Europe storms back to global centre stage


An effigy depicting a representative of the Kiev authorities is hung over a barricade in the eastern Ukranian city of Slavyansk on May 13, 2014. Europe stepped up diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Ukraine Tuesday, with the German foreign minister in Kiev pushing authorities and pro-Moscow rebels to come together at the negotiating table. AFP PHOTO / VASILY MAXIMOV

Europe has stormed back to the centre stage of global politics and parts of it could very well return to the status of an arena of contestation between the US and Russia. This much could be gleaned from the potential eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, militarily and otherwise, between the West and Russia in Ukraine, for instance.

While it is unlikely that the parties would come ‘to blows’ overtly in Eastern Europe, there is no denying that the region has reverted to high tensions of a Cold War kind. So, Europe, who some may have surmised, had declined to the position of an ‘ailing giant’ of the world, is once again of profound relevance to the observer of international politics. It is not the case that Europe was of minimal interest in this sense over the decades, but, perhaps for the first time in post-Cold War times, events in the Eastern European theatre are proving to be of exceptional and absorbing relevance once again.

If Europe seemed to decline somewhat in importance over the years, from the viewpoint of global political developments, this is only to be expected because it is Asia which is today at the heart of international politics and economics. Moreover, the current economic downturn in parts of Europe has robbed the latter of the resonance it once had for almost the rest of the world.

However, current political developments in states in the ‘backyard’ of Russia are tending to seriously undermine the assumptions the world had made about the nature of the contemporary global political order. The indications are that the West is unlikely to have its ‘way’ in regions that were once part of the former Soviet Union. Its seeming military and political supremacy is unlikely to go unchallenged and we have the proof of this in the Crimea and in the Ukraine. Thus far, the assumption seemed to go unquestioned that Western hegemony in post-Cold War Europe is a reality that would not easily go away. This premise may now have to be seriously re-examined.

Moreover, proxy wars of a Cold War kind seem to have made a resounding comeback in Eastern Europe. For instance, there have been unconfirmed reports in sections of the world media that some 400 mercenaries from a private US security firm, now named Academi but formerly titled Blackwater, are operative in southeastern Ukraine, where the threat of secession is said to be serious by pro-Russian sections of the Ukrainian public. It was Blackwater personnel who figured in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007.

Meanwhile, it is reported that 600 US combat troops have been deployed in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania at a time when some 40,000 Russian troops have reportedly massed on Russia’s border with Eastern Ukraine. While US military strength in Europe amounts to 69,300 personnel, Russian troop strength in close proximity to Russia’s border with Eastern Europe is said to be 845,000.

Europe Day was celebrated on May 9 and congratulations are due to the EU, which has managed to remain more or less united and intact over the decades, since its founding in the years immediately following the ending of World War Two. While there is no denying that the EU could do better in economic terms, its consistent commitment to democracy and human rights is commendable.

At present, the EU is an ideal foil for the numerous authoritarian states of Asia, which are vibrant, from the viewpoint of economic growth, but leave very much to be desired in terms of democratic development. The EU counterbalances, as it were, the ‘democratic deficit’ in parts of Asia and is a veritable reminder that economic growth would need to combine with democratic development if the public interest in Asia and outside is to be truly served.

Moreover, European economic integration is vibrantly on and this serves to remind us in South Asia in particular that we are very embarrassingly tardy in the task of forging ahead with economic integration, although SAARC has been in existence since 1985. We need to take a leaf from the practical-mindedness of the Western Europeans who have now within their fold several of former Russian ‘satellite’ states. Clearly, the option is for ‘Western Democracy’.

It is remarkable that Western Europe has managed to steer clear of depending lopsidedly on the US over the decades, for its general developmental and military needs, although the US aim in launching its Marshall Plan of 1947 for the restoration of war-battered Western Europe, was the need to ensure that the latter practised market economics and remained open to US economic penetration. Notwithstanding these calculations of the US, Europe has managed to, more or less, have its way in world affairs and this is an achievement of note, although one cannot speak of a substantial US-EU polarity in global politics.

However, the EU and the US are making common cause in Ukraine. A ‘sovereign’ and geographically intact Ukraine is very much to the fore in their policy perspectives. But the EU would need to ensure that these aims are achieved and preserved without too overt and disproportionate a dependence on the US. This is on account of the fact that a protracted and bloody, Cold War-style proxy war in the Ukraine would be as unwelcome from the democratic world’s viewpoint, as Russian military and political interference in the region. Ending the Ukrainian troubles through the fostering in the Ukraine of greater democratic development is the challenge facing the EU.

No less an entity than the EU would know the costs of having big power confrontations in its midst. Russian confidence in the EU would need to be fostered and maintained if greater stability is to be brought to Eastern Europe and strengthened there. Apparently, the states of Europe would do well to look at ways of increasingly bringing into being social democracy in their region, which, essentially, envisages the combining of growth with equity.

In fact, pronounced equity could be the missing factor in most of Europe’s development experience. Equity increases the people’s stakeholdership in democracy and ensures the stability of states. Such factors would prevent social groups and communities from seeking ‘outside’ help for their problems.

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