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How to live in a world at peace? A speech by Alain Lamassoure MEP

Alain Lamassoure. Photo credit: European Institute
Alain Lamassoure. Photo credit: European Institute

Europe said never again to war. While there are still significant conflicts in the world, the global powers are at peace. How to organize this new world? How to deal with the absence of enemies? Or rather, a world where the enemy is fear? Alain Lamassoure, Member of the European Parliament, addressed this conundrum in a speech in Washington DC on May 16, 2016.

Finding Opportunity in Crisis: The Path Forward for the European Union
An event co-hosted by the European Institute and European Parliament Liaison Office with Congress
Kosmos Club, Washington DC, USA

May 16, 2016


"How to live in a world at peace?"

Speech by Alain Lamassoure MEP


It is the paradox of our time: the world is at peace, and we stand bewildered, destabilized.



“Never again!” It was the cry of the survival after the Great War. And the source of inspiration for the 14 points by Woodrow Wilson. In vain. “Never again!’ This political will drove the authors of the Charter of the Atlantic, then of the builders of the post-war world, the UN, Bretton Woods, Marshall Plan, EOEC, then the whole European construction.

“Never again!” And this time, it worked! There is no greater surprise than that of the prophet whose prophecy comes true. Likewise, the policymakers are more taken aback by their successes than by their failures. Defeat provides an immediate aim: preparing revenge. But success? And what if this success alters the face of the world?

What have we witnessed in the last few decades?

- The nuclear weapon and the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction saved us from a third World War.

- The formidable Communist bloc crumbled into dust, overnight, without firing a shot.

-The colonized countries freed themselves from the dominion of the European colonial powers. Some of them have entered the virtuous circle of economic growth on their own, but not always performing so well on the path to democracy.

- The world finds itself with new global or regional powers. But for the first time ever, these powers are neither at war nor on the warpath. They have deliberately chosen the economic and political advantages of peacetime, rather than the uncertain rewards of war.

Let us realize the singularity of this historic moment.

Those European countries who used to be the big warmongers of past centuries, predators of territories on other continents and responsible for the two world wars, are now not only peaceful but fully reconciled with each other. It took hardly two generations to turn recurrent warfare between arch-enemies into perpetual peace, the Utopia of 18th century philosophers. The main historical hotbed of wars has turned into an unprecedented peacemaker.

And, almost as strikingly, the powers which have taken over from Europe’s ashes are themselves at peace. To be sure, there is no dearth of bloody conflicts here and there, and some of them are proxy wars waged at the instigation of these new powers. But this is a time of local wars and global peace. An enduring peace. It is my age.

Since the 19th century no peacetime had lasted more than 44 years. Today’s lasting and stable peace is the first, forgotten, cause of globalization. Without it, the Internet itself would have been splintered. Thanks to peace, everyone and everything is in perpetual movement: goods, services, money, facilities, information, images, knowledge, talents, right and wrong ideas, criminals, peaceful and hateful doctrines.

Two consequences.

First. This world needs some organization, rules, global governance, somehow. Failing which, anarchy will set in. The strongest in the arts of peace will be tempted to abuse its superiority, thus arousing the conditions of mistrust, resentment, hostility: a reminder of pre-war time. But who will set the rules?

The second consequence is more surprising, mysterious and worrying. Our own democratic societies are disoriented by the absence of any enemy. We start realizing how much our political systems, our administrations, even a lot of our legal concepts, including the concept of nation-state and the concept of sovereignty, were designed for a time doomed to war. When the first duty of a ruler was to prepare for war, to wage war, to reconstruct after the war pending the following one. After the Oslo agreement, Shimon Peres said, “When you lose your enemy, you lose your foreign policy”. Our problem is that we have lost all our enemies simultaneously. And all those alternative political or economic models, which claimed to outperform ours. We are deprived of the best glue to cement the unity of a nation: a good old foe. Deprived of a natural scapegoat to be blamed for our failures or compensate for our frustrations. Deprived of a mobilizing national project like catching up a hateful front-runner. Deprived of a cause to live for, or die for. And now we measure the paramount importance of the need for identity – both individual and collective identity, meaning membership. Of a grouping: nation, religion, society, football club.  

Let us keep in mind this unknown paradox: it is the lasting peace, our historic success, which calls into question some of the foundations of our modern, affluent, democratic nations.


II – WE CAN SET THE RULES OF THIS CENTURY                        

While signing the draft TPP, President Obama expressed some hubris: “We won’t let the Chinese set the trade rules for the 21st century. We will set them”. Who are ‘we’? Neither the Americans on their own, nor the signatories of the TPP alone. But the Western countries and their natural partners can and should.

This is subject to the condition we don’t made the wrong diagnosis.

- The US can afford neither unilateralism, nor isolationism. Being a military superpower in this peacetime gives the US more responsibility than actual power. Feeling the “Manifest Destiny’ of their people deeply, the Americans condemn themselves to be the policeman of the world, the guarantor of free movement on the seas, the protector of last resort for those peoples threatened by their neighbors or oppressed by their domestic tyrant. Therefore, they are also condemned to arouse jealousy and ungratefulness everywhere. They need other shoulders to help them bear the burden.

- Europe cannot content itself with soft power. Since the end of the Cold War, most Europeans see themselves as having definitely come out of history, the age of sound and fury. They have a guilty conscience about their colonial past. From now on, they want to believe in the example of virtue, hoping that virtue is contagious by itself. In Yugoslavia’s civil war, they let dozens of their own blue helmets being shot down by Serbian snipers without the right to reciprocate. In the tragic city of Srebrenica, they handed over 8 000 Bosnians men to general Mladic’s killers, rather than shoot at killers who did not threaten UN forces. And twenty years later, the Dutch officers then in charge were granted a medal of distinguished service or the trauma they felt in that tragedy.

The Europeans are convinced that if they set the example of being the best pupils against global warming, the rest of the world will follow suit, in amazement and admiration. Unfortunately, holiness is hardly contagious, and complacency never helps. We run the risk of succumbing to the temptation of the arrogance of the weak, as the US sometimes succumbs to the arrogance of the strong. Both are huge mistakes.

- The emerging powers are far from being vaccinated against warfare, and they are prone to taking us on, to assert their new status towards their own nationals and their neighbors. Watch how Russia manages to divide Europeans. Putin funds anti-European political parties, and particularly, anti-German ones inside Europe. Turkish President Erdogan pulled off an agreement with the EU, where he obtained major political concessions in return for simply fulfilling his previous commitments.

- Don’t let us get carried away in battles of the past. Our reaction to Muslim extremism has been childish. Extremists have returned to the Middle Ages and they still endeavor to take us with them. Likewise, Putin wants to take us back to the Cold War. Revenge of the crusades? Cold war, second season? Let us show that we don’t waste time in these anachronistic pageants. Let us not reply to these outdated provocations according to the rules of the Middle Ages, nor those of the Cold War, but according to our permanent values and the rules of this time.

We will not dominate the world any more, but we keep enough influence to set its rules. Both at the top, in international organizations, and at the bottom, among the deepest aspirations of all people around the world.

What does that require?

1 – A capacity to act together to build the architecture of governance of the century and defend common positions as westerners.

It’s a tradition: the US dislikes international organizations. But, for the American power, they have a double advantage. They can be a convenient intermediary, which takes the blame. And they have a legitimizing virtue. The UN to resort to force. G20, IMF, to regulate the global finance. OECD to combat tax fraud, tax evasion and tax avoidance. The WTO to arbitrate trade disputes. The IAAE was instrumental in the nuclear agreement with Iran. After the global warming, the updating of international sea right and space right should be put very high on our common agenda. Possibly with the creation of new global agencies.

Let us make a good use of these outfits. Let us give to the emerging powers the rights they deserve in them, providing they comply with all the rules. Failing which, we will see the creation of counter-organizations, inspired by the Chinese or some Islamic states.

The TTIP must be devised as the first stage of a wider policy aiming at harmonizing a lot of western norms, technical, safety, environmental standards, in a view to enabling them to become, as if naturally, the global references for the rest of the world. What is at stake with TTIP is our competitiveness for the next two decades. This draft treaty is far more important than the TPP, which is only a usual free-trade agreement.

2 – The world is global, but we have to take note that this global world is becoming more and more regionalized. It’s all for the best! It alleviates our responsibilities, and it helps make all peoples responsible for themselves. The time when every country could rely on a universal big brother is over. Consequences:

- Some conflicts can now be initiated, waged and achieved only by regional powers for their own sake. Let’s not be indifferent. But the responsibility is not ours. Example: Syria, Iraq, Yemen and even Afghanistan. The future of Afghanistan is a matter for the Afghanis themselves, and for the main contenders, Pakistan and India, probably with China, Iran, Russia and Uzbekistan having their say. We are not supposed to have a dog in that fight any more.

- As for the Europeans, they have to utilize their know-how to help regional groupings of weak countries, particularly in Africa. An organization like ECOWAS – the Economic Community of West African States – is gathering steam. It is gradually making its membership responsible for their common economic development, for the treatment of their nomadic tribes, for the sharing of natural resources and rare water supply, and for the peacekeeping of the area.

3 – Beware of creating new enemies!

After the demise of the USSR, our military, our academics, our diplomats used to ask themselves: ‘Who’s next?’ But why should anyone be next? Before the USSR, and after the battle at El Alamo, the US has never had a direct enemy: it entered the fray to support its allies and the values of the free world.

China is the natural candidate for the role of the next arch-enemy. But compared with the USSR, China presents two major differences. It doesn’t claim to export its political model, which, by the way, nobody envies. And it doesn’t engage in forming a global network of military alliances. Of course, we are not naïve. China pursues a real regional policy, on a very extensive sea and land territory, and it pursues a global economic strategy to secure its insatiable hunger for food, oil and other staple commodities for its oversized cities and industries. The military power it is building to support this ambition entails intercontinental nuclear weapons, meaning potential threat to anybody. But it is up to us to convince the Chinese that we don’t see them as would-be enemies. China is a matter for containment in its (wider) region, and for association in the management of all global issues, subject to it complies with the rules. For instance, China does not meet the basic requirements to be granted the status of market economy by the end of this year. The Chinese are very smart in dividing us, but on this major issue the US, Europe and Japan must unite and stand firm.

A third candidate for new enmity is the Islamic world. It would be a tragic mistake if we fell into the booby-trap of the extremists, be it Al Qaida or ISIS or Boko Haram. Islam as such is no foe. The fanatics are. And their first targets are other, moderate, Muslims.

4 – For the Europeans, now is the time to complete our political construction.

Never has Europe appeared so fragile on international stage. Never has Europe been so unpopular among its citizens. However, never has it been so necessary.

Europe bashing is in fashion everywhere, but let’s try to go beyond superficial judgment. When the Euro survived three years of high-scale speculation on all financial markets, the Eurozone proved to be unbreakable. Even if the European growth rate is anemic, its competitiveness is comparable only to China’s. The Europeans played a decisive role in achieving success at the Paris climate change conference. They were instrumental in the historic agreement negotiated with Iran. And today, against Russia, European sanctions are more harmful than US ones. So do not underrate Europe, even when it is weakened.

But against the current background its weakness could lead to a disaster. After sixty years, the EU is still a political construction in the making. It started as a trade agreement, comparable to NAFTA or TPP. In the 80s, the caterpillar metamorphosed into a butterfly: the customs union acquired the power to legislate for all the member states, turning the EU into a fully-fledged democratic organization, with the due separation between the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. But no sooner had the butterfly started to fly, we realized that the flying animal we needed was rather an eagle. It is the new metamorphosis we are preparing for. Why are our British friends posing the question of their membership now? Because they know that Germany, France, Italy, Spain, to name but a few, are bound to upgrade their economic and monetary union into a political union, with a common foreign policy supported by pooling our security forces. This political will is openly countenanced by President Obama.

Current events oblige us to accelerate the process. In 2015, 1 million refugees landed on our continent from the Middle East: annually Germany alone welcomes as many migrants as the US. No single European country is able to tackle such an exodus by itself. Likewise, the experience of cross-border Islamic terrorism demonstrated that, without the intelligence and police cooperation of its partners, France was not able to prevent French citizens born in outer suburbs from massacring other French in downtown Paris. As Belgium could not prevent Belgian youngsters born in an Islamic suburb of Brussels to kill Belgians in downtown Brussels. What we need now is a European Coast Guard and a European FBI. When Russia annexes Crimea and invades Ukraine, NATO is far away, neighboring Poland is powerless, and the 28 national armies in the EU have no more deterrent force than the national guards of the 50 states of your Union. Now is the time to tackle seriously, with our American allies, the issue of the security of Europe and its neighborhood.

The British referendum holds a huge merit. Whatever the outcome, it will oblige us all to pose the question of trust among ourselves. Which members are satisfied with the current state of play in the EU? Which are ready to go further and faster towards a genuine political union? Knowing that the current treaty is a remarkable toolbox, which allows what is called “enhanced cooperation”: among the family, those members who want to engage in new policies can do it without waiting for those lagging behind.

Next year, France and Germany will be holding their general elections almost at the same time. The future of Europe will be a major issue in both our countries. Our intention is to work in close relationship with our respective German counterparts. We aim at rebuilding a political community inside the economic market of the Union.


What’s happening to us? In all European countries, extremist parties who didn’t exist a few years ago now impose their stinking agenda, their shameful vocabulary and their flat lies. They are part of majorities in power in half a dozen of states. The poor shape of economy can explain the situation in Greece or Portugal. But in Poland, the success story of the latest enlargement? And the Scandinavian countries, on top of all global criteria of welfare states and tradition of tolerance? But in Austria, in Switzerland, where unemployment is a theoretical concept? And in Norway, whose income per capita is double yours and ours? It looks as though all our countries were struck by a fit of identity anxiety. All of a sudden, we feel threatened by whom and what comes from outside: fashions, ways of life, digital revolution and, of course, people, be it workers, students, adults, women or children, with different languages, cultures and religions.

Hatred has come back in the political debate in all European countries. It is a deadly danger, not only for the European construction, but for our democracies. Hatred against the Other. The Pole for the British, the Syrian in Austria, the Spaniard for the Catalan, the Italian for the Lombard, and Roma and Muslims everywhere. All over Europe, today, even mainstream politicians speak of Muslims as our ancestors used to speak about Jews, in 1930, even before Hitler came into office.

I have dwelt on what we should do together. But we also have some homework to do. I don’t know if the mindsets of our peoples of either side of the Atlantic are comparable. I fear so, but you are the only ones who can say. What is sure is that we must ensure that this time of hatred, and particularly home-grown hatred, is over for ever. ‘Never again’ is still the order of the day.



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