Ukraine crisis leads to analysisEurope means fair play [Archives:2004/801/Opinion]

December 23 2004

By Bernard Bot

As Ukraine's agonizing struggle for democracy continues, Europeans wonder if the politics of principle can ever eclipse the politics of power. Is it naive to believe that the world amounts to more than zero-sum thinking? Can Europe promote fair play in international affairs, or must it accept a new game of great power rivalry as inevitable and throw itself into the fray?
Many Europeans see themselves as champions of global fair play. But Europe's opinion of its integrity is not always shared.
One example is Russia, which is skeptical about the EU's intentions, most recently over Ukraine. That should not surprise us. The EU has expanded from six members to 25, with Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, and Turkey waiting in the wings. Russia wants to know where the Union will stop. Does it plan to swallow Ukraine, Belarus, and the Caucasus? Most EU members view these as open questions, unlikely to be resolved soon. The Kremlin, however, seems to see in such vagueness a smokescreen hiding the Union's true intentions, though the recent EU-Russia summit provided an opportunity to clear the air.
In a sense, critics of the EU are right: the Union may be on a quest to reshape the world in its image. Nowadays, when the EU concludes agreements with non-EU countries, it includes all sorts of stiff requirements in areas like human rights, non-proliferation, readmission of migrants, and terrorism. To countries on the receiving end, these conditions can seem like a subtle form of power politics, with Europe trying to impose its values on the world.
Indeed, for the EU some issues are non-negotiable, because they are pillars of the European model that we seek to share with the world. These issues include democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights and the environment, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the campaign against terrorism. Countries cannot expect economic and other benefits from the Union unless they meet its political standards.
But are those standards really an imposition? It looks as if the principles of fair play are increasingly embraced outside of Europe. Consider Africa, where the African Union is taking a leading role in resolving conflicts on the continent and is increasingly determined to intervene to halt aggression and assure fair play for African minorities.
Even if the results on the ground in Africa don't yet look spectacular to outsiders, the change in attitude is real. Instead of playing the Great Power Game in Africa, the EU can support Africans' own efforts and allow them to benefit from the Union's experience.
Europe's belief in fair play for all reflects its self-interest, at least in some ways, because the world's balance of power is changing. Consider the rise of China and India. The investment bank Goldman Sachs predicts that the dollar size of the Chinese economy will overtake that of Britain and Germany by 2007. India will pull ahead of France by 2020 and surpass Germany by 2023.
As Asia's economies race forward, so do its political ambitions. Asians want to assume greater responsibility in the world, and it is in Europe's interest that they do, as long as they, too, respect the rules of fair play.
A sense of fair play also matters within the Union. The larger the EU gets, the greater its need for coordinated and coherent policies, and the harder it becomes to rally all members around a common position. Call this the paradox of enlargement.
The three largest member states Britain, France, and Germany have tended to respond to this paradox by pursuing closer trilateral cooperation. Of course, there's nothing wrong with vanguard groups of members forging ahead the recent diplomatic initiative concerning Iran's nuclear program is a case in point. Indeed, every member state can be expected to cling to its right to pursue an independent foreign policy for the foreseeable future.
However, to ensure that the European whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and to guarantee fairness to all Union members, all EU states must work within the parameters of EU policy, as they have in the case of Ukraine. When they do, their efforts strengthen the legitimacy and authority of both the member states and the Union.
In a world of fair play, the flip side of rule making is compliance, and compliance may require enforcement, through economic sanctions and other non-military measures. As a last resort, the EU must even be prepared to rise to the military defense of the values and principles it believes are worth protecting. If Europe is not prepared to take up arms when it must, then its appeals for fair play will sound to the rest of the world like mere posturing.
But if fair play is to be made global, European initiatives should be part of broader international efforts, involving both like-minded partners such as the United States and multilateral institutions. A divisive transatlantic rivalry offers no ethical or political basis for an enlightened European approach. On the contrary, fair play requires American power to back it up.

Bernard Bot is Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, which currently holds the EU Presidency. Copyright: Project Syndicate, December 2004.