I hate to disagree with Dan Hannan about the European Union, but this time, he's 100% wrong.
In his energetic response to Philip Gordon's ill-conceived request that Britain forget about recovering its sovereignty and protecting its democracy, Hannan argues that the State Department wants Britain in the EU because the U.S. is gradually realizing that the EU is, "Frankenstein-like," defining itself by petulent hostility to the U.S., and it wants Britain inside to moderate that hostility.
If only. The State Department doesn't want Britain inside because it disagrees with the EU. It wants Britain inside because it agrees with the EU. Not with absolutely everything it does, of course - but most of the things that Hannan finds objectionable are things the State Department likes. It doesn't want to "get tough" with Tehran: it's a sucker for negotiations with Iran. It isn't interested in anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba, which it views as an awkward obstacle to better relations with Havana. And it certainly wants the U.S. to join all the "global technocracies" that the Senate has so far rejected and the EU adores. It doesn't want an inward-looking EU - that's a long-standing Anglo-American concern that revolves mostly around trade and finance - but it defines outward-looking as taking the State Department's view of the world. Since that's what the EU does naturally, the two are hardly emerging adversaries. On the contrary: they're natural allies. The role of Britain in the EU, in the State Department's view, is to ameliorate the EU's protectionist instincts, to give it a military punch that, France apart, it would otherwise lack completely, and - the rest of the time - to stop being awkward and get in line behind the EU as a pretend player on the world stage.
All that is appealing enough if you share the State Deparment vision. But what a bunch of paradoxes. For the America-haters (and the Britain-haters) on the continent, Gordon's speech will be taken as confirmation that Britain is the U.S.'s Trojan Horse in the EU - which was one reason de Gaulle wanted to keep Britain out in the early 1960s. Precisely because Gordon believes what he said, he would have done better not to say it. For British Eurosceptics, the speech gives them a powerful talking point, and raises a temptation which (I am sorry to say) has long been close to their hearts: to couple opposition to the EU (or the EEC) with criticism of the U.S. for pushing Britain into it.
From long-forgotten figures like John Paul (the founder of the Anti-Common Market League), to Lord Beaverbrook, to Enoch Powell, sceptics about the EU have also tended to be sceptics about the U.S. That's not invariably true - witness Margaret Thatcher - but from the late-era imperialism of Beaverbrook to the Little Englandism of Powell, the EU and the U.S. have often been lumped together as forces to be resisted. Given Washington’s decades of cheerleading for European integration - and now Gordon's speech - that tendency has an all-too-easily understandable logic behind it. But it's still wrong, because in a world where the Commonwealth is not a live option, lumping the U.S. with the EU and rejecting both of them leaves Britain with its back turned on everything.
The challenge before British Eurosceptics is to make the geniunely liberal case for leaving the EU, one that rests on democracy and economic freedom, and on the utility of a security alliance with nations like the U.S., Canada, and Australia that have both muscles and close intelligence ties with the U.K. But what about the threat underlying Gordon's remarks - a threat which has carried weight with Prime Ministers since Macmillan's day - that the U.S. will pay less attention to Britain if it is outside the EU than if it is inside? Or, to put it another way, are the Eurosceptics who argue that the U.S. and EU are closely tied - too closely tied to be separable - essentially correct?
Even if they are, I would still want Britain to get out of the EU. As Hannan puts it, I don't propose to merge the U.S. with other countries - even decent ones like Canada - and for exactly the same reason, I don't support the merging of other nations, which can only come by denying democracy. But - taking a narrowly American view, and ignoring for the time the trading and budgetary advantages to Britain of being outside the EU - I don't believe that Gordon is right. His error is two-fold. First, he assumes that the EU is going to rise irresistably into a major world player. But the Eurozone has done nothing but cut defense spending and lose share of world GDP for the past two decades, and while it is possible that those trends could reverse, nothing Europe is doing now - especially its hairshirt tax-hike program to save the Euro - leads me to believe it is going to start prioritizing growth or taking security seriously. The U.S. has backed European integration since Eisenhower in the belief - or the hope - that it was creating a separate and parallel pillar of equal size. Unfortunately, the pillar that has emerged is both stunted and badly tilted.
The fact is that under President Obama, Europe is - for first time since 1776 - not the most important part of the world for the U.S. This partly reflects Obama's desire to subcontract the management of world problems to regional hegemons - among which he optimistically numbers Russia - so that he can focus on transforming the U.S. domestically. But, more fundamentally, it reflects the fact that Europe is just not as important as it used to be, because it lacks the muscle and the will to assert itself, the drive to gain or even hold share of world GDP, and the ability and desire to create a genuinely democratic union. I'm not blind to the value of US-EU trade and finance, or to the fact that Europe contains a disproportionate share of the world's democracies - even if all of them have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage - but all of these are, to an extent, wasting assets, if Europe carries on as it is.
The EU isn't on the road to global power. It's on the road to global irrelevancy. The crisis over the Euro has made it perfectly obvious that the whole goal of the EU - apart from defending every creation of Brussels - is to keep things as they are. And that is a perfectly understandable goal, because Europe is, leaving aside the machinations of the EU, a pleasant place. Unfortunately, trying to keep things as they are as the world around you changes is the most demanding goal possible, and the kind of inflexibilty it promotes guarantees that necessary change - the change that growth requires - is going to come slowly and belatedly, if it comes at all. This isn't the kind of thing that happens in a straight line, but the EU is betting that institutional consolidation can keep it relevant - including to the U.S. - as it shrinks economically and militarily, and loses any pretense of democratic legitimacy. To me, that looks like a bad bet.
Second, and more subtlely, Gordon is wrong because he assumes that Britain can continue to dive ever deeper into European waters and still keep on delivering the goods for the U.S. It can't. If the EU wants to go protectionist, a Britain that is inside the EU will be able to delay that, but not deny it. Britain will either be left standing on the outside again, or it will be sucked along. If the EU wants to promote tax harmonisation - and it does - in ways that will hurt U.S. firms, Britain will ultimately have to excuse itself or go along. If the EU wants a Financial Transaction Tax that would hurt the City, and which the U.S. dislikes, it will ultimately get one: the only question is whether Britain will opt out. And if the EU wants to finish the job of eliminating its militaries while prating about having a common foreign and security policy, Britain will either have to accept that or get out of the road. The whole history of British involvement with Europe goes to show that the British brake cannot forever restrain the Franco-German engine. The EU is like a feebly-motorized bicycle: if it's not moving, it's wobbling, and the wobbling provides an excuse for further movement. The fact that the movement achieves nothing while making the EU less prosperous and less powerful is irrelevant, because it serves the institutional interests of the organization and - increasingly - the needs of Berlin.
Of course, Gordon hasn't just antagonized a good many continentals. He's also stuck a stick into a British hornets nest, and helped to bring about the very possibility he was speaking against. We should therefore be congratulating him, not condemning him. But his basic error is simple. For the U.S., the EU is about policy, not theology. We backed European integration during the Cold War not because it was dictated by eternal principles. We backed it because it was in our interest to do so. But that was a different world, a world where free Europe and the free world were divided by trade barriers, where there was profound suspicion of Germany and a belief that the EEC would tie it down, where the major European powers - after the early 1970s - made roughly comparable contributions to their own defense through NATO, and where the question of merging sovereignties was mostly abstract. None of those things are true today. It is therefore time for us to change our policy.
Lord Salisbury, the great Victorian Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, once remarked that the greatest error in politics is failing to cut loose from the carcasse of a dead policy before it pulls you under. The EU is a carcasse. It's time for both Britain and the U.S. to cut loose.
Dr. Ted R. Bromund is the Margaret Thatcher Senior Research Fellow in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom in the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. He joined Heritage in 2008 after a decade as the Associate Director of International Security Studies at Yale University, a research and teaching center dedicated to diplomatic, military and strategic history, and grand strategy.