New America Foundation President Steve Coll wrote in The New Yorker mid-week about the foreign policy topics overlooked by President Obama and Governor Romney during the final presidential debate. It was valuable to have one debate out of three focused on the U.S. role in the world. It was also inevitable that both candidates still found a way to pull the discussion back to the U.S. economy. It is the issue most directly impacting voters. Moreover, since Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen declared the national debt to be the greatest threat to U.S. security a little over a year ago, other leading policymakers – including former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn – have focused attention on the debt as the leading threat not only to the nation’s economic vitality but to its role in promoting global stability. So there’s precedent and purpose in conflating debt and foreign policy discussions.
Number two on Coll’s list of topics absent from the foreign policy debate is the European Union. Other than a passing warning of U.S. fiscal policy “heading on the road to Greece,” the EU went unmentioned. Coll notes that a chaotic dismantling of the Euro would “ravage the world economy,” and that fact has driven Eurozone leaders to create both the EU-wide regulatory tools and financial facilities to contain the crisis. But Coll also cites the “centrifugal forces” of political factions within member states as a further threat to the EU’s core. Those forces are real, but it’s worth remembering that the EU is not the Eurozone. The partial monetary union may be the most significant part of the agreements binding EU member nations, but it is only a part. There is plenty of economic incentive to sustain the common currency through the current crisis, but even a restructuring of the Eurozone would not necessarily precipitate an end to the other policy components of the European project.
Implicit in the candidates’ inattention to the EU is the assumption of Europe’s stability, even in times of crisis. Some prominent U.S. policymakers fault Europe, as a center of wealth and democratic government, for not carrying its weight in matters of global security (more on this in a later post.) Others question whether the U.S. would in fact welcome an EU that was an equal in military capability (more to come on this as well.) The EU has responded to prior crises by expanding ties between its member states — by creating “more Europe.” Recent progress towards the resolution of the Eurozone crisis is trending in this direction as well.