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September 21, 2020

Forget soft power

At their last meeting, EU foreign ministers discussed a paper that was uncharacteristically honest in its appraisal of the current situation: a shift in the global environment towards hostility to the European way of life. We have a copy of this paper, which touches on some of the things we have been discussing here at Eurointelligence.

The first big hurdle is to confront the culture of denial about the world as it is today, and Europe's role in it. The paper identifies five hostile trends, with some overlaps: 

  • multi-polarity without multilateralism: confrontation prevails over regulation;
  • return of competition between states;
  • return of empires: lack of respect for the sovereignty of people as opposed to the sovereignty of states;
  • weaponisation of interdependence: trade wars, secondary sanctions; 
  • reconfiguration of global supply chains as strategic policy instruments. 

The overriding theme is the breakdown of liberal multilateralism. We are not surprised that this is happening. Our multilateral institutions are ineffective and elitist. We have made the observation before that the dumbest thing a politician can do these days is to go to Davos or some other global junket. If you want to revive multilateralism, you must to involve your electorate in much deeper ways, and put an end to the elitist nonsense.

But herein lies the dilemma. European electorates are becoming more assertive, but they do not favour hard-power solutions. In Germany, for example, no coalition could currently win an election by supporting Nato's 2% defence-spending target.

Our suggestion is to focus on high-tech capacities in a more general sense, and develop them for dual civilian and military use. The latter is particularly critical as a new arms race is developing in this area. 

The UK has been the European country most advanced in signal intelligence. For this reason alone, Brexit will constitute a net loss to European security. This is one of the reasons we have been so critical of the EU's hardline position in bilateral negotiations, and its excessive focus on 20th-century manufactured goods rather than 21st century technologies. If the EU wants to think more strategically about Europe's role in the world, a useful first step would be to stop thinking of the UK as an adversary.

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