Day 2 at the SSWA: Europe

Today’s Summer Seminar speaker was Dr. Ray Raymond, a former Foreign Service Officer of the UK who is now a professor at the United States Military Academy and the State University of New York. He spoke about some of the issues facing Europe today.

He began by explaining what the European Union is. Unlike the federal system that organizes the United States, the EU is a loose confederation of sovereign states. In some cases, however, they have decided to pool their sovereignty in a supranational organization. This unusual body came about after World Wars I and II devastated Europe and the necessity to rebuild was paramount. Leaders recognized that the way to achieve peace would be to become economically intertwined. Importantly, the plan had to include Germany, which had to be embedded in Europe to avoid future wars and conflicts.

Dr. Raymond then turned to the Euro crisis. This was a crisis waiting to happen, he said. In 1989 when the currency union project was set into motion, European leaders were reacting to the fall of the USSR and especially the reunification of Germany. A reunited Germany was seen as a potential threat, and in order to avoid that threat, leaders sought to bind Germany in with the rest of Europe even more firmly. Thus, the Euro.

However, the EU did not create the mechanisms to enforce the rules and ensure that Eurozone members were managing their economies well. Another problem was that “one size does not fit all” regarding monetary policy. The Eurozone countries united their currency but did not unite their taxing and spending policies. When Greece and other peripheral countries began facing problems, it did not take long to become a crisis. These countries have had to be bailed out, and the funds came with harsh conditions. This is causing a tension between the peripheral countries and core countries, especially Germany which has born the brunt of the costs. Many Germans, who had managed their economy relatively well, do not see why they should be responsible for other countries’ mismanagement. The harsh terms of loans are seen by some in the core as a necessary punishment for irresponsibility, while people in the periphery resent the pain that has been inflicted on their economies.

The second issue discussed by Dr. Raymond was security. He said that European countries are “living in a post-modernist utopia.” European defense budgets have been declining since the 90s, and countries are reluctant to admit that they face some serious security challenges. One example that at least ought to serve as a wake up call to Europe is the current mission in Libya. Britain and France have been struggling to sustain operations, and nearly ran out of missiles. Meanwhile, this week Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized European members of NATO for not doing their share, indicating that the US may not be willing to continue bearing 75% of NATO’s costs.

After that, the students broke off into their groups to discuss the day’s policy scenario. This time they were given a hypothetical: It is August 2016 – an election year – and Russia has just invaded Georgia to “root out terrorists.” Complicating matters, Germany recently signed a partnership agreement with Russia to guarantee energy supplies and Russian workers for German industries. Students were asked to consider a number of possible options: a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Russia (which Russia would veto and Germany would likely abstain from); a NATO resolution; joining an EU resolution (if consensus could be reached among European countries); bilateral lobbying; and sending weapons and providing intelligence to the Georgian government.

The groups reported back from their discussions with a lot of creative suggestions. Many agreed that bilateral negotiations between the US and Russia were most likely to have success, for example if the US could convince Russia that cooperating with Georgia would be economically beneficial. Among some of the other ideas proposed, groups suggested economic sanctions, boycotts of Russian resources, or even the formation of new international organizations to replace the UN system.

When all of the proposals had been made, Dr. Raymond added that there was one other option that was not listed among the possibilities he had provided. In fact, this had been the most important factor the last time that Russia clashed with Georgia: Investors pulled money out of Russian markets fast.

The presentation and policy scenario led to an engaging discussion about Europe and a lot of creative brainstorming. Many students even stayed a few minutes extra to continue to ask Dr. Raymond about some of the questions they had at the end of the day.

By Rebecca Somple, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern