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Keeping the peace
While the EU is many things to many people, surely we can all agree that the project's most important responsibility and achievement has been to keep the peace on the Old Continent. Right?
Anyone who has lived in an EU country for any period of time will be able to point to positive aspects of EU membership. Whatever your thing — environmental policy, consumer protection, regional development, labor rights — there's something for everyone. In this respect, EU developed considerable, arguably vast influence as a “normative power”. What is that exactly? Here's a helpful description written by a French lawyer, Laurent Cohen-Tanugi, who specializes in international law. Note that it was published in December 2021, on the eve of the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict (edited slightly for length and style, emphasis mine):
Europe defines itself as being a power whose influence isn’t rooted in its military force, but in its capacity to set rules or behavioral norms that have an international outreach. Indeed, as early as the 1970s, what was to become the European Union was already viewed as being a ‘civil power’ by international relations theorists.
European Union’s influence [is] in the international crafting of norms. Influence is the social and political power of a person or group which allows it to direct the course of events and to induce changes in an indirect and non-coercive manner. Normativity is a ‘freely accepted process of harmonization of players’ preferences in order to advance common interests by strictly adhering to a certain number of rules.’ The normative influence of the European Union can be broken down into three parts. First, the ability to enact its own law and to enforce it within its territory, and even beyond (extraterritoriality); second, the ability to influence the content of norms (legal, technical) resulting from an international negotiation process within various multilateral fora; and third, the ability to serve as a voluntary normative model within the international community.
it is through the crafting of common norms, resulting from a peaceful and negotiated resolution of the conflicts having arisen between historically hostile Nation-States, that the European project emerged, to safeguard the peace on the Old Continent.
Cohen-Tanugi goes on to discuss at length how this normative power has been developed and deployed, citing “competition law” as one area in particular where the EU has had significant (international) impact. Surely most if not nearly all of us would agree that the EU’s system of legal and technical norms has been generally a Good Thing, something that has to some degree supported regional and international economic development. (The EU's disastrous neoliberal economic policies are of course a separate matter.)
However, if such norms, viewed perhaps somewhat narrowly in the domain of the transactional, have been a positive contribution, in recent years the EU has gone beyond establishing and promoting “norms” to promulgating (and enforcing) “values”, more nebulous terrain with a pronounced moralistic character. Norms are useful and practical, values are… virtuous. We've gone in this respect from a utilitarian outlook to what has become, quite frankly, a Manichean world view, much to our detriment and that of our neighbors.
Nonetheless, the notion of “safeguarding the peace on the Old Continent” as Cohen-Tanugi expressed it above, remains something understandable and pervasive. In the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum, a common argument made by Remainers went something like this: The EU has been good for A, B, and C, and whatever its faults we need it above all to keep the peace in Europe. Even if you live outside the EU and have never set foot on the European continent but know something of the endless series of battles and wars that plagued this part of the world during the past millennium, institutions dedicating to keeping the peace would would seem like a very good thing to have. Thankfully, that concern does indeed remain first and foremost in the minds of our wise and enlightened leaders. Apropos of the Ukraine conflict, we hear them saying things like this:
Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable way forward. […] All relevant parties must stay calm and exercise restraint, truly act in the interests of their own future and that of humanity, and jointly manage the crisis. With rational thinking and voices now on the rise, it is important to seize the opportunity and build up favorable conditions for the political settlement of the crisis. It is hoped that all parties would seriously reflect on the Ukraine crisis and jointly explore ways to bring lasting peace and security to Europe through dialogue.
Except that wasn’t a European leader. These eminently wise and sensible words were spoken by Xi Jinping during his recent telephone call with Zelensky initiated at the latter’s request. (“President Xi Jinping Speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the Phone”, Minister of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, 26 April 2023). Commenting on this highly unusual development, Alexander Mercouris quipped on a recent podcast that the last time an Asian power had intervened in such as way in European affairs was probably 400 BC, when the Persians mediated between Athens and Sparta.
The sad truth is that Europeans leaders, albeit on a national level or most egregiously on the EU level, with only one significant exception (Hungary’s Victor Orbán), have shown no such wisdom, instead opting for unrelentingly militarism and hostility to Russia. In fact the EU’s de facto foreign minister, Josep Borrell, has been insisting since the very beginning of the conflict that it can only be resolved militarily Ursula van der Leyen repeatedly states the EU and the collective West will continue to back Ukraine militarily “as long as it takes”. A short time ago, Borrell announced plans for the EU to fast-track delivery of a million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine, although given Europe's lack of manufacturing capacity it remains unclear over what time time-frame this will occur, presumably not in time for Ukraine's much-ballyhooed spring (or is it now summer?) offensive. At this point, the EU has for all intents and purposed merged with the belligerent and militaristic NATO.
At this point, you might interject and say: yes, but Russia is not part of Europe. The EU was only designed to keep the peace within Europe. Well, first, Russia is not part of the European political system but it is most clearly part of cultural and civilizational Europe. Second, Russia has long looked westward for inspiration and ideas, considered itself European and once even considered joining NATO (“Putin Says 'Why Not?' to Russia Joining NATO”, Washington Post, 6 March 2000). Third, and perhaps most important, security is indivisible, as both the Russians and Chinese repeatedly point out; the security of one cannot be achieved to the detriment of another. NATO membership of Ukraine (and Georgia) were long-stated red lines for the Russians. We all knew this, no?
At no point in this sorry saga did the EU undertake any meaningful effort to actually keep in the peace on the European continent. In 2014 under then European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso pushed forward an exclusive EU association agreement that precluded Ukraine’s further participation the the CIS Free Trade area, thus sparking protests in Kiev, bringing down the government of Viktor Yanukovich. This resulted in a coup that ushered a rabidly anti-Russia, pro-Europe regime which broke the hitherto delicate and fragile balance maintained between eastern and western Ukraine. The EU recognized the new regime. Ethnic Russians in Donbass and Crimea recoiled in horror.
Although the EU was itself not a signatory to the Minsk accords (Germany and France were), it apparently made no effort to push the leadership of those two EU countries to ensure the deal was implemented, thereby keeping the peace. It has repeatedly been said by various observers that had Angela Merkel or Emmanuel Macron placed a telephone call to the Kremlin in December 2022, when Russia issued its urgent call for a new European security architecture, to signal that Ukraine would never join NATO would have prevented Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Perhaps the Russians would have wanted something more substantial, in writing — but the point should be clear. Likewise, in April 2022 during talks in Istanbul Ukraine and Russia appeared to have reached a provisional peace settlement, but Boris Johnson was apparently dispatched by his neocon handlers in the Anglo-American Deep State to order Zelenksy to scuttle the deal. EU leaders said or did nothing. They let the conflict continue.
On Tuesday 10 May 2023, the very day when the Russians were celebrating the 78th anniversary of their hard-fought, bitterly-won victory over Nazi Germany, saving Europe, as it were, from itself, a moment when the country is once again fighting the recrudescence of Nazism in Ukraine, Von der Leyen traveled to Kiev, where she righteously declared Ukraine is "the beating heart of today's European values".
We are cursed with leaders who eschew realpolitik and old-fashioned diplomacy, forget or ignore recent history, and vacuously preach values. That's all they can do.
Whether you think Russia's military intervention was unjustified or whether you think that country was provoked, as I do, every day this war of attrition continues Ukraine’s soldiers are killed and wounded, its economy ruined. To paraphrase that perhaps apocryphal comment from the American general in Vietnam, our EU leaders are destroying Ukraine to save it.
The idea the EU keeps the peace in the Old Continent is a myth that has now been categorically and definitely consigned to the dustbin of history.