Friday, August 15, 2008

The End of Europe?

Forget the Irish "no." Forget the Constitutional Treaty and its mini-treaty reincarnation. The real threat to Europe has become glaringly apparent with the awakening of the hibernating Russian bear. The visceral reaction of the former East Bloc countries is--comprehensibly enough--different from the reaction in Western Europe. And the United States, at least under the current administration, is not reluctant to exploit this difference. Under pressure of the latest crisis, the US and Poland have agreed on the placement of antimissile radar in Poland.

I was therefore too optimistic the other day when I said that Sarkozy's role in negotiating a cease-fire in the Georgia conflict indicated that Europe now had a foreign policy. The Georgia crisis will abate, but the Russia problem will remain. Europe has no solution to it, and the United States seems happy to keep it unresolved, indeed to work assiduously to widen the fissures in the European Union. Sarkozy's statement that there is near-identity of views with United States on the Georgia question may be true in the ultra-short term, but in the medium and long run there are significant differences, and it will be a test of Sarkozy's maturity as a maker of foreign policy whether he can find a constructive way to articulate them.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

When you read "South Ossetia", do the words "Sudeten Region" come to your mind ?

I find too many analogies between the two crisis.

And now what could reasonably deter the Russian bear to decide that, finally, he's had enough of the orange revolution in Ukraine ?

It is true that Latvia and its 30 % Russian minority is a member of Nato.
But would you find more people ready to die for Riga than there were for Dantzing ?

Unknown said...

Alain,
Frankly, the Sudetenland comes to mind only because the analogy is so often bandied about, and so wrongly, in my view. My view of Russia is approximately that of George Kennan. It is not Nazi Germany. But since this is a blog about French Politics, I will not elaborate my view. See the blogs of Yglesias, Marshall, and Drum for useful discussion.

Anonymous said...

I also find the comparison to the Sudetenland unfounded, but the fact remains that the Eastern European nations need an ally who can deter the Russians. The US qualifies as such, the EU doesn't. Does Europe lack a foreign policy, or does it lack an army? (My guess would be: both).

Unknown said...

Jim,
Anyone who has an army had best measure what it can and cannot accomplish before using it. Shaakashvili rather overestimated what his army might accomplish. Europe has been spared that temptation. I am not at all sure that if Europe had an army, though, that its interests would be served by using it to back up the misbegotten military adventure of an imprudent nationalist just because he happens to speak good English. There is no moral high ground in this conflict, only swamp. Let's hope the hotheads don't turn it into another quagmire.

Alan Vanneman said...

Would it be rude to point out that France's economy is about double the size of Russia's? What, exactly does France have to be afraid of? If France needs some help, Germany, the U.K, Italy, and Spain also all have economies larger than Russia's. Yeah, Spain can kick Russia's ass. Stop being so afraid. Russia is still the same as it ever was: disfunctional.

Anonymous said...

alan vanneman is correct, and let me add that the Russians are unreconstructed imperialists. The West was imperialistic for centuries, but there was always internal debate because imperialism runs counter the basic principles of human rights that are at the heart of Western political thought.

Russia, in contrast has always believed that its imperialism is right in every way. It further suffers the delusions that the countries it conquers and rules are grateful to be its servants, and that history is on the side of Russia so that its imperialistic efforts are guaranteed to succeed.

Anonymous said...

Analogies seem to be rather dangerous guides to the current crisis. So far South Ossetia has been the Sudetenland or Kosovo or Bosnia. Indeed a "holocaust" was supposed to have happened in South Ossetia and President Saakashvili talks about ethnic cleansing. We've also had "the new Cold War" and the re-emergence of the "Russian bear". These images might make it easier for us to frame the issues, but they do not necessarily help us to resolve them.

Having said that, I'll throw my analogy in and link back to French Politics. For me, the parallels between contemporary Russian foreign policy and those of France in the post-1945 period are compelling. The collapse of the USSR was as traumatic for the Russian people and, more importantly, Russian elites, as the defeat of 1940 was for France. Since 1991 Russia has sought to re-establish its perceived "rightful" position in the world. For much of the time this has been through collaboration with both the EU and the US. However, both of those partners have had a tendency to take more than they have given. This has led to the contrary trend of trying to establish Russia's influence as an independent Great power in international affairs, whose voice needs to be respected. This clearly parallels the French experience after World War Two. So, Putin/Medvedev are driven by a "certain idea of Russia" in the same way as De Gaulle was.