HONOLULU, March 9, 2014 – The last two years of American foreign policy have been strewn with potholes for the Obama Administration. From the terrorist attack in Benghazi to the chemical weapons “red line” in Syria to the standoff late last year with China in the East China Sea, U.S. foreign policy has never looked more erratic and challenged than it does today. Critics have recently suggested that Russia’s sudden military intervention in Crimea results from a continuing lack of “respect” for Obama, but this time, the Ukrainian crisis actually reveals a greater policy failure on the part of the European Union.
“Collective security” credibility is lacking in Europe
Since the end of the Cold War, the E.U. has not been proactive in developing a credible collective security system for its members. European militaries are largely paper tigers, with thinning conventional forces and antiquated nuclear deterrence.
Instead of focusing on defense, Europe has used the post-Cold War era to construct a massive welfare society that is already beginning to collapse.
Russia’s nuclear forces pose a greater, more immediate threat to Europe than the continental United States, yet E.U. leaders insist on utopian visions of becoming a nuclear weapons free zone. Russia’s nuclear delivery capabilities include long-range strategic bombers, land-based, highly survivable silo and mobile ICBMs, as well as ballistic missile submarines.
By contrast, Europe still relies on shared NATO B61 aerial tactical nuclear bombs and the U.K.’s sparse fleet of ballistic missile submarines.
Russia can feel free to act with impunity in Europe not because of an absence or decline of U.S. power, but because Europe does not have a truly survivable second strike capability. In the event of a major war in Europe, the political schizophrenia of E.U. member states combined with token collective security means that Russia will have ample time to seize the strategic military advantage and entrench before U.S. conventional forces can react.
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It is therefore unsurprising that Russia intervened so suddenly and decisively in sending forces to Crimea. Putin knows that a weak, hypocritical E.U. can be countered by a strong Russia that knows how to drive the agenda with military initiative. Ukraine, which surrendered its share of more than a thousand former Soviet nuclear weapons in the late 90s, was an easy target for Russian intervention. Western European leaders should pay close attention to this, as their own lack of military power has implications for the future of the E.U. experiment.
This crisis squarely underlines the failure of European leaders to plan for contingencies against a traditional enemy and a lack of adequate collective security between E.U. members. President Obama should avoid entangling the U.S. in another foreign policy disaster. The future of Europe belongs in European hands.