Tomasz ALEKSANDROWICZ: "The Impotent Europe. Between Russia and the Islamic State"

"The Impotent Europe. Between Russia and the Islamic State"

Photo of Prof. Tomasz ALEKSANDROWICZ


Associate Professor of the Police Academy in Szczytno. Information management expert in the Centre for Research on Terrorism. Founding member of the Collegium Civitas Institute of Information Studies.

Ryc.: Fabien Clairefond

other articles by this author

.According to an old German saying politics is an offspring of history, which in turn is a geography’s child. This is hardly escapable also in the times of globalization. The fate of the European political unification proves it is actually impossible to avoid, no matter how hard we try.

.It is obvious that the integration of foreign and security policies within Europe exists only on paper, nowhere else. The EU lacks effectiveness. Facing the more and more aggressive Russia and barbaric Islamic State, Europe seems to be – despite all the declarations – defenceless, unable to play a key role in the world and to work out a coherent set of strategic concepts, not to mention their implementation. Thus to find reasons for the aforementioned state of affairs one must turn to both history and geography.

The European integration, despite its economic basis, has political roots. Increased tension between the USA and the USSR, start of the cold war and emergence of the bipolar world gave the West the feeling of, at least from a political and defence point of view, being caught in the grip. For many countries their location between Moscow and Washington was uncomfortable. On the one hand there was an increasing hostility and fear, on the other the pressure on submission to America, the real leader of the free world. In early 50s it was already clear that none of the European countries was able to openly confront Stalin’s possible aggression and as such they were all condemned to bend to the political will of Washington and NATO.

The world became bipolar. NATO was established – according to president Harry Truman and NATO’s first Secretary General Lord Ismayto keep Germans down, Russians out, and Americans in.The opponent was identified, and so was the free world’s leading force. Nevertheless the Europeans were searching for their political and defence identity. In early 50s came the Pleven Plan (proposed by the then French prime minister Rene Pleven). In 1952 in Paris a treaty was signed creating the European Defence Community meant to be a transnational organization with a European army at its disposal.This coincided with preparation of a corresponding treaty for the establishment of the European Political Community (EPC). Yet the French National Assembly did not ratify the treaty for making of the European Defense Community (EDC), which brought the works on the EPC to a halt, so the situation did not undergo a significant change.

In 1954 the Paris Agreements – in fact an extension of the Brussels Pact of 1948 – were made creating the Western European Union (WEU). WEU – linked with NATO – for a few decades was an armed wing of the EEC and then the EU. It formed the nucleus of the common defence policy. WEU was removed from TEU by the Treaty of Nice and ultimately dissolved by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2010.

The 60s saw two Fouchet Plans (worked out by a committee helmed by C. Fouchet, the French ambassador to Copenhagen). They drafted a treaty giving birth to a political union based on an intergovernmental integration model, provided with a fairly wide range of competencies in foreign and defence policy, with an independent Secretariat of the Union of European Nations as a permanent body. The document never came into effect due to absence of consent of the French president Charles de Gaulle who safeguarded the sovereignty of his country and saw it as one of the world superpowers.

De Gaulle’s stepping down gave way to gradual economic, political and defence integration. The European Political Cooperation (EPC) started in 1970, initially as a platform for regular consultations of foreign ministers. It was provided with a political committee consisting of directors of ministries of foreign affairs. Nevertheless the EPC was outside the European Communities and security was not a part of its focus. The cooperation within the EPC was continually improved. In 1973 an obligation was introduced of mutual foreign policy consultations among the member states. Also European correspondents in foreign ministries began to work through a network of telex connections (in the age of smartphones, who remembers what a telex was?). The following year during a summit in Paris the European Council was established, composed of heads of states and governments plus foreign ministers, for regular debates on international politics.

Early 80s brought a breakthrough. The Islamic revolution in Iran, Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the Solidarity movement in Poland were on the daily agenda. The political aspects of security issues were addressed by the EPC in 1988. The same year the organization got an emergency consultations mechanism. The cooperation within the EPC was formalized in the Single European Act which gave it accordance with international law. On the basis of the Act such tasks were assigned to EPC as common foreign and defence policy, and closer cooperation on the international scene, i.e. in organizations and on conferences. Incorporation of the works of the Commission of European Communities into EPC’s was an important step towards unification of the latter.

Then came the 90s and the outbreak of euphoria – the peace dividend could be made use of at last. As ironically remarked by Ron Asmus, war was supposed to be left to the Americans. The course of events in that decade confirmed the opinion uttered by the Belgian economist and politician Mark Eyskens that ”Europe is an economic giant, a political dwarf and a military worm”.

The collapse of Yugoslavia and above all the war in Bosnia paralyzed the decision-making process in Brussels. The consequences continue to be felt.

Many analysts have noticed a certain causal link: support given to the Islamic opposition in Afghanistan by the USA was a trap set for Russia that allowed the country to be drawn into its own Vietnam. When the weakened and defeated USSR retreated from Afghanistan, the Islamic militants were seen by the West almost as allies.

In fact the hostility of the Muslims towards the West is a result of its passive reactions to the ethnic cleansings in Bosnia rather than of interfering with ”Islamic affairs”. This may be an oversimplification, yet indeed the Islamists’ aversion to the West is deeply rooted in mid-90s Bosnia. Russia was changing, too. It is not widely remembered these days that Boris Yeltsin’s adviser Gennady Burbulis postulated membership of the Russian Federation in NATO and the EU. Let us join you, argumented Burbulis, otherwise the power in Russia will be seized by antidemocratic, aggressive, Brezhnev- or even Stalin-minded circles. From the today’s perspective his views seem justified.

Europe has properly handled  neither their own crises nor those in the outside world. That burden has mostly fallen on NATO, so in fact on the USA.

The crisis in the former Yugoslavia was eventually solved by NATO. The USA joint the war on terrorism, while Europe focused on herself in the process of integration. The Western European Union ceased to exist, its tasks taken over by the European Union with the pillar of Common Foreign and Security Policy, within the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy. Preparations started to enlarge the EU and deepen its integration.

The rejection of the Constitutional Treaty was an important warning signal. The Lisbon Treaty was adopted to some extent as a substitute. The EU became an international organization. Seemingly so.

Countries agreed on general solutions as far as economic integration and area of freedom, security and justice. The legislative acts issued by the European Council and Parliament – i.e. regulations and directives – are used there.

The Common Foreign and Security Policy with the Common Security and Defence Policy being its integral part is a specific self-governing set. Although according to Article 24 (1) of the Treaty on European Union all foreign affairs and security matters of the EU including gradual shaping of common defence policy is a part of the CFSP, the latter is subject to specific rules and procedures: decisions are taken unanimously by the European Council and the Council of Europe (unless the Treaties claim otherwise) and no random adoption of legislative acts is allowed.This has been strengthened by Declaration 13 and 14 regarding provisions of the Treaties, according to which the latter do not infringe the current responsibility of the member states for shaping their own foreign policies, representation in the third countries and international organizations; both the whole EU and its member states remain bound by the resolutions of the United Nations Charter and especially by the basic responsibility of the Security Council for maintaining international peace and security.

In this context it is worth mentioning that according to Article 42 (2) subparagraph 2 TEU, the Common Security and Defence Policy respects commitments of the member states to their common security being provided within NATO. Therefore NATO first!

.The solidarity clause of Article 42 (7) TEU (equivalent to NATO’s Article 5) claims that ”if a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter”. The clause assumes two restrictions: its provisions do not prevail over particular security and defence policies of some of the member states, while their commitments and cooperation comply with the obligations within NATO, since, as stated in TEU, the North Atlantic Treaty ”remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation”. This practically means that as far as defence and security the obligations resulting from NATO membership are more important than the ones connected with the EU and NATO. Thus it is not the EU that forms the basis for Europe’s collective security.

The member states of the EU have shown a rather reserved approach to its integration, which has been mirrored by personal decisions regarding its executive. The first High Representative for the common foreign and security policy was Javier Solana appointed to the post in 1999. He was followed by Catherine Ashton and his current successor is Federica Mogherini – ladies with no authority, influence, causative power, merely the heads of the European External Action Service. Politics is being made elsewhere.

Why has this happened? The member states guard their sovereignty as far as foreign policies are concerned, since these must reflect their interests, different for each of the 28 of them.Germany, the regional potentate, decided that the EU had completed its mission, therefore the gates should be shut and the welfare consumed.

When Helmut Kohl announced the plan for the German reunification, it became evident that Berlin had given up the role of the American representative in Europe and gained independence.

The independence of Germany has been confirmed in 2002 by Gerhard Schröder who talked about the German path very different from the American (where it has led himself is a completely different story). France, Italy and Spain are particularly interested in the Mediterranean basin whence comes the threat hard to tackle for anyone: illegal immigration symbolized by the island of Lampedusa. Eastern Europe is most afraid of Russia and so it puts pressure on the EU to take a harsher course towards Moscow. Great Britain steers away from the European Union and broadens her special relationship with Washington. (Does anyone still remember the problems Britain had applying for the European Communities membership and how France vetoed the efforts?)

The effects of all that are clear. Putin masterfully manipulates any internal EU disputes. Once benefactor of Hungary, possibly Russia will soon open her treasury for Greece.

There is no good recipe for making politics in a multicultural society where children of immigrants fight against their hosts.

The real dangers in the Middle East have not been appropriately estimated. On the contrary, the Arab Spring was welcome as a herald of democracy, whereas Kadafi was not only left to fall – the collapse of his regime was purposefully accelerated. The EU has been watching the rise in power of the Islamic State. The Common Foreign and Security Policy is only partly functional, while the Common Security and Defence Policy exists only on paper.

The question about the future of the EU is inevitable. If the alliance wants to remain an independent entity on the international arena, it must have its own security strategy.

The European Security Strategy – an official document of 2003 – is a product of a completely different political reality and in fact it is rather a wish list than an actually valid document. Strategy must clearly denote political aims and interests, realistically evaluate security environment: opportunities, challenges, threats, risks and resources for the implementation of tasks. It is difficult to address the issues, where 28 countries’ interests, objectives, threats, concerns as well as historical and geographical conditions shall be taken into account.

.Poland’s role should not be underestimated. Both within the EU and in bilateral relations Warsaw has for some time been enforcing the idea of a strategic review of European security which would result in the security strategy of the Union. This initiative meets the resistance, since such a review could give evidence that the emperor is naked. Our persistence, however, is becoming more and more fruitful. Poland has convinced Germany and France to the new strategy, at least this is what the foreign ministers of these countries declare. The works are likely to commence during the EU summit in June, which gives grounds for cautious optimism.

It is clear that the new strategy is not a universal remedy for the ills of the EU. It merely is the first step. The most difficult one.

Tomasz Aleksandrowicz

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