Should Bundeswehr soldiers in the Libyan desert soon ensure peace and stability? The question has arisen since the Berlin Libya conference this weekend. An answer is not yet urgent. It only becomes due when the parties to the conflict reliably adhere to an armistice. However, should a military mission be decided under a UN mandate, the Federal Government will be unable to avoid contributing to a blue helmet mission. She has shown initiative and leadership diplomatically and will have to participate for this reason alone. Global responsibility does not stop at the negotiating table.
However, this has nothing to do with the militarization of German foreign policy; rather, it is about making the European Union's ability to act credible under the United Nations banner. Certainly, such an assignment would not have to do with daydreams like that Europe had to take on the role of the world power that America has been trying to shake off since Barack Obama – with gruff determination under Donald Trump. After a quarter of a century of unsuccessful military interventions swings into the United States the pendulum back.
Will Europe succeed where the United States failed?
Even after Trump the Americans will not return to the power-crusading thinking of the past decades. The failure of the neo-conservative democratization and regime change wars and their fatal consequences have taught them otherwise. The United States will have to admit that even illiberal powers have an impact on world politics, especially in the immediate vicinity. And Europeans shouldn't imagine that instead of the United States, they could restore the crumbling old world order or that they have to fill the vacuum that the Americans are leaving.
President Trump has recently voiced himself in this sense. The statements made by the new EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her Foreign Representative Joseph Borrell that Europe also has to learn the language of power were also interpreted in many ways as if it meant worldwide military action. In this country, a number of editorials echoed the idea that Europeans should no longer watch helplessly, that it was time for action.
So military intervention in the Middle East? Common sense speaks against the assumption that Europeans could succeed where the United States could not do anything.
Three depressing lessons from the wars in the United States
Let's stick to the facts. The integration of European defense policy has made progress in recent years, but there is still a huge gap between ambitions and capabilities. In addition, the experiences America has had with her Middle East wars since 2001 are more than depressing. They hold three worthwhile teachings.
First, wars are expensive. Operation Iraqi Freedom alone cost the United States $ 730 billion – and that doesn't include utilities (intelligence, veteran care, etc.).
Second, wars always last longer than claimed. The war in Afghanistan – the longest in American history and the second longest in Germany – has been dragging on for twenty years. A victory is not in sight; but those who cannot win lose.
Third, military conflicts hardly ever have the desired result. As a rule, they create more new problems than they solve old problems – Libya is the most blatant example of this. Gaddafi was a brutal dictator, but there was peace in the country; his fall in 2011 plunged it into murderous chaos.
So be careful with outside armed intervention. However, military intervention must remain an option. Crises will always have to be cleared in our vicinity – Libya and the Sahel are currently among them. "Frozen conflicts" on the eastern edge of the EU could start again. Europe is therefore well advised to progressively integrate its security policy, to make its armed forces ready to fight, to strengthen its industrial armaments base collectively and to adopt decision-making mechanisms that allow rapid reactions in the event of a crisis. A peace power Europe also needs military muscles.
She should be guided by the insight that Professor Alina Polyakova from Johns Hopkins University in Foreign Affairs has said, "Europe will never be as central to the United States as it once was, so it must focus entirely on ensuring the survival of its own model before lagging behind global ambitions."
Maintaining your own peace is the main task, not the hunt for monsters to kill in distant zones.