Sunday, November 23, 2014

Europe in a Multipolar World

BERLIN – One aspect of the Ukraine crisis that both Russia and the West need to understand is that the rest of the world appears to be relatively unconcerned about it. Though the West, along with Japan, may view the crisis as a challenge to the global order, most other states do not feel threatened by Russia’s annexation of Crimea or designs it may have elsewhere in Ukraine. Instead, many view this crisis as being largely about Europe’s inability to resolve its own regional disputes – though a successful outcome could bolster Europe’s global influence as a peacemaker.

As the Ukraine crisis unfolded, Russian policymakers and commentators talked about “the end of the Post-Cold War era,” while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dimitri Rogozin even appeared to welcome the start of a New Cold War. Such wishful thinking is predicated on the notion that conflict between Russia and the West would once again come to define the entire international system, thereby returning Russia to its former superpower status.

That is not going to happen. As emerging powers’ reactions to the Ukraine crisis demonstrate, world politics is no longer defined by what happens in Europe, even when a major conflict is brewing there. The international system has become so multi-polar that non-European states can now choose to follow their own interests rather than feel obliged to side with the East or the West.

Few world leaders doubt that Russia’s use of force to compromise Ukraine’s territorial integrity, change its borders, and annex Crimea violated international law. China’s abstention in the subsequent United Nations Security Council vote clearly signaled its leaders’ displeasure with Kremlin policy. But nearly one-third of the UN’s members sent an equally emphatic message by abstaining or not participating in a General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s actions.

Even Western-friendly governments – including Brazil, India, South Africa, and Israel – were not prepared to take sides. The Indian journalist Indrani Bagchi referred to the abstentions as a new form of non-alignment.

Cynicism and schadenfreude may also be playing a role. Raja Mohan, a prominent Indian strategist, notes that Europe “has never ceased to lecture Asia on the virtues of regionalism,” but now seems unable to cope with its own regional security challenges.

The implicit message from the new non-aligned is straightforward: Why should we care about a territorial conflict in Europe when you Europeans fail to act decisively on Palestine, Kashmir, or territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas? Instead, many of these countries are calling on the West to de-escalate the crisis and, as an official Chinese foreign-ministry statement advocated, to “exercise restraint and refrain from raising tensions.”

That is good advice – and no different from what Europeans tell others in similar situations. Unlike other regions of the world, however, Europe, including Russia, can be proud of its regional security organizations, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); Europe needs to make them work.

The OSCE, for example, would be greatly strengthened if, using its wide range of diplomatic mechanisms (such as roundtable discussions and support for constitutional reforms), it succeeded in defusing the Ukraine crisis and thereby bolstered European security. Doing so would also provide a powerful example of institutionalized regionalism that might serve as a conflict-resolution model for other countries.

Alternatively, if Europe is unable to resolve the Ukraine crisis with diplomacy, its global influence, and that of Russia, will surely fade. Russia has reminded the world that it is possible to bully one’s neighbors and steal their territory using brute force; but, in a globalized, multi-polar system, this alone will not be enough to rally other countries to its cause. And the EU, as a highly sophisticated paper tiger, would be no more attractive.

EU member states have no interest in letting their continent slip back into ethnic nationalism and power politics. The Ukraine crisis is therefore both a challenge and an opportunity. If Europe wants to remain a pole in a multi-polar international system, it must prove that it can pursue a common foreign and security policy, particularly in times of crisis and conflict.

That means that the EU must emerge from the Ukraine crisis with a stronger commitment to common defense and joint contingency planning, and a unified energy policy that can secure independence from Russian oil and gas. But Europe must also show that it can, and will, defend the principles of rules-based international relations.

Maintaining and strengthening the pillars of Europe’s common defense is not a simple task; but multilateral security organizations like the OSCE are not made for easy times. They are intended to protect members from manipulation and aggression, and in a way that can garner global support. In this sense, Europe’s main task now is to leverage its already considerable strategic assets.

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    1. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Mr. Volker Perthes says that Russia's annexation and interference in Ukraine may have enraged the West and Japan, but "the rest of the world appears to be relatively unconcerned about it". Indeed, all over the world, there seems to be a trend of counter-globalisation and people have adopted a parochial and nationalist outlook in their policy making.
      Even in the US, surveys have shown that Americans no longer are willing to look out for other countries' interests. The two costly wars had taken a toll on their economy and they want their country to stay out of international conflicts.
      The US made its debut as "international cop" with the Truman Doctrine to contain the spread of communism and the Marshall Plan of aid to reconstruct Europe and Japan in the post-World War II era. It was a paradox, because Truman basically was a provinicial politican, untutored in foreign affairs, and knew nothing about the complex diplomacy of his predecessor, Franklin D Roosevelt.
      China, as the world's second largest economy sticks to its tenets of foreign polices - no interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. So it abstained from the UN vote on Crimea, condemning Russia's action.
      The EU is quite divided over its dealing with the Kremlin. While the Baltic States are more vocal about their security concerns, big economies like Britain, France and Germany are wary of the high cost of sanctions on Russia and the possible backlash they may face. Hence it gives outsiders the impression of "Europe’s inability to resolve its own regional disputes".
      In recent years the European Union had been embroiled in an economic crisis. Stringent austerity measures imposed on countries that needed a bailout had worked, yet the region is still not yet out of the woods. The Ukraine crisis has led NATO to refocus on its core interests and brought another organisation into the limelight - the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
      It's true that the world is getting multipolar, but Europe itself will not be a pole of its own. As there is no political union within the EU, it will always be an ally of the US. So "to leverage its already considerable strategic assets" is just a wishful thinking, given the constant squabbling among its members in Brussels.

    2. CommentedEdward Ponderer

      Multi-polar is the word, its mathematical meaning is an invisible, steel skeletal/functional frame--a predestined soul--about which the geopolitical orbits and oscillates unconsciously.

      Negotiation is, to define, the use of time, knowledge, and perceived (or used--i.e., war) power in a web of tension to achieve what you want to the extent possible. The bilateral negotiation of the flat world of times past was in a clear imbalance between parties, winner take all--literally, else in a near balance, a win-win would be negotiated by both parties. But even in the imbalance, times changed as people's services became more useful with technological development. FIrst as slaves to a master, so the loser got--at least--life and sustenance. Then as serfs to a nobleman, where they even had a little property. Then as paid workers to wealthy land owners and industrialists.

      Then the world became round, service products, and skills were complex and obtained in equally complex manner with the growth of the information age. And here something new happened. Economic and military influence flowed out from the superpower uni-polar and bi-polar, to the multi-polar. Particularly, once you get three or more, a weak one can influence by playing another off a third in regions of balanced tensions between these, and draw further negotiating power to itself. The result is feed-forward into a "fractal basin," and deterministic chaos. The next stage--if we are to mimic the evolutionary successes of the natural world, is to work a decentralized power in round table formation--turning chaos into cross-communication/sense, and system control--bringing matters to homeostasis. If not, then this system remains chaotic in its general sense, and as far as we are concerned, the dominant principle is Murphy's law.

      As such, we come to the ultimate evolution of negotiation--the balance of the needs of all parties in a win-win-win-... -- which translates into a WIN for the System Humanity. Then we will have really traded up from poverty--and it will be permanent because it will be self-regulating and not at the mercy of the foibles of petty, greedy old-school international ideological politics or the individual ego of a clever ruling class under any system capitalistic, socialistic, aristocratic, or theocratic.

      What failures we are now seeing are in the oscillations, and successes we are seeing in the envelope, of the global function of approach to this final self-regulating state. This, assuming--let us hope--that the oscillation will eventually decay the envelope into a smooth curve, rather that the envelope exploding into chaos.

    3. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      Today we are all learning.
      We have evolved into a state we never met through our history thus we have no historical experience or precedent we could rely on.

      Humanity has never existed in a globally interconnected and inter-dependent system as we do today.
      And even people who are openly talking about interconnections and inter-dependence only scratch the surface how deep these unbreakable ties in between us go.

      And in such global, integral world all the previous methods, tools, ideologies, foreign policies, decision making systems become obsolete.
      We are leaving behind the fragmented, polarized and two-dimensional thinking and entering a round, circular, or more precisely sphere-like paradigm.

      In such paradigm there is no "global leader", "superpower", "broker", or even a small group of "more important nations" like a UN Security Council for example.
      In a round world every negotiations and decision making also has to happen in a round, equal manner.

      This is something we all have to learn together, again in a mutual and equal manner, switching ruthless competition to mutually complementing collaboration at every front.

      And here Europe could and should provide the example. The European Union created the infrastructure for such mutual collaboration.
      Unfortunately so far it was exploited for the wrong reasons, only for markets and financial gain, but the infrastructure is there, and despite the setback of the last elections the majority of the people would still support the common project.

      But the patience is wearing thin, the Union needs to be used as it was supposed to happen from the beginning, to create a mutually cooperating, fully integrated single Union, built from the ground up for the benefit of the people.
      If it happens this way the positive example would spread worldwide, almost immediately starting solving all the problems humanity is facing.

      In today's global world all our problems are global, and thus the solutions also have to be global, and mutual.

    4. Commentedslightly optimistic

      Much of the political world seems unconcerned that valuable territory can so easily be stolen!
      It is said that Russia's annexation of Crimea forced EU governments to choose between short-term business interests and the preservation of the global order. Another move towards value free economics in the world's economy? So far it appears that short-term interests have won, judging from the support for Russia from big companies in the west.
      This sets a dangerous precedent.