John Keane | Remarks on Robert Cooper’s Towards a European Army?
post-template-default,single,single-post,postid-1382,single-format-standard,do-etfw,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-4.1.2,vc_responsive


Remarks on Robert Cooper’s Towards a European Army?

  |   Articles in the Press, Media, War, Violence, Fear, Why Democracy?   |   No comment

There is an old rude saying that diplomats generally have such long noses that they cannot see beyond them. Robert Cooper proves that this is not necessarily the case. His published interviews, memoranda, short essays and his Breaking of Nations – a very good book with a grandness of title redolent of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations – show that diplomats do not always camouflage the sourest matters with the sweetest of terms, and that political thought can find a home in the world of diplomacy : even as Cooper remarks that ‘clarity of thought’ can be ‘a contribution to peace’.

It is in that spirit of clear thinking that the following remarks are tough, hopefully tough enough to put a knife into the oyster shell of Mr Cooper’s remarks, to prise open several issues that definitely require further discussion. I pose three questions, from which flow three bundles of comments :

1. The first question may come as a complete surprise : might it be that Robert Cooper’s mode or style of thinking remains largely/firmly within – not beyond – the so-called ‘realist’ or Hobbesian paradigm that he otherwise disavows?

The question is surprising, because Cooper’s justly famous thesis is that the contemporary European project, for all its flaws and lack of legitimacy, is something new, and that we Europeans are now living in a world beyond Hobbes. Symbolized by the Treaty of Rome (1957) and the CFE Treaty (the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe) an ‘extraordinary revolution’ (p. 27) is unfolding : virtually gone are the old rules that governed power politics from the end of the Thirty Years War : balance-of-power; raison d’etat, the doctrine that sovereign power in extreme circumstances should be morally unconstrained, that is, entitled to do whatever it likes; might is right; the presumption that states are fundamentally aggressive or potentially so…Europe no longer resembles the world portrayed in Kleist’s Die Familie Schroffenstein – a feuding family always on the edge of violence..
‘The Europeans are postmodern states living on a postmodern continent’ (p. 54). What is this post-modern system? : ‘state sovereignty is no longer an absolute’ (p. 29); alliances that survive through peace or war; acceptance of interference in each other’s domestic affairs, indeed, the dissolution of the distinction between ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’/’home’ and ‘abroad’; the acceptance of jurisdiction of international courts of law; monopolies of force are subjected to intrusive verification and self-imposed constraints (as in the CFE Treaty…; the growing irrelevance of borders and the territorial imperative; the growing importance of Catherine the Great’s maxim – ‘I have no way to defend my borders but to extend them’ – and of treaties, joint exercises and integrated command structures..gone, in short, is the world in which foreign policy was foreign policy, in which Lord Palmerston could say that countries like Britain had no permanent friends or enemies, only interests that are eternal…Gone

Cooper then says : ‘Europe has now moved beyond the balance-of-power system, [hence] we need to understand the new system on which our security is based. It requires a new vocabulary and, up to a point, new policies.’ (5) He warns : ‘we should beware of transferring the vocabulary of the modern world into the postmodern’ (40)

A new vocabulary, new concepts, new values : yes : but the odd thing is that Cooper’s own vocabulary is excessively dependent upon terms derived from the age of territorial states. Sometimes this dependence is implicit, e.g in the grand historical narrative of how there were once empires, then there were states (note : no modern empires), now (in Europe) we have post-modern polities, all of them (note) set against a backdrop of chaos..all of which supposes that states are the fulcrum point on which the ‘pre-modern’ and ‘post-modern’ worlds pivot….Or take the corollary of this grand historical model, the view that ‘the imperial instinct is dead, at least among the Western powers’ (p. 32); the possibility (certainty!) that the United States after 1989 behaves as a new modern type of dominant or imperial power is by definition not thinkable…At other times, the pulse of the sovereign territorial state beats loudly in Cooper’s prose : he talks of Europe’s need to exercise ‘military muscle to clear the way for a political solution’ (p. 78). He asks leading questions like : ‘Supposing the world develops (as Kissinger suggests it might) into an intercontinental struggle. Would Europe be equipped for that?’ (p. 79). At times he sounds exactly like Hobbes : ‘This is a dangerous world and it is going to become more dangerous.’ (p. 83) And his understanding of the profession of diplomacy is frankly tied to war and (citing Christopher Logue’s War Music) what he calls ‘the in-Built violence of being’ : ‘When diplomacy is not about avoiding war it is about choosing to fight the right war at the right time with the right allies. It is every bit as serious as war itself.’ (pp. 84-85).

The centrality of organized violence in getting things done : ‘This is still a world in which the ultimate guarantor of security is force
It is as if Cooper wants to examine the workings of a computer using tools fit for the television, or the typewriter..

2. Second question : Doesn’t this lingering fascination with the language of sovereignty, force, violent power have consequences for the ways in which we think and act within a ‘post-modern’ polity like that of the European Union?

Cooper’s preoccupation with order, threat, sovereignty and force – ‘military muscle’ – arguably damages the normative vision of European integration…What is the ultimate purpose of joined-up government or the post-modern polity, we may ask? What’s so good about it? Cooper seems to say : the European polity will have a future, if indeed it has a future, because after a disastrous century of violence that was in part caused by the territorial state system which Europe itself invented, Europe is now pioneering a post-modern system of security that could be developed on a global scale. But who or what does this new form of polity protect? Cooper’s answer is sometimes circular : the avoidance of violent conflict. ‘In pre-modern times war was a way of life; in the modern era it was an instrument of policy; but in the post-modern world war has become something to be avoided if at all possible.’ (p. 85) At other times, Cooper makes passing references to ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic Europe’ (but nb his comment that ‘a difficulty for the postmodern state is that democracy and democratic institutions are firmly wedded to the territorial state’ [p. 32]), which is why – given his taste for Hobbes – he talks of the protection of the individual and her/his freedom – ‘first protected by the state and later protected from the state’ (p. 76).

The trouble here is that the bundle of institutions that historically came to be called Europe are reduced to one primary determinant : the political search for order through government, law, applied force. It is Karl Marx dressed as Max Weber : the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of the political struggle for order, first through empire, then the territorial state, now the post-modern polity. Whether intended or not, the monism leads to the systematic neglect of the non-governmental : Cooper’s picture of Europe is one-dimensional, and his ‘governmentality’ neglects some basic insights about Europe that have been formulated by the modern social sciences since, say, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations : Europe was after all the place where commodity production, exchange and consumption first snapped the chains of custom, religious tradition and governmental restriction, ultimately to wrap the whole world in global commodity chains; Europe was the place in which the printing press made possible the formation of public spheres in which citizens could address matters of war and peace, good and bad government and law. And Europe was certainly the geographic and mental space therefore, in which markets and publics and other non-governmental institutions, under pressure from despotic government, coalesced to form obcanske politicna, zivilna druzba, spoleczenstwo obywatelskie, societas civilis, societa civile, burgerliche Gesellschaft…what English speakers after the breathtaking American events of 1776 came to call civil society…

3. Does not sovereignty thinking have consequences for how we are to interpret and analyze the troubled world beyond the post-modern Euro-zone..the world of collapsing states, uncivil wars? ….and brings us to some very contemporary political matters that are currently exercising Britons and all other Europeans…

Cooper warns of the descent into chaos. ‘Europe may be able to stop its approach ‘through the Balkans or even from across the Mediterranean, but it may prove more difficult to deal with chaos in its own suburbs and declining industrial towns’ (x). We are back to our friend in the shadows, Hobbes ch. 18 of the Leviathan : ‘No arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short..’ The language of The Breaking of Nations is strikingly parallel : ‘Emancipation, diversity, global communication – all the things that promise an age of riches and creativity – could also bring a nightmare in which states lose control of the means of violence and people lose control of their futures. Civilization and order rests on the control of violence : if it becomes uncontrollable there will be no order and no civilization.’ (ix)

He wants an ‘orderly world’, the ‘creation of a postmodern peace’ (x), but since there are no Historical Laws favouring peace Europe must now stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States, which means war will be a requirement of peace. The ‘commonwealth of Europe’ needs to pick up a gun and cock it…Cooper emphasizes that Europeans would be bloody fools to suppose that force is a thing of the past. ‘Civilian Europe’ is a contradiction in terms, and in fact. Just as Britain had to use Harriers and naval destroyers and heat-seeking Exocets to deal with an Argentinian junta that chose to follow the rules of von Clausewitz rather than Kant, so EU leaders and citizens, in quest of ‘postmodern security’, will need to think and act forcefully. ‘The postmodern space needs to be able to protect itself’ (p. 79). The prototype missions…ADD …are premonitions of a future when Europe has a ‘threefold mindset’ (p. 55) by acting as a force for peace and order in ‘a particularly difficult and dangerous world’ populated by modern states (China, India, Syria, North Korea, Iran..) and more than 70 zones of chaos that stretch from Mindanao and southern Burma to Darfur and the Congo..

But what kind of peace? A telling paragraph that addresses empires but applies to military intervention : ‘To persuade your own people to risk their lives in chaotic foreign countries requires the belief that you are spreading some gospel, pursuing a mission of civilization or (in the worst case) establishing the natural superiority of your race. It requires confidence and conviction. And then, if you are to be successful, you have to persuade the people that you are subjugating that you are doing this in their own interests and in the service of a higher good; most people are subjugated by ideas rather than by force.’ (p. 25) :

But if that is so, then which ideas/ways of life will do the job? In The Breaking of Nations and elsewhere, Cooper – correctly in my view – talks in terms of the difficult, painful process of cultivating and thickening post-modern institutions of government that are legitimate because they are ‘democratic’. But if by democracy we mean, minimally, forms of self-government in which the exercise of power is subject to public accountability procedures, which supposes a vibrant civil society, press freedom, a healthy mix of publicly/privately owned property…then it turns out that the cultivation of the non-governmental must be a vital concern of government and diplomacy – and that the relationship between force and democracy is highly contingent. Gegen Demokraten helfen nur Soldaten runs an old German proverb, but in his most ebullient moods, Cooper turns that proverb on its head : Soldiers can and must come to the rescue of democracy. He is a believer in the primacy of force – ‘military force …. counts more than softer forms of power’ (p.162), he states openly at one point – and that is why he criticizes Europe’s loss of will to power (p. 165), why he gives a qualified yes to a European army, and why he wants better planning and purchasing, in short, an end to situations in which British warplanes cannot take off and land on French destroyers. Yet Cooper is too much of a civilized European to believe unconditionally in all this. He knows that Realpolitik often turns into Unrealpolitik , that military muscle has its limits – that might cannot and should not be the single parent of democratic right. But if that is so, then does it not follow that a Europe in favour of peaceful, joined up democratic government everywhere must be a Europe that not only has an army, but a Europe that knows, in matters of diplomacy, security policy and the conduct of foreign affairs, that the cultivation of a strong, vibrant, canny, rights-conscious European civil society, itself a partner within a global civil society, is a necessary condition of a less violent and more equal and liveable world?


Read the text of Robert Cooper’s Lecture