. Today, military conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, coupled with aggressive Russian revisionism and China's growing capacity for power projection, create a complex - protracted and global - threat to the United States that requires reliable, long-term European support.

European allies have made a major shift in recent years, spending 62 per cent more on defence, along with Canada, than they did at the time of the 2014 invasion of Crimea. But this increase is not commensurate with the current deterioration of the global security environment; more particularly, the US needs to strengthen its strategic posture in the Indo-Pacific to exercise deterrence in the face of a potential conflict. 

Transatlantic leaders must address this potentially high-risk situation and design the necessary technological and military capabilities resulting from the operational design resulting from the strategic design. The subsequent burden-sharing for this is shaping up as NATO's new political objective, a consequence of moving from an abstract spending goal to one of tangible commitments, driven by strategic purpose. The Alliance is on the verge of making crucial defence planning decisions, creating a need to reconceptualise roles and future-proof transatlantic defence.

The new front opened in the Red Sea, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel, under Tehran's leadership, is likely to be activated in a way that threatens world peace, affecting choke points essential to world trade; resulting in the disruption of supply chains by activating other sea lanes and driving up travel and insurance costs. Europe is severely affected.

In this maritime scenario, the EU sponsored a naval operation, "Atalanta" against piracy. The leitmotiv was the protection of the global commons, in this case freedom of navigation. Some EU countries are objecting to a US-led operation. The beginning of such a change of criteria came from the state holding the rotating presidency: Spain. The lack of strategic judgement became apparent as ideological motives took precedence. As events unfold, there is no doubt that the US will have lowered its confidence in the cohesion of the West.