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For a geopolitical Europe, not naïve nor militaristic

Summary:
Unsurprisingly, the debates leading up to the 2024 European elections were marked by geopolitical issues: the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, growing tensions between the West and the China-Russia bloc, which intends to increase its influence in the South and increase members of the BRICS+ group [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Iran]. Some say the cause is clear: Europe’s future will be more kaki-oriented. Faced with the Russian threat, the European Union (EU) has no choice but to flex its military muscles and massively increase the budget for its militaries, which some would like to see rise from the current 1.5-2% of national income to 3%, or even 4%. However, there is nothing to suggest that such a prospect is realistic or even

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Unsurprisingly, the debates leading up to the 2024 European elections were marked by geopolitical issues: the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, growing tensions between the West and the China-Russia bloc, which intends to increase its influence in the South and increase members of the BRICS+ group [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Iran]. Some say the cause is clear: Europe’s future will be more kaki-oriented. Faced with the Russian threat, the European Union (EU) has no choice but to flex its military muscles and massively increase the budget for its militaries, which some would like to see rise from the current 1.5-2% of national income to 3%, or even 4%.

However, there is nothing to suggest that such a prospect is realistic or even desirable. Firstly, because Western military budgets are already considerable and would benefit from being better mobilized. Secondly, because Europe would be better advised to put its wealth and power at the service of social, educational, scientific and climatic objectives. Finally, and above all, because Europe must try to influence other countries through economic and financial sanctions, the law and social justice, rather than military, means. Instead of falling into the temptations of defense-focused geopolitics, Europe must invent a social, economic and climate geopolitics.

Let’s start by recalling that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries are collectively far more powerful economically and militarily than Russia. Their combined gross domestic product is 10 times higher and their air capabilities five times greater. The problem is that NATO has decided to let Russia bomb Ukrainian territory as much as it likes, including massacring civilians and destroying homes and energy infrastructure.

With the air capabilities at its disposal, NATO could decide to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. As long as the aim is to defend Ukrainian territory, and in no way to attack Russian territory, such a mobilization of both NATO’s human and material resources would be legitimate. Lending a few aircraft or anti-aircraft batteries to Ukraine won’t be enough, as it takes years to train qualified pilots and personnel. In any case, Ukraine will remain at a massive demographic disadvantage to Russia.


The strategic decision to intervene directly is admittedly a difficult one: It would mean nothing less than defending Ukraine, as NATO would have to do in the event of aggression by one of its members. But the fact is, it would be just as difficult if NATO had 10 times as many aircraft as Russia. Once this red line has been drawn, Western countries could also open the door to legitimate, democratic political processes in the disputed territories of Crimea and Donbas.

To sum up, the challenge is not to massively increase Western military budgets – they are already considerable – but to know how to mobilize them. The issue is not financial, but decision-making. As far as financial resources are concerned, it would be in the EU’s interest to invest additional resources in health, training at all levels, scientific research, transport and energy infrastructures, housing, energy-efficient renovation of buildings, sustainable agriculture and decarbonization, with social justice and for the benefit of the middle and working classes.

Due to the social struggles of the 20th century, Europe already has the best primary and secondary healthcare and education system in the world, far ahead of the United States. In the 21st century, Europe must also have the best universities on the planet. France, Germany and their European allies have the financial resources needed to finally make such a choice, and yet are doing nothing, out of ideology and ignorance. The situation is particularly absurd in France, where spending per student has fallen by 15% over the last 10 years, contrary to all historical trends.
Global financial registry

To increase its influence in the world, Europe must first and foremost promote and perfect its social, economic and democratic model. To influence other countries, it must not rely on gunboat diplomacy (which was amply used and abused from 1492 to 1962) and the superiority of its military means (except for strictly defensive purposes), but on tools consistent with its social model. There are, of course, the classic trade sanctions, which need to be reintroduced into the political repertoire as a matter of urgency.

It makes little sense to insist on absolute free trade with China, while massively importing its carbon emissions (and the EU’s tiny border carbon tax won’t change a thing) or watching the Chinese regime destroy before our very eyes electoral democracy in Hong Kong. We also need to develop new types of financial sanctions targeted at the elites of certain countries, thanks to the implementation of a veritable global financial registry and payment system exclusion measures, as already practiced in the US to enforce its anti-money laundering measures.

Europe urgently needs to seize the €200 billion of Russian public assets located on its territory and do the same with Russian private assets (between €500 billion and €1 trillion, depending on estimates). By stubbornly insisting on the sanctity of financial orthodoxy and oligarchic ownership (however ill-gotten it may be, as long as it’s profitable), an attitude that did not save the Belle Epoque [1870-1914] from the disaster that followed, Europe is turning its back on its own history, undermining its international moral credibility and condemning itself to being a geopolitical miniature.

Thomas Piketty
Thomas Piketty (7 May 1971) is a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality. He is a professor (directeur d'études) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), associate chair at the Paris School of Economics and Centennial professor at the London School of Economics new International Inequalities Institute.

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