Regime change EU style

Robert Cooper, who works for Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, writes (in a personal capacity) a fascinating article on failed states and regime change.

The end of empire left many problems. Imperial powers bequeathed the nation-state system to their colonies, but it has not worked well in either Africa or the Middle East. On September 11 2001, we understood that failed states, like WMD, could represent a mortal danger. If states cannot govern themselves, it is not safe to allow them to become a haven for terrorists or criminals. Here, also, empire seems to be the obvious choice.

The difficulty is that empire does not work today. A century of emancipation, of national liberation movements and self-determination cannot be reversed. Empire has become illegitimate. But if containment does not work and empire is unacceptable, what is the alternative?

On Europe’s borders, a massive effort has been made to prevent Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia from becoming failed states. If this works it will not be because a solution has been imposed by force, but because the Bosnians and others want to be part of a greater European structure.

The EU can in some respects be likened to an empire; it is a structure that sets standards of internal governance but in return offers its members a share in the decision-making, a place in the commonwealth. Across central Europe, countries have rewritten constitutions and changed laws to conform to European standards. This is a kind of regime change, but it is chosen, legitimate. This represents the spread of civilisation and good governance in lasting form.

Of course Cooper is not suggesting that the expansion of the EU to the Middle East would solve the world’s problems. But his article does raise some very interesting points:

1. Contrary to American conservative cliche there is a body of thought within the EU which takes the terrorist threat and the need to act seriously. There are even people who think regime change is a good idea.

2. While US conservatives credit themselves with the successfully defeating communism, the EU has played the major role in assisting the former state socialist countries towards stable democracy. A point that seems to have been ignored by many of those who blather about ‘Old Europe’.

3. Regime change is not enough on its own. Cooper’s final thoughts are highly relevant to the current situation in Iraq: It is not dynamite, nor even the fall of tyrants, that makes men free, but “good laws and good armies” (to quote Machiavelli). Foreign governments can impose neither, though they can assist in both, but only at a price. That price is high in time, risk, money and commitment. But it may be the price of our own security.