After initially keeping a low profile during the acute military-political confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine, the European Union suddenly surprised the world in the latter half of June with more important decisions than the approval of yet another package of sanctions against Moscow. First, the land transit problem between the Russian mainland and Kaliningrad dramatically worsened as part of the EU economic war on Russia. Second, at a June 23 summit, the leaders of the EU countries agreed to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. Although neither is likely to have significant or truly dangerous consequences for the time being, these actions provide an excellent opportunity to reflect the nature of the EU, its role in Europe’s development and prospects.
This is of particular interest because European integration has become one of the most mythologised topics in international affairs. This is no surprise – the relatively stable and long-term cooperation of such a large group of states is highly unusual for international politics. But it inevitably gives rise to a number of hypotheses about the emergence of this phenomenon and its peculiarities.
In a sense, this association is indeed a marvel against the background of our entire historical experience, which is marked by competition and fierce rivalry between states.
This is why attempts to explain how it was at all possible inevitably engendered new myths and illusions that were designed to separate the phenomenon from the discussion about it.
The first, most enduring myth rests on the assumption that the EU is a peaceful project that, by its very nature, cannot be used for aggressive action beyond its borders. In effect, this is a simple extrapolation of the rules and norms of interstate relations to their relations with the outside world. Indeed, European integration did emerge at a time when a military solution to disputes between its members did not appear possible.
But the sequence is all important – the founding countries were already incapable of fighting each other before they created an association with additional opportunities for developing relations in the framework of law and institutions.
When the first institutions of European integration emerged, West European countries were still reeling from the greatest military cataclysm in history. Moreover, two of them – Germany and Italy – were not actually in charge of their domestic and foreign policy. Both countries were under full or partial foreign occupation and therefore could not even physically consider a military option one of the tools of their foreign policy as regards their neighbours. Formally one of the victorious countries in WWII, France was also dependent on the United States, which was the only country that could guarantee France’s sovereignty against the looming threat of being swallowed from the east by the victorious USSR.
Subsequently, European integration did not do anything to spread peace even among its members. The United States successfully resolved these issues inside the Western community. In the second half of the 20th century it could effectively discipline the elites of the countries under its military domination.
The only real opportunity for achieving peace between historical opponents in the framework of integration would be Turkey’s accession to the EU, which already counts its traditional foe, Greece, as a member. However, the EU has neither the ability nor appetite to make this happen, and the Republic of Turkey is now further from joining the EU than during any time since the start of their relations in 1961. Another example that some European officials also like to mention is containing the allegedly irrepressible territorial conflict between Hungary and Romania over Transylvania. However, the main deterrent here is NATO or, more precisely, US influence in Eastern Europe, which is vital to the existence of the alliance.
There is even less justification to claim that European integration was intended to improve relations with third countries via cooperation. In general, immediately after the creation of the communities, one of the main goals of their foreign policy was to restore the positions of their members in Third World countries that had just rid themselves of colonial dependence. The EEC’s first trade agreement was signed with a group of former French colonies in West Africa and was aimed at preserving the economic positions of the former parent state in this region.
Subsequently, the member countries charged their institutions in Brussels with other important tasks: oppose the USSR in the economic arena; contain the development of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) countries; coordinate formal and informal sanctions against the USSR and its allies; and ultimately undermine the CMEA’s integrity by signing separate trade agreements with its inpidual members. This is exactly why the EEC persistently opposed the signing of a general agreement with the CMEA or the USSR despite their urging until the latter half of the 1980s when the impending collapse of the Eastern bloc had become a likely prospect.
There are no grounds at all to call the EU a “peaceful project” after the end of the Cold War. In fact, the recent collision over Kaliningrad transit was one of the consequences of the EU’s activities in that historical period. After the collapse of the Soviet sphere of influence and breakup of the USSR, the West European countries began to rather aggressively establish control over Eastern Europe, while never considering the interests of Russia, their biggest partner in the East. Now nobody even conceals the fact that the EU expanded to the detriment of Russian interests, not to mention the policy the EU adopted after 2003 as regards the states that emerged along the perimeter of Russia in the western part of the former USSR. The ultimatum contained in “the EU’s peaceful project” for Ukraine in 2013 was one of the most important factors in triggering the Ukrainian crisis.
The second important myth is linked with the EU’s expansion to include new members. For a rather long time, there was a dominant view that any increase in the number of member countries was the result of a rational calculation based on an objective assessment of the ability of this or that country to meet a certain “gold standard.” But his was not the case. With the exception of the accession of Denmark and the United Kingdom to the European communities in 1973, all other waves of expansion were not based on the economic readiness of candidate members. This applies to Greece that joined the EU in 1981 and even more so, to Spain and Portugal, which became its members in 1986. It is possible to say with some reservations that the accession of Austria, Sweden and Finland to the EU in 1995 was not accompanied by any big differences in the level of socioeconomic development.
However, the following large expansion to Eastern Europe, as well as to Cyprus and Malta was a strictly political project. The preservation of economic harmony within the EU was out of the question. Therefore, it is possible to regard the granting of candidate status to Ukraine, which may not even exist in five or seven years, and Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, as the logical continuation of the road on which the West European countries embarked 40 years ago when they invited economically backward Greece to join their ranks.
Overall, we are seeing that European integration has always been aimed at resource extraction from new territories and consolidation of US influence in Europe. Brexit and Britain’s decades-long special position in the integration structure was possible owing to its much stronger bilateral relationship with the United States.
Finally, the third myth of European integration, which is widespread in Russia, concerns its legal and institutional character. Indeed, in several decades the EU has established a ramified system of its own legal standards and institutions, which creates a powerful illusion of resolving vital issues by the force of law, not by the law of force. However, we should not forget that all decisions in the EU are based on the relative power (demographic and economic) of the inpidual member countries. In this sense, the biggest countries have free rein to implement what they considered politically expedient. In other words, there can be no standards or rules in the EU that do not accommodate the interests of such countries as Germany and France first and foremost. This has become particularly clear in the past 15 years when most decisions were made directly through intergovernmental bargaining while the job of EU institutions was merely to process them legally.
To sum up, it is possible to say that the current circumstances are allowing us to see much clearer the real nature of the phenomenon to the west of our borders. Even if economic and political relations with the EU countries are restricted in the next few years, a better understanding of how their association develops will allow us to more accurately assess its historical prospects. For quite a long time, Russia, like many other countries, had no opportunity to see Europe for what it is. However, in the new historical era we will not have to recycle old myths and long-standing illusions that we often created ourselves.
From our partner RIAC
The Eurasian Zeitenwende: Germany and Japan at the Crossroads
Russia’s decision to invade in Ukraine in February of last year has been nothing short of a critical juncture in recent history—sending reverberations across the entirety of Eurasia. Seldom have events on one end of the continent been so consequential on the other. Russia’s invasion has shattered the prime directive underpinning the long peace after the Great Wars—the inviolable right to sovereignty has been shattered, as mass armed aggression has reared its head once again. Nowhere is this sweeping change felt than in Berlin and Tokyo—to capitals separated by over 12,453 kilometers of land and sea.
German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz spoke to the Bundestag just three days after Russia’s invasion, on the ‘historic turning point’, the Zeitenwende this moment presented. Not a year later, on December 16, after much negotiation Japan finally released their first National Security Strategy in almost a decade. Ukraine provided for both governments the impetus to shed decades of consensus on defense policy. Berlin and Tokyo were once partners in the greatest conflict wrought on mankind, and today they are once again on the same page—but this time arming in the name of global peace.
The postwar consensus
With 1945 came the crashing down of the German and Japanese imperial ambitions that underwrote the explosions of violence from 1914 to 1945. The first half of the twentieth century saw successive orders predicated the passing of power; the imperialist order long preceded the turn of the century, and came crashing with the First World War. From there, a brief liberal interlude of the Washington Conference was doomed to fail given Anglo-American isolationism, and from that chaos was born—a return to imperialism. With these passing orders, German and Japanese leaders debated and sought to reinvent themselves in response to changing tides across the globe.
In fact, twice in the last century, during Twenty-five Years Crisis, Wilhelmine and Nazi imperialism exploded in the European theater. For the Japanese, a slow roll to imperial domination in Asia began much before the war and exploded in the 1930s. This imperial flame was extinguished almost as soon as it was ignited—bringing with it the deaths of millions through genocide and war, and the destruction of much of the world’s industrial capacity. In the wake of it, a similar thinking overtook both Berlin and Tokyo. In the wake of the horrors of war, both peoples came to a similar conclusion that militarism ought be eschewed—with Japan going as far as enshrining its anti-militarist urge in the constitution’s article 9. Though it must be noted, the Germans accepted their guilt—the Japanese continue to engage in denialism and apologia.
For decades, under the guise of guilt in Germany, and occupation-enforced constitutional limits for Japan, both countries eschewed providing for their own national defense needs—instead relying on the all-powerful U.S. security guarantee.
A new look in a new environment
This change that has occurred here has happened within the context of what Dr. Kent Calder described in The New Continentalism: Energy and Twenty-First Century Geopolitics, and Supercontinent: the Logic of Eurasian Integration, as ‘proto-continentalism’—the modern stirrings of transcontinental integration. The continent was transformed by China’s Four Modernizations, the Oil Shock, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union—all requiring readjustments on the continent. Continental integration followed the integration and modernization within China, the Oil Shock highlighted the need for energy-driven interconnection, and the collapse of the Soviet Union meant no more Cold War political antagonisms. These changes meant that there were suddenly lower costs for trade across the continent—one rife with great complementaries. Like some geographic providence, the world’s largest energy producers in the Middle East, sat between the world’s biggest consumers in Europe and Asia.
Of course, this integration isn’t just relegated to the economic realm—but also the defense sector. Whereas integration was predicated by the near-collapse of mass interstate conflict, the War in Ukraine would seem to threaten just that. But in fact, integration ensures the costs associated with this conflict are felt from one end of the continent to the other. This inherently ties the most far-flung countries on matters of defense—exactly what ties Berlin and Tokyo, and their similar responses to the war in Ukraine. This integration doesn’t just tie Berlin and Tokyo, but also Seoul and Warsaw, both of which have seen deepened defense cooperation not limited to the production of South Korean tanks and artillery in Poland. Furthermore, Japan has sought out increased cooperation with NATO.
The mutually-reinforcing loop
Russia’s invasion has been an unmitigated tragedy for the people of Ukraine—but a boon for solidarity in the ‘Western’ security architecture, including the West’s numerous Asian allies and partners, and Eurasian integration writ large. In fact, the mutual economic ties that have fostered closer defense ties across the region, will continue to reinforce each other. Integration between these partners, across various sectors is the greatest mitigator of future conflict—an idea that underpins the great postwar peace, and one that will continue to endure.
Today, Germany and Japan, once imperial menaces to the international system, now make a proactive contribution to global peace—in deciding to behave like normal countries, and arm amidst a threatening global environment. Their contribution to the peace is in the solidification of transcontinental defense ties—ones predicated on deep economic integration.
Bangladesh-UK strategic dialogue: Significance in the post-Brexit era
On September 12th, Bangladesh and the UK held their fifth strategic dialogue. The future of Bangladesh’s ties to the United Kingdom in the wake of Brexit has been the subject of much conjecture. Analysts questioned Dhaka’s duty-free access to Britain, which has been generous to an LDC economy like Bangladesh’s, as the UK prepared for its exit from the EU. However, the United Kingdom and Bangladesh have weathered these worries quite well. Rather, the statement by FCDO Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Philip Barton during the dialogue, sums up the strength of Bangladesh-UK relations in current times- “The Dialogue is a reflection of the growing relationship between our two countries, and our desire to work together more closely on our economic, trade and development partnerships and on regional and global security issues.”
Dhaka and London are having a great year on cooperation and connectivity. In the post Brexit era, the year 2023 seems like to be the year that will shift the ties between these countries from a bilateral partnership to each other’s crucial strategic partner in the current geo-politics.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went to participate in the formal inauguration of the new King Charles III of the United Kingdom earlier this year. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had only good things to say about Bangladesh during the visit. This is also reflected in London’s post-pandemic approach to Dhaka.
Bangladesh-UK held their first ever defense dialogue in March of 2022 where they discussed various ways of strengthening cooperation including defense, security and trade and climate change. This year started with the second Bangladesh-UK Trade and Investment Dialogue on February. Both the UK and Bangladesh agreed during the discussion that they would want to enhance their trade connection in order to increase their prosperity. This discussion was followed by signing an agreement on March for working together in climate action bilaterally and multilaterally to help deliver the outcomes of COP26 and COP27.
UK’s Indo-Pacific Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan signed the doctrine during her visit to Bangladesh which also signifies UK’s understanding of Bangladesh’s geostrategic importance in the Bay of Bengal and in the Indian Ocean.
So, this dialogue was surely a much anticipated one among the foreign ministries of these countries.
The provisional agenda included the state visit of President Mohammed Shahabuddin to the United Kingdom in November and the possible visit of British King Charles III (Charles Philip Arthur George) to Bangladesh in 2024. Other than that bilateral trade, investment, and market opportunities; migration, mobility and a new visa scheme for students are expected to be at the top of the agenda. Discussions on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Rohingya crisis will also be featured.
The more complex agendas this year include discussions on mutual legal assistance and the extradition of convicted persons.
But Bangladesh has failed to gain an extradition treaty with UK. Although both countries agreed to constitute a joint working group to discuss migration, mobility and mutual recognition of qualifications, and agreed to sign a standard operating procedure (SOP) on returns of Bangladesh nationals in irregular situations in the UK.
The discussions regarding extradition issues if was fruitful, it might have helped the government to bring fugitives to national justice finally. Except this, the strategic dialogues between these countries in recent years have usually brought deep discussions and decisions on bilateral issues.
On the first of this strategic dialogue was in 2017, the issue of defense purchase was discussed- a much needed ground setting for the Forces Goals 2030 of Bangladesh. On the last edition of this dialogue, held in London back in 2021, the UK pledge to extend duty-free, quota-free access to its market until 2029, aiming to facilitate Bangladesh’s export-led growth.
Not only that, UK also added Bangladesh’s name to the list of the Developing Countries Trading Scheme (DCTS) where the country will experience a more simplified regulation system and reduced tariffs on its products entering the UK. This only adds to UK’s commitment towards Bangladesh’s development – where the country is already one of the biggest developing partners of Bangladesh.
UK’s such generosity towards Bangladesh isn’t only because of the benevolence of its heart. The country is now out of the shell of EU, certainly has to widen its reach across other regions. Indo-Pacific is its preferred place to start.
Bangladesh’s geostrategic location between China and the Indian Ocean with its advantage of having a gate way to Southeast Asia makes Bangladesh seemingly the perfect candidate for UK’s strategic interests. Both countries have also announced their Indo-pacific policies which focuses mainly on their economic aspirations. With such resonating goals for the region, the countries can definitely build a bigger stage of collaboration with each other.
The countries used this occasion as the pinnacle of their further economic cooperation as Bangladesh and the UK have agreed to create new institutional cooperation to promote business, trade, investment and are considering signing a new MoU on economic cooperation. They also discussed potential increase of cooperation and capacity building on global and regional security issues of mutual interest, including maritime and blue economy goals in the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean.
The UK also announced a further £3m contribution to the Rohingya response, taking its total contribution since 2017 to £368m.
Another important discussion was on defense and cooperation where UK expressed its interest in selling advanced weapons to Bangladesh for protecting its air and maritime territory.
UK already recognizes Bangladesh as a critical stability provider in the Indo-Pacific and as both the countries have played their cards right, one could argue that bilateral ties are stronger than ever before. The dialogue has served as a further golden thread binding their visionary future together.
Greece-UAE Relations through a Personal Lens
Bilateral relations between two countries are cultivated over time through shared values, partnerships, as well as common strategic interests and concerns. This is the case between UAE and Greece, as described below as per my personal experience.
As part of the bilateral military cooperation, the F-16s of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) came to Crete and trained with the Greek crews in the operational environment of the Eastern Mediterranean. Emirates aircraft have also frequently flied from Greece during operations in Libya.
Any strategic analyst, in order to study, understand and then successfully analyse the complex issues of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, should have visited the countries in the region and should have exchanged views with their citizens and experts.
I visited the UAE as a member of the Greek delegation of the Ministry of Defence, but also, I was member of the team hosting the UAE military delegations in Greece, for the signing of the annual bilateral military cooperation programs.
The First Official Experience.
The first official visit to the UAE was my participation, as a representative of the Greek Ministry of National Defence, in IDEX-2001 (International Defence Exhibition & Conference). The entire event was held under the patronage of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The hospitality was excellent with accommodation at the Abu Dhabi Officers Club which is an impressive building with a bat-shaped architectural design, with hydro-cultures in the inner corridors and wonderful gardens in the surrounding area.
At my disposal was a luxurious white car with the Greek flag on the windshield and an officer of the Emirates Air Force as my escort. This officer had studied for ten years in the United States, attending professional development Training Schools. He was an outstanding professional with military training and strategic thinking.
During a break in the scheduled activities of the Exhibition, the attendant offered to give me a “surprise” as he called it and show me something that connects the UAE and Greece. I accepted the challenge. We visited a small harbour in the north, where colourful boats from Iran were moored. Merchandise was spread out on the dock and on the boats, creating a great bazaar like a flea market. The strange thing was that around this peculiar bazaar there were iron bars and a strong police presence.
My escort explained: “we have serious problems with Iran, but we wish to maintain good relations with Iranian citizens through trade. For this reason, we allow this trade bazaar to be organized at regular intervals”.
Relations between UAE and Greece
“What does this “bazaar” have to do with Greece?” I asked, and my escort explained: “Iran claims islands of the UAE and has taken a military operation on Abu Musa Island where there are oil wells, as well as on the Little and the Great Tunb islets. These are near the entrance to the Gulf, inside from the Straits of Hormuz. Due to the depth of the sea, large ships must pass between Abu-Musa and Tunb, giving to these occupied islands great geostrategic importance, that Iran has been exploiting since their military occupation.
The UAE has submitted a formal proposal to the UN for a negotiated settlement of the disputes with the goal of a final settlement at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), based on International Law. On the contrary, Iran has militarized the dispute by occupying the islands with military forces. The Iranians do not accept the validity of International Law for these islands, because as they believe, historically they once belonged to the Persian Empire and were occupied by the British, who then handed them over to the UAE under an international treaty.” Iranians do not respect this International Treaty.
Concluding, my escort mentioned that the tension in the relations between the UAE and Iran resembles the corresponding relations between Greece and Turkey, especially after the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus. “Our staff monitors and analyses the way Greece deals with Turkey’s aggression, both diplomatically and militarily, and draws useful conclusions that we apply in our relations with Iran. This is our unique strategic relationship with Greece,” he told me.
Turkish Ministry of Defence Industry
Within the framework of the IDEX Exhibition, the Turkish Deputy Minister of Defence Industry invited all participants to a reception at one of the luxury hotels in the area. After proper advice from Greek Ambassador Zoes, I accepted the invitation. On the evening of the reception, I approached the Turkish Deputy Minister for the formal reception. The “allied” official offered me the emblem of his Deputy Ministry saying: “I want you to have as a gift from me the emblem that symbolizes the development efforts of the Turkish Defence Industry. We plan to be self-sufficient in the production of weapons systems in a decade.”
The emblem was a red glass ladybug with a large eye on her right spine. I thanked him and walked away to my companion who witnessed the brief conversation and commented, “the Turks are making a very strong presence at this IDEX. They are trying to secure Arab funds for the development of their Defence Industry.” In a period of about ten years, they managed to gain access to Arab funds from Qatar, while in 2013, in their favourite tactic, they managed to establish a military installation in Doha.
For the Hellenic Aviation Industry (HAI)
In the year 2009, I visited the UAE once more time as member of a delegation of the Directorate of International Relations of the Ministry of Defence/National Defence HQ. One of the topics discussed was related to the Hellenic Aviation Industry (HAI). The ground technical personnel of the UAE Air Force were trained in the past at the Hellenic Aviation Industry (HAI) in Greece. The UAE officers resided in the town of Chalkida about 80 Km north of Athens, contributing to a certain extent to the economic life of the town. I had been informed by Chalkidian friends that the Emirati military were very friendly and were beloved by the locals.
The training of the UAE Air Force Staff was halted after an unfortunate moment of misunderstanding occurred by the representatives of the Police and Diplomatic Authorities of Greece at the expense of the Sheikh when his aircraft made an unplanned landing at the Hellenikon International Airport of Athens on March 2000.
Being in the UAE, I requested to meet with Colonel Mohammed who was the head of the last group of UAE technicians trained at the HAI. In the context of traditional Arab hospitality, the Colonel offered a working dinner. During the discussion, he mentioned the pleasant memories he had from his stay in Chalkida, but also the professionalism with which HAI organized the training of the technicians he supervised. Of course, the decision to resume technical training was far away from the jurisdiction of the Colonel, but he promised to work to support the resumption of bilateral cooperation between Greece and the UAE for the training of UAE Air Force technicians in Greece.
Finally, after ten years, the efforts succeeded and in 2019, an Agreement was signed to restart training of UAE AirForce technicians in HAI.
The Last Official Visit to UAE.
In November 2011, I visited the UAE once again, as representative of the Hellenic Ministry of Defence. During this visit, an extremely important event happened, precisely on the day of the opening of the Airshow and specifically during the day of the official reception. All the guests formed a line in front of the host Sheikh Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The protocol of introduction and greeting was a formal process that unfolded in a calm and repetitive pattern.
When I approached the Sheikh and presented myself as representing the Greek Ministry of National Defence, something spectacular happened. Putting formalities aside, the Sheikh grabbed me by the shoulders and with genuine interest asked me: “How is Greece dealing with the economic crisis?” Will she be able to overcome it?” Impressed by the Sheikh’s reaction, I replied: “Your Highness, those of us who love Greece will help it deal with whatever economic problems the recent international crisis creates.” “Yes, indeed this is what we have to do” he replied.
After the reception was over, I headed to the exit of the hall in order to watch an aerobatic demonstration. Suddenly I felt a light tap on the shoulder. Turning I saw a gentleman in a grey suit, who politely asked me: “Excuse me, do you know the Sheikh personally? Because this appeared from your conversation. I replied that it was the first time I had ever met him in person, but we were connected by our common interest in the economic future of Greece. The gentleman nodded and handed me his card. He was the Defence Minister of India.
Thoughts and Conclusion.
The strategic threat faced by the UAE from Iran is like the strategic threat faced by Greece from Turkey. To counter this threat, the National Defence Policy that is formulated in both friendly countries is almost identical. On this basis, it is possible to develop relationships that are not temporary and situational, but a strategic cooperation that will be strong due to mutual understanding and mutual respect.
The development of the Greek Defence Industry is suffering due to the lack of vision, political determination, and long-term strategic planning. There is great opportunity for collaboration between the UAE and Greece on the field of Defence Industry. In contrast, the competitive Turkish Defence Industry, despite its structural problems, managed in a single decade, after succeeding to receive Arab funds from Qatar, not only to develop and cover much of the needs of the Turkish armed forces but also to export defence systems.
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