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8.1.2014. European Union's strategic transition

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8.1.2014. European Union's strategic transition


European Unions strategic transition

A viewpoint from Athens regarding the discredited if not ridiculed Greek presidency and the requirement for a salutary drastic reform

 Panayiotis Ifestos

Professor of International Relations - Strategic Studies,

University of Piraeus www.ifestosedu.gr


The causes of the present problems of the EU relate to the post-Cold War strategic context and concern structures not procedures. During the transition from 1989 to 1992 EMU was adopted and NATO evolved in order to cover out of area operations. By 1996 the defense and security system was stabilized when the Atlantic Alliance once more confirmed its supreme position in Alliance politics and in intra-European strategic relations.

            The German question (for some coined German problem) was appeased twofold: i) By repeating the post-World War decisions regarding Germanys accommodation in Transatlantic institutional and strategic structures and ii) by binding the German Central Bank with monetary arrangements finally called economic and monetary union. By all means, in both strategic and political terms this was a structurally weak, fragile and potentially unstable setting. It is a mystery few saw it.

The two main variables already known in the early 1990s was a) the potential shift of the center of gravity of American strategy and b) the evolution of German economic power. Given that the approaches adopted were inadequate, expectably during the last two decades everything developed in accordance to the state of nature. By the end of the 1990s and despite the fact that pathologies were evident to all, no therapies were applied to potential imbalances and instabilities. As a result the present problems in Europe are already deeply rooted and existential. To reverse a structurally unstable situation drastic reforms are needed and no one around seems to be in position to initiate a starting point.       


In order to understand better the present structures, a comparison is needed with the Cold War period.

First, Americas global strategy made it possible for Europeans to minimize defense expenditures and provided adequate deterrence against external threads. In fact America created in Europe a strategic greenhouse whose limits and boundaries were defined by Kissingers Atlantic Chapter in the early 1970s. Inside this greenhouse the member-states developed economic cooperation and established common policies. Externally provided security was in fact a precondition of the integration endeavor.  

Second, as Josef Joffe put it in 1984 in his celebrated article Europe s American pacifier, the strategic presence of USA in Europe saved the Europeans from themselves, mainly with regard to the security dilemmas owing to German. Intra-European security dilemmas did not disappear. When in 1989-92 major strategic decisions were taken, they were swept under the strategic carpet. No one thought adequately about the character and the dynamics generated during the political and strategic transition from the Cold War in the post-Cold War period.

Two decades later the gradual shift of the center of gravity of American strategy changes the intra-European strategic calculus and possibly already gave rise to new security dilemmas similar to the ones that marked 19th century and early 20th century European politics. I support that these and other strategic issues are underestimated by contemporary European leadership.

Let us be straight and clear: Six decades during which functional politics prevailed in European politics, a gigantic deficit in strategic thinking is a reality that no one should underestimate. Since 2008-9 and despite the crisis, for example, instead of initiating a strategic reform, the big European powers functioned in a spasmodic way, they exhibit a worrying apathy and they deal with procedures rather than substance.

The most ridiculous posture it the sadistic postures and measures against Greece and other Southern members of the EU. This indeed is by all means politically and economically irrelevant, plus suicidal. Time passes and the disease inevitably is transmitted from the periphery to the center. The real sources of the disease are not policies or mistakes of the unfortunate southern member states.

The real source of pathology is the economic, political and strategic monster called EMU. It gives growth to imbalances of all kinds which inevitably lead to a total collapse. In the meantime it reduces democracy to a virtual zero and destroys the southern societies to a point beyond return. At this very moment owing to apathy and immobility in the face of grossly irrational economic decisions imposed on southern members, an actual economic genocide takes place. Tenths of thousands of citizens in desperation were already lead to suicide.

Who said that the only cause of deaths is actual war! History teaches that irrational political thinking and deficit in strategic thinking is the main cause. Once more we witness the same mistakes and the political blindness of the interwar period.


We should never forget and for those who do  not know it should take care to be informed about facts that the idea to bind Germany with monetary trammels originated in Paris during the last two decades before the end of the Cold War. Let us stress at this point that Paris for almost two decades was calling for the establishment of central monetary controls that would had supervised German Central Bank s policies.

Bonn was reluctant until 1991 when in fact was blackmailed in order to retreat in the background of negative postures of other member states against German re-unification. The agreement reached in 1991 in conditions of state of emergency and in the background of strong negative reactions to German re-unification was arbitrarily called Economic Union.

That is, over a differentiated state-centric environment it was established a cruel and by and large politically uncontrolled monetary mechanism which was at the outset in contradiction to the underlying need for differentiated macroeconomic policies. In addition to the aforementioned democratic deficit, we reached the pitiful political position whereby technocrats decide on matters which normally would have been the exclusive privilege of domestic politics where popular sovereignty is exercised.

To put it otherwise in the absence of pan-European political anthropology and in the absence of a pan-European distributive justice system the financial tutelage expectably accumulated imbalances and tensions that two decades later became uncontrollable.  


One may reasonably wonder whether the damage caused by strategic and politico-economic irrationality could be repaired. The damage is already structural and existential. If the institutional and political structures of the EU are not urgently reformed and if they are not adapted to the political, institutional, anthropological and strategic reality, the integration may not survive. At least it may not survive in its present form.

            Any reform, however, requires diagnosis of the real causes. Primarily, the fact that in politics ontology matters: Six decades since integration the system in Europe is by all is means state-centric and not supranational. There is no supranational anthropology. Therefore, a technostructure over and above democratic societies could not possibly endure. In fact what we witness proves that the system reached its limits. The despotic super-state functioning as a depended variable of the strongest lacks completely democratic legitimization and the political-strategic irrationality of decisions are deadly dangerous.

The state-centric character of the European integration should be taken seriously. Since the 1960s it became clear that the free movement of persons, goods , services , capital , common policies and the mix up of state-centric and demi-supranational institutions which were dealing with functional matters, do not suffice to unite nations and people thus leading to one polity.

It was confirmed, moreover, that progress in integration in the materialistic domains did not transfer, as the distinguished intellectual Ernst Haas wrongly anticipated, faith, loyalties and powers to a solid supranational and democratic community. After six decades, despite materialistic integration, loyalties, identities, distributive justice and national weltanschauungs are national, not supranational. Passing from low politics to high politics was not confirmed.  


Those who are familiar with European integration approaches as they were debated in the 1950s and 1960s, they do know that already by 1966-7 President de Gaulle imposed through the Luxembourg compromise a lasting intergovernmental structure.

More specifically, it was at that time agreed, and subsequently all functioned accordingly, that on all vital issues negotiations would continue until consensual agreements are reached. Ever since and for all practical purposes until 1992, the member-states and the intergovernmental institutions that is, the Council of the Head of States, the councils of ministers and coreper (the committee of ambassadors) were the ultimate assignors. The supranational bodies were in fact the assignees.

As it was only natural, among sovereign states consensual politics became the common practice in decision making. The intergovernmental bodies became the ultimate commanders of the process of integration and the intergovernmental conferences the ultimate transformers. This was in reality the community method. Not the one original community method conceived as a self-supplied system which could give growth to supranationality through majority voting. 

            Importantly so, the common understanding of all member-states resulting from consensual decision making was an embedded premise. In a way it became an unspoken common anti-hegemonic weltanschauung. More specifically, from 1966 to 1992 the members cultivated the idea of respect regarding national sovereignty and followed approaches which effective intestate parity also meant interstate equality irrespective size or power hierarchies. As regards the ever closing union mentioned in the original treaties, what we witnessed in actual practice were small integration steps in safety rather than big and dangerous steps which could cause tensions. Last but not least, the supranational institutions tended to be coordinators rather than arbitrators.

The dialectics of these sensitive and by all means unique interstate balancing from 1966 to 1992 taking effect, I repeat, in a strategic greenhouse provided by USAs extended deterrence were drastically effected by the leap into the void when EMU was established. A state of nature already predominates. Solidarity regressed, self-help becomes a cruel reality, trade imbalances crashed smaller economies and deficits increased.

The moment of truth came in 2009. Instead of initiatives to change a sick system, the weaker economic actor, Greece, was victimized. Its citizens accused unfairly reminding us the days of collective responsibility practices during the 1930s and its society is already crashed. Social cohesion is in grave danger. Other states of the South are on the same unfortunate and dangerous track.

The decisions of December 1991 caused integration spill back and the danger of an uncontrollable reversal of European integration seems to many inevitable. In fact the British ironic comments were correct, when in 1991 many other states insisted to proceed with a premature renaming of the European Economic Community into a European Union.


It is both tragic and ridiculous to see a sovereign member-state, Greece, to preside over the institutions of the EU at a moment when its societal system collapses. It exemplifies the pitiful state of affairs of the European Union. The official procedural declarations are politically shameful and make abundantly evident the aforementioned lack of political thinking, strategic thinking and political leadership.

The representatives of Greece preside, moreover, at the same time when back home Greek ministers are pitifully and miserably submissive to the technocrats. Technocrats that no one really knows and no one has a clear idea as to who controls them and who commands them. Shamefully, near Parthenon, the Greek parliament is an assignee of troika voting at midnight  ordainments which in next day s daylight are exterminating economically the Greek citizens.

Societal checks and balances are certainly totally absent. Indirect representation is no more indirect democracy but simply indirect tyranny. Economic rationality is nil and societal participation in decision making inexistent. As regards the so called European Parliament for years since 2008 proves impotent and incapable of initiatives to reform the system. The supranational institutions, moreover, either acting as dependent variables of big states and speculators or as unguided missiles against humanity, the fact is that the citizens of southern member-states consider troikas stances and postures as crimes against democracy and political civilization.


Correct diagnosis is thus a precondition of decisions for appropriate therapies. Therapies which should include, inter alia, drastic and fundamental transformation of the existing structures and methods in order to adapt to the predominantly state-centric features of the Community system. A wise posture of the presiding Greek government would have been to generate a starting point for a drastic reformation. Inter alia, a controlled demolition of EMU and initiatives are needed towards this rational orientation. Other strategic initiatives may run in parallel. The system should not collapse it should be reformed.  

Deficits of weaker states should be accepted by all that, by and large, were created due to tragic mistakes back in 1992 and in the background of security dilemmas between Germany and the others. It should be also understood and agreed that, in the context of approaches acceptable to the citizens of the member states, the governments should urgently acquire freedom of their monetary and fiscal decisions. Reading about deliberations for steps towards central banking arrangements, for example, one may legitimately wonder as to whether politicians eclipsed and technocrats and speculators have the complete upper hand in the Community system.

            Power of socially sensitive decisions should urgently return to the governments of the members. In fact de Gaulle was absolutely right. As he often proclaimed decision making is national: Popular sovereignty can be exercised only at the state level where decisions could be ratified socially. In this respect, basic and fundamental democratic principles require that power should remain in the hands of national governments. In addition, given that the member states are sovereign, intergovernmental decisions at the Community level could only be consensual and ultimately unanimous.

            In fact, one may argue that in the context of such a realistic! approach, sky is the limit for the role of the supranational institutions, as long as they are assignees of the intergovernmental institutions and as long as the latter decide consensually. Anything else is undemocratic, irrational, as we all can see totally ineffective and utterly dangerous.

            If economically weak member states are likely to be destroyed or if it is attempted to make them vassals of the big states or of a superstate of technocates, the EUs raison d'être finishes. Reasonably and logically many would prefer to demolish this institution completely in order to return to unconditional national sovereignty and to traditional inter-state relations.

It is only natural to presume that no one thinking in rational terms could possibly support the perpetuation of a dynastic superstate run by technocrats. We are very near to such an unacceptable situation, a good reason for a starting point to bring about a salutary drastic reform or a controlled complete abandonment of integration in order, afterwards, to initiate more realistic and politically-strategically more rational intestate settings.


Athens 8/1/2012



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, . . The American delegation might say: The Middle East needs a strong outside stabilizer in order not to explode or become a large ungoverned space. But we dont want to own this region anymore, and strategically, it is much more important to you than to us, given our increasing energy independence. So prepare yourself to take over in five years or so. Because we will reduce our role to what is absolutely necessary. We will keep the Russians out, we will keep the Iranians down by preventing the bomb. But for the rest we want Europe to get in.. , .

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International New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/28/opinion/wergin-the-security-leadership-void.html?_r=0

The Security Leadership Void

JAN. 27, 2014


Clemens Wergin

BERLIN This year the Munich Security Conference turns 50. For decades the gathering has been one of the most important places for the trans-Atlantic community to exchange ideas, find common ground and devise foreign and security policy.

But when politicians, military and business leaders, think tank experts and journalists gather this Friday in southern Germany, they wont be in the mood for much celebration.

Thats because, over the last year, the Western security community has seen a series of setbacks unprecedented since the end of the Cold War. It finds itself in a period of strategic drift, with an increasingly isolationist superpower that seems to have lost the spirit to lead and a self-centered Europe unready to step up to the plate.

Of course, things havent been always rosy in Munich. Just take the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, when an emotional German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, uttered his now famous line Excuse me, I am not convinced in the face of an uneasy American defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, exposing the deep rift that American war plans had created in the West.

Not long after, the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, and the French president, Jacques Chirac, took things a step further, calling for a multilateral world to replace the unilateral order imposed by the United States.

Now we have a classic case of beware what you wish for. Eleven years and one global financial crisis later, we can see in Syria what such a world might look like, with rogue states, regional wannabes and nonstate actors filling the vacuum that Americas absence has created.

To be sure, the United States remains an unrivaled power, with military resources and economic prowess that no other nation can match. The risk is not so much that another country might take its place; in a way, it is that no one will.

Syria is a cautionary tale. It shows that the leadership vacuum is not going to be filled by benign actors, as Mr. Schröder and Mr. Chirac hoped, but by rogue actors like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Iran and not only in Syria.

Libya is becoming a hotbed of extremism; Al Qaeda and other groups are using the town of Derna, near Benghazi, as a new logistics hub in the region. The borders of northern Africa are becoming increasingly porous, and global jihadis are using that erosion to their advantage. The order established by the colonial powers in the Middle East after the end of World War I is in danger of dissolving.

The situation would be less dire if Europe showed more ambition to take over some of Americas balancing functions. But so far that seems to be a vain hope, both in practical and political terms.

Practically, Europe is steadily losing its capacity to project force over long distances for a prolonged time. Every year, in a usually cold and snowy Munich, the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, urges his organizations European members not to cut their defense budgets to the bone, or at least to do more pooling of resources to spend their money more efficiently. To no avail.

Thats partly for political reasons. In recent decades, many European states have largely outsourced their security to the United States, which provided a defensive umbrella and protected global trade routes vital for European commerce and energy supplies.

This enabled most Western European states to invest their money in lavish welfare systems instead of powerful armies.

As a result, many European countries have grown out of the habit of thinking in hard, strategic terms.

But Russias recent efforts to force Ukraine and Armenia into abandoning Europe should be a reminder that we are not living in a world ruled by accepted international norms, as many Europeans believe.

The savage killing in Syria is proof, too, that there is no such thing as an international community that would intervene when the going got rough.

In recent years the Obama administration has used the Munich conference to assure Europeans that Americas pivot to Asia doesnt mean abandoning Europe and the Middle East.

And for a time, Europe chose to believe this. Enhancing its foreign and security posture didnt score high on the agenda while the Continent was fending off a financial meltdown. This year though, with the euro crisis seemingly contained, it might be the right time for the United States to change script.

To be clear, further American disentanglement from the Middle East is not good for the region, or for the West as a whole.

But if this is where the United States is heading as many experts fear it would be better to challenge the Europeans with some frank talk in Munich.

The American delegation might say: The Middle East needs a strong outside stabilizer in order not to explode or become a large ungoverned space. But we dont want to own this region anymore, and strategically, it is much more important to you than to us, given our increasing energy independence. So prepare yourself to take over in five years or so. Because we will reduce our role to what is absolutely necessary. We will keep the Russians out, we will keep the Iranians down by preventing the bomb. But for the rest we want Europe to get in.

That would at least generate a real debate in Munich about what Europe can and should do to help stop the current trajectory of Western decline and to help shore up a liberal world order, which benefits an overwhelming majority of people worldwide.

Clemens Wergin is the foreign editor of the German newspaper group Die Welt .