The European Union in Foreign Politics

by Claire Hsieh
Original Post Here

Headlines of international news outlets have one word in common: Ukraine. The Ukraine Crisis has been causing an international uproar. The United States and Russia have held conferences regarding Crimea’s referendum to leave Ukraine and the presence of  Russian military in the region. However, there is one political world power whose name is missing from the conversation: the European Union.

The European Union played an important role in the start of the Ukraine crisis. Unrest in Ukraine began when the previous Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his cabinet abandoned a trade agreement with the European Union on November 21st, 2013. The trade agreement intended to help facilitate the process of adding Ukraine as a member state to the EU. Furthermore, Ukraine had denied the jailed opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, permission to leave the country. President Yanukovych then agreed to a trade agreement with President Vladimir Putin of Russia on December 17th, 2013.

Both the European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Russia when it advanced its military in the region, escalating the tension. Despite its actions, the European Union has been largely left out of discussion since the beginning of the conflict. Much of the criticism on the international stage has been directed at President Putin, United States’ President Obama, and even the United Nations, but not the E.U. Why?

American foreign policy towards the Ukraine Crisis is extremely divided in terms of public opinion. One side of the argument contends that America is not the world’s policeman, while other side contends that America needs to intervene in international struggles for world hegemony. The multitude of differing opinions that American citizens hold  in regards to foreign policy can surprisingly be compromised by the change of foreign policy in one political power: the European Union. Why?

The European Union is inherently a political system. It is not a federalist state such as the United States, but more similar to a confederation. However, even labeling it as a confederation is incorrect. Each of the member nations retains its sovereignty, while complying with the legislation put forth by the EU. Individual citizens living in the EU identify themselves first as either British, French, or so forth before identifying themselves as European.

With the creation of the Single European Market in response to the financial crisis that followed World War II, the E.U. has since been a primarily economic union. The lack of an European Union Army and little allocation of its budget to the military is important in understanding why the EU is largely missing from negotiations in the foreign spectrum. Two devastating world wars had ravaged Europe. By forming the EU, world leaders believed their decision advanced Europe, moving away from violent responses to conflict. The problem with this form of ideology is not that it is a superior or inferior idea, but rather that this pacifistic way of thinking does not mesh with the current realities of the world.

If the European Union changes its pacifist view towards international affairs, then the E.U. will be able to contend with the growing political powers in Russia and China and prove itself to be an equal ally to the United States. The United States would no longer be forced to make a decision between an isolationist policy or a interventionist policy because the E.U. would be powerful enough to combat any violent threats on the Eurasian continent.

The European Union must change its pacifist view towards foreign policy because growing violence within the Middle East and elsewhere around the world due to nuclear weapons means that the European Union cannot afford to continue the thinking in that it can rely upon the United States for military power. The world is already moving past a post-violence era. Russian policies in Ukraine and Crimea are clear examples of how the world has suffered because of the EU putting a strong military that would contribute to its political and hard power of negotiation in foreign politics on the backseat of its priorities.

Thus, the solution becomes easy. American citizens and politicians no longer need to have a discussion relating to whether America is the policeman of the world if the European Union can exercise political hard power to keep Russia in line. The E.U. needs to build up a hard power that is derived from having a standing military if it wants to remain a viable entity in the discussion of foreign affairs. It is not easy for the E.U. to transform itself to become a militarily strong political system over night. The E.U. will need to focus its efforts on unity and integration between its member states in order to find a path towards correcting its pacifist view of foreign policy.

So long as the European Union reforms its priorities and its policies, the EU will become not only an economic powerhouse (as it currently has the 3rd largest economy in the world), but it will also become a political powerhouse that does not require American intervention to make negotiations with rogue countries in the Middle East or other growing powerhouses such as Russia and China.

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