Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Necessary Illusions – Even the Narrative of the EU as a Geo-Strategic Player Has Now Burst - By Alastair Crooke

 Europe is destined to become an economic backwater. It has ‘lost’ Russia — and soon China. And is finding it has lost its standing in the world, too, Alastair Crooke writes.

Something odd is afoot in Europe. Britain recently has been ‘regime washed’, with a strongly pro-EU Finance Minister (Hunt) paving the passage to an election-free premiership by ‘globalist’ Rishi Sunak. Why so? Well, to impose swingeing cuts to public services, to normalise immigration running at 500,000 per annum and to raise taxes to the highest levels since the 1940s. And to open channels about a new relationship deal with Brussels.

A British Tory Party is content to do that? Slash social support and hike taxes into an already existent worldwide recession? On the face of it, it doesn’t seem to make sense. Shades of Greece 2008? Greek austerity for Britain — are we missing something? Is this setting the scene for the Remainer Establishment to point to an economy in crisis (blamed on Brexit failure), and to say there is no alternative (TINA) but a return to the EU in some form, (British ‘cap in hand’, and with head bowed)?

Simply put, forces behind the scenes seem to want the UK to resume its former role as US plenipotentiary inside Brussels — pushing the US primacy agenda (as Europe sinks into self-doubt).

Likewise odd — and significant – was that on 15 September, former German Chancellor Schroeder entered unannounced into Scholtz’s office where only the Chancellor, and Vice-Chancellor, Robert Habeck, were present. Schroeder slapped down a long-term gas supply proposal by Gazprom on the desk, directly under Scholtz’s eyes.

The Chancellor and his predecessor held each other’s gaze for a minute – without a word passing. Then Schroeder reached out, took back the unread document, turned his back and exited the office. Nothing was said.

On 26 September (11 days later), the Nordstream pipeline was sabotaged. Surprise (yes, or no)?

Many unanswered questions. The upshot: No gas for Germany. One Nordstream train (2B) however, survived the sabotage and remains pressurised and functional. Yet still no gas arrives in Germany (other than high price liquified gas). There are presently no EU sanctions on gas from Russia. Landing the Nordstream gas requires only a Regulatory go-ahead.

So then: Europe is to have austerity, loss of competitiveness, price and tax hikes? Yes — yet Scholtz did not even glance at the gas offer.

The Green Party of Habeck and Baerbock (and the EU Commission) is in close alignment with those in the Biden team insisting to maintain US hegemony, at all costs. This Euro-coalition is explicitly and viscerally malefic towards Russia; and in contrast, is as viscerally indulgent towards Ukraine.

The big picture? German Foreign Minister Baerbock in a speech in New York on 2 August 2022 sketched out a vision of a world dominated by the US and Germany. In 1989, George Bush famously had offered Germany a “partnership in leadership”, Baerbock claimed. “Now the moment has come when we have to create it: A joint partnership in leadership”. A German bid for explicit EU primacy, snaring US support. (The Anglos will not like that!)

Ensuring no backsliding on Russia sanctions and continuing EU financial support for the Ukraine war is a clear ‘Red Line’ for precisely those in the Biden team likely to be attentive to Baerbock’s Atlanticist bid — and who understand that Ukraine is the spider at the centre of a web. The Greens explicitly are playing this.

Why? Because Ukraine is still the global ‘pivot’: Geopolitics; geo-economics; commodity and energy supply chains — all revolve around where this Ukraine pivot finally settles. A Russian success in Ukraine would bring a new political bloc and monetary system into being, through its allies in the BRICS+, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union.

Is this European austerity binge then just about the German Green Party nailing down EU Russophobia? Or are Washington and its Atlanticist allies now prepping for something more? Prepping for China to get the ‘Russia treatment’ from Europe?

Earlier this week at Mansion House, PM Sunak changed gear. He ‘hat-tipped’ to Washington with the promise to stand by Ukraine ‘as long as it takes’, yet his primary foreign policy focus was firmly on China. The old ‘golden’ era of Sino-British relations ‘is over’: “The authoritarian regime [of China] poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests”, he said — citing the suppression of anti-zero-COVID protests and the arrest and beating of a BBC journalist on Sunday.

Over in the EU — belatedly panicking over unfolding widespread de-industrialisation — President Macron has been signalling that the EU might take a more hard-line China stance, though only were the US were to back-down on the subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act, which entice EU companies to up-anchor, and sail off to America.

Yet, Macron’s ‘play’ is likely to meet a dead end, or at best, a cosmetic gesture — for the Act has already been legislated in the US. And the Brussels political class unsurprisingly already is waving the white flag: Europe has lost Russian energy and now stands to lose China’s tech, finance and market. It’s a ‘triple whammy’ — when taken together with European de-industrialisation.

There you have it — austerity is always the first tool in the US toolbox for exerting political pressure on US proxies: Washington is prepping the EU ruling élites to sever from China as fundamentally Europe has already done from Russia. Europe’s largest economies already are taking a harder line on Beijing. Washington will squeeze the UK and EU ‘til the pips squeak to get full compliance on a China cut-off.

The protests in China over Covid regulations could not have arrived at a more serendipitous time from the US’ ‘China hawks’ perspective: Washington whipped the EU into full propaganda mode on Iranian ‘demonstrations’ — and now the China protests offer the opportunity for Washington to go full court on China demonisation:

The ‘line’ used against Russia (Putin makes mistake after mistake; the system bumbles; the Russian economy is precariously perched on a knife edge and popular disaffection is soaring) – will be ‘cut and pasted’ to Xi and China.

Only, the inevitable EU moral lecturing will antagonise China even further: Hopes to keep a trade foothold in China will vanish, and effectively it will be China ‘washing its hands’ of Europe, rather than vice versa. European leaders have this blind spot — quite some Chinese may deplore the Covid lockdown practice, yet still will remain deeply Chinese and nationalist in sentiment. They will hate EU lecturing: ‘European values speak only for themselves — we have our own’.

Obviously, Europe has dug itself into a deep hole. Its adversaries grow bitter at EU moralising. But what exactly is going on?

Well, firstly, the EU is hugely over-invested in its Ukraine narrative. It seems incapable of reading the direction of travel that events in the war zone are taking. Or, if it does read it correctly (of which there is little sign), it appears incapable of being able to affect a course correction.

Recall that the war at the outset was never seen by Washington as likely ‘being decisive’. The military aspect was viewed as an adjunct — a pressure multiplier — to the political crisis in Moscow that sanctions were expected to unleash. The early concept was that financial war represented the front line — and the military conflict, the secondary front of attack.

It was only with the unexpected shock of sanctions not achieving ‘shock and awe’ in Moscow that priority switched from the financial to the military arena. The reason the ‘military’ was not firstly seen as ‘front-line’ was because Russia clearly had the potential for escalatory dominance (a factor which is now so evident).

So, here we are: The West has been humiliated in the financial war, and unless something changes (ie. dramatic escalation by the US) – it will lose militarily too — with the distinct possibility that Ukraine at some point, simply implodes as a state.

The actual situation on the battlefield today is almost completely at odds with the narrative. Yet, so heavily has the EU invested in its Ukraine narrative that it just doubles-down, rather than draw back, to re-assess the true situation.

And so doing — by doubling-down narratively, (standing by Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’) — the strategic content to the ‘Ukraine’ pivot rotates 180 degrees: Rump ‘Ukraine’ will not be ‘Russia’s Afghan quagmire’. Rather, its’ rump is morphing into Europe’s long-term financial and military ‘quagmire’.

‘As long as it takes’ gives the conflict an indeterminate horizon — yet leaves Russia in control of the timetable. And ‘as long as it takes’ implies ever more exposure to NATO blind spots. The rest-of-world intelligence services will have observed NATO’s air defence and military-industrial lacunae. The pivot will show who is the true ‘paper tiger’.

‘As long as it takes’ — has the EU thought this through?

If Brussels imagines too, that such dogged adherence to narrative will impress the rest-of-the-world and bind these other states closer to the EU ‘ideal’, they will be wrong. Already there is a wide hostility to the notion that Europe’s ‘values’ or squabbles have any wider pertinence, beyond Europe’s borders. ‘Others’ will see the inflexibility as some bizarre compulsion by Europe to self-suicide – at the very moment that the end of ‘everything bubble’ already threatens a major downturn.

Why would Europe double-down on its ‘Ukraine’ project, at the expense of losing its standing abroad?

Perhaps, because the EU political class fears even more losing its domestic narrative. It needs to distract from that — it is a tactic called ‘survival’.

The EU, as with NATO, was always a US political project for the subjugation of Europe. It still is that.

Yet, the meta-EU narrative — for internal EU purposes — posits something diametrically different: that Europe is a strategic player; a political power in its own right; a market colossus, a monopsony with the power to impose its will over whomsoever trades with it.

Simply put, the EU narrative is that it has meaningful political agency. But Washington has just demonstrated it has none. It has trashed that narrative. So, Europe is destined to become an economic backwater. It has ‘lost’ Russia — and soon China. And is finding it has lost its standing in the world, too.

Again, the actual situation on the geo-political ‘battlefield’ is almost completely at odds with the EU narrative of itself as a geo-strategic player.

Its ‘friend’, the Biden Administration, is gone — whilst powerful enemies elsewhere accumulate. The EU political class never had a good grasp of its limitations — it was ‘heresy’ even to suggest there were limitations to EU power. Consequently, the EU has hugely overinvested in this narrative of its agency too.

Hanging EU flags from every official building will not cast a fig leaf over the nakedness, nor hide the disconnect between the Brussels ‘bubble’ and its deprecated European proletariat. French politicians now openly ask what can save Europe from complete vassalage. Good question. What does one do when a hyper-inflated power narrative bursts, at the same time as a financialised one?

The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.