The long-awaited “independent foreign policy” of the European Union has emerged with some clarity during recent weeks. It consists of two main elements criticizing the United States for its determination to root out global terrorism and harassing the Montenegrin republic to desist from breaking free from the corpse of Yugoslavia and restoring its independence.
While most of the West European governments sat on the sidelines, America conducted a successful military operation against the state-terrorist Taliban regime in Afghanistan. President George W. Bush is now determined to pursue the war against terrorists and their sponsors in other rogue states and has identified an “axis of evil” across Asia.
Given the perils of remaining silent or engaging in pointless diplomacy as Iraq, Iran and North Korea develop weapons of mass destruction against Western targets, maybe some of the EU governments should be labeled the “axis of naivete.”
EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten has criticized Washington for pursuing an “absolutist and simplistic” foreign policy and accused the United States of “more rhetoric than substance.” This is rich, given the chasm between American and EU performance in the recent wars with Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer have attacked American “unilateralism” and its “fixation” with the war against terrorism. According to EU dignitaries, “alliance partnerships between free democracies cannot be reduced to obedience.”
The glaring paradox in this latter statement is now on display over EU policy toward the aspiring Montenegrin state. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has spent the last few weeks threatening and bullying the Montenegrin government against pursuing a national referendum on independence. One of the oldest states in Europe, which maintained its sovereignty throughout 500 years of Ottoman rule in the Balkans, is now required to abide by the decisions of the bureaucrats in Brussels.
Montenegro has as much right to independence as all the other countries that emerged from communist Yugoslavia. However, the EU seems intent on denying sovereignty to the one republic that avoided violence and ethnic conflict despite Slobodan Milosevic’s provocations and the spiraling wars around it. When the EU needed Montenegro as a bastion against tyranny, the republic was ready. Now that Montenegro needs the EU to promote its reforms in a sovereign state, the EU is absent.
In effect, EU foreign policy amounts to bullying a country whose population is equivalent to that of a medium-sized West European city on the grounds that independence will destabilize the region. Such a policy is what EU officials call “exporting security” a telling phrase that underscores how security for Brussels, unlike for America, is less a question of capability and performance and more an issue of exchanging or denying commodities.
With defense budgets frozen or shrinking, the European “rapid reaction” force still unactivated, and the abject failure of the “Stability Pact” to reconstruct Southeast Europe’s infrastructure (in the private views of all indigenous governments), few in the region take Brussels seriously without an American presence. Maybe this is why the bureaucrats decided to exert their ferocious power against little Montenegro.
EU policy is also plainly hypocritical in claiming that Montenegro is not a viable state. There are at least seven countries in the western half of the continent with smaller populations and lesser territories than Montenegro. Viability is not a function of size, otherwise the Brussels bureaucracy would be one of the most productive units in Europe. Viability is a consequence of the rule of law and access to markets. Montenegro has the potential for both if it is no longer tethered to the failing Serbian colossus.
Although the EU claims that only federal Yugoslavia can be integrated into the EU, in practice smaller states are more likely to be assimilated than cumbersome and dysfunctional federations with festering political problems, economic obsolescence, and oversized militaries such as Yugoslavia. Malta is a perfect example of this reality as it gears up for EU membership despite the fact that its population is half that of Montenegro’s. In contrast to Serbia, Montenegro has already introduced the Euro, has moved faster toward the European market, and is opening up its Adriatic tourist industry. Is it surprising that the EU is not pushing for the streamlining and rationalization of the inefficient Yugoslav and Serbian governments, but instead is supporting a bloated federal bureaucracy. In fact, its short-sighted policies are lending support to the pro-Yugoslav coalition in Montenegro which is socialist, statist, anti-reformist and anti-American.
Unfortunately, the United States has left the field open in Montenegro to West European leaders. If their pitiful pressures fail to dissuade the Montenegrins from voting in a democratic referendum on their future status, then it will become incumbent on Washington to step forward and demonstrate that the EU’s foreign policy has registered another failure.
If the Montenegrin electorate decides on statehood, the only viable solution will be American leadership in recognizing a country that was one of the first to support American independence over 200 years ago.
Janusz Bugajski is director of East European studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.