EU-bashing is the hula-hooping of geopolitics, as fun to do as it is easy. Or, at least, so it seemed, in the gilt-edged days before the NO vote gave the European Union a final, self-inflicted bash to the head.
The hodgepodge of contrariness that found unified expression in that crowning blow was in no small part thematized by a certain nationalistic insularity -- the sort of thing which coming from America would be cursed by Europeans and Europhiles as isolationism. In fact, it smacked of outright xenophobia. The desire to be left alone was expressed most directly to the nation of Turkey, where millions of poor Muslim workers managed, simply by the act of breathing, to threaten everything the Continental system of socialist self-entitlement could offer its wards of leisure. And though many Americans understand how a freely-flowing horde of propertyless, cash-starved vagabonds can rankle the decency of daily life, it was American policy to support Turkish entry into the European Union, and when the EU tripped over itself in such irredeemable fashion a bigger idea than Eurocentralization stumbled with it.
Little did EU friends and foes alike predict that the ghouls of summer would fade by Halloween, replaced by the fresh faces of Croatian and Turkish hopefuls at the accession-talk table.
BASH NOT, HOWEVER, this startling development. The negotiations toward membership now agreed to for Croatia and Turkey are as firmly within European and American interests as they are within the interests of Zagreb and Ankara themselves. Negotiations not only may but will take years to add the two countries to the European Union. Although some, like Arnaud de Borchgrave, may not be so sure, accession talks in fact add a stout tentpole to American grand strategy in Europe: maintaining the gravitational pull of frontier nations toward the rule of law and ordered liberty that undergirds the West on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ukraine -- a country young enough to know, with a name that means literally "border-land" -- grasps this truth. The Financial Times has reported in Kiev a swelling of EU-based hopes, directly caused by the success Turkey has had in securing a place at the table. "The most important thing for us," says Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov, "is that the enlargement process has not stopped." For those in need of a second translation, it is vital to the Westernization of Ukraine that EU enlargement maintains momentum, and publicly so.
When EU officials confess more privately that "the likelihood of Ukraine entering the EU has plummeted" after the NO debacle, American and European leaders in private and public sectors alike stand much to gain from orienting eager Ukraine as firmly toward the Western lodestar as possible. Best of all, this can be done without worrying about entrenching the centralized power of the European Union for a generation. In a virtuous circle, the benefits to accrue to Europe's most unsettled regions translate into fewer crisis points for Washington as well. Bringing Kiev, as well as Zagreb and Ankara, into the Western orbit will not only push the frontiers of the rule of law into or beyond three vital regions (the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East) that are key to the peace and order of Europe. The Black Sea, moreover, will be encompassed within a voluntarily Western sphere of economic and, by extension, cultural influence, probably to a greater extent than has been seen since the height of the Roman empire. As if that were not good enough news, nations like Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia -- located at the explosive nexus of Christianity, Islam, and oil -- will learn firsthand from inspired neighbors not only the value of the rule of law, but how high are the stakes in rejecting it.
ALL THREE ASPIRANTS BRING ADVANTAGE to the West. Croatia is the most important, best-developed, and most traditionally European of any of the non-integrated European nations. Historical links with Austria and unparalleled beauty along the singular Dalmatian coast (with its unique investment possibilities) make Croatia not only a natural candidate but an enviable one. Turkey, which can affect the Middle East in a way no other regional player can, is a long-time NATO member uniquely capable of projecting power as a secular Islamic state. And Ukraine can naturally apply the pressure of allure to Moscow which now so frightens Minsk. When the appeal of the West is genuine and full of promise, Russia leans its way. The autocratic reflexes of Putinism are still mild compared to those of the Chinese government. Buttressing Russia with economic and political freedom, while strengthening ties with India on China's southern flank, is a twin tactic invaluable to America's long-term Asia strategy.
Streamlining the transparency, dependability, orderliness, and Western orientation of the three key regimes is crucial to the success of America's European and Middle Eastern policy, as well, where the forward defense of the rule of law sits at its heart. Terrorists and criminals deprived access to Croatia, Ukraine, and Turkey lose their most promising havens and entry points into the European heartland. Bringing all three nations into a closer relationship with organizations like NATO, as well as into tighter adherence to Western norms, customs, and informal rules, is an objective best attained not by speedy and heady EU accession but by a prolonged, diligent, comprehensive process. With European attitudes about the EU itself shying away from the monolith, a disaggregate community of nations in Greater Europe, linked more intimately by shared processes, cultures, and interests, is a better outcome than one vast quasi-nation held together by an encyclopedia-length Constitution. And this is true as far as both sides of the Atlantic ought to be concerned.
The future of Europe includes Croatia, Ukraine, and Turkey. It is a future of decentralized power and common interests -- not the centralized-power and divergent-interests model that inspired the NO vote. The journey taken by the EU's latest aspirants is of paramount importance to expanding and consolidating Western peace and security. The monolithic European Union that looked so unattractive in the spring is now beneath deep snow. What remains is far better: Europe as a process, with the West as the outcome. In those terms, the journey toward EU membership is more important than the destination. Let no one block that road to our three worthy travelers.
James G. Poulos is a writer and attorney living in Washington, D.C. His commentaries are found at Postmodern Conservative.
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