Europe - a geopolitical view on security and stability
WSN enjoys a living partnership with Geostrategic Pulse, a renowned Romanian journal focussing on geopolitical and geostrategic affairs. The broader Middle East, the Black Sea region, Russia and the former Soviet Republics are the main areas of interest. Corneliu Pivariu, President and CEO, and Dieter Farwick, WSN Global Editor, met at the IISS conference in Geneva in September 2010. Their discussions lead to an interview on topics highly relevant for European Security Affairs.
Geostrategic Pulse: After the demise of the Iron Curtain, the Warsaw Treaty and the USSR, NATO has grown by almost 43% in terms of new members, as compared to 1989, and it is still available to grant new memberships. What is your opinion concerning this enlargement process, how far can this go without interfering with the Alliance’s internal stability and its capability for action? In this context, what chances do you think Georgia has to become a NATO member? Could the new Strategic Concept of NATO provide a clearer answer to these questions, beyond the availability of the Alliance to welcome new members and the fact that the choice belongs to the candidate?
General Dieter Farwick: Please, let me first thank you for the opportunity to discuss with you geopolitical and geostrategic issues. In combination with vital national and regional interests they form the basis for any security policy.
You are right that most security affairs are complex and interwoven with each other. Political leaders have to tackle security questions and conflicts in a kind of simultaneous policy and diplomacy.
NATO’s enlargement process brought advantages and disadvantages for NATO and worldwide security matters. On the road to NATO membership the “new” members had a hard time to meet the standards set by NATO – e.g. the civil control over the military forces or to solve problems with national minorities and their neighbours. NATO follows the philosophy of “open doors”. It is and was always the decision of the “candidates” to ask for membership. Most “new” members and their people feel to be better of than before – politically, militarily and economically – as NATO membership often went hand in hand with membership in the European Union.
Without any doubt – the decision-making process with 28 member nations is more difficult and takes more time than with 16. NATO’s enlargement process was ill received by Russia – especially when former Soviet Republics joined NATO.
Georgia still has a chance to join NATO – as well as Ukraine. But it will take some more years for both countries to gain the support of their people and to meet NATO standards.
G P: During his first official visits to Europe as a chief of state, the American President Obama said that the USA cannot solve the world’s greatest problems by themselves and he invited his European allies to participate more substantially. Obviously, he was then indirectly hinting to a greater involvement in Iraq and in Afghanistan. His further foreign policy has shown more US focus on China, Russia and less on the EU, especially from the economic standpoint.
Could this be the desire to return to a bipolar world which, according to some, proved more efficient in maintaining the international order? Who will join this binomial? Could there be even a multipolar world, with clearly limited spheres of influence where Russia would assume the role of regional leader? What countries do you think Russia could attract – others than the former USSR republics?
General Dieter Farwick: We live already in a process to a tripolar world with China and USA being already the two superpowers ahead of the others. I do not believe in a “G2” or in “Chinamerica”. Both powers are mutually dependent but there are substantial different interests as well as aims and objectives.
India will close up within the next decades and will become the third pillar of the tripolar world. Below the top three there are emerging regional powers – like Brazil, Indonesia and Russia.
Below this level there are Asian tigers – like Vietnam and South Korea. Unfortunately, Europe as a political union still has to find its way up. All in all, Asia has replaced Europe as the worldwide power house.
United States of America have already shifted their main political, financial and economic emphasis from Europe to Asia. I doubt that Russia can attract any country with its well-known deficiencies – e.g. the demographic development and true poor protection of human rights.
Russia relies still on “hard power” - not on “soft power”. Therefore there in no “smart power” emanating from Russia.
G P: Still on the topic of how the world will look like, please tell us what you believe about the new tendencies manifested in Europe on the “disappearance of the social state”. I’m referring to the German Chancellor’s latest public positions on the current crises in most of the European countries: Angela Merkel has said she favors drastic cuts of public expenses, although according to the latest public data available, Germany has had the biggest economic growth this year. It seems Germany is really acting in this direction. Thus, I mention the law approved on the mandatory military service reduced from 9 to 6 months, starting by July 1st this year; the law also refers to the civil service (young people working in social institutions or nursing centers). Also, the minister of defense Theodor zu Guttenberg declared that the mandatory military service could be abolished as a medium-term objective. Previously, Sueddeutsche Zeitung journal has quoted government sources and has announced that this month, first within his party and then in Parliament, the German minister of defense would present a plan to reduce the number of national military personnel from 250,000 to 165,000 troops. True, Germany is among the very few European countries still keeping the mandatory military service. But choosing the volunteer service in this context can also refer to what I said.
General Dieter Farwick: The worldwide financial and economic crises hit all countries dramatically. Many European countries – like Greece and Germany, too– had to realize that they cannot go on living beyond their resources. They had to cut back public spending in order to survive financially. That does not mean, that worse-of people do not get the support they need to have a decent life.
Germany benefited from moderate salary rises and from the decision to keep qualified employees in the companies with reduced working hours and reduced wages. German companies tried to get fit for the time of worldwide economic recovery.
That’s the secret of the German economic progress. Financial constraints led the German minister of defence to the proposal to reduce the German armed forces drastically and to give up the mandatory military service with consequences for the so-called ”civil service”. It has to be seen whether these fundamental changes will safeguard an efficient German military – in quality and quantity. There remain some doubts.
G P: How do you assess the current foreign policy of Russia, especially in the relations with the European Union, NATO, USA and China? In your opinion, what are the perspectives of Russia being a world superpower again, and what would that mean for the international geopolitical development?
General Dieter Farwick: Russia’s power is solely based upon its status as “energy power”. Many European countries are dependent on Russia’s energy supply. But after Russia repeatedly used their dependence as strategic weapon, the European countries strive to reduce their dependence on Russia’s supply.
The planned pipeline NABUCCO is a part of the development of alternative energies and the extended use of nuclear energy is a signal of European efforts to diversify their energy sources and transportation means. With its oil exploration, Russia has already passed the peak on the mainland. Gas will remain Russia’s strength facing more competitors than today.
For Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe in the 20th century. He wants to regain some political clout of the former Soviet Union. That is certainly the view of Russia’s present political class. As I mentioned earlier, Russia faces a lot of domestic problems. The most serious problem is the demographic development: Russia loses about a million people per year, that is ten million in ten years. Siberia is already almost depopulated. The ageing population will strain the already weak health care system. Life expectation is much lower in Russia than in most European countries. Therefore, Russia does not seem to be prepared for true time “after the oil”. The ongoing war in the Caucasus is very expensive – as well as the planned modernisation of Russia’s military and police force. The fire catastrophe found the Russian administration ill prepared and ill equipped.
Corruption, huge bureaucracy and organised crime as well as the poor protection of human rights – especially free speech and free media – are major stumbling blocks for Russia on the road ahead. Russia runs the danger of “imperial overstretch” – one major reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia should develop a realistic domestic and foreign policy based upon the limited resources. Russia needs Europe more than Europe needs Russia. Russia should try to become a trustworthy partner with the EU. A membership in NATO is not in sight.
G P: Don’t you think you might have underestimated Russia? Even though it is currently confronted with numerous issues, including those you have mentioned before, Russia is still a great power.
General Dieter Farwick: Believe me, I know Russia very well, I was dealing with this country for about 30 years during the cold war. Russia is generally overestimated; considering the democratic system they are trying to implement and all its faults, as well as the current situation worldwide, Russia cannot regain, at least not in the foreseeable future, the status of superpower it used to have in the time of the bipolar world.
G P: In the same context, how do you describe the current relations between Russia and Germany? How do you think the bilateral relations will develop between those two leading powers on short and medium term, and how will those developments influence the regional and international geopolitical situation?
General Dieter Farwick: Germany tries to improve its relations with Russia. Some politicians even talk about a “strategic partnership”. In my view a “strategic partnership” is not possible between two states with different values and different vital interests as well as different aims and objectives. It is in Germany’s and other European countries’ own interest to have Russia as a stable partner on the same continent.
Germany’s strength is based upon the integration in the Western hemisphere - e.g. membership in NATO and EU. There is no third way.
G P: Please comment on the situation in Afghanistan, especially on how to end the conflict, while considering the following points, which I believe are very important in order to understand what is happening in this country:
- In early August this year, the Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari declared in an interview for Le Monde that “the coalition forces are losing the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan”. These statements came after the Wikileaks disclosure of classified military documents generating doubts on the presupposed connections between the Taliban and the Pakistani secret services.
- During his electoral campaign, the Afghani president Hamid Karzai was accused of great frauds, even by the American military. However, he was eventually supported and helped to win the voting. The French foreign minister also said the leader in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, was corrupted; Bernard Kouchner added that NATO had to accept Karzai because he was “our man” in Afghanistan. Now, Karzai is encouraged by his success and wants the UN to eliminate some 50 names of former Taliban officials from the terrorism black list, including leader Mohammad Omar.
- A report from a United States Congress subcommittee (Tierney subcommittee) was showing that the Pentagon would finance the Taliban movement by granting the so called “truck protection payment”. The American media changed some terms in the document and called it an “unintentional” financing. The Tierney subcommittee report also includes Hillary Clinton’s declarations in the Congress, in November 2009. “You unload a ship in Karachi and it will get through many hands till it reaches the destination. One major financing source for the Taliban is the protection payment.”
- An Associated Press release quoted by BBC says that “the investors designated by the Congress are examining the accusations against Afghani security agencies, which take up to four million dollars a week from the American companies paid from our taxes, and this money would then go to the tribal chiefs and to the Taliban. If the accusations are true, it means the United States is unintentionally financing the enemy and thus is undermining the international effort for the stabilization of the country.”
- On the above mentioned, the Tierney subcommittee also mentions the 2.16 billion dollar contract signed in November 2009 by the American Department of Defense and the company Host Nation Trucking (HNT), which subcontracted certain works afterwards. This particular company is responsible for the protection of about 70% of the convoys supplying the American army.
- The scandal caused by the death of ten French soldiers in August 2008 in an ambush of the Afghani Taliban. There are accusations that their death was indirectly caused by the Italian secret services. According to The Times journal, the French took control over Sarobi area, east of Kabul, thinking they would patrol a safe area. In fact, the peace in the region had been secretly paid by the spies from Rome, who gave money to the Taliban enemies in order to avoid losing Italian soldiers.
- In a recent interview for NBC, the American General David Petraeus mentioned he “does not guarantee the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan on July 1st 2011” and “does not exclude reconciliation with the Taliban leaders”.
Questions: What are the real interests in Afghanistan and to whom do they belong? What should the other allies understand about the objective of their presence with troops in Afghanistan, which involves important costs?
What do the leaders of these countries need to tell their people about those costs, when everyone is confronted with poverty caused by the global financial crisis and the economic recessions it has generated, endangering even their recently acquired democracy?
As for this reconciliation with the Taliban leaders mentioned above, how does it come to terms with the concept of zero tolerance to terrorism? Is there a double standard in the assessment of terrorism?
General Dieter Farwick: Afghanistan is a very complex issue.
Afghanistan has no tradition and no history as democratic nation state, therefore the strategic aims and objectives of the “coalition of the willing” were too ambitious. The early concentration on Kabul was wrong. President Karzai has only limited influence beyond Kabul. The reputation of his government is very low because of the widespread corruption and poor governance. A great part of the financial foreign aid goes into wrong pockets - even including the Taliban.
The coalition underestimated the military strength of Al Qaeda and the Taliban as well as their - often forced - support by the Afghan people. In addition, Pakistan could for a long period of time remain the safe haven for the insurgents.
The military was not capable to create conditions for “nation building” and “civil reconstruction. “Collateral damages” made it almost impossible to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan population. It has become common wisdom that this kind of conflict cannot be won by the military alone. The ongoing military surge has to be flanked by a civilian surge. The military surge and the new counterinsurgency strategy give some hope for the future.
Wherever there is a military success, the civilian side has to step in and immediately start the civil reconstruction with the main emphasis on the basic needs of the population - e.g. electricity, drinkable water and food supply as well as health care. The 40 nations of the coalition have to improve their cooperation with the local and regional tribal leaders. Negotiations with former insurgents who give up fighting are a very sensitive issue, but they are worth trying in areas where their behaviour can be checked.
A key for success is the training of the Afghan police and the military. Their quality and quantity is a prerequisite for the withdrawal of foreign troops and to hand over the responsibility to the Afghan government in due course.
The governments of the troop sending nations have to win the hearts and minds at the “home front”. They have to tell their people honestly why they are involved in Afghanistan and why they have to stay there longer than previously expected - even accepting casualties.
G P: Let’s get back to the European area, in particular to the wider Black Sea area. We see that most geopolitical developments or standstill in this area are more or less influenced by certain global geopolitical developments. More precisely, they are determined by the Euro Atlantic frontier moving forward to Central Asia, by the indecisiveness of those institutions to set a border wide enough to include peoples and nations wanting to become a part of this space. As the Black Sea becomes the Eastern Euro Atlantic limit, what is the perspective for the Black Sea region role as provider of security and stability in global terms?
General Dieter Farwick: The membership of Bulgaria and Romania in NATO and EU brought the Black Sea on the Central European radar screen - but there is much room for a better political and cultural awareness of the region in Europe.
Bulgaria and Romania have the mission to bring European countries to a better understanding of the geopolitical and geostrategic significance of the Black Sea region.
It is obvious that the countries bordering the Black Sea have different vital national interests. Russia wants to be the dominant player in the region and is using the Crimea as a military stronghold. Energy Security plays an important role in the area of the Black Sea and even beyond. The Black Sea, the Caucasus and the region of the Caspian Sea sit on about 70 percent of world’s oil and gas reserves. Most countries are transit countries for oil and gas—e.g. Russia and Caspian Sea countries like Azerbaijan.
Another important player in the region is Turkey, with its ethnic and religious relations. If and when Turkey can safeguard the status of a secular state can plan a vital role as a bridge between Europe and region from the Black Sea to the Broader Middle East. A worst case for Europe would be a Turkey with the Islam as state religion.
G P: Sometimes, geopolitics is defined as the science of getting and keeping the power, or the science of leadership. In the confrontation of the two concepts connected to power – telurocracy (rule of the land) and thalassocracy (rule of the sea), the Black Sea is many times present in the discourse on the old Russian dream of having safe and definitive access to the warm seas – and the Black Sea is one of those. Two questions on this topic: a) how seriously are the Black Sea countries threatened today by this dream of Peter the Great? b) Both thalassocracy and telurocracy are referring to the idea of great powers in competition; however, Romania and most of the Black Sea states are neither great powers nor superpowers. How should these states design their own geopolitics so that they do not become a simple appendage to some superstate structures, including the Kremlin’s?
General Dieter Farwick: As “Geostrategic Pulse” has written in the latest Bulletin, Ukraine is in the main focus of Russia‘s power projection to the “warm waters“. The worst case for Russia would be a membership of Ukraine to NATO. Russia will do what it can to avoid this option. With the present Ukrainian government, the risk is low. There is no risk for Russia’s military stronghold Sevastopol on the Crimea. Ukraine is split between an orientation to the West and - in the Eastern part - to Russia. It could be a temptation for Russia to enforce a division of Ukraine, but there are good reasons for Russia to refrain from those ideas.
Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey are members of NATO. That could be the starting point to improve their relations - based upon overlapping interests. The three countries are the guardians of the bottleneck between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
As a first step, the countries bordering the Black Sea could create a Black Sea Council dealing with issues of common interests. Over time, mutual trust and confidence could evolve.
G P: A Romanian former foreign minister, in office sometime between the two world wars, declared before the Second World War that the Black Sea had been our country’s most loyal friend, given the surrounding geography. Today, when time seems to have lost its patience with people and when everything is constantly changing in a hallucinating rhythm, I would like to ask you, metaphorically: Does the Black Sea still have time for the surrounding countries? Or maybe the question should be asked in reverse: do we, the Black Sea riparian states (and I expand this term in reference to NATO and the EU), have enough time for the Black Sea?
General Dieter Farwick: In the NATO alliance with 28 member states ranging from Norway in the North to Malta in the South, there are different regional interests and identities. In a kind of division of labour and of burden sharing, each NATO country should concentrate on its neighbourhood. Where are the friends and where are the potential enemies? Where do present and future risks and conflicts loom?
They should act and react in the interest of the whole Alliance - asking for support from others if they cannot come to solutions. In this context, there is no choice regarding the Black Sea: Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey have to take prime responsibility on behalf of NATO regarding the Black Sea and beyond. They have to act as an Early Warning System for the Alliance as a unity.
G P: The Middle East has always represented an area of great geopolitical interest. In there, we can seldom identify clear borders and limits among the belligerents’ positions and their approaches. In one of the most critical issues currently, the Iranian nuclear program, but also in other vital issues in the Middle East, we have two camps: on one hand there are the “pacifists” who support the process of political negotiations, and on the other hand there are the non-state organizations, most of them acting upon directions and programs received from the Iranians. Both camps are radical, sometimes extreme, and there is a chronic lack of trust and mutual suspicions. The relations between the same actors and the United States are affected either by tensions between Tel-Aviv and Washington, or between the United States and the Arab world, that does not hide its disappointment to president Barack Obama’s performance so far. In such conditions, how rosy do you see the future of peace in the Middle Eastern region?
General Dieter Farwick: I cannot see a robust solution in my crystal bowl. Iran is without any doubt the hot spot in the region. Tehran misused the negotiations with the West to win time for the clandestine development of nuclear weapons. Iran is very close to become a “virtual” nuclear power - or even a real one. Already as “virtual” nuclear power, Tehran will be a regional power with a power projection beyond the Gulf - with Israel as the main focus.
G P: Diplomacy frequently uses phrases borrowed from the international law: bona fide, in good faith, good intentions… both Arabs and Israelis use those phrases with confusing generosity. However, at least until now, it all remains… good intentions. In complete truthfulness, how would you answer the question almost never asked in official discourses: do the protagonists really want peace in the Middle East? And if they really want that, why can’t it be achieved, like at Camp David or Wadi Araba for instance?
General Dieter Farwick: Hezbollah and Hamas - controlled and financed by Teheran - could increase their activities from the Lebanon in the East and from Gaza in the West against Israel - perhaps supported by Syria. If this scenario evolves, Israel will not wait and see - they will act proactively in order to survive. The next question will be whether or not Israel might find partners and allies - acting openly or clandestinely on Israel’s side.
The repercussions of any military act against Iran will be worldwide - but a nuclear power Iran will have worldwide repercussions, too.
G P: On August 10, George Mitchell, the US Special Envoy for Middle East peace during the Obama Administration, has been once again in Tel Aviv and in Ramallah. Even if his visit was mostly meant to collect questions addressed to the American Administration, it is promising that direct negotiations for peace between Israelis and Palestinians are scheduled officially in early September. Are these negotiations likely to work or can they really start? There is no mutually accepted agenda, and, even before sitting down together at the negotiation table, both parts formulate pre-conditions which are quite unlikely to be accepted. Considering all these factors, what are the chances for this negotiation process?
General Dieter Farwick: The direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority - initiated by USA - might become a new chapter in the book of failures and missed opportunities to solve the conflict.
US President Obama might be disappointed by the missing reaction to his reach-out policy towards the Arab world and Tehran, but for them he is still too close to Israel. There are some governments in the region which are not interested in any solution of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. They need this conflict to safeguard their domestic power position.
G P: How do you appreciate the role the European Union has played so far in the Middle Eastern peace process and how do you think the Europeans could and should contribute to this process in the near and medium future?
General Dieter Farwick: The European Union does not speak in one voice - not in European affairs and not in the Middle East.
The EU is not seen as an honest broker. The Arabs see the EU too close to Israel and the Israelis regard the EU too close to the Arab world.
With its financial and economic power, true EU should be able to do more to solve the conflict on its doorstep. It has to be seen whether the Lisbon Treaty will have positive mid- and longterm effects for the praised Common European Security and Foreign Policy.
G P: General, thank you very much for your time and for your extremely interesting analyses.
Interview by Corneliu PIVARIU - Director and Editor-in-Chief of Geostrategic Pulse, Geneva, 10 September 2010