Feb 2nd 2021

The Empires Strike Back at Europe 

by Joschka Fischer

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 until 2005, was a leader in the German Green Party for almost 20 years.

 

BERLIN – Donald Trump’s presidency is now history, which puts renewing the transatlantic relationship back on the European agenda. But there can be no return to the old, cozy dependencies of the Cold War era and the period thereafter, when America – the great protector – decided all important security matters, and Europe followed as a matter of course. To renew transatlanticism, Europe will need to make its own contribution to joint security, especially within its own geopolitical environment.

In its immediate neighborhood, the European Union faces three former global powers that are obsessed with their past imperial glory: Russia, Turkey, and now the United Kingdom. Each has a unique relationship with Europe, currently as well as historically, and all share some commonalities. 

Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia clings longingly to memories of its superpower status, when the Soviet Union was the global equal of the United States. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey dreams of reprising the Ottoman Empire’s geopolitical and cultural expansion from the Balkans and the western edges of Central Asia to the eastern Mediterranean and the North African coast (Libya), all the way down to the Persian Gulf. And, finally, post-Brexit Britain is searching its soul in self-imposed (and not so splendid) isolation, even as it remains close to continental Europeans through NATO and strong cultural and historical ties.

For better or worse, the EU shares the European continent with these three difficult neighbors, and thus must work with each of them to achieve peaceful coexistence. Russia, a nuclear power, is too large and militarily powerful for Europe to manage on its own. Here, the EU will remain dependent on US protection, especially in the face of Russian threats to Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, which were made manifest with the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine.

But Europe’s main challenge lies elsewhere: the eastern Mediterranean, where the discovery of substantial natural gas deposits below the seabed has significantly increased the risk of a conflict between NATO members Turkey and Greece, as well as involving EU member state Cyprus. Moreover, a NATO mission to stop arms smuggling along the Libyan coast recently precipitated a dangerous confrontation between a French frigate and Turkish navy vessels, resulting in a serious diplomatic contretemps.

In fact, there is no shortage of potential flashpoints in the region, owing to competition for natural gas deposits, Turkey’s intervention in the Libyan civil war, the ancient conflict over the Aegean, longstanding demarcation issues, overflight and maritime rights, and the open question of Cyprus. These tensions, which are further aggravated by age-old religious and ethnic rivalries, have created an increasingly dangerous situation on Europe’s doorstep. Insofar as its own interests are concerned, Europe will have to deal with this problem itself.

Under Erdoğan, Turkey has been pursuing expansive “neo-Ottoman” policies for several years now. Though his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government had initially attempted to accelerate integration with the West by moving toward EU accession, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then-French President Jacques Chirac firmly closed the door in its face in 2006.

At the time, the global economic boom gave Erdoğan the impression that Turkey could modernize and then re-emerge as a great power on its own, without recourse to European integration. But Erdoğan completely overestimated his country’s capabilities (and still does).

Domestically, Erdoğan relied on a political alliance with the Islamic Gülen movement until the coup attempt in 2016, whereupon he forged a new pact with extreme nationalists. But the change of allies did not diminish the religious component to Erdoğan’s politics. He has long emphasized pursuing an Islamic path into the modern age, which represents a departure from the secular tradition established by post-Ottoman Turkey’s founder, Kemal Atatürk. This commitment has ineluctably led Erdoğan away from the West and toward the Middle East.

It is now clear that both the EU and Turkey were caught in a trap of their own making: the prospect of EU membership, which will not be on the table in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, no alternative integration mechanisms are on offer. 

But Turkey and the EU cannot simply go their own ways. Europe’s markets, investment capacity, and relations with Turkey’s archrivals Russia and Iran make it indispensable to Turkey; and Turkey’s geopolitical position between Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucasus makes it indispensable to the EU. 

Aside from being the ancestral homeland of large minority populations in Germany, Belgium, and Scandinavia, Turkey will continue to serve an important “bridging function” for refugee migration from Asia to Europe. It is imperative, therefore, that both sides develop peaceful ties outside of EU membership.

To be sure, the fiction of Turkey’s long-suspended EU accession process will need to be upheld for the time being; because it remains to be seen who will succeed Erdoğan, formally ending the process at the current moment would do more harm than good. But as long as Erdoğan is in power, coexistence is the best that can be hoped for.

Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw.

Europe cannot possibly want such an outcome. The “Turkish question” therefore will remain as relevant as ever. 


Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, was a leader of the German Green Party for almost 20 years. 

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2021.
www.project-syndicate.org
 

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."