Commentary. Faced with the specter of a Trump presidency abandoning the U.S.’s allies, the notion of deterrence is on shaky ground in Europe.

Europe converts to the theology of war

“Dear Antoine … we are not at war with Russia. France is a force for peace,” began Emmanuel Macron’s response. However, he immediately added that “it is now necessary to impose limits in the face of an enemy who does not set any.”

The Antoine in question is certainly not Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who on Sunday took distance from Paris’s approach, stressing that for Italy, the war should remain outside Europe. Antoine is a French teenager who, with understandable apprehension, asked Macron a question about whether soldiers will be sent to Ukraine.

The exchange came after the meeting in Berlin in which the so-called Weimar Triangle (Macron, German Chancellor Scholz and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk) agreed, among other things, on the supply of long-range missiles to the Ukrainians, whose cities continue to be subjected to deadly attacks by the Russians.

Details are still lacking, but these will likely be German Taurus missiles, believed to be capable of accurately targeting command centers, penetrating bunkers and fortifications.

The collective announcement implied that the clash between Paris and Berlin has been overcome, which has seen the Germans resenting France’s meager material contribution to Ukrainian defense and Macron’s statements about sending troops, seen as overcompensation for pusillanimity.

The joint decision in Berlin was aimed at providing the means “so Russia does not win” in Ukraine, but it also speaks to the political alignments in Europe as it prepares for elections.

Faced with the specter of a Trump presidency abandoning the U.S.’s allies, the notion of deterrence is on shaky ground in Europe.

In Germany, there is renewed talk of nuclear weapons: not so much a German nuclear bomb, which would imply withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is opposed by 90 percent of the public, but rather a Europeanized nuclear force, starting from the French and British nuclear weapons.

There have even been musings about the “Eurobomb,” which would be a briefcase with activation codes that would shuttle incessantly between European capitals.

The idea of strengthening the atomic umbrella is being put forward as an insurance policy, setting aside the complexities of deterrence in today’s context. These include, as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has noted, the fact that we are in a phase of generalized rearmament for the entire defense sector, and that even the leaderships of Poland and Finland are now talking openly about nuclear weapons.

The statements by Macron and presidential candidate Trump are changing the European strategic paradigm.

While Tajani drew a line in the sand, his Finnish counterpart said sending troops to Ukraine could not be ruled out in the future. This confirms what we have been repeating in the columns of il manifesto for some time: a protracted war has a high potential for horizontal escalation and extension.

For some observers, under the current circumstances, it is necessary to reconsider the starting assumptions and keep every option on the table.

For its part, the White House has made it clear that while it has no plan for boots on the ground, it respects the sovereign decisions of its allies should they decide to proceed in this direction.

Thus, the basic idea would be to engage Russia in a full-fledged arms race to the point of bankrupting it, as happened during the Cold War.

The problem with this approach is not only the devastating impact on welfare in Europe, which will give a further boost to nationalist right-wingers.

There is also the fact that Putin has already demonstrated that war, the real deal, is not just a hypothetical option: while the entire Russian economy has lined up behind the war effort, the Kremlin’s bellicose rhetoric continues to expand, as do the attacks on the ground.

And there is also the fact that Zelensky can’t recruit as many people as are needed at the front, let alone while keeping up his democratic credentials. Furthermore, NATO efforts are focusing on the Finnish border and the Baltic states, behind which lies the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

In short, the rearmament agenda, going with the flow of the proverb si vis pacem para bellum (“If you want peace, prepare for war”), is finding easy apologists, always ready to mock the so-called “peaceniks.”

We should be concerned about the fact that the pole of the debate that identifies with the idea of peace as common security and disarmament is currently struggling to articulate strong arguments, as distinct from mere appeasement towards a regime that recognizes no borders, attacks dissidents in Europe and promotes daily disinformation operations.

In other words, among our problems is the fact that the theory of war seems to have an easy time in casting itself as the theory of peace.

We have gotten to the point of Italy’s home-grown liberals improvising cut-and-paste lectures to school the Pope on the theology of war: lectures based on Augustine of Hippo’s (ca. 413 C.E.) providentialist vision of just (imperial) war, conveniently setting aside the anti-war sentiment that animates Origen of Alexandria’s refutation of Celsus (248 C.E.) in his address to non-believers.

Pro-disarmament voices, including those raised in the clash of the Cold War, often appear silent, when not aligned outright with the rhetoric of war. One need only think of the German Greens, who will soon have to justify before the voters the fact that resources earmarked for the energy transition have ended up in arms production.

For the debate on war and peace in Europe’s future to lead to sensible choices, we need real debate, and we need the positions to build a solid argumentative framework.

There is certainly no shortage of evidence that war as an instrument is increasingly useless for conflict resolution. Or that the advent of each new weapon will, in reality, lead to adaptations by the other side that belie the rhetoric of victory.

It’s not that there is any lack of widespread mobilizations advocating for peace and for the need to work with patience and determination to open diplomatic avenues. However, as soon as one enters the political sphere, the arguments lose force. Or, even worse, they end up a caricature of themselves, succumbing to the idea that the weak must bow before the strong or raising the Red-Brown flag: the perspectival illusion that the sovereignist right would bring “more peace,” to the point that “for peace” electoral lists feature names of candidates who have no issues calling the tragedy of war a “special military operation.”

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