Thursday, August 18

Europe: When the going gets tough | Opinion

Ursula von der Leyen during her speech at the State of the Union debate in Strasbourg.
Ursula von der Leyen during her speech at the State of the Union debate in Strasbourg.YVES HERMAN / AFP

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The defeat also belongs to the European Union. It belongs to the United States and to the entire NATO, but it directly affects the 21 members of the EU that are also part of the Alliance and jointly the 27 partners who suffer equally the consequences of such a hasty departure from Afghanistan. If something has been demonstrated during this “Afghan summer” defined by the high representative of Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, it is the scarce geopolitical consistency of the Commission chaired by Ursula von der Leyen, without military capabilities not even to organize a hasty evacuation of European diplomats from an airport like Kabul.

Defense Europe has ceased to be a beautiful idea but has become a peremptory necessity, even though some partners, especially the more Atlanticists of Eastern Europe, do not want to know anything about it. “What is the use of having armed forces that are among the best in the world if we are never ready to use them?” The President of the Commission asked this Wednesday before the European Parliament. Afghanistan is a thorn in the way of the geopolitical vocation so exhibited by Brussels and in the strategic autonomy so claimed. Von der Leyen preferred to announce concrete steps, such as the convening for next year of a summit on defense under the French presidency, than to repeat the bombastic statements about that European aspiration to play as a global player that has so much difficulty moving from the gaseous stage of the ideas to the solid of facts.

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If the European Union reacted as quickly and effectively to the defeat in Afghanistan as it has done to the pandemic, both in vaccine policy and with the reconstruction fund, we Europeans would soon have that rapid reaction force of 5,000 ready soldiers. to organize an emergency exit from a war zone without having to depend on the decisions of an ally like the United States. Borrell was more explicit on Tuesday before the European Parliament than Von der Leyen on Wednesday. There was no military solution in Afghanistan, but when “things get ugly, and the word is not enough, if only for the dissuasive nature, the military capacity has to be had by any actor who wants to call himself geopolitical”.

Europe is not. As much as Afghanistan opens its eyes to those who insist on keeping them closed, these ideas are not well received everywhere, within Europe, in Washington and in NATO’s own general secretariat. It will be a bitter debate, but there is no time to lose. The list of European responsibilities is overwhelming, starting with the reception of refugees and continuing with humanitarian aid to Afghans, anti-terrorism prevention and the fight against drug trafficking. But the most serious of them all affects the responsibility of Europeans with their own security at the moment when Washington has closed the umbrella and left them out in the open.

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