Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The limitations of the EU in the “new Cold War”

One of the major theories behind the formation of the EU – and one of the successes that has always been claimed – is that by intertwining European economies as closely as we can, future conflict will become impossible.

All very well and good – but Russia’s economy is also closely intertwined with that of the EU. Russia is heavily dependent on EU countries for trade, while the EU is heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies. So, what exactly can the EU – its economy tied up so heavily with Russia – do to stop the Kremlin pursuing whatever course it likes? Not only is there no consensus among EU member states, but also sanctions will certainly be met with retaliation, probably in the form either of raised gas prices or cutting off of supplies altogether.

It’s like an economic version of the Cold War’s Mutually Assured Destruction, if you will. Back in the Cold War, the USA and USSR largely allowed each other to do what they liked within their respective spheres of influence (be it invading Hungary and Czechoslovakia or installing puppet dictators throughout Latin America), because nuclear-powered direct conflict would be too damaging for both parties. Now the EU faces the same situation, albeit economically – the EU lays on sanctions, Russia cuts off energy supplies, both parties suffer. And yet from a Russian perspective, the EU has been interfering in Moscow’s sphere of influence… It’s not been abiding by the old Cold War consensus.

Russia is not an EU member state. But what if a member state DID go rogue? What if another Hitler or Mussolini came to power in an EU member state, and started acting against the EU’s professed principles of democracy and human rights, flouting both EU and international law? What would the EU be prepared to do to stop them? Would there be consensus? What could the EU actually do in any case? With increasingly interdependent economies, how would shutting out one EU member state be any more feasible than the British government in Westminster suddenly trying to shut out Buckinghamshire?

The idea behind economic integration remains rationally sound, for mutual dependence should indeed breed peace – just as did mutually assured destruction. The alternatives should simply be too unpleasant to be worth considering. The one flaw with Mutually Assured Destruction was if someone who was mad broke the standoff. What happens when you’ve got a state that’s decided to start acting irrationally, or that doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of escalation?


  1. May I just remind the Haider affair. The EU was quite unanimous on that question.

    And concerning the intertwinement of EU and Russia: I have the feeling that there is a difference between being intertwined and having trade, and between countries that have nothing against being dependent on each other and countries that define themselves as a world apart and that just keep contact because it is of advantage.

  2. I agree with Julien.

    Far too much has been made of an EU dependence on Russia. It is a myth. Indeed, there has been profitable trade, gas and oil not withstanding, but it hardly amounts to an inter-dependent need. The EU will survive with or without Russia as a trade partner. It is unlikely however Russia will survive without the EU. In fact, with Russia’s spectacuarly catastrophic and short sighted foreign policy, they have predictably completely isolated themselves from the rest of the world. Even Cuba and Venzuala are distancing themselves. Russia needs the EU now more than ever.

    And there in lies the rub. What does one do with a large, isolated, nationalistic, under-developed and poor nation with a sizable arsenal? One that has proven to be not only an unreliable supplier, but a dangerous and sabatorial one, sometimes criminal, defiant and insolent. Clearly, Russia has left us few options but economic ones – and they will be both effective and have a minor impact on our economy – but what are we to do long-term?

    How do we get Russia back on the path to prosperity?

  3. As long as the EU retains the foreign, security and defence ‘liberum veto’ it will be putty in the hands of every leadership with imperialist leanings around the globe.

  4. Ralf – I’m not a policy expert nor a lawyer but my understanding of ‘liberum veto’ has something to with a requirement for unanimous consent. Could you elaborate – I’m not that familiar with the nuances?

    Nevertheless, I assume you are making a comparison between Russia (leadership with imperialist leanings) and the EU. I am unconvinced the EU is ‘putty’ in Russia’s hands.

  5. Blixa

    The EU’s basic foreign, security and defence decisions have to be taken unanimously. Despite smoother support structures envisioned by the Lisbon Treaty, the unanimity requirement would still be in force if the Treaty of Lisbon had entered into force.

    In a European Union with 27 member states the result as a rule is paralysis in every major hard question demanding real answers. ‘Liberum veto’ is an apt description.

  6. Although I believe that EU has fulfilled its role as a peace-maker in Europe with its economic integration and the European law, but this is not a 100% guaranty on peace. The wars in former Yugoslavia show that such institutional rationality has its limits.

    I do not believe that the European economy is so much integrated with Russia, though. The size of the Russian economy is very small compared to the EU, the EU is barely depending on export to Russia, and Russia’s economy is extremely depending on exporting raw materials to the EU.

    I think the oil shocks of the 70s have shown that a shortage of oil cannot disrupt a market economy in the era of globalisation. Certainly the EU would face a strong recession if it had to do without Russian supplies, but the Russian economy would collapse in such an economic cold war. Actually what would be worth seeing how Japan coped with the oil shortage in the 70s – it was much worse hit than any industrialized country in the world, yet the coped with it.