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December 5, 2022

Ideas for debate

Two international reunions with agendas that are important for current international evolutions took place last week in Bucharest. The first was “First NATO/EU-SCO Think Tank Meeting”, which involved a debate from Western and Eastern perspectives on security issues following newly arisen challenges, a meeting organized by Eurisc Foundation and German Marshal Fund – Bucharest. The second meeting was the second edition of “Bucharest Forum”, an event organized by Aspen Institute of Romania (President Mircea Geoana) in collaboration with three prestigious partners: the Romanian government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Energy and German Marshal Fund – New York. The theme of the second meeting was entitled “Influences and Opportunities on the New Silk Road from the Caspian via Black Sea to the Adriatic”.
Both reunions were attended by experts and officials from many countries, including U.S.A., Russia, China, Germany, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Greece, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Belgium, etc., as well as famous international organizations like UNO, NATO and the EU.
As it often is the case at such reunions, the debates favoured the outlining of several political and academic points of view and participants had an opportunity to pinpoint where the two perspectives meet and emphasize the reciprocity of profitability when debates are had in a transparent and professional manner. This holds true especially for the second reunion, initiated by Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta. Out of the wide array of ideas generated by these debates, which cannot be summed up in one short article, the opinions expressed in three particular areas stand out as novelty and are worth mentioning. Namely, the role played by Europe, China and the New Silk Road in future developments. I will confine myself to references on the first area of interest – Europe – and deal with the other two in another article.
Nonetheless, before tackling the actual topic I should mention two large features of today’s international system, which were the basis for debates had at the two reunions. The first feature is related to a degree of uncertainty noticeable in the entire international state system and is mainly determined by factors such as China’s exponential growth, the growing visibility of emerging states, the financial and economic global crisis affecting large systemic players, and new security challenges that require new or improved approaches. This context of systemic uncertainty has caused larger or smaller players to rethink their priorities and options and begin an individual study on international developments, which resulted in new policies. Uncertainty is accentuated by increasing systemic contradictions and sharpened asperities between large players on the international stage, ultimately leading to more crises and even more conflicts. To emphasize recent systemic changes, one speaker at the “Bucharest Forum” referred to a paraphrase of a famous remark by Lord Ismay, the first NATO Secretary General, which he had heard during a trip to Warsaw. As you know, Ismay stated that NATO is a necessity to keep Americans in, the Russian out of and the Germans down in Europe. The Warsaw version was: Americans leave Europe, Europe is down and the Russians are coming.
The second systemic feature worth mentioning is the emergence on the international stage of new non-state players, whose presence is ever more frequently felt and who wish to play a part in global business management. By such players, I am referring to think-tanks, true instruments of civic society that are able to express the will of its members, in accordance with various ideological, political, social and religious tendencies. However, there are many other non-state players, some of whom are extremely dangerous for international security (terrorist networks and organized crime across country borders).
The ideas expressed at this conference with regard to Europe emphasized the current European Union crisis that has turned from sovereign debts and financial difficulties into a veritable existential crisis. These financial and economic problems with which the EU is confronted have actually transformed one of the major players of the 21st century – whose political, economic and social supernational integration makes it a worthy global and economically strong player – into an institution that looks sceptically toward the future and manifests contradictory tendencies to position itself on the international arena. Among these contradictory tendencies – although this word, per se, was not used very often at the reunions under discussion here – we can distinguish a particular form of “isolationism”, reflected in the lack of involvement in managing crises unravelling beyond their borders or competency, even though they have a great impact on Europe. The isolationist European trend can be justified, of course, because everyone naturally becomes “inward oriented” in times of crisis and less preoccupied, if not completely un-preoccupied with taking “outward” actions and initiatives. The EU’s lack of a coherent and collective external and defence policy also contributes to a great extent to this perception of isolationism. This was evident in the Libya action, but especially in the EU’s attitude to various files from “Arabic spring”. If we take into account just one of those files, namely the one on the Syrian crisis which is currently a “hot topic”, we can better understand this perception. The U.S. issued a statement at G-20 (Sankt Petersburg – September 8) about a possible military intervention, which had not been initially approved by one of Europe’s superpowers, Germany. Berlin subsequently explained it had “a different view” on matters of procedure and that it wished to take a common stance, agreed upon by all EU Member States, thus implicitly criticizing the three other European states who had signed that statement. This country, then in full legislative campaign, quickly recanted its decision for reasons of transatlantic unity. The gesture itself, similar but not limited to two previous hold-backs in Berlin’s history (Libya and Mali), showed not only the EU’s incoherent common external policy, but also the different views on Europe’s systemic future. Beyond theorizing over the end of “liberal interventionism”, so prominent in the post-Cold War era, yet considered an ever more “American affair”, such manifestations of reticence in assuming a pro-active role on the global arena by some of the largest European powers only manage to reflect a level of non-involvement that extends beyond continental lines and may deepen even more. Coming back to the “matters of procedure” invoked by Berlin, these entailed the need for a point of view common to all 28 EU Member States on decisions such as external military interventions, conducted perhaps even without approval from UNO’s Security Council. While Berlin’s argument was theoretically correct, it can often lead to friction. This was the case when EU’s decision was discussed in Vilnius, according to last month’s German press. Northern countries, also reticent regarding military intervention, blamed Germany for changing its position. Commenting on these aspects, Der Spiegel wrote on September 10 in an article entitled “Merkel’s erratic Syria course sows discord in Europe” that this going back and forth “may have the potential to avert immediate US military intervention”. This did, in fact happen and was followed by the setting in motion of “plan B” (so called by the German press), which is currently undergoing.

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