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Political, Economic and Cultural Legacies of the European Past in the Context of European Integration”.

The Big European states’s strategic cultures in historical and contemporary context and European integration

 

[This is a draft paper delivered in the University of Siegen, October 2014. Footnoting and further analysis follows]

 

Panayiotis Ifestos

Professor, international relations – strategic studies.

 

I shall focus on Great Britain, France and Germany. The thesis I suggest is that, at the outset of European integration, the geopolitical outlooks of the big European powers were diverging. Profoundly and fundamentally.

            At issue after WW2 was not some sort of unfeasible assimilating unity based on economic determinism but a re-orientation of national strategies so as to converge in order to face the strategic mutations and principally the gigantic re-distribution of power following decolonization and the rise into prominence of the two superpowers.

            Those fundamental structural factors were set aside or owing to utopian idealism and economic determinism the strategic reflexes in post-war Europe were diminished to such an extent that a rational strategic re-orientation became impossible.

Let us sketch the background and indicate what we are missing after the Cold War.

 

During the balance of power phase (1648 well until WW2) stability was a function of a distribution of power that discouraged the challengers of the status quo. Britain was the balancer all along. Balancing as regards continental Europe is a deeply rooted culture of Great Britain related to the London’s perception of security and the survival of the British islands. Experience is telling and diachronic: For Foreign Office everything else is secondary and or instrumental.

France, before and after Napoleon was and still is a power which is positioned in between continental and maritime powers. The sense of suffocation or squashed in power competition and the doctrine of national independence which after WW2 was accompanied by a nuclear deterrent was and still is an automatic reflection of France’s geopolitical position.

During Bismarck epoch the German Chancellor’s sense of balance and his wise strategy that discouraged anti-German alliances favored stability on the continent. Shortly stated, Bismarck’s departure was followed by an almost inescapable downfall that let to WW1.

Political utopia of the interwar period brilliantly analyzed by Edward H. Carr in his Twenty Year Crisis, made WW2 practically inevitable. Appeasement which is a corollary of utopia and runs contrary to the intrinsic need of all anarchical interstate systems for balance as a condition of stability, was the political input that generated the big conflict.

Even since we witness three parallel and connected developments.

·                     First, decolonization caused a decline of the relative position and role of the European powers.

·                     Second, in Eurasian and global strategic terms security the dominance of the United States in the context of the Atlantic Alliance and  Kennan’ s containment doctrine was and still is the principle feature of the European and world politics.

·                     Third, whilst France and Britain in the one or other way, safeguarded certain margins of independent diplomatic freedom –the former in the context of its special relationship with the United States and the latter in the context of its nuclear deterrent– Germany, the defeated power of WW2, was divided and kept under total control by belonging in the Western Alliance and to other institutions including WEU and EU.

o   In fact, the biggest and strongest European power, properly speaking, during the Cold War was lacking full political sovereignty and was for all practical purposes squashed on the borderline of the East – West confrontation.

o   A good question is how other powers see now this issue, that is the German independence and the margins of maneuverability.

 

How geostrategic considerations influenced European integration? There are two distinct periods. Before 1990 and after 1990.

European integration, was in fact made possible because the major strategic issues were frozen or lost their importance in well constructed greenhouse of USA’s postwar strategy of extended deterrence.

Still, as we witnessed during the transition from 1989 to 1992, when German unification took place, the underlying determinants of the big European states were geopolitical: America’s presence froze intra-European security dilemmas thus avoiding conflict.

As Josef Joffe put it, the United States by securing strategic stability and principally by accommodating issues regarding Germany saved the Europeans from theselves.

Before examining basic geopolitical issues, thus, we sum up by saying that the disturbance of the geopolitical set up of the Balance of Power relations from Westphalia onwards led to the First and Second World Wars.

The strategic outlooks of the big European states are and still are the underlying determinants.

The same issues which for centuries were at the core of European politics influenced the political thinking and the political decisions of the European project when it was launched immediately after WW2 and they shaped all aspects of the institutional and strategic structures thereafter.

However, in a different way than before 1945.

On the one hand as we already mentioned American strategic presence frozen intra-European security dilemmas.

On the other hand by creating economic and institutional inter-dependence which many expected could lead to Europe being one actor and the European states gradually being integrated in one regional social and political framework. This task would had been achieved by constructing a political anthropology sitting on an utilitarian politico-economic structure.   

However, what do we have after six decades?

First, in the best case a fragile mix of intergovernmental and supranational settings working over and above a socially, politically and economically differentiated environment. To put succinctly, the political anthropology is by all means national not supranational and the utilitarian links prove extremely fragile.

Second, a European superstructure which was and still is a dependent variable of global strategic interplay where USA is the dominant actor.

Third, EMU which was adopted in 1992 and which by all means executed a gigantic jump into a strategic vacuum and an assumption that monetary links would have caused a supranational political anthropology. It failed tragically and the consequences are felt just now.  

 

To put it differently, during the major strategic transition from 1989 to 1992 when the new European project was launched by deciding the monetary arrangements, geopolitical issues which were intrinsic and determinant were not dealt with in a rational and coordinated approach which would had led to a new political, institutional and strategic setting reflecting the post-Cold War situation in Europe and on the planet.

Much more importantly, the preoccupation of the European powers with Low Politics that was renewed when in 1992 the monetary arrangements were imposed on Germany, is accompanied by a gradual shift of the center of gravity of American strategy owing to the gradual shift towards a new multipolar constellation composed of many evolving big powers[1]

  

Our brief comparative analysis, now, shall focus on the geopolitical outlooks of Britain, France and Germany, that is, the main strategic actors at the European level. We should briefly examine trends and cultures of geopolitical thinking in both traditional and contemporary context.

Let us stress three principal aspects. Politico-strategic outlooks, politico-economic outlooks and related conceptions of space and time.

At issue is the constellation, in space and time, of power, abilities and chances to benefit or lose as redistribution of power, real or estimated and potential, evolves.

            As a matter of fact historical experience is telling: Geopolitical considerations is the foundation of geostrategic considerations of states and alliances. That is, a central input in strategic thinking, strategic planning and strategic action in short, medium and long term.

            Geographical considerations and correlations to power and power distribution is to be found at all times in history. Napoleon’s quote that “the strategy of all big powers is related to geography” is found in most modern texts of strategic theory and is deeply rooted in the mind of political leadership.

            Mackinder and Spykeman, two thinkers that influenced decisively Agglosaxon strategic thinking, supported that power is determined to a great extent by geography and natural recourses.

 

 

Let us shorty define principal terms. Geography describes the earth and its life, especially the distribution of land, sea, air, plant, animal life, including anthropology and man activities such as industry and agriculture and resources.

Political geography nowdays deals with those and other elements and factors in relation to the interstate setting, the position and strength of state actors, their communications and exchanges and the juxtaposition of factors such as geographical location, economic structures, demography, political traditions, cultural factors and certainly religion and in a broader sense metaphysic norms and structures in all its politically related spiritual consequences.

Geopolitical analysis is the next step whereby we enter into the dynamic correlation of those and many other related factors which if combined in one analytical framework provide clues for power, security, prosperity and role and position in an a priori antagonistic international system.

It should never escape our attention that in the interstate system, we do not have a world government or a “government of the governments” or at least international institutions gifted with socially legitimated jurisdictions to define morally founded prerogatives to define changes of the international order, much more to define the prerogatives of a world distributive justice system.

In such circumstances all states and Alliances continuously construct national strategies which combine the national interests. Therefore, by focusing on our attention on “factors of enduring importance geopolitics refer to the relation of international political power, to the geographical setting (Cohen) and considers the security problems of a country in geographical terms in such a way that the conclusions can be a direct and immediate use to the statesmen whose duty is to set up the strategy which fulfils national interests (Spykman).

Raymond Aron gives a broader definition when he writes that “geopolitical analysis combines a geographical schematization of the political and diplomatic relations with geographical and economic analysis of the resources, in a way that also provides interpretations of diplomatic behavior in correlational-functional terms to the life and the environment”.

Geopolitics is thus some sort an analysis that explores the structure of policy problems without necessarily prescribing policy action (Gray). It is precisely when we analyze national interests and alternative strategic options that we come to geostrategy. Certainly, the two concepts, geopolitics and geostrategy are the two sides of the same coin.

Geostrategy does not just correlate geopolitical factors alone. In addition it introduces and combines planning, strategy, tactics, relating dynamically military power, diplomacy and political purposes.

 

I shall now stress certain authors that influenced strategic decisions in ways that marked European politics after World War 2.

Mahan and Mackinder though the first more than the second stressed the important of sea power the tenets of both define Britain’s strategy and substantially so the American high strategy from 1947 onwards until today.

In fact, Mackinder is by and large the thinker that described Great Britain’s strategy during the balance of power phase and stressed the strategic importance of continental land masses, as opposed to seas.

Mackinder’s central area concept and the corollary tenets which stipulate that none should control the “core of the earth”, is identified with Britain’ s role as the balancer of the balance of power relations. It influenced and continues to influence British postures as regards Germany, Russia and the claim for a more unified continental Europe, an idea that after 1957 is incarnated in the process of European integration. Before the two world wars alone, after WW2 in alliance with the United States and currently as a free rider of by trying to influence Paris and Washington, London tries to regulate the distribution of power in accordance to its high strategic purposes.

What does precisely Mackinder says. He supported that

 

“who rules East Europe commands the Heartland. Who rules the Heartland commands the world island. And who rules the world island commands the World.”

 

  At issue today for Britain, in fact is the following:

 

“Who commands central Europe and what are the balances of the continental powers, namely Germany, France and Russia”.

 

If Russia and Germany converge or form an alliance and if USA’s interest for Europe diminishes owing to developments in Far East and a drastic shift of the center of gravity eastwards, an anti-German alliance in Western Europe is something more than probable[2].

            French leaders were sensitive to what happens Eastward (Hernu). The French post-war power calculus watch carefully the fluctuations of the American strategic commitment to western Europe and to the strategies of the continental power when it attempts to establish a regional hegemony, previously the Soviet Union and nowdays Russia.

For Paris, Germany which is positioned in the middle of the continent is a cause of concern when Berlin either tends to act independently, be neutral or ally with Russia. Typical examples is the so called Stalin plan in the 1950s and the Euromissile crisis when in the mid of huge demonstrations president Mitterrand warned Germans for the grave consequences of not adhering to the 1979 two track decision of NATO.   

 

In the background of these issues we witness an uninterrupted interests of the British diplomacy with power formations on continental Europe and the Eurasian continent in General.

            British diplomacy always takes care to prevent any power or alliance of continental powers from dominating the continent, especially Germany, Russia, or an alliance between them.

This attitude emanates from British insular geopolitical position and by and large explains post-war British reluctance to favor integration on the continent.

Debating UK’ s accession into the Common Market in 1958, for example, Macmillan put this argument forcefully to de Gaulle in 1958. All along the period even since and more so as a member, London’s reluctance to deepen integration is consistent and continues.

            Britain’s Transatlantic orientation which is described in Mackinder’s revised thesis written in 1943 for the “Atlantic pivot of power” is incarnated in post-war special relationship with the United States and the Atlantic Alliance that was a child of British diplomacy which was worked out from 1946 until 1949 when it was established in parallel to similar efforts on the continent regarding a EDC/EPC.

The continuous hitherto pro-Atlantic posture that is compatible to this British strategic culture did not and does not leave much room for a European Alliance. We saw it when London have chosen America as its nuclear partner in the 1950s, during the MLF debates in the early 1960s, in the words of the British prime minister int the speech of Margaret Thatcher in Brugge in 1979 and the way it influence EPC and the Maastricht decisions in the early 1990s. In fact, in view of the British pro-Atlantic orientation the chances for a European Alliance are practically nil.

 

Ratzel, is often considered the father of political geography and the thinker that influence considerably German thinking by introducing the concept of “space” in geopolitical analysis in a way that stresses physical factors and the position of a state. He also stressed biological factors and the racial view that “some people have capacities to master the space” more than others.

Other German theorists especially Haushofer, gave rise to the so called German school that later on were used as a framework for a whole philosophy of history and the nature of the state that gave rise to the magic concept of space and to doctrines for territorial expansion.

 

French geopolitical thinking, is defined by its geographic position which as already mentioned is historically squeezed between Maritime and continental powers. For all practical purposes, modern geostrategic thinking flourished around de Gaulle’ s dominant role in post war French strategic thinking and incorporated successfully the twin element of national independence and the nuclear deterrent.  

 

A permanent question after WW2 as well after the end of the Cold War is the calculus as regards the evolution of the distribution of power and the capabilities of the actors involved. The big European powers which became middle level powers at the world level face continuously, in fact, dilemmas as regards geostrategic decisions which should reconcile both different and often diverging geostrategic outlooks and the relations with the superpowers East and West.

It makes a big difference the fact that as we move into the 21st century the evolving international system is multipolar, an international structure in which the power calculus shall be very different. In fact, what we witness in Eastern Europe and the Middle East is just the beginning of attempts of regional powers to establish regional hegemony and other powers’ off shore balancing to prevent them.  

 

To put it shortly in 1992 and today geopolitical considerations which are intrinsic to interstate relations in Europe were swept aside in order:

1.    To establish an economic institutional framework over socio-politically and socio-economically differentiated  European inter-state system

2.    The United States on the one hand continued its strategic presence and in way as a compensation transformed the Atlantic Alliance to facilitate “out of area” interventions.

3.    France’s purposes to control German monetary decisions proved abortive already by the end of the 1990s

4.    Germany’s reunification expectably led to uneven growth establishing an indisputable economic hegemony and led many other states to economic and political crisis.

5.    Careful study of attitudes and postures a quarter of a century after EMU was adopted reveals that nobody suggested a new strategic setting that could secure stability, balance relations with East and the United States and a reformation of the system at the level of low politics so as to stop uneven growth that as we all know is the main source of security dilemmas.

6.    Consequently European integration which since 1945 was evolving in the American strategic green house is for all practical purposes moving into a classical power vacuum which in history was always the source of instability and conflict.

7.    Even worse, in the absence of any signs of strategic negotiations among the Big European states, macroeconomic decisions which by all means are high politics are handled by technocrats that lack the slightest democratic legitimization at the European level.

8.    Given the intensification of strategic antagonism in Eastern Europe and the adjacent energy rich peripheries, EE is simply absent or its members act individually.

9.    At issue for all analyst of geopolitical issues is the future relations of Germany and Russia and whether it shall be antagonistic or allied and who is the strongest in economic and military terms. The answer of this question is vital in order to understand the strategic postures of the United State on Eurasia.

10. If America is absent and Russia strongest than Germany, France and Britain are about to ally to deter her. If Germany is strongest than Russia and consequently acting independently possibly by attempting to acquire nuclear weapons then one should expect Russia, France and Britain in Alliance.

 

European integration seems to absent at the level of strategic calculations at this level and certainly a vulnerable dependent variable.  

 


 

[1] “System structure, we know, is a function of the number of great powers and how power is apportioned among them. The list of European great powers for the two centuries under discussion includes Austria, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and Russia.14 Only Russia, which was known as the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1990, was a great power for the entire period. Austria, which became Austria-Hungary in 1867, was a great power from 1792 until its demise in 1918. Great Britain and Germany were great powers from 1792 until 1945, although Germany was actually Prussia before 1871. Italy is considered a great power from 1861 until its collapse in 1943”. Mearsheimer, o.p. 347

 

[2] As John Mearsheimer put it in his monumental text regarding Great Power competition: “Alas, the claim that security competition and war between the great powers have been purged from the international system is wrong. Indeed, there is much evidence that the promise of everlasting peace among the great powers was stillborn. Consider, for example, that even though the Soviet threat has disappeared, the United States still maintains about one hundred thousand troops in Europe and roughly the same number in Northeast Asia. It does so because it recognizes that dangerous rivalries would probably emerge among the major powers in these regions if U.S. troops were withdrawn. Moreover, almost every European state, including the United Kingdom and France, still harbors deep-seated, albeit muted, fears that a Germany unchecked by American power might behave aggressively; fear of Japan in Northeast Asia is probably even more profound, and it is certainly more frequently expressed. Finally, the possibility of a clash between China and the United States over Taiwan is hardly remote. This is not to say that such a war is likely, but the possibility reminds us that the threat of great-power war has not disappeared. The sad fact is that international politics has always been a ruthless and Dangerous”. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Powers Politics (Norton), p. 22.