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European Solidarity Under Stress

On a recent day this month, a total of eight asylum-seekers arrived in Hungary. On other days, too, the figure has remained at 10 or lower. That’s a dramatic drop for a country that received nearly 33,000 asylum applications during the second quarter of this year, and in September sometimes received 10,000 asylum-seekers per day.

What has changed? A fence has been built.

As far as Hungary is concerned, it did what was necessary for an EU member state with an external border, and it does not appreciate being told by assorted Western European fellow EU member states that it was an illiberal act. Indeed, recent events in Europe raise the question of how much sovereignty a country belonging to multiple alliances has. Sweden is struggling to cope with the 190,000 asylum-seekers projected to arrive this year, while Germany is struggling to cope with an expected 1.5 million. Sweden has also asked its EU allies to take 54,000 of those 190,000. But allies though they may be, EU member states can’t be forced to fully share Sweden and Germany’s burden.

That’s because international alliances are based on solidarity. What would happen if, say, Estonia was invaded and the United States decided that it didn’t want to risk any of its soldiers, or spend any of its money, defending it? Not much, because there is no international supreme body that can command countries to assist their allies. At a recent meeting of the Transatlantic Renewal Project sponsored by the World Affairs Institute (the publisher of this website) and co-hosted by Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital city of Vilnius, numerous participants asked for a larger American presence in the Baltic states, but were reminded by US Ambassador Deborah McCarthy that the United States, while committed to NATO, has assorted other obligations around the world, including cyber defense.

It’s increasingly clear that even the best alliances are ineffective without solidarity of purpose, commitment, and action. The sticky part, of course, is what the solidarity is supposed to achieve. 

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