EUROPE BETWEEN THE NATO'S HAMMER AND THE RUSSIAN ANVIL

Auteur: 
Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 
18/6/2018

Foreword

The new world order arising from the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the consequent disappearance of the bypolar system have upset the balance of power which previously created its own form of stability.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the world has become unreliable, unpredictable and dangerous owing also to regional crises caused by ethnic, social and religious factors.

But none of the existing organizations nor any nation acting alone will be able to deal with such a situation: what is badly needed is global governance able to cope with future challenges and threats. Such a task should necessarily be on the supranational level and coordinated with the United Nations.

In this context the challenge for the Western world to survive and have its say in the future is its capability to manage the global power transition, to stimulate its citizens with fresh motivations, to cope with the volatile international situation and create a zone of common interests and shared responsibilities: a zone not directed against anyone, but open to all who share Western values expressed by human rights, freedom, rule of law, good governance, peace and stability.

Let's now have a look at the players we are taking into account , namely: Europe, Russia and NATO with its main shareholder, the United States.

The European Union (EU)

Let's start with Europe. There is the myth of Europa. Europa was a phoenician princess, daughter of the king of Phoenicia, corresponding to current Lebanon.

According to Greek mythology, Zeus, the King of the gods, saw Europa by the sea and fell in love with her. Zeus transformed himself into a white bull and appeared in the seashore where Europa was playing with her maidens. Europa dared to climb upon his back but, suddenly, the bull rushed to the sea taking Europa to the Mediterranean island of Crete .

Only then the bull revealed its true identity and made Europa his lover . Europa had by Zeus three sons: one of them, Minos will become king of Crete and will create the first European civilized culture.

Meanwhile Cadmus, one of Europa's brothers, searching for Europa went in the continental Greece where he founded the city of Thebes, bringing there from Phoenicia the alphabet and the arts. The myth represents a movement of civilization from East to West and the name Europa given to the western territories reflects this relocation. The etimology of the word Europa has infact a phoenician origin meaning West.

Let's now switch from myth to reality. What is Europe today?

The European Union, a global economic and trade giant , regretfully is not a global political player . In fact, despite its aspirations to being a worldwide strategic player, the EU is considered only a start-up enterprise since its foreign policy is unable to move from the tactical to the strategic level.

The EU has currently to deal with conflicts at its borders, in Middle East and North Africa. Meanwhile, other geographical blocks tend to use their influence to destabilize Europe, so lack of leadership and military weakness could turn to be a major problem.

In the 2016 “White paper on the future of Europe”, the European Commission proposed five scenarios for the future. The options laid out range from business as usual, to a multi-speed Europe. Later on, in December 2017, 25 EU members states signed the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) on security and defense cooperation.

Europe must surely become more federal, but it will require a strong government to make it work. Federalism is the only way forward. “More Europe” is the best solution to crises and to build up the European identity.

But to improve EU performances all concerned have to roll up their sleeves and design the structure of the future EU political governance: and this is an urgent task.

Europe badly needs to remain united at a time when the BRICS, with China and India in the lead, are increasing their presence worldwide and could take advantage of a split, irrelevant and insecure Europe.

Europeans must understand how much weight the EU has as a block. We still think in terms of the nation states and complain how small we are compared to heavy-weights like USA, China, India and how much more powerful we were a century ago.

But, seen as a block, the EU is on par with these heavyweights, and there is no reason why we could not compete on equal terms with them.

Lack of understanding for this reality has led to a defeatist culture where Europeans do not follow “big dreams” anymore and try to “keep what they have” instead.

Various European policymakers and analysts have likened the European integration project to a bicycle, which must keep going forward to avoid falling over. What will be actually done to keep it going depends on the political will of the biggest EU member states by realizing that while the way back to the nation-state is closed off, the existing status quo is also unsustainable.

Russia

During the cold war, Kremlinology was the word used to describe efforts to determine the true intentions of the Soviet leadership. That discipline has now been replaced by “Putinology”.

Putin is maintaining that the US is trying to reorganize the world according to its own interests. Putin said Washington is responsible for the rise of Islamist terrorism as well as the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Whereas the US cavalry intervenes around the world, Washington reproaches Russia for doing exactly that in Ukraine. Putin, stressing the US double standard, quoted Terentius, a Roman scholar and writer: “Quod licet Iovi not licet bovi” , “What Jupiter is allowed, the Ox is not.”

Since 1999 Putin is determined to get Russia back up on the superpower stage together with the US. Putin increased Russian military capabilities and, enraged by the NATO intervention in Libya, responded by increasing pressure against the US and threatening to retaliate militarily if the US attacked Iran or Syria.

Surely the Russia intervention in Syria has changed the military and diplomatic dynamic in the crisis and highlighted the deficiencies in Washington approach, while stressing the leadership of Putin who, less constrained by bureaucracy than were his predecessors, has introduced a degree of personal rule.

The United States (US)

The United States appears to have difficulties with designing and implementing a foreign policy that can cope with the current international situation.

The US is trying to maintain order at the regional and global level, a role that Trump, with his “America First” campaign, has often questioned.

The US will likely remain the most powerful country in the world for some time, as no other country or group of countries has either the capacity or the mindset to build a global order. But Washington has sometimes appeared equivocal about using the variety of levers of power still available.

The US is now pivoting towards Asia and the Pacific but to what extent is it really downplaying its role in Europe and the Middle East?

The US has surely to be careful of sudden or sharp departures in what it does in the world. Consistency and reliability are essential requirements for a great power. If America comes to be doubted, it will inevitably give rise to a still more chaotic world. Disarray at home would be linked to disarray in the world and the two together would be nothing short of toxic.

NATO

There was a time when it was legitimate to wonder what NATO’s future role would be. Not anymore. Is the Atlantic Alliance facing too many missions? Russia and terrorism are not the only problems: there is unfinished business in the Balkans, in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the migration challenge.

NATO has entered the fourth phase of its history. The first was the Cold War; the second, peace enforcement in the Balkans; the third was the long and painful experience of Afghanistan; the fourth has seen NATO mobilised simultaneously 'in the East' and 'in the South'.

NATO's approach has moved away from strictly geopolitical towards wider interpretations of security. But is NATO a coherent alliance at present or is it, instead, a collection of states dependent on the US for security guarantees?

As for Americans, who often have limited awarewness of other countries, their histories and their cultures, they should remember that Russia has been repeatedly invaded again and again over the centuries. From the East. From the West. From the North. From the South. Russians may be paranoid, but their paranoia has a historical basis.

EU and NATO

From the start, the Europeans wanted NATO to serve as the mechanism for approving and overseeing military operations. They wanted a decisive voice in how NATO members, including the United States, applied their military power.

However, European forces were so small that in most cases their participation was little more than symbolic. So, NATO became less and less a factor in the US decision-making.

The Europeans celebrated a concept called soft power, which involves the resort to dialogue, mediation and other strategies that avoid military action. But their embracing soft power was simply a way to evade reality. And soon the Europeans discovered that soft power was… soft and that they needed hard power to shape events.

EU and Russia

According to Russia, Europe has thrown states in the post-Soviet space into a strict dilemma: the West or the East (with us or against us). Such pressure was sufficient for the fragile internal political situation in Ukraine to provoke a large-scale crisis of national identity in this country.

Ukraine is the last barrier able to physically and geographically separate Russia from Europe and NATO. The possible transition of Ukraine in the “Western Orbit” would surely intensify Russia's “encirclement syndrome”.

Putin appears prepared to promote Russian interests in his neighborhood economically, politically and, if necessary, militarily. The West doesn't have much to offer in response, and it is completely unwilling to go to war for Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova. In fact, within the EU the interests of the Member States are diverging: taking a tough stance against Russia is generally less important to Southern Europeans than it is to Eastern Europeans.

The problem is that whereas in the past the Russians considered themselves European, they now realize that they are considered a distinct civilization subject to concerted Western efforts to neutralize it. The birthplace of their Orthodox Christianity is Crimea, their ancient capital is Kiev, with Moscow being the “Third Rome” (after Rome and Constantinople).

EU, Russia, US and NATO

The West quite too often forgets that the reunification of Germany was achieved thanks to the “gentlemen agreement” between Bush and Gorbachev. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous assurance “not one inch eastward” about NATO expansion was part of a cascade of assurances given to Gorbachev throughout the process of German unification. Last December the National Security Archive at the George Washington University released American, Soviet, German, British and French declassified documents envisaging that NATO and the EU would never be bordering Russia's territory.

After losing the Cold War, Putin has seen NATO and the EU incorporate

all of Eastern Europe and three former republics of the USSR. The Baltic states’ membership in NATO has meant to Russia that NATO is now only 100 miles from Saint Petersburg, Russia second most important city. And Russia is now witnessing a further attempt to bring three more former Soviet republics – Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine – into NATO and, consequently, into the EU. 

The US quite too often forgets that it entered World War I following the German proposal to Mexico to ally itself with Germany. And what if Russia were to propose today a similar agreement to Mexico, Cuba, and most of South America? So, why Putin should see NATO's eastward march as an extended “hand of partnership”.

According to the Russian standpoint NATO, after the USSR collapse, is practically a US-led intervention force which has expanded eastwards to the Russian border. Its new mission is to control the world and the global energy system.

Over the last twenty years the US targeted countries close to Russia, including Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Syria. In Yugoslavia it was the US to fire nationalism and sponsor separatists in order to break up the country: what has done in Ukraine.

According to Russia, Washington is particularly angry that Putin has opposed the US plans for regime change in Syria so as to break the alliance between Syria, Hezbollah and Iran.

Ukraine is where the US neocons seek revenge through the US sponsored regime change in Kiev and the sanctioning of Russia. Getting tough with Putin and demonizing him has finally become the official policy of US and, consequently, of the EU.

According to Russia, the neocon plans is for Russian economy to be weakened by sanctions, which they hope will lead to reduce support to Putin, destabilize the country and bring about a regime change in Moscow. Having a compliant Kremlin will make available Russia's huge natural resources and will get rid of President Assad, a prerequisite before an attack on Iran.

Considerations

It is hard to imagine a period since the end of the Cold War when relations between Russia and the US have been quite so bad.

For some time Russia retreated from the world stage, but now it is back, eager to consolidate its position nearer home and to restore something of its former global role.

But the initial fault lies with the West. The relationship went wrong when the West did not treat Russia as a nation that had shaken off Soviet Communism but instead regarded it as only the successor state of the USSR.

This original sin was compounded by the West's enthusiasm for NATO expansion. Is it any wonder then that Moscow should oppose also the idea of Georgia, Moldova or Ukraine entering the Western orbit?

In short, Russia believes that it has been treated unfairly since the end of the Cold War. This, of course, is not the conventional view in the West, which prefers to focus on Putin “revanchism”.

In any case the West did not pay sufficient attention to building the right strategic relationship with Russia.

If there were a clear understanding between Washington and Moscow, then solving regional problems like Syria or Ukraine or North Korea would be easier.

What is needed is a strategic understanding between Russia and the US about how to provide for stability in the world.

Unfortunately Russia has no illusion that Europe is capable of an independent foreign policy. Putin has publicly stated that diplomacy with Europe is pointless because European politicians are not representing the EU interests.

Henry Kissinger once asked “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” Jacques Delors, twice president of the European Commission, along the lines of UFO, has often termed the EU an UPO, an “Unidentified Political Object”.

More recently Giuliano Amato, twice Italian Prime Minister , defined the EU an “Ermaphrodite”, an hybrid entity that should necessarily evolve in the direction of a federal state.

While the Russian Military Doctrine states that the US and NATO constitute a major military threat to the existence of Russia as a sovereign independent country, the US is opposing a divided Ukraine.

But the US would have reacted badly had Moscow helped overthrow a Washington-friendly government in Mexico. Ukraine will matter much more to Russia than to the US, just as Mexico will always matter much more to Washington than to Moscow. Putin is defending what he considers Russian interests, not to challenge the US security.

It might shock some Americans, but not everything that happens in the world is about the US. Moscow's perspective on Ukraine is about Russia and not a serious security threat for the US.

Russia is not the Soviet Union and Moscow wants respect and border security. The US has no reason to deny the first or challenge the second. Yet from expansion of NATO to dismemberment of Serbia to treatment of Georgia and Ukraine as allies, the US and the EU have increased Russia insecurity.

Conclusions

There are very few Russia experts in the United States. Thus, Americans have no way to obtain accurate information about Russia and understand what drives its actions.

As for the EU, Russia will hopefully continue to remain open for dialogue. There is no viable alternative to mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and the EU which are closely intertwined by geographic, economic, historical and human ties. Russia and the EU must be ready to seek compromises, but only on the basis of equality , excluding any attempts of blackmail and diktat.

As for the US, it will have no choice but to cooperate with Russia, or at least seek its consent to pursue its interests in Eurasia. Whether for reasons of geography, politics, or economics, the US will need to get Russia on board to be able to respond to natural disasters, humanitarian crises, regional conflicts, or other unforeseen events.

There must be an accomodation of interests globally and regionally, meaning that areas of contestation will gradually have to turn into areas of accomodation through whatever possible political, security and economic arrangement.

The question about the future is not whether it will be defined by competition – because it will be – but whether competition will be managed. Today's global powers are more and more integrated economically and more aware of the costs of conflict and are therefore unlikely to march blindly into war.

Critical to performing “polar” functions is exclusive control over each pole's neighbourhood and shared control over regions where the great powers' influence is more balanced. This explains why Russia sees competition with the US in the former Soviet space as a zero-sum game, while the Middle East or other theaters are less critical to its security and therefore considered areas of potential accomodation. 

Russia is therefore opposing an elitist US hegemonic design of which Russia is just an appendix. Russia is in fact denouncing the rhetorical cloak in which America wraps its hegemonic designs by applying double standards, whereby international rules are invoked selectively depending on whether they adapt to US interests.

As for the EU, its members must realize that in our complex and conflictual world, size matters, and that on their own even the largest EU countries are just small fish in a big pond inhabited by whales like the United States, China and India.

Only together can the EU members protect and promote their interests and values on the world stage. And this does not require the annihilation of distinct voices but a commander in chief and an orchestra director who sets the agenda, harnesses consensus and coordinates the initiatives.

As for Ukraine, a compromise is the best outcome achievable through: the end to military actions, a peace agreement policed by outside observers, a federal system with a very high degree of autonomy, commercial relations with all countries, military relations with no one else, particularly NATO. Ukraine could thus become a true bridge between East and West.

Bottom line: the US needs foreign-policy leadership willing to set priorities, able to distinguish between vital and minor interests and willing to acknowledge the US limitations.

The EU must help the US to avoid schizophrenic, contradictory initiatives by considering pros and cons and warning about collateral effects or damages. The EU, thanks to its millenium-old historical, cultural and civilizational legacy, is surely in the position to act as a tutor, as a mentor to a younger and less experienced America.

As for Russia, Europe needs Russia more than vice versa. The question is whether the other side hasn't already bolted the door.

While the public opinion in Western Europe opposes military action against Russia, we should also try to see the world from Russia' point of view and the EU could help a lot in this regard by putting Americans in Russians' shoes.

As for Putin, he could just consolidate his gains and wait for US initiatives or mistakes to exploit. He does not need to push harder: if successful he could go down as Russia's Bismarck.

Putin, having a long term program, is not playing checkers but chess. And President Trump, notwithstanding the neo-con pressure, should avoid failures in foreign policy by ruling out any possible and dangerous military confrontation.

Europe, Russia and America must therefore cooperate, by design or by default, by choice or by necessity, and agree on how to proceed in identifying a future world order where they have to play a key role so as to increase global governance and security.

An example to follow could be the ongoing effective cooperation existing between ESA, ROSCOSMOS and NASA in the International Space Station.

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