Pax Europaea : The EU as Pacifier in the Frozen Conflict Areas

In this short paper I will try to analyse the unique opportunity the EU has in pacifying one of the still unresolved conflicting neighbouring areas that pose a threat to the stability and high level of cooperation that European countries have achieved in the last half of century. I am referring to the frozen conflicts around the Black Sea . More specifically, the list could be conceived as follows:

In this context, the main centres of gravity are to my mind Russia, the US/NATO and more interestingly the EU.

5418124758_24bd560a84_z

Source: Matt [email protected]

Before going further into details, I would present the theoretical framework which will guide us in understanding one of the perspectives of the issues on the ground, namely the defensive realist approach. An analysis based on this perspective follows a pragmatic, non-normative line of thinking which tries to stay away from considerations like human rights, self-determination, ideology or other liberal-democratic political principles. It has nothing to do with the lack of humanity. The justification has to do with a stronger focus on the national interest of the states under consideration.

According to proponents of this view, the world that surrounds us is similar to a system made up of units which constantly interact with one another. The main units are the nation-states that operate under anarchy, meaning that there is no hegemon and no hierarchy of states. In this sense for example, the UN is totally dependent on the interests of the member countries and especially on the veto of the Permanent Five.

There is no legal separation of power or institutional control and no real accountability for states who are autonomous and free to pursue the domestic policies they are happy with. There are only international treaties that have strength for as long as signatory countries agree to it.

Furthermore, what motivates state behaviour is the perception of own or foreign power and the threat that comes with that power. This logic results in a balance of threat among nation states. According to this concept, states will align with other states to counterbalance another stronger and threatening state or group of states. The purpose of this balancing is not for offensive or expansionist reasons but for defensive ones.

Read  Autopilot: The Self Driving Revolution

I would take a different route from traditional neorealism by arguing that leaders or political figures do matter in international relations. However, states are reluctant to trust one another even if for the moment good relations might be in place. One leader can never know with whom he will have to deal in the future or what orientation the foreign policy of another state will take in longer term.

5063684310_d6055bea29_z

Source: David [email protected]

Finally, despite the common criticism that realism is an amoral or even immoral way of seeing things, I would argue that there is such a thing as morality of realism. Values like stability, prudence, pragmatism, understanding of political and social complexities, even respect for human life guide proponents of this perspective when thinking about possible solutions to common problems.

Moreover, realists are able to understand the level of regional development that the postmodern EU shows. Nevertheless, it is clear for them that in other parts of the world modernity rules under the shape of the nation states who selfishly, geopolitically and geostrategically pursue their own interests. Trust-building and paradigmatic shifts are slow processes that ought not to be forced or put aside for more interventionist measures.

Having said this, we can focus more on the EU as a potential pacifier in the above mentioned areas of the world. This part of the world is characterized by uncertainty, total mistrust, strategic thinking as foreign policy and never-ending tension. Boundaries among states are hard but at the same time very much disputed among antagonistic neighbours. History and the bloody memory is fresh in the mind of both the people and political leaders. Fear of the re-emergence of another Russian Empire or Soviet Union brings countries like Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova to pursue NATO and US led coalitions, which in turn fuels the Russian ego and builds up its security apparatus due to a Cold War view of American imperialism.

8076762094_ce23b99575_z

Source: NATO-Russia [email protected]

We could sum up that the region is characterized by a vicious cycle of threat perception. We could make an analogy to Europe’s modern history. Luckily for us, it ended up well in a common structure that has been able to integrate the national interest of the member states with the need for cooperation and collaboration. Peace is here to stay, at least while economies are stable and public opinion remains strong. The EU is the best example of how to overcome the dirty nature of politics.

Read  Russia: From Isolation to Rising Inflation

In its relation to the outside world, the EU can rely on its soft power, the power of attraction. Furthermore, I would argue that the EU is more capable than other international actors of pragmatism, toleration of diversity and non-ideological policies. By all this, I am referring to the ability of practically conducting relations without setting strong political or economic standards.

The aim of the member states is still to satisfy the national interest regardless of their ideological aspirations. They might have adopted the liberal-democratic system and might pursue the extension of this system to interlocutors but the EU is not imposing a particular way of organizing societies, economies or the state. Rather, the EU is encouraging a change from within. At least unofficially. Officially the situation is different and it has to be different since the values that the EU puts on paper are basic for EU’s own existence.

Going back to our disputed territories, the EU could act as a strong mediator and hub for all the conflicting parties. The EU could show understanding because the member states can put themselves in the shoes of each of the forces. Europe had experienced separatism, militarism, realpolitik, spheres of influence and strategic alliance making and foreign policy. Conflict mediation, resolution, peace-building and even reconciliation are strong assets in EU’s pocket.

Not only, but the EU has also strong economic and energy interests in this area of the world. Instability there will lead to the possibility of instability here. European companies and Russian ones are doing business on a daily basis. The leverage is mutual and this leverage should not be used as an instrument to tie up ‘the enemy’ but to build trust through mutual advantageous cooperation. Energy security is one of the fundamental parts of EU’s security strategy. Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan are both elementary sources of gas and oil and transit routes. The EU should stay away from demonizing the owners of those resources and from trying to get a grip on them because this is perceived by the later as a direct attack on their national interest. Countries rich in resources put the revenue that comes from it on top of the list in their security strategies and see it as a fountain of national prestige.

4597397875_b0208a1c70_z

Source: Malcolm [email protected]

In order to achieve all the above the EU should follow its own path in becoming a global player. By this I mean keeping away from US instructions or way of doing things. As we all know, the US is suffering today from a very bad image due to its policing of the world. Unilateralism and interventionism should not be part of EU’s foreign policy vocabulary. Instead it should seek compromise, long-term trust-building and should push forward the idea of the EU as not taking sides unless it is the side of the civilian population.

Read  Chicago and Trump: You can't speak with us

Lastly, the EU should not be blinded by the aspirations of creating a strong economic and commercial bloc if this means threatening the same aspirations of other countries. This is dangerous and it can lead to defensive measures, like for example Russia’s pivot to Central and South East Asia. Partners should not be pushed away but attracted for the well-being of all parties.

To conclude, the area of frozen conflicts is still characterized by modernity and EU member states have managed to surpass the very same situation by own realization of the fact that mistrust leads nowhere. The EU has all the experience and instruments to show and persuade, not force other parts of the world to follow the same path. Preaching should be replaced by concrete proof of which system works best and by signs of trustworthy-ness to more sceptical neighbours.

Claudiu Sonda
Passionate student of IR and European politics with an interest in developing a high-level expertise in International Security and geopolitics.