Saturday, October 21, 2017

The European Far-Right: A Threat Worth Speaking Out Against

Timothy Speace,

Image from, with caption: Za Kowalskim ciągną się zarzuty karne w związku z pobiciem jednego z gości klubu, w którym jest szefem ochrony.

In the 1980s, the grassroots labor union, Solidarity, mobilized tens of thousands of Poles against communism. Poland’s example inspired its neighbors and pointed the way to a successful post-communist political and economic transition in Eastern Europe. Nearly three decades after Solidarity’s victory, Polish politics have taken an alarming turn to the right, away from liberal values. Beyond Warsaw, Europe has seen a stark rise in far-right political influence as governments consolidate power, remove judicial independence, violate or change the constitution, and limit free speech. This trend isn’t merely inconvenient—it’s a direct threat to democracy.

Yet this isn’t just a European problem. The United States has a deep and multi-layered relationship with Europe that is enshrined in a security alliance, robust economic interdependence, and shared norms. Despite these ties, the U.S. lacks a coherent policy in response to the far-right, illiberal policies that threaten our European friends. America cannot be silent when democratic institutions are under attack. Our credibility as leader of the free world is at stake. The United States needs to pursue an active public diplomacy policy against this far-right movement.

Far-right policies that violate law and western norms have direct and indirect negative effects on the European Union (EU) and the transatlantic alliance. By shirking or challenging shared values, far-right governments make consensus harder to attain and even block measures that seek to unite, secure, and advance the European project. Moreover, Russia supports these toxic trends as it seeks to weaken and delegitimize liberal institutions.

An active public diplomacy policy against the far-right underscores the vital role of western values in guiding foreign relations. Since World War II, western institutions guided by the principles of democracy, human rights, and economic interdependence have had profoundly positive results. These ideas have served as the foundation for transatlantic peace and prosperity. These ideas are worth defending. By sending a public message against far-right policies, the U.S. demonstrates its support for the EU and the values that we share.

A powerful message condemning exclusionary policies enhances U.S. credibility and international leadership. Our influence comes not only from our arms and wealth, but our stunning diversity of talented people from every corner of the planet. The principles that established this country live in the Constitution and the spirit of the American people. Actively opposing illiberalism is consistent with the values established at the very birth of the Republic.

Tackling the menace of far-right politics now is an investment in our long-term security. Strong European liberal institutions align with enduring U.S. policies. By addressing disturbing political developments early, America can work to uphold western values and preserve the integrity of the alliance.

This policy costs little more than commitment by our political leaders. We need to ensure that America’s message of freedom and democracy is part of every public address and every bilateral diplomatic agenda. Leveraging State Department relationships with local organizations throughout Europe will make public messaging authentic, inexpensive, and effective.

America must take a principled stand. The power of the American voice must continue to stand for justice, freedom, and democracy. In 1989 Poland’s brave people led Europe away from communism and toward freedom. Today, Poland must return to that same spirit. By rejecting exclusionary and autocratic policies and embracing inclusive and democratic ones, we can strengthen Europe. Together with our European friends we can sustain the continent’s prosperity and peace.

The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent those of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Army.

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