Jan PARYS: Europe in the shadow of Munich

Europe in the shadow of Munich

Photo of Jan PARYS


Politician, sociologist and publicist, Minister of National Defense in 1991-1992.


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.As every year, an international conference on the security of the Western world will be held in Munich in February. In previous years, discussions focused on preventing war. The events of 24 February 2022 proved that no solution had been found at the time to prevent the outbreak of armed conflict in Europe. This time, the debate will take place during the aggression that Russia is inflicting against the Ukrainian people and state. Thus, everyone will be wondering how to bring this war to a successful conclusion, how to end it with the lowest losses possible and how to secure themselves a strong political position in the post-war setup.

The principles that have guaranteed peace in Europe since 1945 have been violated by Russia and, consequently, the West’s opponent now is imperialism and not some forms of authoritarianism. So far, some are waiting for military settlement of the conflict and others for peace negotiations to begin. Without any doubt, the outcome of frontline battles will have an impact on relations between Ukraine and Russia and on the situation in Europe as a whole. The conference must not be a place for debating peace with Russia, but an opportunity to debate the security of the West.

Although the war is directly being fought by Russia and Ukraine, not only does it involve these two countries, but it also involves many other countries in different ways. I believe everyone would agree that there are important lessons to be learnt from the war for the security of the entire European continent and for the relations between the USA and Russia. There is no possibility of returning to the geopolitical order as it was before 24 February 2022. The former order was based on the assumption of possible political and economic cooperation between Western countries and Russia. The aggression against Ukraine and the attempt to redraw borders in Europe by means of war irrevocably ended the era of cooperation with the Kremlin authorities.

It is difficult to find reasonable politicians in Europe these days who still have confidence in Russia as a partner. Russia has proved to be an unpredictable, aggressive and unreliable state. It is a state that threatens peace in Europe. Politicians in Poland, like those in the USA, are faced with the challenge of how to stop Russian aggression, how to oppose Russian imperialism, how to build security in the West in a situation where there can be no trust in the Kremlin authorities. German politicians, on the other hand, want to use the current war to strengthen their own country’s position in Europe.

Today, Europe must rearrange its priorities. Instead of economic development, a policy must be pursued that will first and foremost guarantee security. Since there are serious new military threats, the previous policy from the era of peace cannot be continued. At the same time, a new geopolitical order in Europe must be drafted. This time, one can no longer be naive in assuming that Russia is a partner with peaceful intentions. The new political order in Europe must take into account that Russia is a military threat to Europe, that it has eliminated itself from European cooperation. We need a security system that will keep us safe from Russia and, thus, that it will remain outside it. Of course, this does not mean complete international isolation for Russia. Russia has been and is a big country. By the will of the Kremlin leadership, we are going back to the days of the Cold War, when relationships with Russia were limited to diplomatic relations and there was no cooperation with Moscow. The concept of peace building through trade must be discarded and we must return to the Reagan era policy of peace building through strength. Today, the West does not need arms control and a balance of power, but military advantage.

The Munich conference is an opportunity to discuss a new order in Europe, this time without the participation of Russia. Indeed, an aggressor cannot build the Western security system. As the old saying goes, it is difficult for the fox to guard the henhouse. So far, two proposals for a new order in Europe have been formulated. One is the ultimatum that Russia submitted to the Western states on 17 December 2021. It is based on the idea that Europe is to return to the geopolitical situation of the Soviet era, namely 1997, when the borders of the Western world ended at the river Elbe. The other proposal was formulated by the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in December 2022. In the monthly Foreign Affairs magazine and in his current commentaries, the Chancellor proposes that Russia should return to the situation and relations before 24 February 2022. He believes that it is possible to pass over in silence the fact of starting the war, mass atrocities and destruction perpetrated in Ukraine in order to return to business as usual with Russia as soon as possible. Therefore, politicians in Washington and in Europe have so far had a choice between the two proposals. In fact, this is no choice at all, because the Russian proposal that Europe should return to the 1997 situation was rejected by the Western countries already at the beginning of 2022. As for now, therefore, only Chancellor Scholz’s concept is on the table in Munich, at which the post-war security system will be discussed.

I wish I could believe that a special team was set up at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as soon as Chancellor Scholz published his concept of a new order in Europe, charged with undertaking a solid analysis of the German proposal. In fact, there is nothing more important now in the diplomatic life of Europe than the search for an idea of a new geopolitical order on our continent. Poland’s security can and must be ensured not only through intensive armament, but also at the diplomatic table. I believe that the National Security Bureau has long been working on the Polish vision of security in Europe after the war and on the speeches of Polish politicians at the Munich conference. We cannot be mere spectators in this matter, waiting for German and French initiatives. Chancellor Scholz’s proposal has various flaws, but it has the strength of being the only one on the table. So, during the Munich conference, it will be referred to by the speakers. It will, of course, be promoted by the hosts. It was published well in advance in December 2022 specifically in order to be the main topic of discussion during the Munich meeting.

The Chancellor rightly points out that the modern world cannot be seen in a bipolar way, as a competition between two camps of democracy and authoritarianism centred around the USA and China. This is an ideological view that is so simplistic that it does not allow for a serious explanation of anything. The international community includes more than 190 states, there are many separate civilisations and different cultures in the world. It is satisfying to accept the Chancellor’s view that ultimately Huntington’s theses, not Fukuyama’s, are proving to be true. But it is precisely this recognition of the importance of separate civilisations and cultures that should lead to more subtle conclusions.

There is no doubt that both Europe and North American countries have the same heritage, i.e. they have their roots in Judeo-Christian civilisation. Therefore, trying to treat Europe as a separate entity from the USA , has no justification from the historical point of view. There is also no geopolitical justification. After all, the war in Ukraine, for example, proves that Europe alone cannot defend itself against threats from Russia or China. Therefore, denying unity of the Western world and treating Europe and the USA as different entities with different policies in the world is not rational, and is simply wrong.

It is right that the Chancellor embraced the thesis of multipolarity of the modern world. However, I would like him to be consistent in his views. Europe must not be treated worse than other continents. If we respect other civilisations and cultures in the world, we cannot treat Europe less respectfully. Therefore, the European Union cannot be built on the principle of unification, in other words on denying constitutional and cultural distinctiveness of individual Member States. European Union member states cannot have inferior rights to remain distinct than non-European states, to whom the Chancellor readily admits the right to multipolarity, i.e. to political and cultural distinctiveness. It is unacceptable for Ukraine to be treated by German politicians as a hostage in the evolution of the European Union. It is unacceptable for Poland to be forced by the EU authorities under financial blackmail to renounce the principles of its constitutional system. The Treaty on the European Union does not contain a provision allowing the European Commission to spread democracy by means of blackmail, e.g. financial blackmail, nor does it contain a provision stating that there is only one valid model of democracy in the Union. Anyone who considers themselves a supporter of freedom should accept that different models of democracy are possible.

American politicians are not only wondering how to defend Europe within NATO. They are also concerned because it is necessary to provide this defence in the face of new threats with a certain new form of political alliance. The Americans are waiting for the Munich conference to see how Europe understands the new situation and what it proposes. So far, only the German diplomats have come up with an overall concept. The question that arises is why are other European countries silent? Why are they not coming up with their own ideas or taking a stand against Scholz’s ideas? One might get an impression that many countries are silent in the face of the German proposal because they simply accept it. I do not know whether this is the case with the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

I believe that the Polish politicians who will soon be travelling to the Munich security conference will not only make comments on the current course of the war in Ukraine. They should also do more than simply call for supporting Ukraine with long-range weapons. Obviously, one needs to recall that Western countries which restrict the supply of arms to Ukraine are postponing the moment of victory over the aggressor and are thus liable for continuation of the war and for further crimes. I hope that Polish politicians will also take a stand in Munich on fundamental issues, i.e. a new order in Europe, this time built without Russia.

The Polish citizen has a right to know how our government views Chancellor Scholz’s proposals and what their implementation would mean for future generations of Poles. There must be no repetition of the situation that occurred during the Second World War. At that time, Poland’s fate was decided without Poland in 1943 at the Quebec and Teheran conferences. We cannot allow the situation from the 1990 „Two Plus Four” conference to be repeated, when the Polish head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was allowed into the proceedings for a few minutes only. It was by taking advantage of absence of a representative of the Republic of Poland that the politicians of Germany deliberately misled the President of the USA, explaining to him that the issue of compensation for war losses for Poland had been resolved. It should therefore be made clear that there will be no agreement of Poland, Ukraine and the whole of the Three Seas Initiative for a new order in Europe without taking into account our interests, i.e. our security.

Anyone who values peace should remember what wars come from. Sometimes wars are the result of the actions of politicians who believe that they belong to a superior race and, therefore, simply have to rule other nations. This was the source of the Second World War. At that time, German politicians first decided that they were a privileged race and could rule Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and, next, all Europe. Sometimes war is the result of pathological concepts developed by intellectuals who create ideologies to justify imperialism as a way to ensure the happiness of other nations. Such was the role of Alexander Dugin’s concept of 'Eurasia’ and P.G. Shchedrovitsky’s 'Russkiy mir’, which became the justification for Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2022.

If we want peace in the world, we must beware of politicians who want to interfere in the political system of other countries. We also need to guard against intellectuals who think they know how to save mankind, who want to impose their rules on the entire world about how we should live. The cornerstone of world peace is one fundamental rule, i.e. the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. Common rules that apply to all countries in the world can only apply to international relations. In fact, the freedom of one state must not harm the freedom of another.

Politicians who have been compromised by the pursuit of pro-Russian policies must not be allowed to further decide the fate of Europe. It is also the right time to say clearly that the German Chancellor does not have a mandate from the European countries to represent them vis-à-vis the USA, that the Chancellor does not have the agreement of the European Union member states to act as a leader when it comes to our continent’s security. Germany’s leadership in Europe has never solved problems, but threatened and even created problems. For a long time now, Germany has not been a security donor in Europe. It was its naive Eastern policy that contributed to the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Today, it is not a superpower, either politically or morally. Nor does it present military strength.

The idea of returning to pre-war relations with Russia is not only immoral because it implies legal acceptance of aggression and crimes. It would be a suicidal idea from the point of view of the continent’s security. It would involve a repetition of the situation in which Germany buys Russian resources and, thus, again finances Russian armaments against Europe and the USA. The world has made such a mistake once, but I see no reason to do it again. If the Chancellor proposes such a course of action, it means that he does not care about the security of either Europe or the USA. One can only regret that the Chancellor sees Europe as a power that is not part of the West and does not feel a sense of solidarity when the USA is defending the whole West against the threats from China or Russia.

Looking at the American international policy, I am inclined to the opinion that the USA does not intend to be a policeman who sets the world order. On the other hand, as far as I know, the USA does not intend to accept any country building its global position through regional domination. Hence, the concept of German leadership in Europe is contrary to Washington’s vital interest. On this issue, our interests are aligned with those of the USA.

.Finally, I would like to remind diplomats of the opinion expressed on 1 September 2009. As the President of the Republic of Poland said at the time, one must be able to draw current conclusions from the 1938 events in Munich. One should remember that commemorations of the 70th anniversary of outbreak of the Second World War took place a year after Germany blocked the path to NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, and after Russian aggression against Georgia. This is why Lech Kaczyński, looking at the cordial friendship between Putin and Merkel, appealed to the European politicians gathered at Westerplatte, saying that if we wanted peace on our continent, we must not give in to imperialism.

Jan Parys

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