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1.3  Integration of Europe & Implosion of Soviet Union

1 December 2016

Emergence of European Union (EU)

Meanwhile, after the mindless killings and destructions of the two world wars, the Europeans had finally learned that the incessant fighting was doing them great harm. Besides vowing never to go to war again, the moderate leaders that survived the war decided to set their differences aside and to seek for ways to work together for European unity. Hence, externally, the European states began to pursue a cooperative strategy combining integration and liberalization.[1]


Postwar integration of Europe began with economic cooperation. In 1948, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands signed a treaty to form the Benelux Customs Union. In the same year, the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) comprising of sixteen non-Communist states, from Iceland and Scandinavia in the north to Turkey and Iberia in the south, was created as part of the Marshall Plan to distribute American aid. The OEEC sparked debates about the need for political institutions for wider cooperation. In 1949, the debates culminated in a treaty leading to the formation of Council of Europe to begin such cooperation.[2]


In 1950, the Foreign Minister of France, Robert Schuman, introduced a new plan to pool coal and steel resources under a multinational authority to speed recovery. France, Italy, Germany and the Benelux countries signed the Treaty of Paris in 1951, creating a ‘common market’ in coal and steel known as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) for the six countries. Despite repeated appeals from the French, Britain rejected the Schuman Plan because it valued its sovereignty, its bilateral relation with the US, and its multilateral ties with the Commonwealth more than it did the potential benefits of the economic union.[3] The success of the ECSC soon led to discussions for a common market for all goods.


In 1957, the six countries signed the Treaty of Rome to create the European Economic Community (EEC) which aimed to create a custom union in which a common external tariff regime would be established by progressively dismantling the internal tariffs from 1959 to 1968. At the same time, the Euratom Treaty was also signed to establish the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC).


In 1959, the success of EEC induced seven other countries (Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and a reluctant Britain) to form a similar organization, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).


By 1967, the EEC signed the Merger Treaty to begin tightening its internal unity by merging the legislative & administrative bodies of the 3 European Communities - the EEC, the ECSC, and the EAEC - to be collectively overseen by a single commission and council.


As a result of the integration and liberalization, trade within the EEC expanded and grew much quicker even than the rising world trade. In 1960, the six members of the EEC accounted for 22.9% of world trade, and 7.9% of world trade was within the EEC. By 1970, EEC accounted for 39.8% of world trade while 20% of world trade was inter-EEC.[4] The success of EEC convinced others to want to join the grouping of six. Soon the grouping grew with the addition of Britain, Denmark and Ireland in 1973 and then Greece in 1981. By then, most of non-Communist Europe also began to line up for entry into the EEC.[5]


In 1985, to revitalize efforts to move toward a common identity, European leaders tabled the Single European Act (SEA), the first major revision of the 1957 Treaty of Rome. The SEA set 1992 as the date for the creation of a single market with open frontiers.


In 1988, it was further decided that the single market concept would also liberalize capital movements by 1990. A report by the Delors Committee in 1989 then set out a three-stage mechanism for monetary union. This was accepted in 1992 at the meeting in Maastricht, where the Maastricht Treaty (later updated as the Treaty on European Union or TEU) was also signed to form the European Union (EU) comprising of three pillars—one supranational pillar created from the three European Communities (i.e. the EEC, now renamed as the European Community (EC), the ECSC and the EAEC), the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) pillar, and the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) pillar. The first pillar was where the EU's supra-national institutions—the Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice—had the most power and influence. The other two pillars were essentially more intergovernmental in nature with decisions being made by committees composed of member states' politicians and officials.


The coming of age of a more integrated and economically vibrant Europe heralded a new phase of relations between the two continents, one that is increasingly competitive especially in the 1990s when socialist threat to capitalism collapsed with the implosion and dissolution of the Soviet Union.


Soviet Union’s Implosion & US in a Unipolar World


While Western Europe became progressively more integrated economically and politically as an entity, Soviet Union was roiled increasingly by domestic turmoil as the inefficient centrally planned economy buckled under the weight of its arms race with the US. By the end of 1989, Eastern European countries emulated Gorbachev’s perestroika and the pro-Soviet leaders of Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany were peacefully replaced. In 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall shattered the Iron Curtain and signalled the end of the East-West standoff in Europe. By 1990, the small Baltic republics of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, which had been annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, began asserting their independence. Finally, in 1991, the five Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan also achieved independence.


The implosion and disintegration of Soviet Union left Eastern Europe and Central AsiaMackinder’s conception of the Heartland of Eurasia – again in a state of flux. It also created a geopolitically unipolar world where the US reigned supreme. US role’s shifted from keeping communism in check to one of maintaining the international order as a global policeman.


In August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush (served 1988 – 1992, hereafter known as Senior Bush) led a multilateral coalition force under the blessing of the UN to liberate Kuwait using “all necessary means”. In January 1991, Operation Desert Storm began with massive air strikes in Iraq and on its troops. Within weeks, coalition forces had crushed the Iraqi army, forcing its hasty retreat from Kuwait. Senior Bush chose not to invade Iraq to remove the strongman Hussein from power despite calls for regime change in Iraq by some of his staffs including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense.[6] Senior Bush’s decision not to go further was in part due to absence of UN mandate for it. He also feared that doing so would unleash a civil war within Iraq, creating unpredictable instability for the region.[7]


The 1991 Gulf War is notable also because it marks a turning point for the US since the Vietnam War which stretched across five administrations lasting from 1959 and 1975. The long duration and high casualty rate inflicted US with the “Vietnam Syndrome” which alludes to the phenomenon that the success of a military campaign depends on public support. Since American’s support on military actions wavers when there is a high level of casualties, political leaders tend to be apprehensive when considering the use of military force.


Unlike the Vietnam War, Gulf War saw few U.S. casualties and the fighting was short. For the first time in decades, the Americans were supportive of the projection of its military power. The success of the Gulf War could be attributed to Powell Doctrine enunciated by Colin Powell, who, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Senior Bush’s administration, helped planned the Gulf War. The doctrine advocates the projection of overwhelming American force—in troops and weaponry—to quickly and decisively defeat the enemy. In the case of the Gulf War, 600,000 troops were mobilized including 200,000 from the international coalition. In the end, the massive air strikes and the overwhelming land forces flushed Iraqi troops out of Kuwait within 100 hours. The successful application of the Powell Doctrine had laid the Vietnam Syndrome to rest. With the newly acquired confidence, Senior Bush envisioned, in his 1991 State of the Union address, a new world order in which the US would “bear a major share of leadership” in keeping the world safe and secure since only the US had “both the moral standing and the means to do so.”


The years in 1990s thus saw US involved in more peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. President Bill Clinton (served 1993 – 2001), for example, committed US forces to keep peace and distribute humanitarian aid in Somalia in 1993 although they were soon withdrawn after 18 soldiers were killed during the infamous Black Hawk Down incident while trying to capture the warlord Aidid. In its aftermath, Clinton chose not to intervene in the massive ethnic conflicts and genocide in Rwanda in 1994. It was not until 1998 when Madeleine Albright, appointed as the Secretary of State by Clinton, in his second term, convinced the president to partake in the NATO bombardment of Serbia to punish the Slobodan Milosevic regime for its gruesome campaign against ethnic Albanians in his province of Kosovo.[8] The successful interventions in Kosovo where no American soldier was killed in combat led to a new confidence in military action.


From Containment of Communism to Containment of China: A New Cold War

With the Cold War over, US self-defined role in maintaining the international order gradually gravitated during the 1990s towards maintaining its status as the sole remaining superpower. At this point, the sight of American leaders began to set on People’s Republic of China, the Asian giant with potentially the capability to pose a future challenge to US’ global leadership. As underlying differences in areas such as human rights, trade and weapons proliferation began to reassert themselves, relationship between the two became increasingly antagonistic. In September 1991, Deng Xiaoping said the conflicts between the two countries constituted “a new cold war”. By 1995, the Chinese government’s press agency reported that Sino-American relationship had reached its lowest point since diplomatic relations were established in 1979. In August 1995, President Jiang Zemin accused the US of plotting to Westernize and ‘divide’ China. By then, among the Chinese leaders and scholars, a broad consensus reportedly existed that the US was trying to “divide China territorially, subvert it politically, contain it strategically and frustrate it economically.”[9] In short, the objective of the US, as perceived by China, had shifted from containment of communism to containment of China.

But the strategy to contain China was never really fully embraced by the successive US administrations until it was too late. China got a break, for example, from Clinton who had vowed to deny China most-favoured nation (MFN) status as a presidential candidate but was subsequently bought over by Senior Bush’s argument that decoupling human rights and trade issues could improve economic conditions in China which would in turn lead to increased respect for human rights. In September 2000, Clinton scored a significant legislative victory when the Senate voted to permanently grant China normal trade status (the term MFN had been changed in hopes of reducing the political symbolism attached to the vote). The vote cleared the way for China to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 11 December, 2001.[M9] 


Up till this point, geopolitical thinkers like Dr Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was also President Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981, still perceived China as unable to challenge the US ideologically, militarily, culturally, and economically.[10]


It was about this time China got its second big break when US was hit by the tragic 9/11 terror attack. The audacity of the attack, played out live in mass media shocked the nation which led to the Bush administration routing US into a series of misadventures in the Middle East. The distractions to the US, however, provided China with the precious space and time to exploit the opportunities afforded by its accession to WTO to build its physical infrastructures, industrialize its economy, and accumulate its financial reserves.

PREVIOUS : 1.2 The Two World Wars & Cold War (Heartland Theory & Rimland Theory)

NEXT : 1.4 The Rise of Neoconservatism




[1] See Hause, Stephen & Maltby, William. (2004). pp. 632

[2] See Hause, Stephen & Maltby, William. (2004). pp. 632

[3] See Hastedt, Glenn. (2004). “European Union” pp. 169.

[4] Oxford 215.

[5] See Hastedt, Glenn. (2004). “European Union” pp. 169.

[6] See Harvey D. (2003). Pg 22

[7] See Kalaitzidis, Akis & Streich, Gregory W. (2011). pp 201.

[8] See Isaacson, Walter. (1999).

[9] See Huntington S.P. (1996) Pg. 223 citing quotes from various sources.

[10] See Brzezinski, Zbigniew. (2001). “The Geostrategic Triad: Living with China, Europe and Russia.”


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