Nov 7th 2015

The Return of Geopolitics to 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.


"In practical terms, China’s Silk Road project will create a strategic alternative to Western transatlantic structures, with Russia either accepting a role as a permanent junior partner or risking serious conflict with China in Central Asia. But the choice of an Eastern or Western orientation is not in Europe’s interest. On the contrary, such a choice would tear Europe apart both politically and economically. Europe, which is most closely tied to America in normative and economic terms, needs the transatlantic security guarantee."

BERLIN – With Russia’s military invasion and annexation of Crimea, and the subsequent war in eastern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has made it abundantly clear that he has no intention of respecting the inviolability of borders and the primacy of international legal norms. It is time for Europeans to end their wishful thinking of a continental order determined by the rule of law. The world, unfortunately, isn’t like that. It is much harder, and power rules.

Russia’s military intervention in Syria and Europe’s refugee crisis underscore this point. Europe must recognize that if it doesn’t take care of its geopolitical interests, sooner or later crises in its neighboring regions will arrive on its doorstep.

Unlike the United States, Europe is not a continental island insulated by oceans. It is the western end of the giant Eurasian land mass. Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa are its direct neighbors, and this unstable neighborhood poses the greatest security risks to Europe in the twenty-first century.

How should Europe deal with a Russia that is again pursuing great-power politics and making almost the same mistakes as the Soviet Union, which similarly relied on authoritarianism to try to reconcile the ambitions of a military superpower with the reality of a moderately developed and scarcely modernized economy?

Russia is Europe’s neighbor, which means a modus vivendi is essential. At the same time, Russia’s geopolitical ambitions makes it a continual threat to Europe’s security. For that reason, a strong transatlantic relationship remains indispensable for Europe, as is the revival of its own deterrence capabilities.

In the short term, the relationship with Russia will probably be dominated by efforts to end the war in eastern Ukraine, safeguard NATO territory in the east, and prevent the crisis from expanding toward the southwest and the Balkans. Beyond the current crisis, however, a much more fundamental strategic challenge is emerging.

Europe is currently pursuing a policy vis-à-vis China – the emerging world power of the twenty-first century – that is based on an unrealistic and inconsistent mix of concern for human rights and for corporate profits. Here, too, Europe must demonstrate much greater awareness of the geopolitical risks and its own best interests.

China, located at the eastern end of Eurasia, is planning to reopen the continental Silk Road through Central Asia and Russia in the direction of Europe. The pragmatic explanation for this gigantic strategic project (with an investment volume of about $3 trillion) is the need to develop western China, which has so far benefited little from the coastal regions’ economic success. In reality, however, the project is of paramount importance mostly in geopolitical terms: China, a land power, wants to challenge the potential economic and political influence of the US, a naval power, in Eurasia.

In practical terms, China’s Silk Road project will create a strategic alternative to Western transatlantic structures, with Russia either accepting a role as a permanent junior partner or risking serious conflict with China in Central Asia. But the choice of an Eastern or Western orientation is not in Europe’s interest. On the contrary, such a choice would tear Europe apart both politically and economically. Europe, which is most closely tied to America in normative and economic terms, needs the transatlantic security guarantee.

That is why, in dealing with Russia, the European Union should pursue a course of steadfast adherence to its principles and to NATO. Yet it simultaneously needs good relations with China and cannot block the Silk Road project. So, in dealing with China, Europe must be clear about its interests, which will require a high degree of unity.

Meanwhile, the refugee crisis highlights the paramount importance for Europe of the Balkan Peninsula (including Greece), which is the land bridge to the Near and Middle East. Turkey is even more important for European interests in this regard. European leaders gravely miscalculated at the start of Turkey’s EU accession talks, believing that close ties would make the Middle East’s conflicts Europe’s problem. As current experience shows, in the absence of firm ties with Turkey, Europe’s influence in the region and beyond – from the Black Sea to Central Asia – is practically zero.

Domestic developments in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the renewed militarization of the Kurdish question make a political approach anything but easy. But Europe has no alternatives (and not only because of the refugees). This is all the more true given that Russia’s emergence in Syria and the Kremlin’s de facto alliance with Iran are once again pushing Turkey toward Europe and the West, which means that there is a real chance for a new start.

Nonetheless, the potential for European influence in the Middle East remains low, and the region will remain dangerous in the long term. Indeed, Europe should avoid taking sides in the conflict between Shia and Sunnis or between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Instead, Europe’s interests would be best served by pursuing a course of strategic ambiguity.

That is not true, however, in the eastern Mediterranean. Indeed, the entire Mediterranean region, including the strategically located North African coast, plays a crucial role in Europe’s security calculations. The choice is between a mare nostrum or a region of instability and insecurity.

In the same vein, the EU’s Africa policy must finally abandon post-colonial thought patterns in favor of the pursuit of Europe’s own interests. The priorities must be the stabilization of North Africa, humanitarian aid, and long-term support for political, economic, and social progress. And closer ties should include opportunities for legal migration to Europe.

The return of geopolitics means that the fundamental choice facing Europe in the twenty-first century will be between self-determination and external domination. How Europe addresses this question will determine not only its own fate, but also that of the West.



Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences, 2015.
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

Jul 15th 2019
".....one of the most accurate recession indicators, known as the yield curve, has recently been flashing warning signs. Every postwar recession in the US was preceded by an inversion of the yield curve, meaning that long-term interest rates had fallen below short-term interest rates, some 12 to 18 months before the outset of the economic downturn."
Jul 6th 2019
Extract: ".........growing poverty even when working, the collapse of stable and safe social identities linked to work, the increasing instability of employment security, and the rapid change of local communities due to emigration, migration, collapsing housing affordability, and redevelopment initiatives that displace communities. These provide precise and urgent electoral rallying points. They are particularly effective given that so many mainstream politicians ignore these basic grievances. In recent years, the lineup of politicians opposing the New Right – Hillary Clinton, the Remain campaign, Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Renzi – have been unwilling to even recognise these structural problems. This provided the New Right the opportunity to appear credible, simply by acknowledging them."
Jul 6th 2019
".........an openly Russophilic administration in the US may be one reason why Putin’s domestic support has been declining so sharply."
Jul 3rd 2019
"Extract: .........in a world of rapidly expanding automation potential, demographic shrinkage is largely a boon, not a threat. Our expanding ability to automate human work across all sectors – agriculture, industry, and services – makes an ever-growing workforce increasingly irrelevant to improvements in human welfare. Conversely, automation makes it impossible to achieve full employment in countries still facing rapid population growth........The greatest demographic challenges therefore lie not in countries facing population stabilization and then gradual decline, but in Africa, which still faces rapid population growth."
Jul 1st 2019
Trump’s personal style – vocal, expertise-averse, scandal-prone and driven by a focus on his partisan base – may be unusual, but aspiring Democratic presidential contenders may be making a serious error in allowing Trump’s “Wizard of Oz” act of big claims and small achievements to pass unchallenged. There is a massive gap between the pledges he made to voters and the reality of an outsider presidency thoroughly co-opted by its party. So far, the “Trump revolution” turns out to be an ordinary Republican presidency.
Jun 25th 2019
"Trump’s vindictive bluster has steamrolled economic-policy deliberations – ignoring the lessons of history, rejecting the analytics of modern economics, and undermining the institutional integrity of the policymaking process. Policy blunders of epic proportion have become the rule, not the exception. It won’t be nearly as easy to spin the looming consequences."
Jun 19th 2019
Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sectors in the world, and has the great advantage of producing no carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is raising the average surface temperature of the earth. India is now for the first time in history investing more in solar energy than in coal. There is a simple reason for this. Coal costs roughly 5 cents a kilowatt hour to generate electricity. India just let a bid for 1.2 gigawatts of solar energy and four companies scooped it up at 3.6 cents a kilowatt hour.
Jun 19th 2019
Extract: "Abe has reportedly nominated Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize – at the request of the US – for opening talks with North Korea. And he has offered to mediate in America’s dispute with Iran. (His recent visit to Tehran – where he reportedly asked Iran’s leaders, at Trump’s request, to release detained Americans – made clear that, even squeezed by sanctions, Iran has no interest in negotiating with a serial violator of signed agreements.) What Trump calls an “incredible partnership” is, in reality, a largely one-sided relationship. But, for Abe, appeasing Trump is not so much a choice as a necessity: he must prove to Japan’s people and their neighbors, particularly the Chinese, that he knows how to keep Trump on his side."
Jun 17th 2019
Extarct: "We know well the damage that corrupt leaders do to their people. We should therefore have much more to say about the quintessential corruption entailed by tolerating lies. Such tolerance allows the poison to spread through the body and soul of democracy, undermining democracy’s institutions by attacking the invisible norms and tacit understandings that support them."
Jun 11th 2019
Extract: "I noticed this dynamic firsthand a few years ago in Blagoveshchensk, on the Siberian border, just a half-mile from the Chinese town of Heihe. A century and a half ago, Blagoveshchensk was part of China. Then the Cossacks took control of it, along with many other territories in Chinese Outer Manchuria, on behalf of the Russian czar. Blagoveshchensk’s local history museum presents the development of the town after the Cossack takeover as a civilizing mission. The Russians, it seems, still view themselves as superior Westerners. As for Heihe, it got rich a quarter-century ago, after capitalizing on Russia’s post-Soviet disarray to sell cheap goods to then-starving Russians. Its own history museum presents the Cossacks as “hairy barbarians” (Lao Maozi) and lists the towns of Russia’s far east by their historical Chinese names: Blagoveshchensk is Hailanpao, Vladivostok is Haishenwai, and Sakhalin is Kuye. Local behavior reflects these perspectives. At the ferry port, the Russians sneer at the Chinese traders who bring Russian vodka and chocolate to Heihe, while the Chinese move past the Russians as if they do not exist."
Jun 5th 2019
Extract: "....the Constitution, which established the impeachment process as a check on the president’s behavior between elections, says nothing about using it only when politically convenient. Moreover, given the results in 2018, Democratic Party leaders might well discourage making the disposition of the president the key issue in the next election. Most important, a decision not to initiate an impeachment process against Trump could set a terrible precedent. If Trump isn’t impeached for his numerous criminal acts and abuses of power, would impeachment remain a viable check on the presidency? "
Jun 3rd 2019
Extracts: "Sooner or later, all smaller powers dependent on global markets would have to choose a side, unless they are somehow strong enough to withstand both American and Chinese pressure. With China and the US both demanding clarity, even economic giants like the European Union, India, and Japan would be faced with an intractable economic dilemma."
May 24th 2019
Waging a war against Iran, or even thinking of doing so, is sheer madness. Trump has thus far wisely rejected the warmonger National Security Advisor John Bolton’s outrageous advice. Waging another war in the Mideast, this time against Iran, would have not only disastrous consequences for the US but will also engulf our allies from which they would suffer incalculable human losses and destruction. Bolton was the architect behind the devastating war in Iraq in 2003, which inflicted more than 5,000 US casualties and a cost exceeding two trillion dollars, allowed Iran to entrench itself in Iraq, and gave way to the rise of ISIS.
May 24th 2019
The private Tasnim news agency reports from Iran that in a speech to thousands of university students, Iran’s clerical leader Ali Khamenei made an unusual and extraordinary criticism of president Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over their handling of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or deal on limiting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
May 21st 2019
Extract: "Brexit, after all, is as much a Kremlin project as it is anyone else’s. Putin wants to divide Europeans, and in the UK, Brexit has succeeded in dividing Britons like nothing since the Corn Law debates almost 200 years ago. Putin wants the EU to fragment, and Brexit is causing the biggest crack yet in the bloc’s history. Putin wants to sow doubt about the legitimacy of traditional news sources; pro-Brexit media consistently promote lies as truth and inveigh against reputable papers like the Financial Times as elitist enemies of the people."
May 16th 2019
Iraq’s population when invaded was 26 million. Iran’s population today is 81 million..........Whereas Iraq’s neighbors– Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular– had been mauled by Saddam and so did not strongly oppose Bush’s invasion, Shiite Iraqis, many Syrians, the Hazaras of Afghanistan, and the some 40 million Shiites of Pakistan would support Iran.
May 15th 2019
It’s time that economists, pundits, and politicians start looking holistically at life in our times, and take seriously the long-term structural changes needed to address the multiple crises of health care, despair, inequality, and stress in the US and many other countries. US citizens, in particular, should reflect on the fact that many other countries’ people are happier and less worried, and are living longer. In general, those other countries’ governments are not cutting taxes for the rich and slashing services for the rest. They are attending to the common good, instead of catering to the rich while pointing to illusory economic statistics that hide as much as they reveal.
May 8th 2019
"........Meanwhile, Trump is leaving the door open for Russia to come to his aid again in 2020. The White House and congressional Republican leaders have been blocking a bill to secure US elections against foreign attacks. And administration officials have been instructed not to raise the issue of Russian interference with the president, lest it cast a shadow on his legitimacy.  The next phase in this affair is already coming into focus. Barr, with the help of Trump’s golfing buddy Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now enlisted in peddling the president’s fantasy that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt” orchestrated by “deep-state” supporters of Hillary Clinton. Once again, current and former FBI agents will be targeted, either because they expressed criticism of Trump or because they opened a national security investigation into a hostile power’s meddling in the US presidential election (which continued in the 2018 midterms). FBI director Christopher Wray, commenting on the Mueller report, said that the Russians are “upping their game” for 2020. "
May 7th 2019
We are witnessing the loss of biodiversity at rates never before seen in human history. Nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world, according to the world’s largest assessment of biodiversity.