First published Strategic Culture Foundation
According to hoary tradition, there are two obsessive questions in Russian history: who is guilty and what is to be done? This assertion is likely another Russophobic trope in which Russia was, is and always will be a mess populated by supine drunks slurring “Not me” and “Pass the bottle”. Nonetheless, good questions they are and ones that Europeans should ponder. Here are some circumstances that call out for doing something different.
“European Union as an emerging superpower” – Wikipedia has a whole article on it. And, on paper, it is: the population, the economic power, the potential military power, the intellectual power and everything else necessary to become a significant independent player on the world scene – fully equal to any other major power. Except… it isn’t. Why isn’t it? Why did it follow Washington’s lead and sanction Russia? The sanctions have certainly cost it more than the USA and probably more than Russia; Washington, on the other hand, never sanctions Russian rocket engines or Russian oil. Why do the Europeans dutifully swallow it down? Many of them followed Washington into Afghanistan and other disastrous military adventures for a reward of failure and crisis. At least they’ve found the will to stop pretending Guaido is really President of Venezuela but they’re piling on Belarus at Washington’s command. Why? No kind of “superpower” on the geopolitical stage, the EU pretty well does what it’s told by Washington. There’s the occasional rebellion – Germany and Nord Stream 2 – but then the obsequious sending of a warship on a FON mission to please Washington. Hoping to cut the cost with a cringing attempt to placate Beijing. Are these the actions of a self-respecting independent country? What is to be done?
When a country signs up with the EU, it signs up to the complete package. Not just the diktats of the bureaucracy in Brussels but the ever-metastasising “human rights” package. I use quotation marks because, these days, human rights to the West appears to be concerned with nothing other than what Monty Python called “your naughty bits”; Assange is never to be mentioned and nor is Yemen. The LGBTQIA+ obsession sits poorly with some of the members. Against them the full vocabulary is mobilised – Poland’s victorious party is “right wing” and “populist”. Epithets that fall just short of Hungary’s “soft fascism”:
Here’s Hungary’s Orbán defending himself. But so great is his sin that some say Hungary should be expelled from the EU. And maybe Poland too. The DM has a piece that is reasonably balanced, once you get past the obligatory insult (“ugly far-right”):
Instead of a serene and harmonious Europe of Tuscan villas, Provencal markets, German opera and Bavarian beer halls, we are witnessing rancorous divisions over migration, economic stagnation and incipient independence movements. And the bitter truth is that in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, there is now a stridently anti-Brussels, anti-migrant and anti-Establishment movement with the increasingly angry peoples of these nations convinced they are being treated as second-class citizens.
Hungary and Poland did not get out from under the diktat of Moscow to subjugate themselves to the diktat of Brussels. What is to be done?
When the Euro was introduced, each country produced its own coins; citizens could have coins from Spain, Greece, Germany and Poland in their pockets; each with its own language and symbols. An effective demonstration of unity. The paper money was an equally instructive, but contrary, choice. Architectural details: a Romanesque door, a Gothic arch, but no particular door or arch – generalised Romanesque or Gothic. Or, to put it rudely, architectural details from plastic buildings in Walt Disney’s Euroland. And that is where Orbán does not want to live: he wants to live in Hungary, the ancient homeland of Hungarians. He fears that Brussels is building a smushed together fake Europe: no Frenchmen, just baguettes; no Italians, just gelato; no Spanish, just paella. Consumed in buildings populated from people from somewhere else; in a décor with arches of no particular provenance. No history, no reality – a movie set. Orbán is the most prominent of those who think this way but there are many more in the real, actual Europe – AfD in Germany, LePen in France, Five Star in Italy: it’s a growing phenomenon; so widespread that the tired epithets of “far-right” or “fascist” or “populist” have a contrary effect. They are becoming the European equivalents of “deplorable” in the USA – because they so despise the insulters, the insulted take pride in being insulted. What is to be done?
Refugees/migrants. They used to pretend it was not a problem – even welcomed it – but that pretence is harder to support now. And, little by little, they notice. But where do these people come from? That’s easy – here’s the list: the leading three countries of origin are Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. What do these three countries have in common? A question that shouldn’t even have to be asked but, still, is unasked. The next two are Nigeria (partly connected with NATO’s destruction of Libya) and Pakistan which brings us to NATO’s destruction of Afghanistan. NATO’s GenSek flatulates:
When it comes to NATO’s role in addressing the migrant and refugee crisis, so NATO’S main role has been to address the root causes, the instability in the region and trying to help stabilize the countries where the refugees are coming from.
“Root causes” indeed: “stability” is, of course, NATOese for chaos. Ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant. Here are pictures of the solitude NATO made and what preceded it. Is it surprising that the inhabitants want to leave that solitude and go somewhere else? Again Europe is paying for the consequences of Washington’s destruction of the MENA. What is to be done?
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was the result of a long and complicated negotiation between Iran on the one hand and China, France, Russia, UK, USA, Germany and the EU on the other. The agreement provided an inspection regime that would ensure that Iran did not develop nuclear weapons; Tehran agreed, it was adopted by the UNSC and ratified by the EU. But it was never ratified in the USA – Obama made it an “executive agreement” – which made it easy for his successor to abandon the “horrible” agreement and sanction Iran. Under the CAATSA law, sanctions are contagious: if you disobey them, you’re sanctioned too. And since Washington has great power over the world’s – West’s anyway – economies, its sanctions are potent. Washington has formally declared Iran a terrorist country; on negligible evidence, of course; but what matter? Europe must obey. Thus, after immense negotiation and general satisfaction with the result, Europe finds itself subject to the whim of Washington on its trade with Iran and forced to kneel. Biden promised to return to the deal but, thus far, American negotiators want Iran to make concessions: “The ball remains in Iran’s court” while Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei has warned against trusting the West and so the outlook looks poor. Europe didn’t walk out of the agreement and neither did Tehran, but they will be paying the cost of Washington’s walkout. What is to be done?
And then the protests. Ostensibly about COVID restrictions, fuel prices or migrants, they’re really protests against uncaring, unresponsive and incompetent rulers. On the last Saturday in July “Thousands upon thousands of demonstrators were seen in London, Dublin, Paris, Rome, Athens, and other cities across Europe“. The next Saturday “major mobilizations took place in several European cities including Berlin, Rome, Paris, Marseille and Lyon, among others”. Lithuania a couple of days ago. The protests have been met with considerable police brutality as Moscow delighted in pointing out in the video it handed out in February. But plenty more examples since then and more protests to come. What is to be done?
The UK finally left the EU. Who will be next? If the unthinkable happened once, it can happen again. And the history of referendums is not encouraging for advocates of the EU: France and The Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution in 2005. The name was changed and Ireland rejected the re-tread in 2008 but approved it on a re-run in 2009. If this sort of finagling happened in, say, Belarus, there would be solemn condemnations throughout Europe of Lukashenka’s undemocratic behaviour. In the actual Europe, Brussels has learned never to let the people anywhere near a decision again. What is to be done?
Afghanistan. What more is there to say? Many European countries, believing what Washington told them, trusting Washington’s competence and leadership, buying into and contributing to NATO’s gassy platitudes about its new role, spent years, lives and treasure in a futile effort. The final disillusion was the US President solemnly declaring they had months, when there were only days dwindling quickly to hours. Their soldiers and “nation-builders” are now now being “sent under the yoke” in Kabul. What is to be done?
What is to be done?
Well, here’s a list of things that Brussels could work towards.
- Aim for genuine independence: preserve that thought of a united Europe becoming an independent force in the world.
- Russia is there, it’s not going away, it’s not getting weaker; forge relations with it, on Europe’s own terms, following its own, true, interests. Europe has to live with Russia, the USA does not.
- Ditto with China.
- NATO does nothing for Europe except get it stuck into disasters that – see refugees – see Afghanistan – see Libya – see Syria – Europeans wind up paying for; quit it; form a genuinely European independent defensive alliance.
- Ukraine – another Washington project – will not have happy consequences. Change behaviour.
- Washington is not really a friend; cut dependence on it and reduce the links.
- Understand that lots of things in the world are a) none of Europe’s business b) nothing it can do anything about. Moralistic posturing is not a useful starting position.
- Exceptionalism is a bust: Moscow learned it the hard way; Washington is learning it the hard way; learn from their mistakes.
But the depressing reality is that the chances of that happening are probably somewhere between none and a lot less than none. But maybe – maybe – the Afghanistan disaster will concentrate minds in Europe: things are not going as they should.
As to who is to blame? That’s for later.