Europe and the US ” “remain distant

Obama asks his Western allies to spend more money on security. But he fails to dissolve some relevant doubts

Alongside with mounting military operations in Syria and Iraq to stem the advance of the self-proclaimed Islamic state, American president Barack Obama is pressingly demanding Europe to re-arm by investing at least 2% of GDP in missiles, ships, tanks, machine guns and all sorts of weapons. The warning was launched during the visit of the head of the White House to Eastern Europe and then in Brussels for the G7, reiterated, albeit with other terms, in September at the NATO summit in Wales, summoned to discuss countless threats to stability and peace: from Ukraine to the Middle East, from inland Asia to the African continent. The "security" patrimony. Obama is trying to outline a comprehensive foreign policy strategy, which has been missing in Washington for a very long time. And while the geopolitical situation grows ever more complicated, with emerging players and old protagonists, the US president makes known to his most trusted allies that they have to play their part: the role of “world policeman” does not quite fit the US anymore. Security is a "patrimony" that belongs to everyone and which therefore requires general mobilization. But at a time of recovered nationalistic pride (Russia is an unfortunate example), of economic neo-colonialisms (China ranks first), or missed "Arab springs", of Caliphates and terrorism without borders, it is ever more difficult to identify the "enemy" to combat and the "friends" with which to build long-lasting alliances. The situation of Syria, Iraq, Kurd warriors, the Israel-Hamas tug of war, Libya or Sudan is just the peak of a dangerous iceberg of complex conflicts on a global scale. Arms and budget. In this situation the message from Washington is that the great democracies of the United States and Europe must close ranks with the support of a heterogeneous coalition inclusive of Arab States and regional forces. But for Obama 1.700 billion dollars for arms at global level – 600 of which covered by the US budget alone – are not enough, and while the United States directs to the war industry 4% of its annual gross wealth, the percentages on this side of the Atlantic are very different. In the EU, only the UK and France have "competitive" armies and armaments; in the budgets of Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain the figures consecrated to arms are very distant from the 2% target…. Not only: given the ongoing economic crisis, funding for security and war in Europe underwent increasing cuts over the past years. Greater spending in these areas would require – notwithstanding equal levels of GDP and taxation – reducing welfare state spending (education, health, social security…) to the advantage of a warfare state that doesn’t belong to the political and cultural background of the European Union, substantially at peace for the past 70 years. Unprecedented scenarios. After all, with time the situation has changed. Especially with the fall of the Iron Curtain (1989) and the attack against the Twin Towers (2001) the security perspective has changed. Nuclear weapons have "democratically" spread to far too many hands; terrorism has taken new forms, overcoming national borders and making large use of cyber-technology; Islamic fundamentalist drifts have spread to the detriment of the very Muslim faith… Not to mention other phenomena affecting security, such as economic cycles, the persistent diffusion of hunger and the unfair distribution of richness, mass migrations, import-export flows of weapons from wealthy Countries to the poor ones. All of this is coupled by a relentless weakening of supranational political institutions, starting with the UN. The questions. So while Obama makes a call to arms to those who cannot – and do not want to – afford it, a set of knots the President failed to dissolve are coming to a head. First of all, when talking of re-arming it is necessary to envisage the consequences of a war, which in the meantime has not changed. Deaths, wounded, refugees, destruction, forced migration, widespread impoverishment remain, yesterday like today, the inevitable consequences of conflicts. If in doubt, the Syrian tragedy speaks for itself… Second, the USA President calls to arms but he fails to explain who is supposed to be the "commander" of the new Western armed forces: namely, where is the legitimate and democratic control over the armies, acting as a strategic and diplomatic force? A weak political leadership that falls hostage to strong armies is a scenario that isn’t even shared by Obama. Finally: while – oversimplifying – arming oneself to defend peace and democracy may be understandable, what are the intentions for the post-war aftermath in Eastern Europe, the Holy Land, Northern Africa or any Latin-American region? Given the outcomes of recent conflicts (just think of the current situation of Bosnia-Herzegovina) despite his good intentions Obama appears unable to provide credible guarantees.

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