Contre nous de la tyrannie, L’étendard sanglant est levé
– La Marseillaise
The sight of the democratic world standing back and watching while a particularly murderous but not especially militarily formidable dictator drowned a popular uprising in blood, after its representatives begged for our help, while his own neighbours demanded military action against him, on the doorstep of Europe, was too heartbreaking to bear. However little it would have taken to stop him, the West appeared to have insufficent will. The whining of the Cassandras was incessant – from ‘Arabs are not fit for democracy’ t0 ‘we’ll be sucked into the quagmire’ to ‘we don’t have the money for another war’. Yet in the end, it proved too much for Western leaders as well.
The credit goes above all to David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Juppe, Susan Rice, the wonderful Samantha Power and, perhaps, Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama has proven himself a vacillator in the mould of Bill Clinton, but this time the US president’s European allies pushed him forward instead of holding him back. Clinton came to office at the start of 1993 correctly inclined to intervene to stop the slaughter in Bosnia, but was rapidly deflected by the British and French and sent down the dishonourable path of appeasement; conversely, Obama was initially opposed to intervention in Libya, but was led down the right path by the current leaders of the very same nations. Britain is not an irrelevant poodle of the Americans; its voice does count. Though I disagree with almost all Cameron’s domestic policies, he has already made a tremendous positive difference on the world stage . And though I have been repeatedly horrified by Sarkozy’s policies in the past – toward Turkey, Macedonia, Georgia, gypsies – he has redeemed himself on this occasion. Some have suggested that he has been motivated by the desire to boost his flagging ratings before forthcoming elections, but it is actions, not purity of motives, that matter.
It is twenty years since Western and Arab states came together with UN backing to resist Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. That was a legitimate and justified intervention to defend a small nation from aggression, but it was waged in the most reactionary manner possible. The Emir of Kuwait’s undemocratic regime was restored to power without any requirement to democratise, and the Iraqi people, whom President Bush had called upon to rise up against Saddam, were betrayed when they followed his advice. Bush actually preferred the survival of Saddam’s dictatorship to his overthrow by Kurds, Shias and other Iraqis. But the West has come along way since then. Even today, plenty of voices have been heard of people who apparently dislike Arabs and Muslims so much that they would prefer even a murderous, racist, genocide-promoting and terrorism-sponsoring tyrant like Gaddafi to stay in power to keep them down. Yet unlike in the days of Bush Sr, it is no longer possible for the West openly to side with a Gaddafi or a Saddam against a popular uprising.
The success of the international intervention against Gaddafi is crucial to encourage the pro-democracy movements in the Arab world, to reassure their followers that the West is with them, and to strengthen those Western currents that are on their side, against those who prefer the dictators. But inevitably, there has been plenty of whataboutery from the usual suspects. Cameron effectively dealt with one such in the House of Commons on Friday:
Jeremy Corbyn: ‘Is the Prime Minister now suggesting we should develop a foreign policy that would be prepared to countenance intervention elsewhere where there are attacks on civilians, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman or Bahrain ? I hope he has thought this whole thing through.’
David Cameron: ‘Just because you can’t do the right thing everywhere doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the right thing somewhere.’
Corbyn’s argument was disingenuous; if Cameron had simultaneously argued for intervening in all those places and Libya at once, he would have been accused by various Corbyns of being a crazy warmonger who wanted to fight the whole world, but if he concentrates on Libya he’s accused of being inconsistent. That is the way these people operate; they banged on about how the Iraq war was ‘illegal’ because it wasn’t supported by a UN Security Council resolution, but now that this intervention is supported by such a resolution, they’re still opposed. There is a certain type of leftist whose sole raison d’etre is to rubbish and sabotage every positive initiative that Western leaders try to take on the world stage, purely as an end in itself. Leftists of this kind are, quite simply, a scourge.
In fact, the West’s intervention in defence of the Libyan rebels will put us in a much stronger position to exercise leverage over the despots of the Gulf, and prod them away from repression. The repression in Bahrain and the Saudi intervention should be seen as a direct consequence of the Obama Administration’s prior demonstrable lack of enthusiasm for the pro-democracy agitation in the Arab world; Obama dithered over Libya, and the Gulf despots took the hint. But credit where it’s due; Obama came down on the right side in the end (though the thought that the West would have left the Libyan rebels to their fate if Russia or China had vetoed the UN Security Council resolution is a worrying one). Our next step should be to follow through with the Libyan intervention by applying heavy pressure on Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to lift their repression, and vocally to support the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. Libya is just a stage in a long struggle for freedom in the Arab world that isn’t going to be concluded tomorrow.
The biggest danger is that Libya will remain messy. Western leaders have correctly rejected the possibility of deploying ground troops, so this is not a danger of an Afghanistan-style military quagmire. Rather, the danger is that a combination of resiliance among the Gaddafi camp and fragmentation, division and Islamist currents among the rebels will combine to render Libya a failed state suffering perpetual instability – in that respect, like Afghanistan, Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo. The longer the civil war in Libya goes on, the more difficult it will be for the country to recover – something that will demoralise both the region and the West.
Western leaders cannot engage in statebuilding in Libya, but they can engage in a concerted diplomatic effort aimed at resolving the Libyan civil war. The emphasis should be on pressurising Gaddafi and his family to leave Libya, while arming and supplying the Benghazi-based rebels. But the aim should be simultaneously to prepare the ground for a negotiated end to the conflict between Gaddafi’s former supporters and the rebels, which could take effect once the tyrant has gone. Such a strategy would, hopefully, encourage further defections from the Gaddafi camp, possibly even a palace coup against him.
The immediate aim of the intervention was to save Benghazi, Misurata and other rebel-held towns. But now that the basic military task appears to have been achieved, there will be a lot of hard work ahead.
The Balkans are only a step away from normalisation, but it may be a step too far for Western policy-makers.
Normalisation for the Balkans would mean the region’s definite establishment as a set of functioning, democratic nation-states on the model of Western Europe; undivided by serious conflicts or live territorial disputes. The region’s national questions would be resolved, to the point that they would be as unlikely to spill over into large-scale bloodshed as the national questions of Belgium, Scotland or Catalonia. The Balkan states would all be integrated into the EU, and ideally NATO as well.
This is not an ambitious ideal, yet it is far from being realised. Regional progress is still being derailed by a series of conflicts of varying severity between the Balkan states. The Slovenian-Croatian border dispute for a while threatened to derail the entire region’s EU integration, though this appears to have been averted. Greek-Turkish rivalry over Cyprus, the Aegean Sea and other areas remains latent, something for which the anti-Turkish rhetoric on the part of candidates in the recent Greek parliamentary elections has served as a reminder. Both Turkey and Greece are problematic: the first is, under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the process of developing a new regional role for itself, one that appears to be taking it closer to authoritarian and radical states like Russia, Iran and Syria; the second is pursuing a damaging regional policy, involving hostility to the fragile states of Macedonia and Kosovo. With its campaign against Macedonia, in particular, Greece is threatening the stability of a neighbouring state where relations between the majority Macedonians and minority Albanians are already dangerously unstable.
Meanwhile, the policies of Serbia and Serb nationalism remain the single greatest source of Balkan instability. Serbia is still failing to arrest war criminals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, thereby obstructing its own EU integration. But more dangerously, it is pursuing a dog-in-the-manger policy vis-a-vis Kosovo, preventing the newly independent state from consolidating itself and integrating itself properly into the international community. The Serbia-Kosovo dispute poisons regional relations; Belgrade recently rebuked Skopje for the latter’s agreement with Pristina to resolve the Macedonia-Kosovo border dispute.
The most intractable regional problem of all, however, remains Bosnia-Hercegovina. The state is saddled with the unworkable constitutional order imposed upon it by the Dayton Accords of 1995, ensuring that the state cannot function and must remain in a state of permanent political crisis. Bosnia’s recent exclusion, along with Albania, from the EU’s grant of visa liberalisation to the western Balkans, that was applied to Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, has further entrenched divisions in the country and the wider region. Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, is openly pursuing Bosnia’s full dismemberment; the aggressive and provocative nature of his policy was recently highlighted by the warm welcome he extended to the convicted war-criminal Biljana Plavsic, following her early release from prison in Sweden.
These home-grown Balkan problems are being exacerbated by the policies of outside powers. The revanchist, neo-Soviet regime in Russia is aggressively backing Serbia over Kosovo, preventing the dispute from being resolved. By doing so, Moscow is not merely undermining Kosovo, but is undermining also Serbia’s own complete transition into a post-nationalist liberal democratic state. Moscow aims to keep the Balkans divided to prevent their full integration into the Euro-Atlantic framework. Hence, Dodik was looking to Moscow when he unilaterally withdrew Bosnian Serb soldiers from participation in NATO exercises in Georgia.
The second major external source of Balkan instability is the weak and vacillating policy of the EU, dominated as the latter is by the Franco-German axis. Germany is pursuing a pro-Russian policy that is making the new East Central European members of NATO and the EU very uncomfortable, while France continues to seek a dissident role in the Western alliance vis-a-vis the Anglo-Saxon powers. Hence, the EU’s muted reaction to the Georgian war; the crushing of Washington’s Georgian ally was not allowed to get in the way of growing EU-Russian collaboration. The Georgian war was facilitated by the Franco-German blocking of the grant of NATO Membership Action Plans to Georgia, along with Ukraine, in the spring of 2008. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, pursuing his Gaullist policy of Mediterranean union, sees fit also to support Greece against Macedonia.
Such an attitude on the part of the EU also involves toleration of Serbian trouble-making vis-a-vis Kosovo and Bosnia. The Netherlands is essentially isolated in its continued insistence that Serbia’s progress on EU accession be linked to its arrest of war criminals. The EU, for its part, would like to see the Office of the High Representative (OHR) for Bosnia closed. Yet the OHR has been the principal integrating force in Bosnia since 1995. Take away the OHR, and Bosnia moves another step toward full partition.
The EU’s resolve over the Balkans is further weakened by the activities of dissident members. No unified EU policy exists over Kosovo on account of the refusal of five EU members to recognise the new state – all for nationalistic reasons. Romania and Slovakia perceive a ‘separatist’ parallel between the Kosovo Albanians and their own maltreated Hungarian minorities. Likewise, Spain is obsessed with ‘separatist’ parallels of its own vis-a-vis Catalonia and the Basque Country. Greece and Cyprus are traditional allies of Serbia; Cyprus also equates Kosovo with Turkish-occupied Cyprus. None of these states’ reasons for opposing Kosovo’s independence are very noble, yet the EU has no means of compelling them to keep ranks with the majority; the EU therefore pursues the policy of the lowest common denominator.
Although the EU has been as an instrument for bringing nations together, its recent policies in the Balkans are having the opposite effect. The veto that EU members enjoy in relation to membership bids by aspiring members places a weapon in the hands of trouble-makers lucky enough to already be in the club. The Slovenian-Croatian border dispute was exacerbated by Ljubljana’s use of its veto against Croatia. Although Ljubljana threatened to use its veto to keep Croatia out of NATO as well, Washington quickly put a stop to this mischief. Unfortunately, the EU states are much less ready than the US to put pressure on their partners to cease misbehaviour, and though Ljubljana did eventually lift its veto, this was not before it had won concessions over the border dispute at Zagreb’s expense.
Still more destructive has been the EU’s exacerbation of the Greek-Macedonian dispute. Despite the thoroughly pre-democratic and chauvinistic nature of Greece’s campaign against Macedonia, EU members have been wholly unwilling to put pressure on Athens to change it. So, rather than the whole club forcing a badly behaved member to behave better, the policy of the trouble-maker is imposed on the whole. The bad apple poisons the whole basket; the tail wags the dog.
The structural factors underlying the EU’s damaging policies vis-a-vis the Balkans are likely to become worse in the years to come. The accession of new members will give more states vetoes to use against aspiring members. After joining the EU, Croatia may use its veto against Serbia. If Macedonia does back down to Athens, Albania might be encouraged to use its veto to keep Macedonia out of NATO, to extract concessions regarding the Albanian minority in Macedonia. For while both Croatia and Albania have pursued responsible regional policies over the past ten years, the EU is sending out to them the wrong signals: that bad behaviour brings dividends.
Meanwhile, the EU’s growing energy dependency on Russia is likely further to dampen the EU’s resolve to resist the mischief of Moscow and Belgrade in the Balkans. Russian plans to build the ‘North Stream’ gas pipeline direct to Germany, bypassing the former-Communist states of East Central Europe, will allow it to exert leverage over its neighbours without simultaneously punishing its German ally.
As the EU moves increasingly to accommodate a dangerous and hostile power, so it is alienating an important power that has long assisted Balkan stability. Paris and Berlin have made it very clear they do not wish to allow Turkey to join the EU. This has had the predictable result that Turkey is losing is faith in the possibility of a European future, and is turning increasingly toward Russia, Iran, Syria and other radical and anti-Western states. Turkey has made huge strides this decade in improving its human rights record, as required by its bid for EU membership. For the same reason, it has facilitated a resolution of the Cyprus dispute through its support for the 2004 Annan Plan. As the prize of EU membership moves further from its grasp, Ankara may backslide over both human rights and Cyprus as well. There are worrying signs that the pace of democratisation in Turkey is indeed slowing -such as the record fine recently imposed on Dogan Yayin Holding AS – Turkey’s largest media group and critical of the AKP government.
A hardening of Turkey’s stance on Cyprus could lead to the collapse of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement, further damaging the prospects for the Balkans’ normalisation. For all its human rights abuses, Turkey has been playing a constructive role in the region, as the ally of the weak and vulnerable states of Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. We do not know what the full consequences would be if Turkey fully abandons its European moorings and goes off in a new direction. But at the very least, an authoritarian Turkey headed by an Islamic-populist regime on the border of the Balkans will not have a positive effect on the region.
Unfortunately, alongside Russia and the EU, there is a third external factor whose contribution to Balkan stability currently raises concerns: the Obama Administration in the US. The latter’s abandonment of the Bush Administration’s plans to base a missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, in order to appease Moscow in the hope of obtaining Russian support vis-a-vis Iran, is a worrying indication of US passivity vis-a-vis Europe and Russia. The capitulation amounts to a betrayal of the security of allies in order to appease a hostile power, with echoes of Cold-War-style sphere-of-influence politics. While it is too soon to press the panic button over Obama’s policy toward Eastern and South Eastern Europe, we should be very concerned if Obama goes any further down this path.
For all these internal and external problems facing the Balkans, the success stories and models for future success are close at hand. Romania and Bulgaria are far from model democracies, and have serious problems with corruption and organised crime. Yet neither has engaged in military aggression or seriously attempted territorial expansionism since joining the free world in 1989; both are members of the EU and NATO. Turkey and Greece, following their heavy military defeats in World War I and the Greco-Turkish War respectively, pursued an enlightened policy of rapprochement vis-a-vis one another, eschewing territorial expansionism. This rapprochement was only derailed by the outbreak of the Cyprus conflict from the 1950s, and later resumed: Greece today is a vocal champion of Turkey’s EU membership. Croatia, too, following its unsuccessful expansionist adventure in Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s has, since the death of Franjo Tudjman in 1999, abandoned expansionism to pursue a responsible regional policy and EU membership.
The key to turning aggressive, expansionist Balkan states into responsible members of the European family, therefore, is for the international community to shut off all avenues for their expansionism and keep them firmly confined within their own borders. With all due qualifications, this is the way it has been for Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and Croatia. Where these states have been less than responsible – as, for example, in the case of Turkey vis-a-vis Cyprus or Greece vis-a-vis Macedonia – this has occurred when there have been insufficient limits placed on their ability to coerce neighbours.
The biggest source of instability in the Balkans remains the fact that, thanks to the weakness and vacillation of Western and above all EU policy, Serbia has not been firmly confined within its borders, despite its defeat in the wars of the 1990s. Instead, Belgrade continues to destabilise the neighbouring states of Kosovo and Bosnia. Its ability to do so means that Serbia – unlike Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Greece and to an extent Turkey – is unable to develop a post-expansionist state identity; one that does not revolve around territorial aspirations towards neighbouring states. This is bad above all for Serbia itself – the reason why it is still a long way from EU membership, despite being before the 1990s more prosperous, developed and liberal than either Romania or Bulgaria.
The problem is not, however, ultimately with Serbia itself. In parliamentary elections following Kosovo’s independence last year, the Serbian electorate handed victory to the pro-European rather than the hardline nationalist parties, revealing what little stomach it has for renewed confrontation over Kosovo. Belgrade has also played its trump card with its case against Kosovo’s independence before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and there is every reason to believe that the Court will not rule in its favour, even leaving aside the strength of Kosovo’s case. The ICJ’s judges come from different countries and their verdict will likely represent some form of compromise rather than award outright victory to one side or the other. Anything less than a full victory for Belgrade will effectively be a defeat, ambiguity leaving the door open for more states to recognise Kosovo’s independence while plausibly claiming to do so legally. In other words, both in terms of its range of available strategies and in terms of the popular support it enjoys, Serbian expansionism vis-a-vis Kosovo is a broken reed. With the Kosovo Albanians enjoying a comfortable majority in their country, their ultimate ability to consolidate their state is assured.
The principal problem for the region is the Bosnian question, and the policy of the Western alliance toward it. Unlike for all the other Balkan regional problems, for Bosnia, stability will not come through persuading or coercing the states involved to accept reality or to reach a compromise. For Bosnia, it is the very legal status quo and ‘compromise’, born at Dayton in 1995, that is generating instability for the state and the region. The Dayton order provides a framework that is gradually enabling the Bosnian Serb separatists, currently headed by Dodik, to establish the Bosnian Serb entity as a de facto independent state while preparing the ground for formal secession. The Bosniaks will, however, go to war to prevent this happening. It is a moot point what the outcome of such a military confrontation would be, but it is not something to which we should look forward.
Bosnia remains, therefore, the weak foundation-stone of Balkan stability. Only the transformation of Bosnia into a functioning state, through the transfer of most state powers from the entities to the central government, will guarantee against the outbreak of a new Bosnian war, and provide a final and definite check to Serbia’s expansionism, forcing that state wholly onto the post-expansionist path and removing the principal obstacle to the region’s progress.
Unfortunately, with Western and particular EU policy being what it is at present, such a decisive step seems unlikely. The problems facing the Balkans are neither huge nor insurmountable, yet Western passivity and vacillation seem set to allow these small problems to turn into larger ones. The Balkans look set for a rocky road ahead.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society. A longer version was given as a presentation to the Sussex European Institute on 3 November, entitled ‘How far are the Balkans from normalisation ?’
The likelihood that Ireland will vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty in its referendum this October brings a federal Europe one step closer. In the probable event that the Conservative Party wins the next general election in Britain, it will then be in a quandary over how to respond to this reality. Now, more than ever, is the time to evaluate – not whether we are for or against the EU, but what kind of EU it is that we want. And the sad truth is that a more centralised EU is likely to result in weaker, not stronger European intervention in world affairs.
The Lisbon Treaty will create the posts of President of the European Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs, in theory promising a more unified voice for EU foreign policy. Yet there are reasons to be skeptical about whether ‘unified’ means the same as ‘good’. Despite the notorious claim by Luxembourg’s Jacques Poos following the outbreak of the war in the former Yugoslavia in 1991, that ‘the hour of Europe has dawned’, the EC/EU proved itself wholly ineffective in bringing an end to the fighting, which dragged on for another four years. The war was finally ended, not by the European states getting their act together – which never happened – but by the US under the Clinton Administration reluctantly assuming leadership of Western intervention in the crisis, and imposing a more robust policy than the Europeans were ready to adopt on their own initiative. The negotiation of a peace settlement for the Bosnian war in Dayton, Ohio, by US diplomats in November 1995 was a US triumph that put the Europeans to shame.
The European failure over Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s cannot be put down solely to poor leadership, although this was clearly a major factor. There are, rather, structural factors why the EU, as a body, is unlikely ever to play as robust a role in global affairs as the US. With 27 members favouring different policies, EU policy inevitably must essentially be that of the lowest common denominator. Even though 22 out of 27 EU members have recognised the independence of Kosovo, including all the larger and West European members except Spain, the fact that five members have not done so has prevented the adoption of a common EU policy on Kosovo’s independence. Yet even a single member, if it is sufficiently stubborn, can impose its will on the whole of the rest of the Union, if no other member feels particularly strongly enough to oppose it. Thus, the accession of Croatia and Macedonia to the EU is being held up by Slovenia and Greece respectively. Slovenia would like to annex part of Croatia’s sea territory while Greece would like to force Macedonia to change its name, and Slovenia and Greece are obstructing the EU accession of their victims until their demands are met. Even though this amounts to outright blackmail and abuse of the accession process, there appears to be no way in which the EU can bypass them given the absence of will to do so on the part of other members. Thus, EU expansion is held up by a couple of troublemakers. It is very difficult to pull EU foreign policy forward decisively, but very easy to drag on it until it slows to a snail’s pace.
Far from a more unified EU resulting in more decisive European intervention globally, such an EU will increasingly tie the hands of those states that do wish to act, forcing them into line alongside more dovish, do-nothing members. Though Britain’s response to the Russian assault on Georgia last year was among the more forthright, Britain was ultimately forced to remain in step with the French and Germans, who quickly made it clear that they would not allow Russia’s misdeeds to get in the way of their burgeoning cooperation with Moscow. For the problem with the EU is not that it has too many members, but the way in which some of its members behave. The EU has grown up around its Franco-German core, yet France perennially chafes against Anglo-Saxon leadership of the Western alliance, while Germany is intent on developing its partnership with Russia. The dominance of the Franco-German axis within the EU therefore militates against the adoption of forward and progressive foreign policies by the Union as a whole; ones that would strengthen the Western alliance while promoting democracy and human rights globally.
At issue are two rival visions of what the EU should look like. Proponents of a federal Europe, or of extreme vertical integration, favour increasing centralisation and homogenisation of an inward-looking, geographically limited Europe. They will not sacrifice this centralisation for the sake of horizontal expansion beyond a certain point. They seek to exclude Turkey from the EU, in part because because the inclusion of a not very rich or sophisticated country of over 70 million would render their vision of a homogenous, federal Europe unachievable. With a geographically restricted Europe increasingly centralised, its separation from the rest of the world sharply increases. European countries excluded from EU expansion – such as Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and perhaps Moldova – would form a buffer zone vis-a-vis Russia, which would be a natural partner – Fortress Russia in collaboration with Fortress Europe. An EU built on this model would itself increasingly serve as a buffer zone between Russia and the US, restraining US intervention worldwide.
The alternative vision is of an EU that looks outwards instead of inward. Such an EU would eschew excessive centralisation in favour of expansion to take in Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, and ultimately perhaps Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan as well. Indeed, there are no natural limits to its possible expansion, something that might one day stretch to include countries such as Cape Verde, Israel and Morocco. Rather than being a Fortress Europe, such an EU would be accessible to new members, consequently a catalyst to democratisation in all Europe’s surrounding areas. Rather than collaborating with an authoritarian Russia, a Europe built on this model would seek ultimately to incorporate Russia within the democratic world. The incorporation of more East European countries and Turkey would strengthen the EU’s Atlanticist element and dilute the domination of the Franco-German core. Such an EU would promote the democratisation of the world, rather than hinder it, as the first version of Europe would.
The second vision of Europe is more in keeping with the sentiments of the political classes and publics of the more Euroskeptic countries, such as the UK, which are uncomfortable with the excessive transfer of power from their own parliaments to Brussels, as well as with those of former Communist bloc countries that are deeply unhappy with the readiness of the Western alliance to appease Russia, an unhappiness indicated by the recent open letter to the Obama Administration on the part of a stellar panel of Eastern and Central European statesmen. It is these countries to which Britain should be looking for allies within the EU, as counterweights to the more pro-federalist and pro-Moscow states of Western Europe.
But resisting the drive toward a federal European super-state is not simply a matter of seeking allies; it is also a matter of putting forward winning principles. If it wants to resist this drive, Britain can and should highlight each and every one of the EU’s ethical failings – over Croatia, Macedonia, Georgia and so forth – which stem from the politics of the lowest common denominator and the obsession with consensus and not rocking the boat. In each of these cases the principle of national sovereignty is under attack, for the EU’s politicians and bureaucrats have repeatedly made clear that the national sovereignty of Croatia, Macedonia, Georgia and in principle any state is expendable in the interests of internal EU harmony and pacific foreign relations.
The British government must also point out the national and geostrategic importance of including Turkey within the EU. Turkish EU membership would halt the drive toward the federal Europe so out of tune with the British public’s aspirations. It would also lock this strategically crucial and economically and culturally vibrant state within the Euro-Atlantic democratic framework, halting its slide toward alignment with the hostile states of Iran and Russia. Rather than keeping Turkey out of the club and watching as it backslides on its democratic reforms and pro-Western orientation, the inclusion of Turkey would secure one of the world’s most important countries for the democratic bloc, strengthening our position in Iraq and vis-a-vis Iran and the Arab world. British public opinion has traditionally been receptive to Turkey’s EU membership, and it would be a terrible defeat for British policy if we were to allow this receptivity to be eroded by ill-informed fears about greater immigration and Islam.
For too long, the Euro-federalists have been allowed to get away with pretending that they are the only true ‘pro-Europeans’. Yet any vision of Europe that permanently excludes a large part of the continent’s population cannot rightfully be considered ‘pro-European’. It is the supporters of a broader, more inclusive, more outward-looking Europe – and the supporters of national sovereignty within the EU – that are the true pro-Europeans. True European unity and national sovereignty are complementary, not contradictory. Only by making this point, loudly and consistently, will be achieve the Europe that we want.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
A no-brainer: NATO and the EU should not facilitate aggression and expansionism in South East Europe
One of the biggest arguments in favour of the European Union is that it has, along with its precursors, helped to keep the peace in Europe for nearly sixty years, turning previously hostile neighbours into partners in a common supranational, democratic European project. Meanwhile, NATO defended democratic Europe from Soviet expansionism. Today in the Balkans, however, both institutions are playing the opposite role: they are aiding and abetting regional predators in the pursuit of aggressive policies against neighbouring states. This is happening despite the fact that these aggressive policies are undermining both Western security and regional stability, and are contrary to the common interests of the EU and NATO member states. It is happening because existing members of both organisations enjoy the right to veto the accession of new members. Such a veto would be somewhat less problematic if all existing members were genuinely democratic states with no aggressive or expansionist ambitions. But unfortunately, this simply is not the case.
Last April, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s entry into NATO’s Membership Action Plan, because of the unresolved ‘name dispute’ between the two countries. Greece objects to Macedonia’s constitutional name, ‘The Republic of Macedonia’, and demands that Macedonia change it. The reason is that Greece does not recognise the existence of a Macedonian nation. In 1912-13, Greece conquered the portion of the Ottoman territory of Macedonia that today comprises Greek Macedonia. Since then it has pursued a policy of forced Hellenisation of the territory, involving varying policies of extermination, expulsion and forced assimilation of the non-Greek population. Thanks to these measures, a territory that was barely over two-fifths ethnic Greek in 1912 is today almost ethnically pure. This policy of enforced ethnic homogenisation has involved denying the existence of an ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. When Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, Greece expanded this policy to try to wipe the newly independent Macedonian nation-state, which had emerged from the former Yugoslavia, off the map, by forcing it to change its name, a policy whose pettiness was noted by David Cameron, currently leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, in a defence of Macedonia he wrote back in 2003. Consequently, Greece is blocking Macedonia’s entry into NATO.
Greece is a regional troublemaker of long standing that has repeatedly acted against Western interests in South East Europe. Its veto of Macedonia’s NATO bid was a violation of an international agreement, the Interim Accord of 1995, whereby Greece had undertaken not to block Macedonia’s entry into international organisations under the provisional name ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’. Macedonia has proven a better ally of the democratic world than Greece, contributing the same number of troops to the allied forces in Afghanistan as Greece, despite being a non-NATO country with a fifth of Greece’s population. The exclusion of Macedonia from Euro-Atlantic structures threatens to destabilise this fragile state, with potentially catastrophic consequences for Balkan regional stability. Yet by meekly acquiescing in Greece’s misuse of its veto, NATO effectively endorsed an act of petty Balkan nationalist aggression.
With Greece threatening to exclude Macedonia from the EU as well, the lesson had not been lost on other regional bullies. Slovenia is now threatening to keep Croatia out of the EU unless Zagreb cedes it territory on both land and sea. Because there is no actual legal validity to Slovenia’s territorial claims against Croatia, Slovenia is rejecting the idea that the case be resolved by the International Court of Justice, unless the latter’s decision is based on factors other than international law. As Xinhua News Agency diplomatically put it: ‘Slovenia has opposed taking the border issue to the ICJ unless the court uses the equity principle (ex equo et bono) in coming to a decision. This means the court can include any kind of circumstances, even if the valid international law does not [sic] (like historical facts), in order to reach a fairer verdict.’ Put simply, the Slovenes feel that because they don’t have much of a coastline, and Croatia has a long one, the Croats should give them some of theirs. Rather like demanding, on the principle of ‘fairness’, that someone who is richer than you are should hand over to you part of their savings. Since its territorial claim is political rather than legal, Ljubljana naturally prefers the idea of EU mediation to an ICJ legal ruling. Although not on an equivalent scale, this has disturbing echoes of the way in which Slobodan Milosevic successfully enlisted EU mediators such as David Owen and Carl Bildt to pressurise Bosnia’s leaders to accept an unprincipled settlement to the war of the 1990s. Great Serbia and Great Croatia have failed to come into being, but we may yet see the establishment of a Great Slovenia – thanks to the fact that Slovenia, unlike the expansionist Serbia and Croatia of the 1990s, is in the EU.
Thus, by colluding in Greece’s blackmail of Macedonia, Western leaders have given a green light to Slovenia’s blackmail of Croatia. Indeed, the far-right Party of the Slovenian People’ has been campaigning for Slovenia to veto Croatia’s entry into NATO as well, though so far without success. The Slovenian leadership has retreated from its own threat to obstruct Croatia’s entry into NATO under pressure from the US, which has, on this occasion, stood up to the local troublemaker for the sake of the Western alliance. This shows that, where there is a will on the part of the major NATO and EU states, a rogue member of the alliance can be pressurised to desist from its bullying of an aspirant member.
The unwillingness of the NATO and EU states, therefore, to exert enough pressure on Athens and Ljubljana to end their obstruction of Macedonia’s and Croatia’s Euro-Atlantic integration stems from a lack of will. In the case of Greece, its determination to keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU has been bolstered by the opportunistic support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy – presumably an expression of his Mediterranean ambitions and of a residual Gaullism that conflicts with Washington’s support for Macedonia. Yet there has been no contrary support for Macedonia from within EU ranks. A sign of the unprincipled, pessimistic times is that even the International Crisis Group, once a voice of principled moderation, has advocated a Macedonian surrender in the name dispute in return for a Greek recognition of the Macedonian national identity.
It is, of course, easier for Western leaders simply to go with the flow, and appease the unprincipled nationalist demands of rogue NATO and EU states. Yet the more such appeasement occurs, the more problems are generated for the Western alliance. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has taken the principled position, that Croatia will not obstruct Serbia’s entry into the EU as Slovenia’s has obstructed Croatia’s: ‘Croatia will not be to Serbia what Slovenia is to us’. Yet if EU diplomacy does result in a Croatian cession of territory to Slovenia, there is nothing to prevent an embittered Croatia from reversing Sanader’s position, and imposing territorial or other unreasonable demands on Serbia, Montenegro or Bosnia – all of which possess territories that Croat nationalists have traditionally claimed. With Albania set to join NATO and significant ethnic-Albanian minorities present in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Tirana could, if it so wished, create a veritable nightmare for the Western alliance by making issues out of the latter. There are already enough obstacles in the way of the smooth Euro-Atlantic integration of the remaining Balkan states, without us encouraging those who might wish to create more of them. Then there are Cypriot objections to Turkey’s EU membership; potential Ukrainian and Moldovan differences over Transnistria; differences between Turkey and Armenia and between the Transcaucasian states. The national – or to be more accurate, nationalist – veto of new NATO and EU members by local rivals that are already members represents a very dangerous barrier to European unity and handicap for the Western alliance. If we ignore the problem, it will only get worse. NATO and the EU, which are supposed to act – and in the past have acted – as solvents of nationalist conflicts, will increasingly threaten the stability of the wider European world, by providing one side in a nationalist dispute – usually the side that’s in the wrong – with an unassailable advantage over its victim.
The Western democratic world faces serious opponents and enemies, from the regimes in Moscow, Tehran and Pyongyang to the Taliban and al-Qa’ida. We are faced with serious questions of how to organise our defence against these threats; how to reconcile the demands of security with the principle of civil liberties; how far to proceed with European integration; how to assimilate diverse religious and ethnic minorities to ensure the functioning of our multiethnic nation-states; how to protect the environment; and so forth. It beggars belief that our ability to respond to these challenges should be hampered by selfish members of our alliance that do not appear to understand the meaning of post-nationalist democracy upon which our Euro-Atlantic institutions rest.
Britain, the US and their friends should exert sufficient pressure – be it diplomatic, political or other – on Athens, Ljubljana or any other rogue member of our alliance, to desist from their unreasonable nationalist demands. We should furthermore be working, as the Henry Jackson Society has advocated, to abolish the right of individual NATO and EU states unilaterally to veto the membership of aspiring members. The dog should wag the tail, not vice versa.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Update: The image below shows how Slovenia would like to redraw its maritime border with Croatia:
Once again, Europe has become a serious threat to stability in the Balkans. The UN Security Council has voted to deploy EULEX, the EU’s law and order mission in Kosova, on the basis of the six-point plan of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The plan panders simultaneously to a Serbia that appears determind to keep fighting a war it has already lost, a Russia whose own ill-will and lack of faith have been demonstrated in Georgia, and EU members for which toadying to Russia is an end in itself. Although the UN Security Council vote did not formally mention the plan, and although the US has been at pains to stress that Kosova’s opposition to the plan has been respected, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is merely a fudge intended to mollify Kosovar opinion. Deploying the EU force in Kosova only on the basis of agreement with Serbia and Russia represents a dangerous precedent and unnecessary concession to ill-willed parties. This policy of ‘anything for a quiet’ life must be halted to avoid serious damage to our interests, both in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole.
The Ban plan has been rejected by the Kosovar leadership and by all sections of Kosovo Albanian political and public opinion, as contrary to Kosova’s constitution and damaging to its territorial integrity, and it is worth pausing for a minute so see why this is so. The plan bases itself on UN Security Council 1244, which guaranteed the ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’. As the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was transformed into the ‘State Union of Serbia and Montenegro’ in 2003, and as this union then dissolved in 2006 when Montenegro voted to become independent, talk of its ‘territorial integrity’ being maintained from 1999 is meaningless. The Ban plan has adopted this form to appease Belgrade, which wants to turn the clock back to before the international recognition of Kosova’s independence of this year, and sees reaffirming the Resolution 1244 as a way of doing this. But paradoxically, Belgrade wishes to do this in order ultimately to move the clock forward – to impose a territorial partition on Kosova as the price for its independence, a partition that it has already enacted on the ground. By confining the EULEX mission to the areas of Kosova under the control of the Albanian-dominated government, and by maintaining separate police, courts and customs for the Serb enclaves under UN rather than EU control, the Ban plan will, if put into practice, solidify this soft partition, thereby appeasing Serbia on this score as well. Again, the US claims that the Security Council vote allows for the deployment of EULEX throughout Kosova, but whether EULEX will really be allowed to assume responsibility in the north appears uncertain.
It is, perhaps, a sign of how far several of the Balkan states have progressed in terms of democracy and responsibility, that they show greater awareness of the dangers inherent in this scenario than the supposedly mature democracies of Western Europe. According to Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, ‘The plan has serious problems, since it favours a soft partition of Kosova.’ After meeting with Berisha, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic warned that a partition of Kosova would destabilise the region, consequently ‘The division of Kosova along ethnic lines is a buried plan’. And in the words of Croatian President Stipe Mesic: ‘The division of Kosova based on Serb appetites is a dream of Serbia which reminds us of the epoch of the Milosevic dictatorship. And if it really happens as Belgrade intends, this means a step backwards. It means the realisation of the dream of Great Serbia.’ Although the sabre-rattling in which Serbia has engaged in recently in relation to Croatia and Montenegro as well as to Macedonia and the Western powers over Kosova is essentially empty, concessions of the kind represented by the Ban plan may serve to persuade Serbia that, despite its past defeats, aggressive behaviour does pay after all.
It is paradoxical that this UN plan for Kosova – rejected by Kosova, favoured by Serbia and unpopular with Serbia’s Balkan neighbours – has won EU approval, despite British and US reservations. Paradoxical, given that 22 out of 27 EU members, including all the larger ones except Spain, have recognised Kosova’s independence: the EU has ended up favouring a plan opposed by the side in the conflict whose position its members mostly support, and supported by the side that opposes the views of most EU members. This only makes sense if we consider the dynamics of European geopolitics. The EU’s foreign policy chief is Spain’s Javier Solana, considered by some at Brussels to have been rather quick off the mark in backing the Ban plan, and to have done so on the basis of Spanish rather than EU political considerations. Spain is, of course, the only larger EU member, and the only West European country, that refuses to recognise Kosova’s independence, and that indeed continues actively to lobby against it.
Meanwhile, the big three of the continental EU, France, Germany and Italy, are motivated by a general policy of conciliating Russia on all fronts, therefore of mollifying the Serbia-Russia bloc over Kosova. France holds the EU presidency, and at the EU-Russia summit this month at Nice, French President Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to undermine the US plan for a missile defence system for Europe – to the consternation of the Czechs and Poles – and called for an EU-Russia pact, despite Moscow’s failure to honour the terms of the ceasefire in Georgia. Appeasement of Serbia, consequently of Russia over Kosova is of a kind with this policy orientation, one that directly sacrifices the interests – and in some cases the sovereignty – of the Czech Republic, Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and, of course, Kosova.
Sarkozy’s Gaullist pursuit of an independent French line, in a manner that undermines the unity of the Western alliance, is not limited to appeasement of Russia, however; he has vocally supported Greece in its ‘name dispute’ with Macedonia, in contrast to the US’s support for Macedonia – despite the potentially tremendous damage that Greece’s aggressively nationalistic policy may do to the Balkans, and despite the fact that Macedonia has in recent years been a much better supporter of the Western alliance than has Greece. Sarkozy’s determination to keep our crucial Turkish ally out of the EU, expressed and justified in the crudest terms, is a further example of his pursuit of narrow French interests at the expense of common Western interests.
In Kosova, the consequences of EU appeasement of Serbia are beginning to make themselves felt, with the Kosovars – up till now the most pro-Western nation in the Balkans – uniting in opposition to the form EU policy is taking. Their opposition is manifesting itself in mass demonstrations, but there are ominous signs that resistance is also taking a more extreme form: on 14 November, a bomb attack was carried out on the EU representative office in Pristina, with a group calling itself the ‘Army of the Republic of Kosova’ claiming responsibility, and threatening further attacks against Kosovo’s Serb minority. Pursuing the will o’ the wisp of Serbian goodwill over Kosova, we have consequently let down our own Kosovar ally to such an extent that we risk engendering a new terrorist-extremist threat in this sensitive spot.
Things are going badly in the Balkans because Britain and the US, Kosova’s two strongest supporters in the Western alliance, have been far too reticent in standing up for our ally, and have allowed Russia, Serbia and their West European appeasers to make the running. Nor have we been sufficiently active on the world stage in promoting the cause of Kosova’s independence. Egypt, one of the opponents of Kosova’s independence, blocked Kosova’s participation at an Organisation of the Islamic Conference event in Cairo; despite being one of the largest recipients of US aid, the corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak obviously has no qualms about undermining Western diplomacy in this gratuitous manner. Similarly, in last month’s UN General Assembly vote on whether the International Court of Justice should rule on the legality of Kosova’s independence, it was left to the US and Albania, virtually alone, to vote against; the EU members that recognised Kosova’s independence all abstained, while the five EU members that reject Kosova’s independence all voted in favour. So it is the troublemakers – Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus; the ones that are blocking a common EU policy on Kosova – that aggressively promote their own policy, while Britain pursues the line of least resistance.
The rot must be stopped. If Britain and the US are to prevent further deterioration of the situation in the Balkans, discourage Serbia’s escalating policy of revanchism, dampen the slide toward extremism in Kosova, make it clear to Moscow that its mischief-making will be met with resistance, and put a brake on the Franco-German-Spanish-Italian appeasement drive, we must be much more forthright and vocal in promoting our policies and interests and in standing up for our friends. This means waging a much more active diplomatic and public campaign in defence of Kosova. Diplomatic pressure should be brought to bear on the five EU members that have so far refused to recognise Kosova’s independence; in particular Spain which, as the only large and West European country among them, bears a particular responsibility for the failure to achieve EU unanimity on this question. Bad allies such as Egypt should be made to understand that they will suffer diplomatic and financial consequences if they continue to undermine us in the Balkans.
A successful diplomatic campaign is one half of winning the battle of Kosova. The other half is to achieve facts on the ground that make this victory an irreversible fact. Serbian attempts to undermine Croatia’s independence and annex parts of Croatian territory came to a definite end when the Croatian state became strong enough to assert its authority unchallenged across the whole of its territory. Similarly, Kosova’s independence will became a reality, irrespective of Serbian opposition, when a strong Kosovar state exercises full control over the whole of Kosova, including the area north of the River Ibar. Consequently, the EULEX mission must not be allowed to become a permanent international protectorate that prevents the emergence of a genuinely independent Kosova, but must work rapidly to put such a Kosova on its feet. Bosnia, where the international protectorate has wholly failed to create a functioning state or a stable political order, and where the situation is increasingly critical, should serve as a salutary warning of where a similar policy over Kosova might lead.
Britain and the US must therefore work together to ensure that the EULEX mission is a means to the end of a genuinely independent, territorially united Kosova, not to the end of keeping a lid on things indefinitely so as to appease Serbia and Russia. The very aim of Belgrade and Moscow is to undermine us and promote Balkan instability; they will use our weakness and our fear of confrontation to ensure that the lid comes off. The corollary of this is that we cannot establish an independent Kosova and stabilise the Balkans so long as we are pursuing the will o’ the wisp of consensus with these regimes. We must choose: to acquiesce in the destabilisation of the Balkans by two regimes that are taking us for a ride, or to move forward and resolve the situation once and for all, at the price of a few impotent howls from them. It should not be a difficult choice to make.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
‘Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly.’ – Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love
Greater Surbiton became one year old on 7 November. Some weeks before that, it passed the figure of 100,000 page-views. Many thanks to all my readers. Well, at least to some of them. As it has been a very busy academic term, I have not had the time until now to write a suitably self-indulgent birthday post. I apologise in advance for the rambling that follows.
I had two principal aims in mind when launching this blog: to discuss what progressive politics might mean in the twenty-first century, and to provide commentary on South East European affairs. The second of these has tended to predominate, partly because it has been such an eventful year in South East Europe, with the international recognition of Kosova, the failed nationalist assault on the liberal order in Serbia, the escalation of the conflicts between Greece and Macedonia and between Turkey and the PKK, the failed judicial putsch against the AKP government in Turkey, the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and so on. Although the recognition of Kosova and the defeat of anti-democratic initiatives in Serbia and Turkey gives us reason for optimism about the region, all the indications are that events there will not cease to be ‘interesting’ in the forseeable future. Key struggles are either being decided now, or are simmering: for the international recognition of Kosova and its successful functioning as a state; for the defence of Macedonia’s name and nationhood; for the democratisation of Turkey; for the resolution of the Cyprus conflict; for the defence of Georgia’s independence and territorial integrity; and for the reintegration of Bosnia.
While I remain cautiously optimistic about at least some of these, reason for concern is provided by the direction in which EU policy is tending. This includes support for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s disgraceful six-point plan for Kosova, which will reinforce the country’s ‘partition lite’. It includes also support for a new partnership with Russia, in violation of the ceasefire agreement over Georgia (from which Russian forces have refused fully to withdraw) and at the expense of the military defence of the states of Eastern Europe. All this indicates a new appetite for appeasement, for which France, Germany, Italy and Spain are principally responsible. The big unknown, at the time of writing, is precisely what the Obama Administration’s policy toward the region will be. I am somewhat Obamaskeptic and have voiced my concern about this already, but we really won’t know what Obama will do until he assumes office. In the meantime, I am happy to note that our own, British ruling classes show no indication of going back down the road shamefully trodden by John Major’s government in the 1990s: David Miliband’s performance as Foreign Secretary with regard to South East Europe has on the whole been commendable, while David Cameron’s response to Russian aggression in Georgia was magnificent. Whichever party wins the next British general election, the UK is likely to act as a brake on some of the more ignoble impulses of our West European allies.
It is fortunate, indeed, that the only political parties likely to win the next general election are Labour and the Conservatives, both of them respectable parties of government, rather than some irrelevant fringe group. Such as the Liberal Democrats. I have written to my various MPs several times in the course of my life, and on a couple of occasions to other elected politicians. The only one who never wrote back was my current MP Ed Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, to whom I wrote to ask to support the campaign to provide asylum in the UK to Iraqi employees of the British armed forces. No doubt, as Mr Davey has assumed the immensely important job of Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, he will have even less time to waste on trivial matters such as writing to his constituents, and no doubt democracy would anyway potter along so much better if we all stopped pestering our MPs. And the fruits of Mr Davey’s labour are there for all to see – such as this empty, incoherent, waffling attack on ‘neo-Cons, from Dick Cheney to David Cameron’, for being too ‘macho’ over Georgia. One can always rely on a certain type of wishy-washy liberal to be infinitely more offended by resolute calls for action against aggression than they are by the aggression itself. The line isn’t to oppose aggression, comrades; the line is to oppose people who oppose aggression. The electoral contest here in Kingston and Surbiton is a straight fight between the Conservatives and the LibDems; readers may rest assured I won’t be voting for the LibDems.
Indeed, as a point of principle, progressives can no longer automatically back the left-wing candidate against the right-wing candidate; we need to think hard before deciding whether to back Merkel or Schroeder; Sarkozy or Royal; Livingstone or Johnson; Obama or McCain; Cameron or Brown. Politicians and parties of the left or of the right may be a force for positive change, while both the parliamentary left and the right must move toward the centre if they want to win elections. Thus, the US presidential election was fought between two centrist candidates, lost by the one who waged the more divisive and partisan campaign, and won by the one who reconciled a message of change with a message of healing and reconciliation. About a billion commentators have pointed out the signficance of a black man being elected president of the US, yet it was the reviled George W. Bush who appointed the US’s first black Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2001, and first black woman Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in 2005, something to which even the Guardian’s Gary Younge pays tribute.
Only joking. In his article at the start of this month on how inspiring the possibility of a black president is for young black people in the US, Younge actually complained that Obama hadn’t been all good, because he had voted to confirm Rice as Secretary of State. A couple of years ago, Younge said: ‘Of course, on one level it’s important that black people have the right to fuck up and to be bad, but we have to separate progress of symbols and progress of substance. At a symbolic level, Condoleezza Rice does represent some kind of progress, but if that’s where we are going with this thing I’m getting off the train now.’ Has everyone got that ? The election or appointment of black politicians to senior posts in the US should only be celebrated as symbolic of positive change if they’re politically sympathetic in the eyes of Guardian journalists.
If there’s one blogging decision I took that I was initially unsure about, but now definitely do not regret, it was the decision not to have comments. I realise that this makes me a social outcast in the blogosphere – something equivalent to a leper during the Middle Ages. But do you know what, dear readers ? I really don’t care. Just as I don’t like dog turds, half-eaten kebabs and squashed bubble gum littering the parks and pavements where I walk, let alone on my doorstep, so I don’t want my nice clean blog littered with comments from the assorted riff-raff of the internet: Chetniks; Ustashas; national chauvinists; genocide-deniers; Stalinists; Nazis; ‘anti-imperialists'; ‘anti-Zionists'; Islamophobes; Islamofascists; BNP supporters; SWP supporters; Red-Brown elements; ultra-left sectarians; toilet-mouthed troglodytes; Jeremy Kyle fodder; ‘Comment is Free’ types; and others like them. And I particularly don’t want flippant, inane comments that take ten seconds to think up and write, by Benjis who don’t bother to read the post properly in the first place. Thank you very much.
Let’s face it, members of the above-listed categories generally comprise about half of all the people who comment on blogs dealing with my fields.
Of course, all credit to those bloggers who do succeed in managing comments in a way that keeps the debate lively and the trolls and trogs to a minimum. But I see no reason why every article has to be followed by comments. While I applaud the democratisation of the means of communication that the blogging revolution represents, this democratisation has come at a price. The ubiquitous nature of online discussion and the generally inadequate level of comments moderation has resulted in a vulgarisation of public discourse. Where once the letters editor of a paper could be relied on to reject automatically semi-literate, abusive or otherwise bottom-quality letters for publication, now many, if not most, online discussions are filled with outright filth and rubbish. Well, I’m doing my bit for the online environment.
Related to this is the unfortunate fashion for blogging and commenting anonymously, which inevitably results in a ruder, nastier online atmosphere. I’m not going to judge any individual who chooses to remain anonymous – you may have a valid personal reason. But really, comrades, is all this anonymity necessary ? So long as you live in a democracy, and the secret police aren’t going to come round to visit you just because you express your opinion, then the default position should be to write under your real name.
Greater Surbiton has received plenty of intelligent criticism in the one year of its existence, and not a small amount of really stupid criticism. So, to round off this too-long post, I’m going to announce an award for Most Ill-Informed Attack on Something I Have Written. In this inaugural year, the award goes jointly to Hak Mao of the Drink-Soaked Troglodytes and to Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch (unless you really have nothing better to do, you may want to stop reading at this point – it’s my time off and I’m having a bit of pointless fun with my sectarian chums).
‘There you are, minding your own business and then you read this steaming pile of bollocks: The most important change of opinion I’ve ever had … was realizing that ‘anti-imperialism’ … was something highly negative and reactionary, rather than positive and progressive. Can’t spell Vietnam, Laos, Amritsar, Bay of Pigs or Salvador eh? You are welcome to compose your own list of atrocities committed in the name of the ‘West’. And one of those whose historical contribution to human emancipation I most appreciate [is] … Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The emancipation of Armenians was particularly heartwarming.’
This criticism is being made by someone who is a born-again Leninist and Trotskyist religious believer, whose favourite book is still Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’, who views Trotsky’s martyrdom the way Christians view the crucifixion, but who nevertheless writes for a pro-war, Christopher-Hitchens-worshipping website.
The Bolshevik regime of Lenin and Trotsky armed and funded Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists. It signed a treaty ceding to Turkey territory that had been inhabited and claimed by the Armenians; the US president Woodrow Wilson had wanted the Armenians to receive much more territory than the Bolshevik-Turkish treaty gave them. The Turkish slaughter of Armenian civilians in Smyrna in 1922 was made possible by Bolshevik military and financial support for the Kemalists. The Bolshevik regime was therefore utterly complicit in Turkish-nationalist crimes against the Armenians.
Someone like Hak Mao, properly equipped with a Scientific Theory of Class Struggle, who is faithful to the Principles of Revolutionary Socialism and well versed in Marxist-Leninist Scripture, can simultaneously 1) revere Lenin and Trotsky, 2) ignore their support for Mustafa Kemal and their complicity in his crimes against the Armenians; 3) denounce bourgeois reactionaries like myself who write favourably about Mustafa Kemal; and 4) justify all this in ‘scientific’ Marxist terms. And of course, everyone knows that, were Lenin and Trotsky alive today, they would undoubtedly, as good anti-imperialists, have joined with Christopher Hitchens in endorsing George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, in welcoming the Bush dynasty to the campaign against Islamic terror, and in supporting Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And naturally they would still have denounced apostates and traitors to the cause of anti-imperialism, such as myself, in the strongest possible terms.
Anyone with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism can only reach this conclusion. If you do not reach this conclusion, it is because you do not have a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism. And anyone without a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism is an ignorant pleb whose views don’t count, and who should defer to a vanguard comprised of professional revolutionaries with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism.
Here’s a joke for the comrades:
Q. What do you call a racist, anti-Semitic, Great German nationalist supporter of capitalism, the free market, globalisation, Western imperialism and colonialism ?
A. Karl Marx
(NB I’m also pro-war over Iraq and Afghanistan, and I agree with Christopher Hitchens more often than not. But I don’t pretend to be an ‘anti-imperialist’.)
‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban.’
Davies (‘Bruschettaboy’) replied:
‘call me a bad blogger, but I would shed very few tears and protest only halfheartedly at our terrible UK libel laws if it turned out that there were some sort of consequences for saying something like that.’
This is what Ahmed Rashid, one of the most eminent journalists of Afghanistan and the Taliban, writes in Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia:
‘Between 1994 and 1996 the USA supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western. The USA conveniently ignored the Taliban’s own Islamic fundamentalist agenda, its suppression of women and the consternation they created in Central Asia largely because Washington was not interested in the larger picture.’
Hopefully, Rashid will agree to be my defence witness in the event that Clinton follows Daniel’s advice and takes me to court.
As for Milosevic, Davies clearly has not heard of the Dayton Accord, but I assume everyone else who reads this blog has (certainly everyone who reads it as assiduously as Daniel does), so I’ll confine myself to posting this picture of Clinton’s man Richard Holbrooke, the architect of Dayton, carrying out Western imperialist aggression against the anti-imperialist Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic:
You see, comrades from the ‘Indecent Left’ like Daniel see their mission as defending the leaders of Western imperialism and their record over crises like Afghanistan or Bosnia, from condemnation coming from the ranks of the ‘Decent Left’, and they do so in the most strident and aggressive manner – even when the condemnation is totally justified. And there I was, thinking we were all part of the same left-wing extended family.
Honestly, what a bunch of splitters.
Update: Davies isn’t now trying to defend his previous claim that Clinton never collaborated with Milosevic or the Taliban, and that I deserve to be sued for saying so, but is taking refuge in the defence that he didn’t understand what I was saying, because I wasn’t expressing myself clearly.
What do you think, readers, is the sentence ‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban’ at all difficult to understand ? Is the grammar or vocabulary at all complicated ? Perhaps I’m using opaque academic jargon that a non-specialist might find difficult ?
Or could it be that Daniel simply isn’t the sharpest tool in the box ?
This autumn will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Munich Agreement, when the democratic powers of Western Europe, Britain and France, weakened as they were by the self-hating, ‘anti-war’ defeatism of wide sections of the Western chattering classes – on the left as well as of the right – allowed a fascist, expansionist imperial power to carve up a much smaller and weaker multinational state, using the excuse that it wanted to protect the rights of its co-nationals. Of course, Hitler analogies are very tired, and ‘anti-war’ activists are fond of complaining that all our enemies are ‘Hitler’ – from Nasser through Galtieri to Saddam and Milosevic. But in the case of Vladimir Putin of Russia, their best legitimate counter-argument no longer applies: that however brutal these despots may have been, the states that they ruled were not nearly as powerful as Nazi Germany.
Now, for the first time since World War II, the democratic West is faced by a brutal, neo-fascist, expansionist regime in command of an imperial state whose military might is comparable to that of Hitler’s Third Reich. Putin is an aggressive despot who came to power determined to reverse the defeat and perceived humiliation of Russia in the Cold War, much as Hitler aimed to reverse Germany’s humiliation in World War I (Putin even employed a stunt to cement his power that was highly reminiscent of the 1933 Reichstag fire – the stage-managed ‘terrorist’ bombing of Russian cities by his security services, that could be conveniently blamed on the Chechens). He then used weapons of mass destruction against his own Chechen civilians, destroying the European city of Grozny. He has waged campaigns of persecution against Jewish magnates (‘oligarchs’) and Caucasian ethnic minorities. He has established a fascist-style youth movement (‘Nashi‘). He has suppressed the free Russian media, murdered independent journalists and effectively abolished Russian democracy. He has threatened and bullied his neighbours – even NATO-member Estonia. His state assassins are the likely culprits in the murder of his critic, the British citizen Alexander Litvinenko. And now he has invaded a sovereign state in an attempt both to overthrow its democratically elected government and to annex part of its territory. His own supporters view this act of military aggression as a strike against the US; The Independent‘s Matt Siegel quotes one Russian volunteer: ‘This war is absolutely a war between Russia and America. The biggest mistake was in underestimating us. Now you’ll see what happens.’
At this moment of danger, democratic Europe is paralysed by the same kind of political, intellectual and moral malaise that brought our continent to ruin in the 1930s. Today, fashionable left-liberal hatred of the liberal-democratic order expresses itself not merely in opposition to military intervention abroad and to our own governments, but frequently in a readiness to solidarise with anyone with whom our governments come into conflict – be they Iraqi and Afghan Islamist rebels, Sudanese genocidal murderers, Iranian and Venezuelan demagogues, Chinese Communist apparatchiks, Serb nationalists, Lebanese Shia fundamentalists, and so on. All this is filtered through a self-indulgent anti-Americanism of unparalelled virulence – naturally, the concerns about invading a sovereign state without UN Security Council authorisation that have so fired our left-liberal intelligentsia over Iraq are not being manifested quite so strongly over Russia and Georgia. Meanwhile, our armies are stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and our publics are war-weary.
This already toxic brew contains another dangerous ingredient – the most likely candidate for a twenty-first century Neville Chamberlain in the form of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy. With France holding the EU presidency, Sarkozy travelled to Moscow to reassure the Russians: ‘It’s perfectly normal that Russia would want to defend the interests both of Russians in Russia and Russophones outside Russia.’ No doubt the French president would have been equally tactful if Putin had invaded France to protect ‘Russophones’ in Marseilles or Nice, but this kind of language highlights the EU’s unreadiness to oppose Russian aggression. This is particularly so given Sarkozy’s disgraceful record of pursuing narrow French national interests at South East Europe’s expense, which involved, among other things, denying Georgia a NATO Membership Action Plan in order to appease Moscow. Sarkozy has joined with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to impose a six-point plan on Georgia, that requires Tbilisi to ‘agree to the start of international talks on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia’, as the Moscow Times puts it, but which makes no reference to Georgian territorial integrity. With Medvedev openly advocating the dismemberment of Georgia, Sarkozy may be preparing the ground for a new Munich Agreement.
Some may ask whether we have any choice but to acquiesce in Russia’s geostrategic coup, given our existing military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our concerns with Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, etc. Some may ask why we should care about distant Georgia and its territorial integrity. The best way to respond is to turn this question around, and ask whether we can afford not to care, and not to respond to Russian aggression. If we cannot afford to defend Georgia because of our existing military commitments, we presumably cannot afford to defend Ukraine, or NATO-member Estonia, should Putin decide to build upon his success by moving against one of these countries – something which, given his past record, is not unlikely. At what point do we decide that, however costly it may be, we cannot afford to stand idly by as Russia rampages across Eurasia ?
As was the case in the late 1930s, the longer democratic Europe waits before responding to the aggressor, the more difficult and costly the eventual confrontation will be. Putin has successfully crushed and humiliated a staunch Western ally that contributed two thousand troops to Iraq. We cannot legitimately expect our allies to stand by us in Iraq, or in Afghanistan, if we do not stand by them when they are under attack. The states of Eastern and South Eastern Europe – both those inside NATO, and those wanting to join it – are closely watching the Russian operation against Georgia. They may decide that a NATO unable or unwilling to protect a country whose desired future membership it has itself loudly declared is a NATO it cannot rely on, and which is not worth joining or upholding. The Balkans are finally drifting toward stability, as the dominant elements of the Serbian political classes appear finally to have turned away from destructive nationalism – a turn spectacularly demonstrated by the arrest of Radovan Karadzic. Some of them may now feel, as they witness the West’s weak response to the crushing of Georgia, that their turn has been premature, and that they can afford to be a bit more aggressive than they had thought until a week ago. In which case, we may be faced with another front opening up against us in the Balkans.
I write these words, not with any confidence that democratic Europe is likely to take an appropriately firm stance against Russian aggression in the immediate future, but with full confidence that the attack on Georgia is only the beginning, and that we will see further acts of Russian aggression in the months and years to come. Putin is an unreconstructed product of the Soviet intelligence services; a sworn enemy of the liberal-democratic order at home and abroad; an autocrat whose mission it is to reverse Moscow’s defeat in the Cold War.
Let there be no mistake: we are in for the long haul. It is time to prepare a long-term strategy of resistance to the new Russian imperialism so that, if we were caught unprepared this time, we will not be unable to respond next time. Britain must join with the US in sending troops to Georgia, even if these troops at the present time have a purely symbolic deterrent value. We must massively increase our financial and military assistance to our beleaguered ally, and reassure it that it is not being abandoned. Georgia’s accession to NATO and the EU must be accelerated – as, indeed, must the EU accession of Turkey, which will be a crucial ally in the coming confrontation; one that we cannot afford not to have on our side. We must insist that the precondition for any negotiations over the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is an acceptance by Moscow of Georgia’s territorial integrity. But this conflict is not just about Georgia, and it will not just be played out over Georgia.
Cold War II has begun. Western leaders must begin to prepare their publics for this reality, which means countering the defeatist and anti-Western currents of thought that are popular among wide sections of the chattering classes, and preparing the publics for the consequences of economic warfare with an enemy that supplies a large part of our energy. Full-scale sanctions against Russia may soon be necessary, and though this will hurt Moscow more than it will hurt us, it will hurt us too. Western leaders must state very loudly and clearly that any further military attack by Moscow against any other state in Eastern or South Eastern Europe will invite a military response from us.
There are several ways in which Moscow’s aggression can be immediately punished. We should expel Russia from the G8 group of industrialised nations, veto its accession to the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, suspend the EU’s Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia, abandon all negotiations for a new EU-Russia agreement, suspend the NATO-Russia Council and announce a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi. Given Moscow’s shameless promotion of the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, it is time to raise openly the question of Chechnya which, in terms of size, national homogeneity and viability as an entity, has a much stronger case for independence than either of Georgia’s enclaves. Since Moscow is demanding ‘self-determination’ for South Ossetia, let us openly challenge it to recognise the same right for the much larger Ossetian population in North Ossetia. Finally, our strategy vis-a-vis Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and other trouble-spots must be modified to take account of the new geopolitical front-line; this does not mean we should surrender the battle on any of these fronts, but we cannot continue to fight them as if the Russian threat did not exist.
Dangerous ? The real danger will come from burying our heads in the sand and hoping Putin will go away and leave us alone. It is better to adopt a tough but non-violent stance against Moscow now, than to encourage further Russian expansionism that will compel us to adopt more drastic measures in the future, measures that we may not be able to limit to the non-violent. Toughness in 1938 might have stopped Hitler without war; appeasement in 1938 led to war in 1939.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
See also John McCain’s excellent article, We are all Georgians
Yesterday, Turkish democracy received a bloody nose, but not a knock-out blow. Turkey’s constitutional court voted six to five in favour of banning the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – to which Turkish President Abdullah Gul also belongs – and banning its leading figures from politics. The court vote fell short of the seven-vote majority needed for a ban. Nevertheless, the court voted to cut the AKP’s state funding. Hasim Kilic, the court chairman and chief justice, described the ruling as a ‘serious warning’ to the AKP: ‘I hope the party in question will evaluate this outcome very well and get the message it should get,’ he said; ‘The verdict on cutting treasury aid has been given because of members who decided that the party was the hub of anti-secular activities’, although ‘not seriously enough’ to ban the party.
This attempt to bully democracy is taking place in an EU candidate country with the seventh-largest economy in the Council of Europe and the fifteenth-largest in the world, and which has pursued a for-the-most-part highly progressive foreign policy in recent years. Under the AKP, Turkey has been attempting to broker a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. The Turkish government has attempted to restrain the hawkish voices favouring an onslaught against the Kurds of Northern Iraq. Turkey was one of the first countries to recognise Kosova, and was alone among the larger NATO countries in staunchly supporting a Membership Action Plan for Macedonia at the April NATO summit in Bucharest. It has sincerely worked for a resolution of the Cyprus dispute and for rapprochement with Armenia.
The AKP government has also pursued a reformist policy at home, improving Turkey’s democratic and human rights credentials to the point where the EU, despite strong opposition from some of its members, was compelled to start accession negotiations. And it has presided over an unprecedented expansion of the Turkish economy. All the more poignant, therefore, that the court’s move to ban the democratically elected party of government appears to have been triggered by the latter’s attempt to push through a democratic freedom for Muslims that is already enjoyed across Christian Europe: the right of women students to wear headscarves while attending university. The readiness of the Turkish Kemalist establishment to wreck its country’s democracy and economy and to plunge it into constitutional chaos, and possibly civil war, simply in order to maintain its exclusive grip on state power at the expense of the new Muslim middle class represented by the AKP, indicates the difficulties Turkey faces in its journey toward full democracy.
Turkish democracy is not under attack only by the secular establishment, but by fascist terrorist elements – both from the ranks of the secular ultra-nationalists and from the ranks of the Islamists. Earlier this month, Turkish police foiled preparations for a violent coup d’etat by members of the Ergenekon clandestine organisation; those arrested included three retired Turkish Army generals. This was followed by an Islamist terrorist attack on the US consulate in Istanbul, and then days ago by a terrorist bomb attack on a civilian target in Istanbul that the government and police have blamed on Kurdish PKK separatists but which some observers suggest was more likely to have been the work of Ergenekon. There have been credible suggestions that the apparently antithetical Kemalist and Islamist extremists have, in fact, been coming together on the basis of the values they share: opposition to the West, the US, ‘Zionism’, democracy and liberalisation. As Mustafa Akyol writes in the Turkish Daily News: ‘I can’t say anything about whether there are indeed criminal links between these groups, but the ideology they share is all too similar. Their aim is simply to keep Turkey as a closed society cut off from the world and ruled by an authoritarian state. What they fear and abhor is democratization and liberalization.’
With the constitutional court’s verdict, Turkish democracy has been shaken but not toppled, but the dangers facing the country remain, as do the dangers facing the Western alliance in relation to Turkey. Turkey’s political classes have been increasingly disillusioned in recent years, both with the EU and with the US. The slowness of Turkey’s EU accession process, coupled with the apparent outright refusal of some EU countries such as France and Germany ever to allow Turkey to join, have reduced the EU’s appeal among Turks. Meanwhile, Turkish relations with the US have been strained by the apparently ‘distabilising’ policy being pursued by Washington in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union: the war with Iraq; the possibility of an attack on Iran; support for regional democratisation and ‘colour revolutions'; and above all the US’s alliance with the Iraqi Kurds. Conversely and consequently, Turkish relations with both Russia and Iran have been improving. Indeed, the Kurdish issue has strained Turkey’s relations not only with the US, but also with Israel, which is also unhappy with Turkey’s broadening cooperation with Iran in the field of energy.
In the current Turkish political constellation, it is the AKP that is the EU’s and US’s best friend. Indeed, Turkey’s Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, responding to Western criticisms of his attempt to close down the AKP, denounced the EU and US as ‘imperialists’ seeking to erode Turkey’s national sovereignty by using ‘collaborators’ such as the ‘fundamentalist’ AKP and Turkish liberals who ‘claimed to be intellectuals’. While we may wish to retain good relations with Ankara irrespective of which regime holds power there, our inability to remain silent in the face of assaults on democratic freedoms, coupled with the inevitably anti-Western outlook and rhetoric of those launching such assaults, will ensure that a potential future replacement of the AKP regime with a more authoritarian Kemalist one will inevitably damage Turkey’s relationship with the Western alliance. Conversely, a more authoritarian Turkey will find authoritarian Russia, Iran and even China as increasingly congenial partners.
The lingering threat to Turkish democracy is a threat to the West’s relationship with a crucial member of its alliance; indeed to positive stability in the Middle East, Balkans and Black Sea region in general. The failure of the constitutional court to ban the AKP has averted a still worse danger – that the suppression of the democratic, moderate Islamic political option would have driven disillusioned AKP supporters into the arms of the Islamists, laying the basis for an Algerian-style civil war in Turkey. But so long as the secularist establishment remains determined to curb the AKP, this is a danger that has been kept at bay, not ended permanently.
Turkey resembles Serbia, in that it is a Balkan country undergoing a long-drawn-out transition to full democracy, in which there can be no quick or easy success. But Turkey’s size, strength, geographic location and geostrategic importance make it much less amenable to pressure than Serbia. Indeed, with Turkey at the height of its power as a country, but with its internal divisions stretching it to breaking point, the Turkish Kemalist establishment may increasingly feel rather like the Serbian Communist establishment under Milosevic in the late 1980s and early 1990s: ready to gamble on an extreme solution, on the assumption – probably correct – that the West would lack the will to resist it. In this context, although Brussels was correct to indicate that Turkey’s EU accession process would be halted in the event of the ruling party being banned, nevertheless the carrot may prove more effective than the stick in advancing the cause of Turkey’s democratisation. This, however, cannot mean unprincipled concessions over the Kurdish or Cyprus questions that would damage the West’s moral standing.
Keeping Turkish democracy alive requires keeping Turkey’s EU accession process alive, for it is EU membership that has provided the crucial motor to Turkey’s democratisation. But at present, it is Turcophobic EU leaders such as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy who are dominating public discourse in Europe over the Turkish issue. If Turkey is to be saved for democracy and for the West, the UK has to fight back in the arena of public opinion – both at home and in Europe. The UK has traditionally supported Turkey’s EU accession; quite apart from the geostrategic arguments in favour preserving Turkey’s pro-Western alignment, an EU containing Turkey would be less dominated by the Franco-German axis and more resistant to centralisation, therefore more congenial to the inclinations of both Britain’s political and its popular classes – and indeed to the inclinations of some other EU members – than an EU without Turkey.
The British government must fight a sustained public campaign in favour of Turkey’s EU membership, to persuade the Turkish people that they have a European future, to bolster the fortunes of our friends in the AKP, and to convince the British and European publics of the crucial importance of the Turkish connection. Sarkozy is pursuing a thoroughly unprincipled and damaging policy toward South East Europe, but to his credit, he is not afraid to be outspoken and assertive in pursuit of what he perceives to be France’s national interests in this region. We must not be afraid to be similarly outspoken and assertive. If the present trends in EU politics continue, we shall lose the battle for Turkey. And with it, we shall suffer a major defeat in the battle for both the Balkans and the Middle East.
This article was published yesterday on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
The presidential contest currently under way in the US has generated unprecedented interest in the UK and Europe. Were it left to us on this side of the pond, Barack Obama would win with a landslide. On account of his youth, his colour and his relatively liberal views, Obama is the darling of Europe’s liberals, while not only they, but also European conservatives widely look forward to his presidency as a welcome departure from the hawkish, abrasive unilateralism of George W. Bush’s administration. Yet while Obama as US president would be likely to go down well with the European and, indeed, the world public, this would above all be for the negative reason that – like Clinton before him – he probably would not do very much in the field of foreign affairs. By not rocking the boat or rapping knuckles, a President Obama would appease European liberals and conservatives alike. But by the same token, he may prove inadequate in meeting very real threats to peace and stability in Europe. Nowhere are these threats more real than in the south-eastern borderlands of our continent: the Balkans, Turkey and the Caucasus…
[The rest of this article can be read at Standpoint.Online]
When Nicolas Sarkozy defeated Segolene Royal in last year’s French presidential election, there were some grounds for optimism that French foreign policy might take a turn for the better. Indeed, Sarkozy – no anti-American – has taken the important step of opting to bring France back into NATO’s integrated command, thereby reversing one of Charles de Gaulle’s most symbolic acts of Gallic independence vis-a-vis the US. Yet where South East Europe is concerned, Sarkozy has on at least five counts proven himself to be as obstructive and destructive as French presidents come; an enemy of the region and of the cause of European unity.
1) Sarkozy argued against Turkey’s entry into the EU on the grounds that ‘Turkey is in Asia Minor’ and that ‘I won’t be able to explain to French school kids that Europe’s border neighbors are Iraq and Syria.’ He is, meanwhile, no doubt aware that the state of which he is head includes territories in the Caribbean, South America and the Indian Ocean as its integral parts or ‘overseas departments’. It is difficult to believe that the French president genuinely has difficulty with the concept of an EU including Turkey, which was part of the Ancient Greek world and the Roman Empire and whose largest city was for a time the Roman capital, but has no difficulty with the concept of a France that borders on Brazil. Or that he is unaware that EU member Cyprus is, geographically, more wholly Asian than Turkey. Either Sarkozy really is spectacularly ignorant – which I find difficult to believe – or he is cynically playing up to the popular ignorance and chauvinism of his citizens in the most vulgar manner.
2) At the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, Sarkozy vetoed the granting of a Membership Action Plan to Georgia and Ukraine; for all his denial, he appears to have done so because he did not want to offend Russia. This makes no sense in terms of principles; it is as if Norway should have been denied NATO membership so as not to offend Sweden; or Poland, so as not to offend Belarus. A sovereign state’s right to join a military alliance cannot be the subject of a veto by one of its neighbours; otherwise it ceases to be sovereign. The deference to Russia harks back to an era of imperial spheres of influence. Sarkozy appears less interested in the principle of European unity than in pursuing old-style imperial diplomacy on the European continent.
3) Sarkozy has long supported Greece in its dispute with Macedonia without pretending that this has anything to do with principles: ‘I always stressed that we support the Greek position in the name issue. Greeks are our friends.’ In his most recent statement, however, Sarkozy not only argues that Macedonia should back down because ‘the newcomer is the one that should make efforts’, but reportedly also on the grounds that Macedonia is a ‘non-democratic country’. This marks a new low in French efforts to destabilise a fragile country that was deemed sufficiently democratic by the international community to warrant international recognition back in 1992, and whose provisions for minority rights are incomparably better than that of Greece, which does not even recognise the existence of its Macedonian and Turkish minorities. The consequences of a Macedonian collapse for peace and stability in Europe should not need emphasising; Sarkozy is playing his cynical, Gaullist game in the most irresponsible manner possible.
4) While denying Macedonia’s democratic credentials, France under Sarkozy is reverting to the traditional French policy of supporting Serbia, the country primarily responsible for the catastrophes in the Balkans in the 1990s, and whose attempts to undermine Kosova’s independence are endangering peace and stability in the Balkans more than anything else. France’s ambassador in Belgrade, Jean Francois Terral, is reported to have described Serbia as ‘the country with the greatest possibilities in the Balkans’. He is quoted as saying that ‘as far as France is concerned, Serbia has the priority among Western Balkan states’. After all the efforts in which the West has engaged in this decade, to encourage Serbia to change its ways and behave in a responsible manner, France now appears to be reinforcing the old, destructive belief of Serbia’s – that it is a natural regional hegemon with a right to preeminence over its smaller and weaker neighbours. And this without demanding any commensurate change in Serbian policy toward Kosova.
5) While rewarding the two Balkan states – Greece and Serbia – that are pursuing the most destructive, nationalistic policies at the expense of the wider region, Sarkozy has taken efforts to punish Croatia, a state that has turned its back on extreme nationalism. In contrast to Serbia, Croatia since 2000 has abandoned expansionism vis-a-vis Bosnia, abandoned support for anti-Bosnian separatists and come round to full cooperation with the war-crimes tribunal in the Hague. Yet in response to the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, Sarkozy has announced that France will veto further EU enlargement until the treaty is ratified – a step that above all punishes Croatia, which is the next state slated for EU membership. Showing scant regard for the democratic will of his fellow Europeans, he appears to be willing to punish Croatia and other EU aspirants for the fact that votes within the EU have not gone his way.
Nicolas Sarkozy is a sorry excuse for a European. His foreign policy makes no pretence at being guided by any principles or consistency, and he appears to revel in its selfish, nationally egotistical character. Nevertheless, at a certain level, one must admire his readiness to behave so unreasonably: the EU is a body that rewards the unreasonable and the selfish and that punishes the well behaved. If an EU member – or indeed a non-member – wishes to get its way, it pays for it to be stubborn and obstructive, as then the EU’s spineless, amoral bureaucrats will pander to it with talk about a ‘compromise acceptable to both sides’ or other such cliches designed to conceal appeasement. It is difficult to see that Sarkozy’s policy toward South East Europe is inspired by anything other than short-term, tactical and narrowly national considerations, but he is at least prepared to go about trying to get what he wants.
It would be encouraging if our own British government were to be similarly stubborn and obstructive in pursuit of goals where, justifiably, our policies have diverged from France’s: over EU and NATO expansion; Turkey; Macedonia; etc. Were it to do so, it would achieve more than it does. But I’m not holding my breath.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left
- World War II