Building a new world order

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

Olaf Scholz's question: how can Europe remain an independent actor in a multipolar world?

1.

"Russia's aggression against Ukraine ended an era," said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in an article published in the January/February issue of the magazine Foreign Affairs: The Global Zeitenwende. Something like a point of no return. It is also the starting point of the World Economic Forum that met in Davos in mid-January: “the world is now at a critical turning point”, they say.

The central question for Olaf Scholz was this: how can we, as Europeans and the European Union, continue to be independent actors in an increasingly multipolar world?

Something French President Emmanuel Macron has also been talking about, for whom Europe should rethink its “strategic autonomy”. According to Emmanuel Macron, “Europe must play a more active role in NATO, reducing its dependence on the United States and developing its own defense capabilities to guarantee peace in the region”.

On the Russian side, the problem is also analyzed. Fyodor Lukyanov, director of the Valdai Discussion Forum, pointed out that the visit of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky to Washington on December 21 (leaving aside the theatrics involved) could represent a milestone for the definition of a new European security framework.

With Ukraine transformed into an unsinkable US aircraft carrier – as Lukyanov says, a role similar to that played by Honduras in the “contras” war mounted by Washington against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s –, the proposed security scheme by Vladimir Putin in December last year no longer makes sense. With the Ukrainian army well prepared and supported by the West, especially the United States, its eventual membership in NATO becomes irrelevant, said Lukyanov.

a similar position was expressed by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Ukraine obtained one of the largest and most effective land armies in Europe, equipped by the Americans and their allies. The alternative of neutrality is no longer meaningful, Kissinger said, especially after Sweden and Finland joined NATO. He repeated these ideas in his speech at the Davos forum on 18 January.

 

Cold War winners

What era, according to Olaf Scholz, is coming to an end? In the 1990s, it seemed that a more stable – resilient, I would say – world order had taken hold in the world. It was about the order established after the Cold War, of a world perceived as one of “relative peace and prosperity”.

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel would say, in an interview published on December 7 in Time Magazine, that “the Cold War was never over, because Russia was never really at peace”.

Germany had failed to achieve its goal of defeating Russia, then head of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), in World War II. Confronted by the rest of Europe, especially by Great Britain, then still a great power (and which did the impossible to avoid entering that war), and later by the United States, Germany was defeated, in a war in which the role of the USSR was decisive.

The world was later divided into two large blocks. The one led by the United States took on the task of continuing the struggle against the one led by the Soviet Union. A long conflict, which lasted almost 45 years, and ended, as we know, with the victory of the western bloc and the dissolution of the USSR.

Once the countries of Eastern Europe, hitherto under Soviet tutelage, were liberated, a new international order emerged: a “united and free” Europe (“whole and free”, in the words of President George HW Bush), now under American leadership, began the construction of this new international order.

On the one hand, neoliberal economic policies were consolidated, driven by international financial institutions, with vast privatizations in Eastern European countries, which also extended to Latin America, a region traditionally under US tutelage. It was the era of “there is no alternative”, announced by one of the purest representatives of the time, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

On the other hand – and today we see it clearly – a new foreign and defense policy was being designed under US leadership, spearheaded by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The objective of NATO, as its first secretary general, the British general of Indian origin, Hastings Ismay, would say in 1952 was “to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”, very much in line with British foreign policy at the time.

Seventy years later, the British decline allowed Olaf Scholz to say, in his article, that “the Germans seek to be the guarantors of European security that our allies expect us to be, builders of bridges in the European Union and defenders of multilateral solutions to the problems global”.

England's dream, expressed by General Hastings Ismay, has been shattered and much of the rest of Europe – narrow-minded, in my opinion – excited about war against Russia, seems to forget the consequences of the latest German rearmament.

Olaf Scholz highlighted the amendment of the German Constitution, which prohibited him from arming countries in conflict, and announced the allocation of 100 billion euros to reinforce its Armed Forces. What belongs to the same world must grow together, said Chancellor Willy Brandt after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Brandt was referring to Germany, but that applies to Europe as a whole, says Olaf Scholz.

It is what the West calls “a world based on rules”. What Olaf Scholz perceives as a new, more resilient order, as a world of relative peace and prosperity, some have called “the end of history”.

 

2.

Olaf Scholz regrets that Vladimir Putin, instead of seeing the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall and the communist order as an opportunity to promote more freedom and democracy, called it “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the XNUMXth century”.

The phrase has a double implication. The first is to place the end of the USSR as a greater catastrophe than those represented by the First and Second World Wars. It seems like a callous misjudgment by the Russian president. But it has yet another meaning, politically more important for the construction of the German chancellor's speech: that of suggesting that Russia's attack on Ukraine is just one step in the effort to rebuild the Soviet Union.

There is no need to expand on this to understand the meaning of what Olaf Scholz seeks to attribute to the Russian president. “When Putin gave the order to attack, he destroyed a European and international architecture of peace that took decades to build.” "His brutal attack on Ukraine last February marked the beginning of a new reality: the return of imperialism to Europe."

The phrase, as quoted by the German chancellor, reveals a subtle interpretation. The quote Olaf Scholz is referring to is from annual report of the President of Russia to the Assembly of the Russian Federation. The text quoted by Scholz, in its English version, is in the sixth paragraph: “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory".

As you can see, this is not what Olaf Scholz says when, quoting Vladimir Putin, he states, in quotes: “was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century” (it was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the XNUMXth century).

What the text of Vladimir Putin says is: “was a major geopolitical disaster of the century”, which can be translated as “one of the greatest geopolitical disasters of the century”. A real drama for the Russian nation, added Putin. "Millions of our citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory." The key to the debate lies in the words used in English: “the”, on the one hand, and “a", for another.

Stephen Frand Cohen, an American scholar of Russian studies, says that Vladimir Putin has been obsessively misquoted on this issue, repeating the phrase “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century", when, in fact, what he said was that it had been "a major geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century".

Olaf Scholz ignores these details and quotes the phrase as it suits his argument. We will see that this is not the only citation in which he applies this procedure. It is in this environment that Vladimir Putin's authoritarianism and imperialist ambitions "begin to emerge", he says. Quote later the speech the Russian president gave two years later, in 2007, at the Munich Security Conference. An "aggressive" speech in which he "derided the rules-based international order as a mere instrument of American domination".

 

The failure of the unipolar world

It is important to consider the date the Russian president is speaking: 2007, 15 years ago. What does Putin say in this speech? The first thing is that the model of a unipolar world, such as that which emerged after the triumph of the West in the Cold War, “is not only unacceptable, but impossible in today's world”. What is happening in the world today – and this is what we have begun to discuss – is the attempt to introduce this concept into international affairs.

And what have been the results? asks Putin. "Unilateral, and often illegitimate, actions have not resolved any problems." By the end of 2001, the United States had invaded Afghanistan and, in March 2003, Iraq. “We are witnessing the virtually uncontrollable use of military force in international relations, a growing disregard for the basic principles of international law, which has plunged the world into the abyss of permanent conflicts. A State – mainly the United States – acting beyond its borders, has sought to impose its policies on other nations, whether in economics, politics, culture, or education”.

The result, says Vladimir Putin, as early as 2007, is that nobody feels safe. "I am convinced that the time has come when we must give serious thought to the architecture of global security."

Putin spoke of a multipolar world, based on the economic growth of countries like India, China, or the members of the BRICs, which at the time included Brazil, Russia, India and China. He highlighted the importance of a legal framework on weapons of mass destruction, defended the need to respect the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the multilateral control of missile technologies, the prevention of the use of weapons in space.

The speech addresses yet other issues, but Putin dwells on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, signed in 1999. Seven years have passed and only four countries – including Russia – have ratified the treaty, says Vladimir Putin.

What happened since then? "NATO has placed its forces on our borders, while we continue to strictly respect our treaty obligations and do not react to such actions." NATO countries have declared that they will not ratify the treaty "until Russia withdraws its bases from Moldova and Georgia". Vladimir Putin referred to the situation in Moldova and said he regularly discussed it with NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. He did not speak of the situation in Georgia.

And he recalled a statement by another NATO secretary general from 1988 to 1994, the former German defense minister Manfred Wörner, made in Brussels on May 17, 1990: “the fact that we are willing not to place NATO troops outside German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm guarantee of security.”

NATO expansion, added Vladimir Putin, has nothing to do with modernizing the alliance or ensuring Europe's security. On the contrary, "it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust". Where are these guarantees? he asked.

Vladimir Putin also said in that speech that “the only mechanism that can decide on the use of military force as a last resort is the Charter of the United Nations”. A statement that is difficult to reconcile with his decision to attack Ukraine, although subsequent revelations, especially about hidden intentions in the Minsk Accord negotiations, add new nuances to the picture.

 

3.

Let's go back to Olaf Scholz's article. In 2014 – he says – Russia occupied Crimea and sent troops to the Donbas “in direct violation of international law”. “During the eight years following the illegal annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of conflict in eastern Ukraine, Germany and its European and international G7 partners focused on safeguarding Ukraine's sovereignty and political independence while preventing further escalation. of Russia, restoring and preserving peace in Europe”.

Along with France, added Olaf Scholz, “Germany committed itself to the so-called Normandy Format, which led to the Minsk Accords and the corresponding Minsk process, which required Russia and Ukraine to adopt a ceasefire and a series of other measures. Despite the problems and lack of trust between Moscow and Kiev, Germany and France kept the process going. But a revisionist Russia made successful diplomacy impossible.”

Then, the statements by former Chancellor Angela Merkel to the aforementioned Zeit Magazine gave another perspective on the Minsk agreements. The first agreement, in September 2014, said Angela Merkel, was intended to “give Ukraine time to strengthen, as we can see today. The Ukraine of 2014/2015 is not the Ukraine of today”.

Then came the battle of Debatselvo in early 2015, with a quick victory for Russian forces, which led to a second protocol of the Minsk agreement, signed in February of that year. “It was clear to us that the conflict was frozen, that the problem had not been resolved, but this gave Ukraine invaluable time,” added Angela Merkel.

Similar statements were later made by former French President François Hollande. Pyotr Poroshenko, who took over Ukraine's presidency after the 2014 coup, also acknowledged that the Minsk Accords (which he and Merkel were involved in negotiating) were nothing more than a ploy to buy time and militarily bolster Ukraine. "The Minsk accords, despite the criticism, have given us time to build Ukraine's defense capabilities."

What is certain is that, on December 10, 2019, the Ukrainian government issued a statement following a meeting in Paris of the leaders of the four countries that shaped the Minsk Accords – France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine – declaring that they remained committed to the full implementing the agreements and promoting a “sustainable and inclusive architecture of trust and security in Europe”.

The Russian response was that Angela Merkel's statements were "disappointing". “I didn't expect to hear that from the former chancellor,” said Vladimir Putin. "I thought the German leaders were in sincere dialogue with us." “The idea was to fill Ukraine with weapons and prepare it for combat. We realized this too late,” he added.

 

The vision of a new world

Olaf Scholz states that “Putin wants to divide Europe into zones of influence and the world into blocs of great powers and vassal states”. It states that “Putin never accepted the EU as a political actor”, he says. In his opinion, the European Union is a union of free, democratic and sovereign states, based on the rule of law, the antithesis of “imperialist and kleptocratic” Russia.

It is difficult to find measures aimed at these ends in Vladimir Putin's proposals. Although today they may seem completely unfeasible, in 2010, Vladimir Putin, then Russian Prime Minister, presented two proposals that would have changed the face of Europe. On November 25 of that year, the German news agency DW wrote on the subject: “The ink has not yet dried on the headlines praising, as a historic step, the agreement between NATO member countries and Russia on cooperation in building an anti-missile shield on European soil when – after the summit with the European Union – Moscow’s accession to the World Trade Organization is finally on the horizon.”

As if that were not enough, a few hours later, in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin advocated the integration of a harmonious economic community from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

Since then, tensions have only increased. We should ask ourselves why an agreement with Russia was not possible, in the terms proposed by Vladimir Putin in 2010 or in other terms.

Among the most sensitive reasons in this scenario was the gas pipeline connection Nord Stream II, which would become a strategic link between Russia and Western Europe. Preventing its completion has become a fundamental objective of the United States. One day we will know the details of the cancellation of the agreement on this gas pipeline and the subsequent attacks – attributed to British intelligence – to the existing installations of both the Nord Stream II (which never came into operation) as Nord Stream II, which was in operation.

 

a different view

How can Europe remain an independent actor in a multipolar world?, asks the German Chancellor.

When the Contact Group for the Defense of Ukraine met at the US military air base in Ramstein, Germany, on January 20, French President Emmanuel Macron referred to the European scene. During a visit to Spain, he had a long conversation with the Spanish writer Javier Cercas in Paris, published in the newspaper El País. There is an unprecedented crisis in Europe due to the war. The answer must be a powerful Europe, said the French president. A Europe that must decide whether it wants to play its own role on the world stage or align itself with one of the two powers, the United States or China.

Despite sustained military support for Ukraine, Emmanuel Macron did not fail to point out the need to envision a new European order, which includes Russia. “Russia is a great nation in search of its destiny,” said Emmanuel Macron, for whom lasting peace with the West will only be achieved through dialogue.

Europe has not finished digesting the scenario that emerged at the end of the Cold War; it quickly extended eastwards, thinking all problems had been solved, only to find today that there are two blocs of nations in the group, with different visions of the future. A problem that – in his opinion – does not only affect Europe, but all western democracies, “which live in a kind of fatigue, a loss of collective references”.

The French president has close political precedents to draw on. In March last year, the 60th anniversary of the Évian Accords was celebrated, in which a ceasefire was agreed in the war for independence in Algeria. It did not immediately mean peace, but it was the beginning of a process carried out by General De Gaulle, the same one who visited Algiers as Prime Minister and Minister of Defense in June 1958, where he shouted “Long live French Algeria!”

Four years later, as President of the Republic, he negotiated an agreement and promoted the peace process that would pit him against his former allies, above all the ultranationalist military and the Blackfoot, the more than one million French colonists in Algeria, opposed to Algerian independence and willing to continue with an even bloodier war than until then, in order to try to prevent it.

But de Gaulle was an extraordinary figure forged in resistance to the Germans in World War II. Spanish television, in a program on the 60th anniversary of the Évian Accords, recalled how “through De Gaulle's speeches to the nation, one can observe the political change he experienced, adapting to the reality and international board” of his time.

It went from the initial attempt to contain French Algeria in acknowledging its self-determination to confronting the violent colonial population of Blackfoot, once independence was proclaimed.

Vision and courage are indispensable to forge a new era that prevents the advance of military confrontation – the only path taken so far in the Ukraine crisis – in which the Blackfoot are imposing themselves, without a De Gaulle appearing so far capable of putting them in their place.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves

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