What Georgia means for Europe—A Commentary by Bruce Ackerman ’67
The following commentary was published in The UK Guardian on August 12, 2008.
What Georgia means for Europe
By Bruce Ackerman ’67
The Russian invasion of Georgia marks a decisive turning point in the history of the European Union. While the Irish referendum suggested an exhaustion of the centralising ambitions of recent years, the Russian invasion will generate a new centralising dynamic based on military security.
Until 1989, the EU could safely ignore all questions of military preparedness - the balance of power was determined by the Americans and the Soviets, and Europe's subordinate role was defined by its engagement with Nato. After 1989, the Union could remain oblivious, but for a different reason. The collapse of the Soviet Union removed all serious military threats to Europe's eastern frontier.
The Russian invasion changes all that. Quite suddenly, the new eastern members of the Union will be clamouring for security. And it will soon become apparent that the United States is entirely unwilling to reassume its Cold War role as guarantor of Europe's military integrity. The country
is overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, without the political will to open up third or fourth fronts on Europe's eastern frontier.
There is something more fundamental at work. A resurgent Russia simply doesn't pose a direct threat to the United States. In contrast to the Soviet Union, Putin and Medvedev are not initiating a world-wide ideological struggle that might ultimately endanger the American heartland.
These Russian politicians are merely great-power nationalists of a familiar sort. They aim to aggrandise their country in their "Near Abroad," not to rule the world. This is, of course, a concern for America, but not something that will generate great sacrifices on a Cold War scale.
In contrast, these Great Russian ambitions will be quite enough to generate intense anxiety amongst eastern Europeans, who will be clamouring for guarantees from their EU partners. What is more, their calls for a redefinition of the EU's security ambitions will resonate with France and Germany - especially as the unreliability of American commitments through Nato become apparent.
As memories of the nineteenth century resurface in Paris and Berlin, the recent expansion of the EU will take on geopolitical meanings that transcend the merely economic. The Union's enlargement has pushed the Russian threat hundreds of miles to the east. And it will be in the overwhelming interest of the French and the Germans to keep it that way.
These shifting national interests will have rippling consequences on the politics of the Union. The Poles and the Czechs will no longer be sceptics about the merits of the Lisbon Treaty. They will become passionate advocates for its rapid ratification. And the French and the Germans will now place a much higher value on the stronger presidency promised by the recent treaty. They will not see it as a disposable luxury but as an important step in enabling Europe to speak with a clearer voice as it confronts the dangers rising beyond its new frontier.
The balance of cost and benefit will look rather different across the Channel. Only time will tell how the British will weigh the risks and rewards of a stronger Europe. There can be no denying that the Russian security threat is real: if their Georgian experiment is successful, they may well be tempted to find pretexts for more aggressive actions in the Ukraine and elsewhere. A stronger Europe will deter such adventurism, and this is very much in the British interest. But a new centralising dynamic also threatens to entangle the UK in a host of remote conflicts. Will Brits be willing to die for Kiev?
Which returns me to the Irish referendum. Whatever the Irish thought they were voting on, the Russian military threat wasn't on the radar screen when they recently went to the polls to say 'no' to Europe.
But Georgia has decisively placed the security question on the agenda - raising the stakes, and putting a great deal of responsibility on Ireland to reach an accommodation with the rest of Europe that will allow the Union to move forward without another period of anxious renegotiation.