Europe and its contribution to European and global security
The Cuban „Centro de Investigacion sober Politica Internacional“ (which is attached to a small University which is itself in close contact to the Cuban foreign ministry) has recently organized an international conference in Havana. The subject was the „geopolitical transformation between cooperation and conflict“. Peter Stania and myself representing the Vienna International Institute for Peace (IIP) were invited to actively participate. I was given the task to speak primarily on the role of Europe and specifically of Central Europe in that context. In the following you find a summary of my talk. A more extensive report on my visits to Mexico and Cuba will follow in due time.
1. What is Europe? Who is Europe? Historical roots.
Europe in the form of the European Union is a „work in progress“. It is still very diverse and in construction with many deficiencies which every unfinished house has. And as the builders and owners of that house have different, partly antagonistic histories but also diverse ideas of its future appearance, this common house is not as perfect as many of us would like it to be. The European Union is the result of many efforts to overcome all the wars European countries were engaged inside Europe and on a global level against each other or against other countries. With all deficiencies it is a great success to have come so far, in view of the dreadful and bloody history of this continent.
Certainly security interests are at the core of EU’s policies and that is especially true for Central European countries which were sometimes active parts but often victims of wars between great powers. But there is no one specific Central European interest and policy. And also the official political lines do not always coincide with public opinion.
Especially there is no unique relationship with Russia. The different experiences of these countries with Russia as one European hegemon define also partly the different countries attitude to several regional and global security issues. In this sense you see also NATO members who have different attitudes and approaches to Russia: the positions of Poland on the one side and Hungary on the other side (but also Slovakia) cannot be more diverse. Depending on the forthcoming elections in Poland, maybe there may be a common positive attitude towards an authoritarian, „anti liberal“ governance (and in that sense both countries would be close to the style of Putin) but there hardly could be a common attitude towards Russia‘ s policy for example concerning developments in Ukraine. And also the rather pro-Russian position you find in Bulgaria (at least in political circles) is in strong contrast to the feelings and approaches in Bulgaria’s neighbor Romania. Many different dividing lines go through Europe.
2. Different historical experience and and geo-political ties inside the EU
Belonging to the European Union inevitably brings all these countries with the different historically based relationships and conflicts under one roof. The colonial past of some countries affects also countries which were free from being colonial masters. And conflicts and tensions with „our“ big neighbor Russia – including in the form of the Sovietunion – is affecting countries which were for a long time allies of Russia including during World War I and II. And of course NATO membership is also influencing the approach to different regional and European crises. But no factor alone is determining the position of the different European and even Central European countries and Europe as a whole. You have different visions between different NATO members, between countries who have been dominated by the Sovietunion and countries which were colonial powers. To look at them as one unity is many cases wrong. It is the task of the EU to bring diverse opinions and attitudes to one common – not totally unified – foreign and security policy, but is a difficult process.
Austria as a neutral country, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland, all of them NATO member, to name a few, all of them have different approaches. And that is also true for Germany – who after having inhaled Austria was as Nazi-Germany the aggressor against Russia and other countries, starting the World War II – is today in alliance with France in order to mediate between Ukraine and Russia to end first of all the killings and secondly to try to find some sort of solution for a difficult dispute about territory but also about future alliances and dependencies in the common neighborhood of Russia and the EU. And there is a big task to find a common attitude towards the idea and implementation of a stable system of peace and security in Europe.
That such a comprehensive system is missing is the result of a fatal mistake after 1989/1990. NATO enlargement could not and cannot substitute an inclusive system which would give all European countries a chance to contribute to peace and security in Europe and beyond especially in the different Eastern and Southern neighborhoods. The chance to do that has been missed after the downfall of the Iron Curtain. For the moment it is difficult to come back to that task in view of the Ukraine dispute, but nevertheless it should and must be tried again. Especially in view of the very difficult neighborhood, full of potential and actual conflicts, Europe should try to find internal strength and specific European solutions for peace and cooperation throughout the continent.
But in this context it must be clear that Europe never will develop its foreign and security policy without a strong alliance to the US. Especially the military intervention by the US forces to free Europe from the horrible Nazi regime starting the World War II and committing unbelievable atrocities is a reason of strong emotional and political ties with the US. In the case of the intervention into World War II the US has been on the side of freedom and progress. For many countries also the strong position against Soviet dictatorship and domination is an additional reason. Even if the motivations of the US have been also selfish, this does not change the basic orientation towards the US by many Europeans, alas with different strength.
There is also another side of US interventionism. Especially in Latin America from Cuba to Nicaragua to Chile there are many unjustified interventions and regime change efforts which have no excuse. Understandably for many Latin Americans this aggressive side of US policy is dominating the picture, in many European countries it is the European experience which is determining the foreign policy approaches.
And even today, when Europe has to deal with the consequences of direct and indirect US military actions in the Middle East Europe is only partly blaming the US for the growing migration flows. Partly because some EU countries participated in the „coalition of the willing“ and partly because some media do not speak about the root causes outside the region but only about the responsibility of the different regimes in the Middle East and North Africa.
3. Europe’s fragile environment
But the fact is, Europe has a very fragile environment full of crises. Besides the Eastern neighborhood it is is basically the Middle East and Northern Africa. Old colonial structures and dependencies are mixing with new conflicts. And we can find an amalgam of policies to safeguard important energy resources and supply flows with serious concerns about human rights and democracy. Military interventions have different reasons, backgrounds and publicly expressed motives. But as we can see today, all these interventions deteriorated the situations for the people of that region instead of improving it, as was promised in the different justification for military interventions.
Most of these interventions were initiated and implemented by the US but also by some European countries. For the former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld it was a coalition of the willing, and the European willing participants formed – according to him – the New Europe. And the Neo-Cons of the Bush administration were hoping these allies would dominate the EU’s policies in future. In the mean time many of these New Europeans, including some Central Europeans, feel sorry about their participation and in addition do not want to take refugees from countries they were intervening in. And it is strange that primarily countries who were refraining from military intervention into Iraq and openly criticizing this aggression, like Germany, Sweden and Austria, are taking refugees and are sticking to the rules and fundamental human rights of asylum policy.
4. Inequality, poverty and terrorism
One of the major security risk is definitely the spread of terrorist activities by non-state actors not only in the Southern neighborhood but beyond. Inequality, poverty, lack of development are some of the main reasons why people are ready to accept or even join terrorist groups. Religious extremism is another source, very often connected with underdevelopment. There is never a single reason, but fighting against extreme inequalities on a national and global level is in any way more successful than bombs.
A global peace policy without attacking poverty and the – often rising – inequalities is not possible. And environmental degradation due also to climate change will add to the existing inequalities. Migration will consequently not only remain on present level but could easily increase – with new divisions and crisis or even wars. New weapons or building walls and new fences similar to the infamous Iron Curtain will not help.
5. Confrontation or cooperation
In today’s world it is not difficult to start conflicts and wars. But it is very difficult to stop them. At least in Europe the citizens are less and less ready to go for war. And also in the US the readiness for military interventions especially with soldiers on the ground is decreasing. And that is good so. Neither the Ukraine conflict nor the different Middle East conflicts can be solved by weapons. The use of force cannot be always avoided against state aggression or against terrorists, but the use of this instrument of last resort cannot be the prime method to solve conflicts and bring peace to the relevant regions. So we should be very cautious to support different parties in conflicts, it is much better to mediate and to try to find compromises and cooperation and insist on its implementation. How many lifes in Ukraine could have been saved, if the agreement between the Maidan movement and the former president Janukovich could have been kept alive and implemented.
The New Europe in the form of the European Union is built on the basis of cooperation and negotiations at the table. Of course there exist still different interests, but they do not lead to bloody conflicts or wars. Certainly one cannot transfer such a policy easily to the global level. Not everybody has this approach and there are many interests in conflict. Especially the big players US, China and Russia but also India and other BRICS countries want recognition of their interests. And big countries always want to dominate their neighborhood as a zone of influence and want other countries to respect this. This is not only true for the Monroe doctrine and the horrible Cuba isolation and embargo policy of the US. It was true for the Soviet Union and is true for Russia today using of course different means and methods for representing its interest as was the case with the Soviet Union. And it is true for China if you look to its policy in the South Asian See.
Only cooperation between the neighbors of these hegemons and in alliance with other countries including other hegemons this policy of efforts to dominate the neighborhood can be softened and balanced. In that respect the principal positive attitude of Cuba towards Russia is understandable. But Russian policy has also another face and can be seen more critically from a European perspective. But seeing a policy critically does not mean to reject it outright and to refrain from dialogue and respect for principle security interests of the „other“ side. Peace can only be reached by acknowledging and respecting the basic interests of those whom one does not agree in all policies. And it is always useful to look to one own’s mistake, failures and missed opportunities, from Middle East to Ukraine.
In addition we should recognize, that struggles for liberation and independence did not only take place against European colonial powers, US domination but also against domination by the then Soviet Union and even against today’s Russia‘ s efforts to keep autocratic and corrupt regimes in power. And the efforts of honest citizens for democratic change does not (and did not in the case of Ukraine) prevent outside forces and internal undemocratic nationalistic and partly neo-fascist movements to use the will for change of citizens for their purposes. It was a big mistake that the democratic forces of the Ukrainian Maidan movement did not draw a clear line between them and some adventurous nationalistic right wing forces. This gave their opponents the possibility to discredit the whole Maidan movement as a fascist undertaking.
If one wants to fight for a progressive, democratic and peaceful world one must analyze all different reasons and shades of grey and not only look for the white and the black. Countries and their policies are normally not always white or black. If Europe – or any other region or country – wants to develop an effective foreign and security policy it has to refrain from simple black or white differentiations and policies. In this respect Europe must – irrespective of its traditional alliance to the US – recognize that some US policies are rather dark gray to black and not white. Europe must challenge some of the US policies and strategies.
Europe must not be the poodle of the Americans as Tony Blair was once called. To have a critical opinion of it’s own toward as the US would also help the US to save life of many people including that of their own soldiers by not using military force. Not to intervene against some dictators does not mean to justify and support them. But it would mean to refrain from deteriorating the living conditions of many citizens and to prevent wars and the rise of terrorism as was the case after many recent interventions. There are mostly much more sophisticated and peaceful ways to support the process of democratic development and fight for the respect of fundamental human rights including social rights. Because social rights are often „forgotten“ when the US or Europe speaks about human rights.
The traditional links between the US and Europe cannot be forgotten but they should be used more constructively and in helping the US to analyze their own policies more critically. President Obama did some steps in that direction. And even these cautious steps are infuriating the right wing Republicans. But Europe must send clear messages to the US, that it is at least not willing to accept any way back towards its old policies may it be towards Iran or Cuba.