A warmongering atmosphere

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

A new European war will drag us all down, it will end humanity as we know it. In this war there will be no spectators. We will all be victims

It was half past three in the morning when he was woken up by a phone call from the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenski, announcing the invasion of his country. Upon hearing his somber voice, the president of the European Council (the body that brings together the heads of state and government of the 27 member states), Belgian Charles Michel, realized that the international order that emerged from the Second World War had changed forever. .

Charles Michel, a conservative who headed a coalition government in his country between 2014 and 2019, before assuming the presidency of the European Council, tells the story in an article published on March 19 in the Spanish newspaper The country. In his worldview, in the face of the new threats that Europe faces, “it is necessary to strengthen our ability to defend the democratic world, both for Ukraine and for Europe”.

Currently, in Europe, this defense is understood almost exclusively as a military challenge. Charles Michel sums up the issue with an old cliché: “If we want peace, we have to prepare for war.” These are powerful phrases, one of whose main effects is to exempt us from thinking. What war is Charles Michel talking about? From NATO against Russia?

Charles Michel repeats statements that we frequently hear today: “Russia will not stop in Ukraine, just as it did not stop in Crimea ten years ago”. “Russia is a serious military threat to our European continent and global security.” “It continues its destabilization tactics throughout the world, in Moldova, Georgia, the southern Caucasus, the Western Balkans and even on the African continent.”

No serious analyst, neither political nor military, confirms the idea that Russia, once the war in Ukraine is over, will advance on its European neighbors. We would be talking about a war against NATO, a nuclear conflict. This makes no sense, and it is precisely the nuclear nature of such a war that makes Charles Michel's phrase meaningless. Unless we are all prepared for the tragedy that would mean. But Charles Michel has no doubts: “We face the greatest threat to our security since the Second World War”, he assures.

Other worldviews

David Miliband, former United Kingdom Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (2007-2010), published a year ago an article entitled “The world beyond Ukraine” (“The World Beyond Ukraine", Foreign Affairs, April 2023). In it he asserts that the invasion of Ukraine produced a remarkable unity of action among the world's liberal democracies. But, he added, this unity of the West was not supported by the rest of the world.

Two-thirds of the world's population, said David Miliband, live in countries that are officially neutral, or support Russia in this conflict, including notable democracies such as Brazil, India, Indonesia or South Africa. Furthermore, this distance between the West and the rest of the world world, “is the result of a deep frustration – anger, in fact – with the way the West has handled globalization since the end of the Cold War.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said something similar. It is one of the reasons that explains his decision to burst onto the international scene in such a way, which led Charles Michel to say that the international order, inherited from the Second World War, had “changed forever”.

What is certain is that a war with NATO is considered unlikely by different analysts. But of course, given the nature of the war in Ukraine, this cannot be ruled out, including the possibility that it was triggered by a miscalculation or even by accident.

On March 24, for example, Poland claimed that a Russian missile fired at a Ukrainian base near the Polish border had flown over its airspace for about 40 seconds. He demanded explanations from the Russian government, which decided not to provide them, as Poland did not provide any proof of what it claimed.

Two days earlier, a former US official, Stanislav Krapivnik, told the Russian portal RT that the Polish government was preparing its population for war with Russia. He recalled statements by Polish Chief of Staff General Wieslaw Kukula that Russia was “preparing for a conflict with NATO” in the next decade. For Krapivnik, this is part of the population's psychological preparation for war.

It also does not exclude that Poland could launch a preemptive attack against Russia, with the support of countries such as the Czech Republic or the Baltic countries, which would provoke an inevitable conflict with NATO. In any case, a study carried out for the Rand Co. by Samuel Charap and Miranda Priebe, published in January of last year under the title “Avoid a long war,” concludes that it is more important for the United States to avoid both a NATO-Russia war and a long-running war between Russia and Ukraine.

Everyone feels threatened

A common alarmist view prevails among several European politicians. Joschka Fischer, former German foreign minister and leader of the Greens, insisted that “this is not just about Ukraine’s freedom. This is the entire European continent.” “Russia wants to erase its neighbor from the map,” he says.

How can we imagine a war by Russia to conquer the European continent? Joschka Fischer feels threatened. Charles Michel too. It was not Russia that approached NATO's borders. It was NATO's borders that moved closer to Russia for 40 years. But this is a reflection that is not in the reasoning of these European politicians.

As Swedish Foreign Minister (the last country to join NATO), Tobias Billstrom, states, “arming Ukraine is a way of confronting Moscow’s appetites”. It seems to me that Moscow might think this is a way to fuel NATO's appetites against them.

For the Swedish minister, in any case, the problem is not his country, nor NATO, but the irresponsible and reckless behavior of Russia, which seeks to rebuild its former empire in the Baltic. Does it not occur to you to think that Russia also feels threatened and that, before invading Ukraine, it warned many times about the risk posed by NATO's systematic advance towards its borders?

A glimpse of wisdom

The bellicose tone increasingly occupies the debate. The European Union summit on March 22 was “preceded by a bellicose atmosphere the likes of which had not been seen in Brussels for many years”, said correspondents from the The country. The EU called on civil society to prepare for “all dangers”. Charles Michel called on Europe to move “to a war economy regime”. In Germany, a minister suggested introducing conflict preparation classes into schools.

An atmosphere of bellicose hysteria is being created that has ended up scaring some of the European leaders themselves. “I don't feel recognized when people talk about transforming Europe into a war economy, not even with expressions like 'Third World War'”, said Spanish head of government Pedro Sánchez in Brussels.

It's not that I disagree with Charles Michel's suggestion to prepare for war, although I don't share the tone that the debate adopted. But its own defense minister, Margarita Robles, recalled in an interview a few days ago that “a ballistic missile could very well reach Spain from Russia”.

The European Union's foreign policy representative, Josep Borrell, who has often fueled this war-like environment, has now preferred to warn against the tendency to scare European citizens with war, exaggerating the threat of a direct conflict with Russia. “I heard voices that spoke of an imminent war. Thank God, war is not imminent. We live in peace. We support Ukraine, but we are not part of this war.” For Josep Borrell, these are not European soldiers who “are going to die in Donbass”.

A risk that the French president and other countries, especially the Baltics and Poland, seem willing to take. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dimitry Kuleba in an interview with Politico, on March 25, did not rule out that European countries would decide to send troops to Ukraine to contain Russian advances. “If Ukraine loses,” he said, “Vladimir Putin will not stop.”

It is clear that Josep Borrell's statement is full of contradictions. It is difficult to understand that they live in peace while NATO's involvement in a war to which they have diverted resources many times greater than those allocated to any other of their projects in the world is increasing.

Fascism as far right

“European politicians are losing their minds. The voice of peace is completely retreating. Many European political leaders are suffering from war psychosis,” said Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto on Sunday, March 24. Hungary – often accused in Europe of being “populist” and “far-right” – is a country that opposes plans to send weapons to Ukraine.

“Populism”, a concept that has fueled thousands of very varied academic pages, has the advantage of avoiding many complications for journalists. The adjective, useless in explaining the political scenario, serves to get away from the subject without the need for further elaboration. It saves certain journalists a lot of reflection time.

In Germany, special attention is being paid to the role of a party that is located on the “extreme right”: the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

O Grand Continent (publication of Group of geopolitical studies, an independent research center based in Ecole Supérieure de Paris, founded in May 2019), decided to follow the abundant electoral processes planned for this year with a series of interviews. For the German case, interviewed the historian Johann Chapoutot.

Johann Chapoutot spoke about the significance of the AfD for Germany. “The AfD has moved from a focus on monetary issues to a more pronounced populist stance,” he says. “Like many far-right parties, it proposes a populist discourse that promises to return power to the people in the face of an elite that is supposedly rushing to oppress them.”

But Johann Chapoutot himself – who uses the concept of “populism” here – provides elements for a more in-depth analysis of this German right, certainly extreme, but represented in the most diverse political formations in the country, and not just in the AfD. In Bavaria, where the very conservative Social-Christians of the CSU dominate the electoral landscape, the AfD finds “little or almost no space” to develop. The strong Bavarian particularism seems to limit its advance in a region where the dominance of a very radical right (CSU and Freie Wähler) is “overwhelming”, says Johann Chapoutot.

After German reunification in 1990, Johann Chapoutot insists, young people in the East turned to nationalism in response to what they saw as identity theft in the face of Western dominance following the fall of the GDR. Unemployment at 30%, the liquidation of East German industry and crafts, the violence of the “seizure of power” (Adoption) or “annexation” (Connection) by West German companies caused a social trauma “whose intensity is difficult to measure, and whose cultural and political consequences are still very much alive 35 years later”, he adds.

Helmut Kohl, the Christian Democrat chancellor who led the unification process, and his finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble (the same one who, years later, would impose leonine conditions on the renegotiation of Greek debt to save the German banks committed to these loans), they had allowed companies to waive labor legislation in exchange for locating in the East. And they became a laboratory for “social policies”, later imposed in the West by the social democrats Gerhard Schröder and Peter Hartz, with their offers of “mini jobs” for unemployed Germans.

Johann Chapoutot remembers the CDU's rapprochement with the Greens, the same Greens who are part of the current government coalition with the Social Democrats and Liberals and who defend an aggressive policy against Russia. The liberals (FDP), increasingly extreme in their conservative positions, adopt the AfD's toughest proposals, says Johann Chapoutot. Like the extreme right, the FDP is anti-environmentalist, pro-business, anti-tax, anti-standards… The corollary of the proposal to lower taxes is the destruction of public services and the abandonment of infrastructure.

This is the German and European extreme right that, according to the most diverse estimates, will not only consolidate its position on the European political scene (in Parliament, the Commission and the Council) in the elections next June, but will also lean even more towards right, without it being necessary, to understand what is at stake, to resort to “populism”, or looking for more extreme positions, because there are none (even if one disagrees on migration and some other issues).

The same people who fight against Russia, support Ukraine and Israel, think that to achieve peace we have to prepare for war, instead of negotiating a peace that offers Europeans (and the rest of the world) security and guarantees of common development. There is no need to reinforce the European capacity “to defend the democratic world, both for Ukraine and for Europe”, as Charles Michel states. The problem this time is that a new European war will drag us all down and end humanity as we know it. In this war there will be no spectators. We will all be victims.

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

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


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