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?