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The EU’s Next Balkans?

After Kosovo where is the next potential European crisis zone?

October 10, 2000

After Kosovo where is the next potential European crisis zone?

When President Clinton accepted the Charlemagne Prize for his services to the cause of European unity this summer, he voiced an appeal to the European allies to “leave the doors open” to full membership of NATO and the European Union for Russia and Ukraine. For a leader who kept the pressure on Europe to bring Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO, this was a crowning moment.

But lost amid the congratuatory speeches this June in Aachen was the fact that bringing new members into NATO is serious business. Article Five of the NATO treaty says that an attack upon one member is to been seen as an attack upon them all. Putting to one side the irony of bringing Russia into an alliance that was originally developed to resist Soviet aggression, bringing Russia into NATO means in effect guaranteeing Russia’s current borders against all aggressors.

Europeans, given their growing dependence upon Russia oil and natural gas, may some day wish to do this. But they are already feeling uneasy over the latest geopolitical commitment to which the Clinton administration steered them: accepting Turkey as a candidate for EU membership.

There are many good reasons for bringing Turkey into Europe. It has been a staunch NATO ally, occupies a strategic location, and provides a promising new market and investment opportunity. And some of the traditional objections have lost their old force. There has been ceasefire in the long-running war against Kurdish separatists, and Turkey’s human rights record has improved.

And despite the grumbling from former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl that Europe was “a Christian club,” Turkey’s European credentials long predate the Islamic religion. Some of the founding texts of European civilization, from Homer’s account of the Trojan War to St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, are set in what is now Turkey.

But the fact remains that bringing Turkey into Europe means that the EU suddenly gains some troublesome new neighbors, including Iraq, Iran and Syria. The EU becomes, at a stroke, a deeply involved participant in the geopolitics of the Middle East, the oil-rich Caspian basin and Central Asia.

These are areas where American interests have clashed with Europe in the past, from Europe’s refusal to let U.S. aircraft use their bases to re-supply Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur war to more recent rows over sanctions against Iran and Iraq.

President Clinton seems, without thinking through the implications, to be pushing Europe into geopolitical roles in Eurasia for which it is far from ready, and which may yet steer it into policies that Americans may find uncomfortable.

Fifty years of NATO membership, which in the cold war required Europe’s strategic subordination to American leadership, withered Europe’s capacity for independent strategic decision. Europe’s dithering during the Balkan Wars of the past decade suggest that the atrophy continues.

Perhaps Clinton wants to jolt Europe out of it. But it is hard to tell which outcome would be worse: a Europe biting off more than it can chew — or a one that finds it remembers how to bite, likes it, and starts salivating for more.

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