The only reason why China hasn’t yet invaded Taiwan is because the only current superpower in the world has committed itself to defending it in case of invasion. In more graphic terms, the only reason why many dictators in the world are deterred and constrained from waging traditional wars of conquest is because the US has the firepower to defeat any potential adversary. Historically, in the modern era, the power that ruled the seas ruled the world, and in a certain way, it is still true today. Today’s global rules-based order hangs on the firepower of the US Navy. China is fully aware of this, of course, and that is why it contends itself with nuclear threats.
We, in Europe, still depend on the benevolence of the US for security, but Russia has reminded us that wars are not necessarily a thing of the past. From Brussels, the echoes of war in Ukraine still sound distant, and in Europe, we still delude ourselves that a common defense policy is not required, because somehow, on the international stage, we will always come to rational conclusions with our international partners, neighbors, and even adversaries. What a wonderful world. Yet, scenes of Macron and Scholz ingratiating with Xi Jinping, are already being considered grave policy errors by the same diplomats and scribes who wrote the said scripts. Positive engagement with China has not worked on multiple occasions: sanctions, nuclear proliferation, Iran, North Korea, trade, intellectual property, and much more. In other terms, you can’t convince the Chinese to be less imperialistic or give up their plans for invasion just by buying more of their products. Even Fukuyama himself has backtracked significantly from his views of 1987 when he was of the position that capitalism always induced the growth of liberal democracy.
In fact, positive engagement with the many tinpot dictators around us costs us dearly, literally. For example, Tunisia President Kais Saied is currently blackmailing European politicians and the European Union with boatloads of immigrants and will be paid up to €127 million not to execute his threat. This is not the first time that European politicians fear such threats and Angela Merkel too was in the past threatened multiple times by Tayyip Erdogan in a similar manner. Just yesterday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made a similar statement saying he will be opening the routes to migrants to Europe unless Europe pays bribes to Hezbollah.
Europe should have control over its borders both maritime and on land and this is not just a matter about migration, but about security and political standing. If European borders are fickle enough to be used as part of games of brinkmanship by tinpot dictators, Europe has no security and political leverage. So, someone should be able to point out this obvious that Europe should not be bullied and blackmailed in this way by petty tyrants who are so weak that can be toppled overnight by a military coup. Kais Saied only has power in Tunisia as long as we acknowledge his rule, but Kais Saied will have a heart attack if Europe rattles its sabre. Yet, Europe is years behind in being in a position to project power mainly because the EU doesn’t have a common foreign and defense policy.
The mere existence of a European navy would already serve as a deterrent against dictators like Saied who would be tempted to attempt diplomacy by blackmail, but actually using a European navy in retaliation against the bullish acts of these dictators would change the security fabric of the Mediterranean Sea, apart from enforcing the international rules border on a global level. In order for Europe to have a navy the EU needs a common foreign policy first, before it can set its defense policy. Having a united foreign policy would mean a more federalist EU and in practice, we are nearly there. Despite strong opposition from Hungary, the EU can still enforce its sanctions against Russia, and Hungary is not even the biggest problem on this issue with Germany still doing a lot of direct and indirect business with Russia. Having a common foreign policy in the EU is already an obtainable event, the only question is how far the EU should go.
Above all, there will always remain the serious risk that the US will go through political and policy changes that could cause it to reduce its support to Europe’s defense architecture starting from Ukraine and continuing with NATO. Europe should be prepared for this event and should be ready to stand in support of Ukraine totally by itself without any help and aid from the US – yet this is the least that Europe should be able to do. As of today, NATO which serves as Europe’s main deterring and defensive force depends on the benevolence of the US. Europe can’t pretend to remain an international power without an organised and united navy that acts on behalf of the European Union.