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Hard truths about Europe’s soft power

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In the run-up to last December’s EU summit on defence, Britain’s top general publicly warned that the UK risks being left with “hollowed out” armed forces. He said too little of the much-reduced British defence budget is being spent on personnel, too much on “exquisite” equipment bought for the wrong reasons. “We must be careful” he commented “that the defence budget is not disproportionately used to support the British defence industry.”

We in Britain have of course heard of that sort of thing happening on the Continent. Spanish and Italian defence programmes, for example, have long been significantly funded, and therefore shaped, by industry and technology ministries. But in the UK we have always prided ourselves on being rather more serious about defence, believing that every pound of our national defence budget is spent simply and solely to achieve maximum ‘bang for the buck’. So General Sir Nick Houghton’s ruminations were unsettling.

We Britons are also keen to dissociate ourselves from the prevalent European cast of mind that a U.S. Defense Secretary identified in 2010 as one of “demilitarisation”. But here again, General Houghton’s remarks were disquieting, as he mused about risk-aversion in wider society and how this could affect the British armed forces’ “courageous instinct”. It was certainly a shock when last summer the British Parliament voted against a government plan to bomb Syria. And though the UK cannot, given its euroscepticism, be expected to throw its troops into EU operations, it still felt a bit odd to watch the French sending military units first to Mali, and then the Central African Republic, whilst British soldiers sat at home. Can it be that the spores of German pacifism are floating across the North Sea, like so much Dutch Elm disease?

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We in Europe may be post-modern, but the rest of the world is not – including all those ‘swing voters’ whose preferences will determine which of the new contenders for global leadership carries most weight

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So Britain, it seems, is not that different from almost everyone else in Europe in having rather lost its way on defence. The transition from ‘keeping the Soviet Union at bay’ to ‘contributing to global security and tackling new threats at source’, as set out in the EU’s 2003 European Security Strategy, was easy enough. But after Iraq and Afghanistan, the ‘liberal interventionism’ rationale for our armed forces no longer works. Russian re-armament (and Vladimir Putin’s belligerence) hardly provide a satisfying alternative narrative, given the continuing one-to-three disparity between Russian defence spending and that of the EU states taken together, and the derelict state into which Russia’s military has fallen over two decades of neglect. So just what, the question nags with increasing insistence, are European armed forces actually for?

Not that EU national leaders, tackling defence for the first time in five years at last December’s European Council meeting, betrayed much uncertainty. “Defence matters” they insisted in the opening lines of their Conclusions. But beyond pro forma references to the “security of European citizens” and the need for the EU and member states to “exercise greater responsibilities… if they want to contribute to maintaining peace and security”, no clues were offered as to why it matters.

This is not a trivial point, in light of all the evidence (unused battlegroups, under-staffed training missions, unaddressed capability gaps) that most of the EU’s member states really don’t much want to contribute to maintaining peace and security – or even to maintaining effective armed forces. Using the defence budget to support industrial or regional jobs, or straightforwardly political rather than military objectives seems increasingly to be the European norm.

The temptation to misapply defence budgets in these ways is understandable, especially in the midst of recession. But it cannot be healthy in democracies to assert one thing and practice another; and such oblique methods of funding economic objectives are unlikely to be the most efficient. Implicit in this behaviour, moreover, is a set of assumptions about the world around us, and our position in it, which when unpacked should give us pause. This general European lack of seriousness about defence pre-supposes that we can rest easy in the apparent absence of military threat for the foreseeable future. It further pre-supposes either that the notions of European ‘power and influence’ on the global stage are irrelevant/distasteful/outdated, or that in the modern age effective armed forces have no part to play in maintaining such power.

None of this looks safe. Time and again, as when we have found ourselves astonished by invasions of the Falkland Islands or Kuwait, or by the Arab Spring, we discover that the ‘foreseeable future’ can amount to as little as a few days. Worse, an attitude of ‘no threats, so no defence needed’ overlooks the vital deterrent purpose of armed forces. Threats are not like weather events – they are backed by human calculation (something we almost wilfully obscure by broadening our concept of ‘security’ to include pandemics and climate change). And human calculation is crucially affected by perceptions of the other party’s will to resist, or at any rate stand up to bullying. In short, an evident lack of seriousness about defence risks turning the potential threat into actuality.

As for European aspirations to be a ‘global player’, proactively promoting our interests and distinctive values, the economic crisis has inevitably done great damage. Witness the mercantilisation of our diplomacy, with Europe’s national leaders jostling in Beijing and the Gulf for investment and export orders. The U.S. ‘pivots to Asia’, but Europeans refuse to view the other side of the globe as more than an enormous market. Germany sells arms as though they were nothing but expensive machine tools; British Conservatives evoke Singapore as the model of their national ambition. Yet even ‘realists’ should reflect that simply ceding global leadership to hungrier and more determined new powers is no way, ultimately, to achieve even the most basic aim of enabling our children to make a living – that Europe’s continuing prosperity depends on a continuing ability to demand that trade be fair as well as free, to maintain access to raw materials, and to insist on minimum environmental and social standards in global economic activity.

So power and influence in the wider world are vital if we are adequately to protect our interests, never mind promoting our values, at a time when most of the rest of the world seems more interested in the Chinese model of authoritarian capitalism than in any Western norms. The democracies amongst the new powers may be somewhat more concerned for human rights: but Brazil and India as much as China evince a ‘neo-Westphalian’ view of international affairs, focussing on national sovereignty and non-interference rather than on any ‘rules-based world’.

Which of course is a big part of why military power has an essential part to play if Europe is not to find itself shunted to the margins of global affairs. We in Europe may be post-modern, but the rest of the world is not – including all those ‘swing voters’ whose preferences will determine which of the new contenders for global leadership carries most weight. Across the Middle East, through Africa, to East and South-East Asia, national leaders are either military men, or at least preoccupied on a day-to-day basis with military issues which may well be matters of government or even state survival. They want arms, and they also want training, and advice, and intelligence, and the reassurance that can come from working with partners who understand military affairs, and who will from time to time demonstrate their military reach and presence.

This is not a matter of sending gun-boats, or subscribing to Frederick the Great’s dictum that ‘diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments’. It is a matter of understanding that effective armed forces can and should have a role to play, not just in ‘countering threats’ but as instruments of state-craft. European leaders have had their heads in the sand about this for too long, too ready to hide behind the 2003 Strategy – a triumph in its day, but now the product of a bygone era. It is high time for a first-principles European re-evaluation of how the world has changed, and will continue to change (demographic projections, for example, are both dependable and worrying for Europeans), and to flush out those old assumptions guiding Europe’s foreign policy which no longer hold true. A glance at Europe’s own neighbourhood is enough to explode the notion that ‘soft power’ is all it takes. And what policy should we now substitute for the happy but evaporated hope that new powers could be house-trained to become ‘responsible stakeholders’ in an international system designed by the West?

 

To the credit of the European Council’s president, Herman Van Rompuy, last December’s defence discussion opened the door to this sort of debate when national leaders agreed to ‘assess the impact of changes in the global environment’ and to consider ‘the challenges and opportunities arising for the Union’. It is to be hoped that later this year the successor to Catherine Ashton will choose to exploit this opening to the full. Without a fundamental rethink of Europe’s external strategy it will not just be Europe’s armed forces that can expect to be hollowed out, but Europe’s interests and values too.

 

First published by the Europe’s World, article re-posted per author’s permission

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Baerbock has publicly declared ‘a war against Russia’

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image source: Wikimedia Commons

On January 25 Germany and the United States decided to provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 and Abrams tanks totaling 45 (respectively: 14 + 31). Some European countries also intend to join these supplies that could reach around 300 main battle and light tanks during this year. The Pentagon official confirmed that collected ‘the armor basket’ could include 300 tanks and ACV/APC during 2023. It will be 28th ‘basket’ of lethal military supplies of the transatlantic alliance to Ukraine that started on a massive scale in 2022.

– Unlike fascist Germany, current Germany openly declared a war against Russia on January 25. Arguing in favor of sending NATO tanks and ACV/APC to Ukraine, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said EU countries were fighting a war against Russia. US and EU officials have previously gone out of their way to claim ‘they were not a party to the conflict in Ukraine’.

This is a quotation from what Baerbock has stated at PACE. “And therefore, I’ve said already in the last days – yes, we have to do more to defend Ukraine. Yes, we have to do more also on tanks,” Baerbock said during a debate at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on January 25. “But the most important and the crucial part is that we do it together and that we do not do the blame game in Europe, because

so far from the German Government, it means that her statement is fully shared by the FRG Government we are fighting a war against Russia and not against each other.”

If she has not been sacked and the Parliament.

It also means that the FRG has radically changed its foreign policy and once again is unleashing the next World War – the Third one.

It means that German tanks again will appear in Ukraine and Russia like in 1941-1945.

It also means that pro-Nazi coalition supports ultra-nationalist regime in Kiev that began its own and unprovoked aggression – initially against Donbass in April 2014, and later against Russia in October 2022.

It means that since January 25, 2023 current joint Ukrainian-NATO actions in Ukraine can be politically and juridically labelled as “a declared direct combined Ukrainian-NATO aggression against the Russian Federation”.

Russia angrily reacted to such abnormal statement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that tank supplies to Ukraine by Western countries testify their direct and growing involvement in their armed conflict. He added that the flow of western weapons to Ukraine does not help potential negotiations between Moscow and Kiev.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that any shipments containing weapons for Ukraine would become a lawful target for Russian forces,

The Russian Embassy in Germany for its part warned that “this extremely dangerous decision [by Berlin] shifts the Ukrainian conflict to a new level of standoff.”

All five parliamentary political parties at the Russian State Duma are demanding from the highest military and political structures in the country to destroy all Ukrainian-NATO heavy weapons – not only at the front lines, but additionally and primarily near Ukrainian-NATO border as soon as such weapons cross it on land, in the air and at sea.

Such destruction will save a lot of innocent lives amongst civilians and military men.

– Moscow has also cautioned NATO and non-NATO members against supplying Ukraine with depleted uranium munitions (DUM) and with long-range weaponry capable of striking at cities deep within Russian territory.

Supplying Ukraine with DUM for western military hardware would be regarded by Moscow as the use of “dirty bombs,” said Konstantin Gavrilov, head of the Russian delegation to the Vienna Negotiations on Military Security and Arms Control. Speaking at a plenary meeting of the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation in the capital of Austria Vienna, Gavrilov cautioned “western sponsors of Kiev’s war machine” against encouraging “nuclear provocations and blackmail.”

“We know that Leopard 2 tanks, as well as Bradley and Marder armored fighting vehicles, can use depleted uranium shells, which can contaminate terrain, just like it happened in Yugoslavia and Iraq,” he said. “If Kiev were to be supplied with such munitions for the use in western heavy military hardware, we would regard it as the use of ‘dirty nuclear bombs’ against Russia, with all the consequences that entails.”

Gavrilov also warned that Moscow will retaliate if the West were to supply Kiev with long-range weaponry to carry out strikes against Russian cities. “If Washington and NATO countries provide Kiev with weapons for striking against the cities deep inside the Russian territory and for attempting to seize our constitutionally affirmed territories, it would force Moscow to undertake harsh retaliatory actions. Do not say that we did not warn you,” he remarked.

– Ex-President Donald Trump called on Joseph Biden to end ‘crazy’ Ukraine conflict before it leads to the use of nuclear weapons.

“First come the tanks, then come the nukes. Get this crazy war ended, now. So easy to do,” Trump outlined.

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Davos more of a show, no longer so important

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“Davos has become more of a show, it’s no longer so important”, concluded Liviu Muresan from Eurodefense Romania at the end of the webinar recently jointly organized by Eurodefense Romania and the Bucharest-based MEPEI think-tank. In the aftermath of the Davos World Economic Forum, 20 key-note speakers invited to examine this year’s edition did not hesitate to cast a critical eye upon the outcome and some of them were very straightforward in assessing this year’s  WEF.

Adrian Severin, former Romanian minister of foreign affairs, gave a remarkable definition to the Davos WEF:  “something between mythology and reality because politicians come to Davos to look for intellectual validation and economic support, corporatists come to look for intellectual respectability and political assets, civil activists seek kinship with the political power and financial sponsorship. They make a network of self-legitimized supra-national power that combines the characteristics of occult interest groups, influence groups that associate oligarchic cynicism with democratic hypocrisy. A group of self- proclaimed prophets, self-confirming their prophecies.”

Experienced in foreign policy, Severin could identify new approaches during the Forum, so he portrayed in detail “the Davos WEF that turned from an incubator of ideas into a platform for launching messages and trial balloons, from a doctrinal workshop into a ballroom…from a political designer into a moral whistle-blower ….from a producer of doctrines into a producer of dogmas…from the champion of missionary realism into athlete of utopias ….from a platform of dialogue into a platform of war propaganda…from a believer in globalization into a promoter of globalism…from a follower of inclusion into a promoter of exclusion….Davos is at risk of losing popularity and political failure, it no longer solves problems, it either deepens the existing crisis or generates new crises .”

Severin argued that “this year’s edition was significant through the absences rather than through the presences because only Olaf Scholtz was present this year out of the G7 leaders….Russia and China were absent….The president of the European Commission has become a US ventriloquist , no longer representative of the European Union that is neither  Union, and no longer European…The main representatives of the US were absent. Those present discussed everything but the risk of having the world fractured into two blocks with incompatible cultural identities, with the Euro-Atlantic block increasingly weaker than the Indo-Pacific block and the Euro-African-South-American block…the discussion about green energy and other similar topics  is nonsense as long as solutions are not presented.”

Severin believes that the main concern should be “to stop the war in Ukraine and to normalize the dialogue between the Euro-Atlantic and the Euro-Asian blocks”, especially because this year’s theme was “Cooperation in a fragmented world”.

The most inspirational speech was given by Antonio Gutierez, the head of United Nations Organization, who referred indeed to the fragmented world, but Severin pointed to the fact that Antonio Gutierez gave such a speech in Davos and not in the UN in New York or Geneva, a sign of the failure of the UN, which means that the UN and the OSCE must be revived.

General Corneliu Pivariu, former head of the Romanian Military Intelligence, stressed that the Davos meeting actually does not solve any problem of the world. It speaks every year about economic inequalities without solving that, doing every year nothing else than acknowledging the deepening of inequalities. For instance, according to Credit Suisse, between December 2019  and December 2021, the global wealth increased with 42 trillion USD but 26 trillion USD belonged to the 1% richest population, and 16% to the rest of 99% of the world’s population. Another topic is global warming, which is also never curbed, and an Oxfam report released in November 2022 revealed that a billionaire’s annual emissions of CO2 are one million times higher than a person in the 90% of the world’s population.

Carlos Branco, senior analyst with the National Defense Institute in Portugal, confirmed that Davos meeting did not find solutions to the world’s problems. He reminded that, in Davos, Ursula Von Der Leyen, Olaf Scholtz and other leaders spoke of the need to make Europe independent in terms of energy but they did not explain how exactly Europe will manage to provide itself commodities and raw materials, since Europe currently has 37 strategic dependencies out of which 2% from China and 3% from Russia, while the new technologies will still make Europe dependent on Asia. “The future of Europe will depend on how it will position itself in relation to the advanced technologies, Artificial Intelligence,  a.s.o., but for the moment, Europe is trapped.”

As an outstanding expert on Asia, Viorel Isticioaia Budura, former Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service and former Romanian ambassador in China and Japan, pointed to the absence of many G7 leaders in Davos as well as of Asian leaders, among which China, which is “the beauty and Miss Universe of the world’s interdependency”, and mentioned the presence of many Asian business people in Davos this year, while reminding of the importance of Asian countries and of the three high-level summits organized in Asia last year, G20, APEC and ASEAN, and of what Anthony Blinken, the US secretary of state, called “the rest of the world”, namely, Asian countries that do not follow the Euro-Atlantic order but have become a significant part of the global economy. Isticioaia Budura wondered if the “re-globalization of the supply chains would be possible” and declared China “the champion and the promoter of globalization.”

Michael Zinkanell director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security, Vienna, expressed his opinion that “we a living in a bipolar world dominated by the US and China while Russia has no ability to project global power, and some clear conclusions after the Davos meeting are that instability is increasing in the world, the world is becoming more and more interconnected and energy independence and decarbonisation are very important for the future”.  Zinkanell sees natural disasters and socio-economic risks as the main concerns for the future, but also the interactions with some authoritarian countries that are trying to lead in this new multipolar world that will allow multilateralism.

Germano Dottori, editor of the Italian Geopolitical magazine, also agreed that Davos meeting became too politicized and not too useful but he sees the prospects for the future of the world “not so bleak like a few months ago.”

Flavius Caba Maria, president of MEPEI, the Bucharest-based think-tank that co-organized the webinar, expert on the MENA region, mentioned a few aspects among which that fact that the representatives of oil and gas companies were welcomed at Davos, unlike Glasgow, which is a sign that renewables cannot entirely meet the energy needs of humanity.

On the other hand, Caba Maria pointed to the BRICS countries and his remarks could be seen as complementary to the idea mentioned by several speakers that the Western institutions seem to have lost their ability to solve the global problems and to ensure economic equality.

Caba Maria emphasized that “the global South is establishing its own system of alliances, turning them into a source to transform global economy, thus creating a development alternative trend, different from the one promoted by the West, with three regional alliances looming: the African Union, the Community of Latin American States and Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Eurasia. Among all these countries, China stands out and everything that’s going on in China is of utmost interest for the other countries, because it has become the world’s largest economy.”

Facts to keep in mind for the organizers of next Davos meetings.

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Serbia must reject the ultimatum regarding Kosovo

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Photo: Presidency of Serbia / Dimitrije Goll

The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic on January 20th  had a meeting with the Western negotiating team about the solution for Kosovo. European mediator Miroslav Lajcak, American envoy Gabriel Escobar, German and French special advisers Jens Ploetner and Emmanuel Bonne as well as Italian prime minister’s adviser Mario Talo once again discussed with the leaders of Serbia (and Kosovo) the plan(ultimatum) that should regulate relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Officially, the plan for a peaceful solution has not been presented to the public. However, Serbian media published the text of the plan and they clearly emphasize that it is an ultimatum from Quinta.  And what is even more important, no one from the Government of Serbia denied it.

Which clearly tells us that the Government of Serbia is releasing the plan(ultimatum) as a trial balloon. However, that decision turned out to be wise, because the reactions of the citizens of Serbia to the plan were more than clear on the point of view that the plan was unacceptable. Because that agreement, among other things, requires that Serbia in practice (de facto) recognize the violent secession of its own Province that is, allow Kosovo to join the United Nations.

The plan compiled by the advisers of the leaders of the two largest democracies in Europe – French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – represents a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the basic principles of democratic international relations, the UN Charter, and the OSCE Final Document.

The plan(ultimatum) for Kosovo, humiliates Serbia and the Serbian people by ordering that Serbia respect equality, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the so-called state symbols of Kosovo and all other countries, except it`s own sovereignty, territorial integrity and it`s internationally recognized borders confirmed by the UN, OSCE and other international organizations. Serbia is expected to cooperate in dismantling its own integrity, its own constitutional order and international reputation, so that no one could use the “Kosovo case” as a precedent for unilateral secessions, which primarily refers to Ukraine.

The fact that currently five members of the European Union (Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus) and four members of NATO do not recognize the independence of Kosovo shows how bad the acceptance of the plan would be for Serbia. The goal is also to place all responsibility for the victims and destruction on Serbia, as a victim of the NATO aggression in 1999, and to use this act to justify the aggression against Serbia, which was carried out against the international law.

Kosovo is not a frozen conflict, as claimed in the West and repeated by official Belgrade, nor it can be resolved by an ultimatum to Serbia. The best example of this is Cyprus, which was invaded by Turkey in 1974, and despite this, neither Turkey nor Cyprus (or Greece) agree to any ultimatums, nor does anyone give them. The question must be asked here, how is it possible for Quinta to issue an ultimatum to Serbia and why are the Serbian Government and the President of Serbia allowing it?!

The Serbian Government must apply new tactics

Negotiations on Kosovo with Quinta must first be conducted on essential matters. And that means, above all, the protection of the current Serbian population in Kosovo and the return of the 250,000 expelled Serbs. Regulating the status of Serbian state property in Kosovo, which was seized by the separatist government in the province. Plus, the return of stolen property to the Serbs, who were forcibly expelled from the province.

Also, bearing in mind the aggressive policy of the Kosovo separatists, who, contrary to the agreement with NATO, are sending special units to the north of the province, while perpetrating violence against the Serbs, a new strategy is needed. And this is primarily reflected in the fact that the Government of Serbia must help establish the Republika Srpska in the north of Kosovo. This means that the local Serbs would have their own police(including a special police unit), judiciary, prosecutor’s office, education, health care and control over border crossings. In other words, parity would be established in the armed forces, bearing in mind that it is not realistic to expect that Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic will ever approve the sending of the Serbian Army to Kosovo. In this way, Serbia would strategically strengthen its positions and would wait for a change on the geopolitical scene of the world, until favorable conditions are created for the full return of the southern Serbian province of Kosovo to Serbia.

Otherwise, if Serbian Government agree to Kosovo’s entry into the United Nations, it would mean that Kosovo could unite with Albania, about which Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti also publicly spoke about. This would than open the issue of secession from Serbia of the Presevo Valley and the geographical region of Sandzak. And what is even more important, an incredibly strong pressure to abolish Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina would begin. All of the above would have catastrophic consequences for the country of Serbia, but also for the entire Balkans.

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