The American media (electronic and printed) recently published articles that debate an issue which wouldn’t have been invoked in such terms just one year ago: have the USA lost Eastern Europe? Certainly, there are also recriminatory titles, like ‘The Abandoned Alliance’ or ‘How Obama Lost Poland‘- the debate is preponderantly a clash of arguments, but its content is important enough for the current presidential campaign, as the Republican candidate and his camp try to identify problems in the foreign policy of the US which they could concentrate upon, in view of improving their electoral score. Although tipping the electoral scales is the main reason for bringing this topic to public attention, the US relation with Eastern Europe as a whole and with Europe (EU) and Russia in subsidiary is very important, and knowing the positions of the two sides in the dispute is necessary in their main aspects.
Especially as many analysts invoke the Asian “pivoting” recently made by the Obama Administration and demand a disengagement of the US from the entire Europe, especially from its East. The March incident of the microphone “unintentionally left” (?) open during a meeting between Obama and Medvedev, then still president of Russia, is one of the events that come to mind when one considers a devolvement of the United States from Eastern Europe (because this is where the American anti-missile shield – mentioned by the two leaders of the planets’ biggest two nuclear powers – is deployed).
First, there is a nuance that must be emphasised. The debate over the problem is, certainly, amplified by the dispute of presidential candidates, especially as Mitt Romney (Republican) tried to give a foreign policy agenda to the electoral debate, by visiting the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland two weeks ago. The legs of his tour were carefully chosen by his staff, in order to show Romney as a politician ‘in the know’ about the sensitive problems of the American foreign policy, while putting this in contrast with the setbacks of the rival candidate. In a column dedicated to this visit by the ‘Washington Post’, Charles Krauthammer comments that the Obama Administration “unilaterally cancelled a Bush-era missile-defence agreement with Poland to appease Russia,” thus heating the debate. This idea clearly demonstrates that the topic about “did the USA lose Eastern Europe” is by no means insignificant, a preponderantly electoral issue without justification in the home and foreign policy of today’s America.
What are the arguments invoked by those who support this surprising position?
The strongest such argument is about the change in the attitude of Polish officials with a say in foreign policy (especially of ‘Atlanticist’ Radek Sikorsky, minister of Foreign Affairs and advisor for such matters of Premier Donald Tusk). Sikorsky suddenly displayed a change of orientation towards the EU, and especially Germany, which he described last year as “Europe’s indispensable nation,” called to lead, but not to dominate the European reform: “Not dominate, but to lead in reform. Provided that you include us in decision-making, Poland will support you.” The argument thus invoked goes even further, coupled with the possible consequences of the present crisis of the euro currency. In the eventuality of the creation of a ‘Mitteleurope’ led by Germany – some form of ‘hard core’ of the EU if the euro fails – Poland would thus have proved its agreement, because – no matter how difficult such a move would be – it is still preferable to the hegemony of Russia. The entire argumentation actually is related to the fact that Obama renounced, in September 2010, to install the anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, moving these installations South, to Romania and Bulgaria – a decision that was well received in Moscow and considered as a concession within the framework of the ‘reset’ policy. In other words, by extending the Polish model to the entire region, it is said that Eastern European elites started to see the ‘German option’ as the lesser evil, compared to the Russian hegemony installed upon the region in the absence of the balancing element represented so far by the USA. Supporters of this thesis write that “Wanting to be seen as Germany’s political clients, they conduct their Russian affairs through Berlin, which provides some protection from the bullying tactics of the eastern giant.” In this context, it is not by coincidence that the member states of the ‘Visegrad group’ took the initiative of forming a military ‘miniblock’ that would allow them to sail with some safety the international waters troubled by the withdrawal of the USA from the region and by the possible arrangements between Germany and Russia.
This argumentation is supported by the opinion of Stratfor analyst George Friedman, who explains in a recent book that the merger between European technology (Germany) and the vast Eurasian resources (Russia) is one of the biggest threats to the USA in the 21st Century, and that, in order to provided the best response to it, “the U.S. must cooperate with small and medium-sized countries, particularly those in Scandinavia and in Central and Eastern Europe between the Baltic and the Black Sea (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania) – countries uneasy about the growing ambitions of Euro-Asiatic super-weight players.”
The opponents of this viewpoint – the other camp of the debate – reject ‘de facto’ this argument. They say that, on the contrary, the Obama Administration mended the transatlantic relations damaged during the previous administration, as demonstrated by the fact that today “America is still vastly popular in Europe than it was during the late Bush years, and if it is ever needed in a major crisis, this goodwill will be important.” These opponents also show that the Obama Administration succeeded in building a strong consensus within NATO for reinvigorating the European collective defence, through the anti-missile system deployed at the heart of SE Europe. The way the Bush Administration conceived it did not cover allies like Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, exposed to possible hits from Iran. The Obama Administration also consolidated the transatlantic relation through a common answer to the ‘Arab Spring,’ especially in the case of Libya. Finally, in the case of the euro crisis, which represents “the most serious geostrategic challenge for the transatlantic relationship,” American officials are in permanent contact with European leaders, sharing the American experience in proactive behaviour aimed at countering the crisis.
I read with interest a comment on the forum of an article recently published by the American press. As I appreciate the clarity of its opinion, I quote it almost integrally, as conclusion of this column: “The 21st century will be dominated by the US relationship with China (and possibly India). Not the US/Russian dynamic that dominated the latter half of the 20th century. Furthermore, Europe as an entity is less important today than it has been historically. The current economic mess notwithstanding, the EU as an entity has the potential to be very formidable- they shouldn’t need US protection. The sooner that the Europeans develop better defence capabilities and the willingness to spend on defence, the better off the world will be. The US will no longer have to shoulder all the responsibility (and the blame). Finally, the last thing that we want to do in the 21st century is to create a new Cold War.”
As I do not resonate with this comment in these regards, I would add that USA and Europe must be together in this century, and Eastern Europe should be an organic part of the EU, rather than a remote province on its edge.