In today’s West, national independence is being challenged in more ways than can be hereby addressed, so let’s focus on the most relevant ones. To begin with, the key lesson from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is that independent nation-states—not supranational institutions nor unwieldy defense pacts—are the last dependable bulwark against imperialistic aggression of Vladimir Putin’s kind. The same was true when COVID-19 first hit Europe: nation-states moved fast whilst the European Commission struggled to articulate its own response.
The immediate challenge in this regard is Europe’s enfeebled defense capability, which is clearly insufficient. When push comes to shove, multilateral organizations are incapable of backing up their heated moralistic rhetoric by arming the Ukrainians enough to defeat Putin’s forces. This points to a larger problem. Rather than a rationalistic approach to solving them, today’s global problems call for a realist, empirical style of governance, one that understands that nations are not moral entities, but agents driven by interests. A new international conservative order is not an option, but a necessity. The liberal one it will replace was hardly an order at all. It was chaotic and vulnerable to the kind of imperialistic aggression we’re witnessing unfold in Ukraine. It was hardly internationally global, but rather regional. And it was hardly liberal, but rather expansionistic and, in doing so, paradoxically illiberal.
The second threat to European nation-states is unchecked, illegal migration. Rapid, large influxes of illegal immigrants will dissolve national identity and form a constituency for greater supranational integration, thus undermining national sovereignty. St. Thomas Aquinas put it best when he wrote that “if foreigners were allowed to meddle with the affairs of a nation as soon as they arrive, many dangers might occur, since the foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might strive for certain goals in opposition to the people.” Note how Aquinas presupposed the existence of the common good, which liberalism assumes away entirely.
Illegal immigration, furthermore, is being weaponized by rogue states to stoke unrest and shift the locus of the victim country’s allegiance. Belarusian strongman Lukashenko, for instance, imported immigrants on tourist visas for months, in the hope of sending them west later on. Morocco has similarly weaponized migration against its neighbor to the north, my home country of Spain. Last year alone, more than 50,000 illegals entered Spain, with over 20 attempts made to climb the barbed wire fence separating the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Moroccan territory.
Then comes energy, a domain where a country’s actions speak louder than any high-minded commitment to reducing emissions or transitioning towards a green economy. Europe’s reliance on Russian oil, gas, and coal is a major source of weakness. That it has taken another bloody war on the European continent for Germany’s establishment–amongst others–to wake up to the need for greater energy independence is too little, too late.
And finally, two instruments of economic warfare worth paying attention to: debt and trade. Two aspects make sovereign debt a risk to national independence: its volume and its ownership. Spain’s debt-to-GDP ratio has reached the 120% mark. With its economic fortunes so tethered to international creditors, can Spain really be considered an independent country? Just as we should take security and defense into our own hands, we should stop borrowing money from actors who don’t have our best interests at heart. China holds $1.1 trillion dollars of U.S. debt, roughly 20% of the country’s total debt stock.
As for trade, China is the largest trading partner of both the EU and the U.S. Conservatives are often derided by classical liberals for embracing elements of a protectionist agenda. But conservatives are not protectionists—they’re just not dumb. With such an enormous share of our trade being conducted with partners that don’t follow the rules of global trade, I am afraid we can either have free markets or free trade—but not both.
International cooperation, in conclusion, should be based on shared values: love of country, respect for sovereignty, and the idea of objective truth. Values that should be protected fiercely and passionately. In this, the Ukrainian people are leading by example. Otherwise, nations would lose their right to exist–their national sovereignty.
Juan Ángel Soto Gómez is Fundación Disenso’s International Director.
This essay is adapted from his remarks at a panel on “Challenges to National Independence” at the National Conservatism Conference in Brussels on March 24, 2022, with Baroness Foster of Oxton DBE (UK House of Lords), Francesco Giubilei (Nazione Futura, Italy) and moderated by Jorge González-Gallarza.