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The Folly of a European Security Architecture: Why Peace is Hard to Come?

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Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War explains that it was the rise of Athens that caused fear in the minds of the Spartans – making war inevitable.  Fear is a dominant force in international affairs and a rationale for states to pursue (and project) power. In the absence of a centralized authority; hierarchy; world government, or a nightwatchman – the international system is “anarchic” – where it is very hard to decipher the true intentions of states (Kaplan, 2012). This realist fear and uncertainty in decoding the intentions of states lead to the failure of even the most viable peace projects and ambitious liberal security architectures.  In the current Russo-Ukrainian conflict, although there were many lurking signs of Putin’s intention to launch a full-scale invasion, none of us could vouch with certainty that the inevitable would happen. The current war in Ukraine is already Europe’s biggest security challenge since WWII. It pits Europe once again as the cockpit of great power conflicts and has the potential of altering and re-shaping the global security order, and particularly the European security architecture. This article aims to provide a brief historical and structural reasons behind the fragility of European security architecture and peace project.

The current European security architecture has its roots in the post WWII reconstruction. After the horrors witnessed in the two World Wars, the Atlantic Charter propagated a rule-based global order, whereby global security became the collective responsibility of all participating states and bolstered by the permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council. Little did we foresee that this ambitious rule-based global security architecture would eventually fall victim to geopolitical forces as the iron curtain split the European continent into two spheres of influence. The Cold War fed on the “fear of the other” – where both parties respectively created regional defensive alliances and engaged in a self-defeating arms race. While the west created NATO to prevent socialism and the Soviets to hegemonize the continent, the Soviets responded with the Warsaw Pact that included the “buffer territories” of central, south, and eastern Europe, to form a cushion between itself and western Europe.

The end of the Cold War in the 1990s provided a much needed, albeit a short respite, to Europe’s security dilemma. A new era of peace and prosperity was heralded in the continent. As early as 1990, an essay written by John Mearsheimer – Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War, discusses the (possible) optimistic outcomes of the end of the Cold War, where the raison d’etre for NATO and Warsaw Pact come to an end. They cease to behave as defensive regional alliances – signaling the end of European hostility, fear mongering, and bipolarity. However, this was not the outcome – and what played out in the continent was a resumption of political maneuvering based on fear. The hawkish and neoconservative climate in America, that was at its pinnacle in the 1990s, backed the case of strengthening the Atlantic alliance (Atlanticism) whereby the oldest democracies and free markets on both shores of the Atlantic would continue to symbiotically rely on each other – as without America, Europe would turn into an insignificant peninsula at the “tip of Eurasia” and America into an “island off the shores of Eurasia” (Kissinger, 1994). Simply put, the fear of a dominant hegemony in Eurasia endangered American vital interests, as well as the European equilibrium (Kissinger, 1994). The only way to preempt such catastrophe from happening was to unify the Atlantic nations under a common threat and push forward the Atlanticist agenda of expanding democracy and collective security deeper into the continent. Such policies would make America indispensable to the European peace project. And indispensable it became. The Americans were deeply aware of the fractures and inequalities within European powers and profited from their fears and suspicions of each other.  

For instance, apropos NATO expansion, Kissinger opined that such measures must be undertaken to discourage the Russians from creating a sphere of influence around its borders. This had many takers particularly in central Europe – given its geopolitical and recent historical realities. Poland joined NATO in 1999, and seven other states joined in 2004. Such accessions made American involvement in European security inevitable. Furthermore, such zealous urgency of the central European states to join NATO gave further impetus to the Atlanticists over those, like France, who propagated the idea of a common and independent EU defense policy to wean the continent from being solely reliant on American security assurances (Zięba, 2019). But herein lay the folly. Such perfunctory maneuvers created an imbalance of power, an asymmetry of sort – whereby it strengthened the security of central Europe but not that of eastern Europe. The rationale behind was as insidious as real. On one hand, you could not have a legitimate and a solid European security architecture without the participation and amalgamation of its biggest power in eastern Europe– Russia. On the other hand, say if Russia was to be fully integrated in such security architecture and peace project, then NATO and the Atlanticist pro-American agenda would be relegated to redundancy.  

By not heeding to genuine Russian security concerns and by continuously expanding the borders of NATO under its open-door policy, the liberal Atlanticist agenda created nothing but an asymmetry and imbalance of power in Europe. The prospect of creating a zone of peace and prosperity in Europe through NATO expansion led to a security dilemma – which simply put entails that ‘self-help’ actions taken by one state (or a group of states) to bolsters its own security – even with the best intentions of not causing a threat to other state(s) – leads to a reaction from other state(s). This is almost certain as power in international relations is a zero-sum game. The Russians could reluctantly live with the central European and Baltic states aligned with NATO, but not its immediate sphere of influence – i.e., eastern Europe. And this issue became the tipping point for the Russians when NATO welcomed Georgia and Ukraine’s aspiration for membership at the Bucharest Summit in 2008. For Russia, this was crossing the red line, and the rest is history. The Russian reaction, manifested in the brief Russo-Georgian war in 2008, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the current Russo-Ukrainian conflict is the result of this very structural imbalance that has been created in the European security architecture for the past 30 years.

Is there an escape from this security dilemma for Europe? Can a solid European security architecture be envisaged that would contribute to the continent’s lasting peace? The answer is rather challenging. Mearsheimer’s (fatalistic) position is that the only thing states are certain about is uncertainty (Schmah, 2012), and the only way for states to survive in the uncertainty of the international system is to establish hegemony (offensive realism). This is the only method of pursuing relative security. This has been the Atlanticist approach apropos NATO expansion in Europe for the last 30 years. Since state intentions are not easily decoded, neither the differences between a states offensive and defensive capabilities, Mearsheimer (2001) postulates that in such instances the notion of security dilemma becomes redundant and non-operative, since states for its very survival must ‘initiative those actions that will lead all others into a security paradox manifested in continuous and inescapable security competition’ (Schmah, 2012).

The current conflict in Ukraine is the result of this inescapable security competition and fight for hegemony in Eurasia, where genuine concerns and security dilemma are often ignored. Such hawkish approach is still evident today, despite the current situation in Ukraine, with NATO welcoming Finland and Sweden to join its ranks. Such hegemonic pursuits will only spread fear and uncertainty in the continent over years to come and will prevent any attempts for pursuing cooperative ventures that could bolster peace and stability in the continent. The European peace project, that emerged post-war as a quest for peace now mostly resembles a European war project (see, Leonard, 2022), and the pursuit of achieving lasting peace in the continent is far from over.

Dr. Suddha Chakravartti is the Head of Research, and Lecturer in International Relations at EU Business School.

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Nurturing Sino-EU Ties through Multilateralism

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Considering the fact that relations between China and the EU are shifting, they will continue since China’s position as a crucial economic powerhouse for the EU cannot be understated, especially as the EU confronts a real and technical economic downturn. In the Eurozone, countries such as the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Germany are experiencing a deceleration in economic growth, which requires immediate consideration. The primary reason for this is the industry-related crisis caused by the collapse of export operations on both domestic and global markets due to a lack of purchasing power.

If this mild downturn becomes a full-blown crisis, the economies of both the European Union and the United States could stagnate. Because of these challenges, the European Union (EU) must strike a fine balance between resolving the current crisis and accommodating U.S. demands. The recent summit of European Union leaders holds great importance as the EU determined its policy towards China. The EU’s economic prospects are highly dependent on developing strong ties with China.

When combined with China’s growing consumer market and massive expenditures in infrastructure, the European Union’s economy has a once-in-a-generation chance to rebound and thrive. The European Union (EU) stands to gain from closer economic connections with China due to the opportunities it presents for increased collaboration, broader trade, and the infusion of much-needed Chinese investment into the EU’s flagging industrial sectors.

Recognizing this undeniable potential, the EU must priorities capitalizing on the benefits of its partnership with China, whilst likewise making sure that the relationship remains mutually beneficial and sustainable. The path towards achieving such equilibrium, however, is fraught with obstacles, mainly due to external pressures from the United States. Notably, the United States has imposed tariffs and trade restrictions on a number of European products, creating financial challenges for European companies. These actions are frequently used as pressure to influence Europe’s approach to China.

The EU is in a precarious position, compelled to navigate an environment where financial goals, geopolitical issues, and common values intersect. Maintaining a delicate equilibrium is essential. The pressure exerted by the United States highlights the necessity for Europe to assert its own interests and independence in international affairs. It is essential that the EU devise an independent and principled strategy that protects its own interests while approaching China with a productive discussion.

European Council President Charles Michel’s recent statement that it is in the EU’s best interest to maintain “stable and constructive” ties with China has, in a sense, confirmed the continuation of EU-China relations. In a latest commentary, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, pointed to how the EU could modify its policy towards China. However, he advocated for “vigorous engagement” between the EU and Beijing.

Under the weight of US pressure, maintaining a delicate balance in EU-China relations requires careful handling. European leaders will have the opportunity to define the EU’s position on China at the upcoming EU summit, ushering in a future of balanced, constructive, and mutually beneficial engagement. It is essential that European leaders seize this opportunity and set a course that protects their economic interests and fundamental values. In this manner, the EU can promote stability, resilience, and sustainable growth in the face of changing global dynamics.

At this critical juncture, leaders must engage in exhaustive dialogues that incorporate the many facets of the EU’s relationship with China. The promotion of human rights should be coupled with economic considerations. Considerations such as trade disparities, rights to intellectual property protection, and the development of equitable market practices must be addressed in an open discussion. This strategy will ensure an equitable playing field for EU and Chinese businesses, fostering an environment conducive to healthy competition and long-term economic growth.

The foundation of Sino-EU relations should base on mutual interest and respect, multilateralism, and economic exchanges, and they should be exempt from illicit US interference and pressures. By navigating these complexities and forging a path that safeguards economic interests and fundamental values, the EU can promote stability, resilience, and sustainable growth in the face of changing global dynamics.

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China-Germany Win-Win Cooperation



photo:Yao Dawei / Xinhua

The China-Germany cooperation exemplifies the transformative potential of collaboration based on mutual regard, shared objectives, and complementary strengths. This exceptional partnership has spawned a domino effect that extends beyond bilateral relations, inspiring other nations to pursue similarly mutually beneficial partnerships.

 As the world becomes more interconnected, countries can learn from the China-Germany model of cooperation, which fosters economic development, technological advancement, environmental stewardship, and cultural exchange. By adhering to the principles of win-win cooperation, nations can construct a more prosperous, sustainable, and harmonious global community.

China and Germany’s dynamic and mutually beneficial cooperation is a shining example of win-win collaboration on the global stage. Both nations have nurtured strong economic and diplomatic ties over the years, resulting in enormous advances and benefits for their respective societies.

Strong and coordinated global action is needed immediately to combat climate change and advance sustainable development. There is still a lot to be done, but China and Germany have already shown their dedication to environmentally friendly and low-carbon development. By aligning their strategies and exchanging best practices, they can expedite the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

China’s pledge to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 shows its commitment to a deep low-carbon transformation of its economy and society. Through the International Climate Initiative (IKI) administered by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the German Federal Government supports Sino-German climate change cooperation.

 Collaboration in areas such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, the circular economy, and sustainable transportation can lead the way for a greener future, mitigating the effects of climate change and nurturing ecological equilibrium.

China and Germany have established a strong economic partnership that has benefited both countries significantly. Germany’s main commercial partner is China, and vice versa, and this strong bilateral commerce has led to significant economic growth and employment creation. This collaboration has given German businesses access to the sizable Chinese market.

Notably, the exchange of products, services, and knowledge between the two nations has fostered innovation, productivity, and economic resiliency, thereby laying the groundwork for long-term cooperation. This commitment to cooperation has yielded an array of beneficial effects, strengthening the conviction that win-win partnerships can drive progress and prosperity in an interdependent world.

The dynamic economic partnership that has grown between the two nations is one of the pillars of China-Germany cooperation. Germany, known for its scientific prowess, inventiveness, and precision engineering, found a favourable market in China, with its enormous customer base and rapidly expanding economy.

On the other hand, China’s manufacturing expertise and devotion to infrastructure development have presented German businesses with incredible possibilities to expand their operations and enter new markets. Entrepreneurs from both nations could keep pursuing openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation, as well as keep the stability of industrial and supply chains with high-level practical cooperation. This symbiotic relationship has allowed both nations to capitalize on their respective strengths, resulting in economic expansion and job creation for both countries.

China and Germany have also established cooperation in the fields of innovation and research, recognizing that advancements in these fields are crucial agents of economic and societal progress. Through joint research initiatives, academic exchanges, and institution-to-institution collaboration, both nations have been able to pool their intellectual resources, foster innovation, and address global challenges. This cooperation has not only led to revolutionary scientific discoveries, but it has also set the groundwork for future innovations in technology that will benefit all of humanity.

China and Germany have fostered cultural exchange and people-to-people diplomacy in addition to their economic and technological cooperation. By encouraging education exchanges, cultural events, and intercultural dialogue, both countries have built bridges of appreciation, understanding, and friendship. Not only do these interactions enrich the lives of individuals, but they also strengthen the bilateral relationship as a whole. They facilitate dialogue, eliminate preconceived notions, and set the groundwork for mutually beneficial relationships and respect.

By expanding on these accomplishments and upholding a spirit of mutual respect and shared objectives, the China-Germany partnership can continue to advance progress and inspire global collaboration.

The China-Germany model of win-win cooperation provides valuable lessons for nations seeking to forge prosperous partnerships. It emphasizes the significance of mutual respect, trust, and open communication as the foundations for productive collaboration. It also emphasizes the importance of recognizing and capitalizing on balance in strengths and resources, which allows nations to maximize the positive effects of cooperation.

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The Eurasian Zeitenwende: Germany and Japan at the Crossroads

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Image source: X @Bundeskanzler

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.

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