A Europe Whole and Free: A Utopia or, After All, a Future?
A Europe Whole and Free: A Utopia or, After All, a Future?
In the euphoria of the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall long 30 years ago quite a few hopeful predictions were made for restoration of political unity of Europe, for a Europe whole and free, practically as a matter of course. But all those hopes and pan-European enthusiasm, they generated were not to come true.
One has to admit, that European elites have proved themselves unprepared, both politically and intellectually, for the end of the Cold War. Instead of creative decisions, they chose business as usual, that is the status quo and preservation of the patchwork European security architecture in its entirety, without its radical reinvention within the framework of a formal peace settlement which used to bring all wars to end. The fact that the war wasn’t “hot” cannot justify this choice for, as at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, it was about integrating a former adversary into a single regional system, or as in Versailles, its exclusion from such a system of postwar relations.
The double enlargement, i.e. of the NATO and the EU, as well as incomplete, in terms of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, institutionalization of the OSCE (as opposed, for example, to the African Union) have proved to be expressions of so short-sighted a policy. Russia has been invited to neither of them. In the case of NATO for the reason of her presumed capacity to challenge the American leadership which is a fundamental principle of the Alliance’s operation. As regards the EU, the references were made to Russia’s huge territory and lack of enthusiasm on sharing border with China. It was admitted, however, that such hedging against assumed return of an «aggressive Russia” could turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy to quote President Clinton who spoke at the NATO summit in Brussels in January, 1994.
So, the alienation between Russia and the West is what did happen in the final count. What is more, it was supposed to serve as basis of unity of the preserved Western alliance in its military and political and trade and economic dimensions. The politics of exclusion, if not disguised containment but by different means, couldn’t help producing its “fruits de mal”. On the one hand, it inevitably distorted Russia’s domestic development and made Moscow hedge in her turn in matters of foreign policy. On the other hand, anti-Russian politics, which in essence was anti-European, as is obvious now, distorted foreign policy priorities of the Western countries, where they couldn’t do without Russia, be it in European affairs proper or in the Middle East. And now Moscow is accused of interference in domestic politics of the US and Europe, which seems to be the way to deny the immanent nature of the current crisis of western societies, and equally, the right to vote to their electorate. Instead of a win-win situation we are facing a situation where every party loses in its own way and various degrees of obviousness and gravity of consequences.
It would be a much greater sin against European secular culture of rationalism to continue on that road, i.e. to wait for a “Russian aggression” five years after the Ukrainian crisis struck etc, instead of engaging collectively, with Russia, in fundamental reassessment of the situation that has undergone a fundamental change. Since both Russia and the West are in the midst of a crisis of development, it would be wise to have a joint analysis of the developmental experience in the Euro-Atlantic over the past 100 years. The enlargement of NATO and EU, thus, wouldn’t look like a “poisoned chalice” of the Russian transformation. The things that might fall in that category include the trap of consensus in both bodies; the paradox of the feeling of insecurity, say, in the indefensible militarily Baltic States, as a function of the temptation to undermine NATO’s credibility ascribed to Moscow; or differences of values within the EU as a result of the thawing of the elements of Eastern European’s consciousness, frozen by the Cold War and, thus, not entirely overcome.
In that case all talk of who lost whom and why would lose its relevance, and we could concentrate upon a positive, future-oriented agenda. One cannot deny that all the misunderstandings of European politics in the past 30 years (I am tempted to say a politics of neo-Versailles type) testify to the fact that the transfer of the security system that took shape in another era and lost its raison d’etre with the dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty Organization and the collapse of the USSR, to the Twenty-First Century is fundamentally flawed. Should we be surprised if our continent together with the institutions has inherited their policies, including that of containment of not only Russia but Germany as well, as has become obvious under the Trump Administration? It is no accident that Richard Haass writes in the Foreign Affairs magazine on the Vienna vs. Versailles dilemma. Zbigniew Brzezinski in 2012 in his “Strategic Vision” wrote of the need “in the age of historical acceleration” for a “larger and more vital West” through closer embrace of Russia and Turkey. That is to say that the problem of vitality and sustainability of the Historical West and its present composition in the qualitatively new global competitive environment is not at all new.
It can be approached in various ways. As the past experience shows, the option of Russia joining the West, as if it were a matter of signing up for a kolkhoz in the Soviet Union, is a non-starter, all the more so that the collectivization commissar this time doesn’t have a gun on his table as a convincing argument (given the successful modernization of the Armed Forces that Russia had to undertake). It doesn’t matter how we call it, but at their press-conference in Bregancon President Putin spoke of the territory east of the Urals as a space of European culture (as is North America west of Lisbon), and President Macron uttered the seditious “Europe is not limited to the West”.
Ivan Krastev wrote recently in the “Russia in Global Affairs” magazine of similarities of the problems of Russia and the Western nations, sort of convergence between us at the level of problems in societal development. Fedor Tyutchev, who spent 20 years in Europe and whom, as Leo Tolstoy put it, “one cannot live without”, gave the following definition to the problem of separate existence of the West and Russia: “By the very fact of her existence Russia denies the West its future”. If the year of 1989 had its roots in the year of 1968 in Western Europe, then would it be right to say that the current crisis of the West could be traced to the year of 1991? Martin Wolf of the Financial Times writes in his blog: “The disappearance of the Soviet Union left a big hole”. Do we all need to fall into it together with Lewis Carroll’s Alice, or have we, indeed, have fallen into that hole and now is the time to get out of it?
Is it high time that we restore the political unity of Europe on the basis of pragmatism? It is for the Americans to decide whether they have overstayed their welcome in our continent, having turned the NATO into a business venture and closing down globalization in order to get in competitive shape at everybody else’s expense, and thus, ensure that they have an edge over others in a world of technological containment of China, a world with no universal rules, including those of the WTO, that apply to all. And then what are the ideological prejudices of the past worth, the ones annihilated completely by the Left political thought represented by the postmodernists? The latter’s categories perfectly describe the reality of the post-Cold War world falling apart. The future of the European integration depends entirely upon the EU member-states, but Russia’s potential of development could provide space for trade and economic “enlargement” of European countries under any circumstances, helping to prevent Weimarization of any part of a Europe already in a post-war mood.
Russia was on the right side of history in both world wars, when liberty in its most universal, existential sense was at stake, and no ideological differences could interfere with that in the former and the latter instances. Now that the US and Britain with their societies’ high threshold of tolerance for inequality, are resolutely choosing neoliberal economics, it is the future of the social state, paid for in blood in those wars, that is at stake in Europe. Russia ought to be on the side of this “contrat social” which guarantees peace in our continent and represents a mode of peaceful coexistence between capitalism and democracy according to Jurgen Habermas. We could, inter alia, in the spirit of constructive internationalism and by way of networking diplomacy and development pacts, jointly manage common risks, including climate change and transformation in the Middle East, where the Americans are leaving slow but steady. In that case Europe could guarantee itself strong positions, well in line with its values and traditions, in a globalised world of interdependence and cultural diversity, where development of all would ensure development of each nation.
France convened the Paris Peace Forum last year to mark the end of World War One. So far its results do not impress. Maybe, we could begin with an OSCE summit which has not been held ever since 2010? Holding any inclusive forum similar to the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, would hugely contribute to putting in motion a process of taking European politics out of the past and drawing a line under it, at last. There is no need to start from scratch and try to apportion blame: it suffices that everybody is at fault. However, we’ll have to revisit the ground zero, i.e. the fall of the Berlin Wall and our expectations at the time. It is important to understand what went badly wrong in Europe and what avenues were closed or have been left unexplored – without that we won’t be able to reinvent the architecture of the EU-Russia relationship.
Author of the article: Alexander Kramarenko, RIAC Director of Development
The original article was published on the RIAC website