Sunday, April 26, 2015

Grexit, Grimbo, Brexit and Kicking Countries out of International Organizations

The European Union is in trouble. One of its most confrontational and egotistical member states has finally isolated itself so badly inside the euro zone and the EU that the relationship with its fellow member states has been damaged beyond repair. Although it might reasonably be argued, as the Tsipras government does, that the rules of membership in the euro zone are unreasonable and require revision, it is another matter to expect that Greece can continue to remain a member and refuse to abide by the rules. Euro zone membership involves relinquishing a good deal of sovereignty. Greece refuses to accept this, and its unwillingness to accept the price of cooperation is not only a problem for the Greeks, but for the euro zone, and the EU as a whole. Current thinking has moved on from Grexit, in which Greece would either leave the single currency voluntarily (which it won't) or be forced out (for which there is no legal precedent) to Grimbo, in which Greece defaults on debt and membership obligations without leaving the organization.

Europe can escape this trap by developing the equivalent of divorce in international relations. Like divorce,  it should neither bring up the topic nor take action lightly, but divorce for actors who have grown apart is a legitimate and helpful alternative to stalemate and the prospect of never-ending conflict. For all of the negative connotations, and despite the fact that one party often does not want it to happen, divorce opens the door to each of the parties making its own choices, making its own mistakes, and learning its own lessons. Europe can and should discuss whether it should eject a member state from the euro zone, and (apart from the euro zone aspect) from the EU entirely. It should not be only up to one partner to decide whether they want to end the relationship. True self-actualization, for good or for bad, requires the power to choose for oneself. That is as true for an individual state as it is for a group of them that want to pursue something special.

Those who oppose the idea might have two arguments--that there is no legal basis for international divorce, and that the alternative is anarchy, which is far worse than committing the members of an organization to a future of unending conflict. But these arguments are misguided. The power of international organizations to do things is claimed as much as inherited by precedent. Yes, the euro zone ejecting Greece, or the EU ejecting the UK, or the UN ejecting a rogue state breaks with tradition. But tradition does not a good life make, and traditions were once decisions. True power over one's own destiny lies in taking those decisions, in acting to shape one's future.

The argument that international divorce promotes anarchy is also misguided and incomplete. It assumes that the status quo is institutionalized relations between consenting states in the absence of outright coercion. But institutions need to adjust to the realities of those they are designed to serve, or anarchy takes over anyway. The reality of the euro zone are that it increasingly reflects the dominance of one state over the others, based on a particular view of right and wrong, of what the organization and its member states are there to do, and what it takes to be a member in good standing. It also uses international agreements outside the EU to buttress the demands of its most powerful member. Greece disagrees, and continued membership serves no one well. So it will find ways to further undermine the institutional order of the euro zone, as discussions of a new drachma alongside the euro and defiance against EMU budget rules underline. The euro zone, and the EU as a whole will suffer more damage to their integrity and waste more of their respective futures if this happens.