The security dimension of continentalism

_ Ralph Bosshard, Lieutenant Colonel iG., former Chief of Operations Planning at the Swiss Armed Forces Joint Staff. Berlin, 18 October 2023.*

We in Western Europe refer to NATO as a Western defence alliance.

The flaw in NATO’s eastward enlargement was that NATO did not propose parallel appropriate measures to address Russian mistrust. On the contrary, it even hollowed out the existing confidence-building tools. Overall, NATO’s increase in defence capabilities was not accompanied by arms control and confidence building.

The 90s of the 20th century are considered in Russia as the decade of humiliations by the West. Russia shares this experience with China, which speaks of the colonial era as the century of humiliation.

Outside Europe, NATO is no longer perceived as a Western defence alliance, but as a safe haven from which essential of its members cultivate their geopolitical ambitions, e.g. Turkey.

In Russia, Turkish ideas of (pan-)Turanism are seen as a real threat to Russia’s territorial existence, namely if it were possible to stir up the Turkic-speaking peoples in the Crimea, the Urals and northeastern Siberia against Moscow.

Turkey becomes interesting for the USA again for the purpose of regaining influence in Central Asia and in the fight against China.

The West has bred its own enemies:

– In Africa, the former colonial powers Great Britain, France, Portugal and Belgium are still disreputable today.

– Since the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), France and Great Britain no longer have a good name in the Middle East.

– By applying exceptionalism especially to Israel, the U.S. also has a bad reputation in the region.

– For the sake of Israel’s security, the West crushed all representatives of Arab nationalism; their arch-enemy Iran profited from their overthrow (Gamal Abdel Nasser, Saddam Hussein, Muammar al-Gaddafi).

– In Africa and Latin America, the West supported for decades any crook who behaved anti-communist: Anastasio Somoza, August Pinochet, Leopoldo Galtieri, Idi Amin Dada, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, Mobutu Sese Seko.

– The people of Ukraine and Moldova know the corruption of their politics. The West does not win partners by persuasion, it buys them and humiliates whole peoples in the process.

Russia is defending itself against Western European geopolitics, both against the frontline states, which act as shields protecting the protagonists of geopolitics, and against the protagonists of geopolitics further to the west. The frontline states provide their territory as a base for economic warfare, covert warfare, and intelligence operations. In the event of war, the frontline states serve as deployment bases for themselves and their allies against Russia, as is currently the case with Ukraine.

In recent years, virtually every aspect of social life has been used for the purpose of warfare. In this new Cold War, the “enemy of values” is the equivalent of the former “enemy of class,” e.g., hunting down anything remotely Russian.

Russia will try to destabilize these frontline states politically, to run non-military campaigns against Western Europe, such as a large-scale blackout.

European governments must keep their own ranks closed and will determine the foreign policy of their member countries at EU and NATO headquarters.

Militarily, a new Cold War is a journey into the unknown (minefield) because the West is no longer a united bloc and because the behaviour of additional nuclear powers is unpredictable.

The war in Ukraine since 2014 has shown that Russia cannot be fought by economical means and that it can hardly be beaten militarily so close to its borders.

The sanctions policy of the West follows the principles of geo-economics. Thus, the EU interfered with the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour for political reasons. Cooperation with the EU will not be attractive in the future. The sanctions against Russia and its allies will possibly contribute to the fact that the economic development of Eastern Europe will not progress.

A Europe whose economic power is waning will increasingly resort to military means of coercion in order to assert itself in world politics. An actual militarization of Western European foreign policy is to be expected.

It would be naive to believe that relations with Russia can simply be normalized again. For a successful security architecture in Europe and its assertion in the world, a modus vivendi with Russia will have to be found.

On the Eurasian continent, as on all continents, small states traditionally fear hegemonic powers and old empires such as Russia, Turkey, Iran, China, France, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and others.

An alliance of small states as a defensive alliance against Russia or Turkey, especially in the South Caucasus, where one lives in the neighbourhood of no less than three old empires, would be understandable.

A defensive alliance of the southern Mediterranean countries, which would like to counterbalance Italy, Spain and France, would also be understandable.

The idea of regional defensive alliances seems more attractive than that of bloc formation and spheres of influence, which fundamentally contradict the idea of sovereignty and thus the spirit of continentalism.

*Presentation given at the “Conference of European Continentalism” on 18 October 2023 in the German Bundestag in Berlin.

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