The prosperity of the past seven decades has led the European continent adrift in the cold waters of strategic lethargy.
On Autobahn 2, Hanover is less than three hours away from Berlin. But even as Berlin engages in complex energy geoeconomics, Hanover is one step ahead. To reduce the city’s energy bill by 15 percent before the winter sets in, the city is taking measures today that should attune its 110,000 residents to be ready by then.
Amongst other things, Hanover “has become the first major European city to switch off hot water in public buildings, with no warm water in washrooms and no hot showers at swimming pools and sports halls,” a DW (Deutsche Welle) report states. In Berlin, Germany's Economy Minister, Robert Habeck, is planning a new gas levy on gas consumers that could raise costs by 1,000 euros per year. As the largest economy in the region reaches a new, low-consumption energy equilibrium, these ideas will flow across Europe, as one city after another takes measures to use less energy. Delivering these policies, however, will not be easy. Being democracies, these rational and essential policies will be contested, and lead to political fractures, if not outright uncertainties.
The lack of heating for a continent that has forgotten the word ‘discomfort’, leave alone engaged with hardship since May 1945 when World War II ended in Europe, is neither a political upheaval, nor an economic crisis, nor a gas shock, nor an environmental outcome. In 2022, this is a hot geopolitical tail wagging the whole cold dog. For 748 million people in 50 countries that sit atop a GDP of close to US $18 trillion and enjoy very high per capita incomes in Western Europe and fairly high in Eastern Europe, this misreading of geopolitics showcases not merely a security policy delusion, it displays an entitlement of continental proportions.
This is not to say that Russia attacking Ukraine is justified. No way. It is merely to question whether the statecraft being practised in Europe for the past seven decades has any moorings of values or focus of interests in 2022. Peace is the first and foremost of the public goods that leaderships of nations need to deliver. It is a crucial component for trade and, in turn, for growth, prosperity, and comforts such as hot water and warm cosy homes in harsh winters. The peace that followed the end of World War II in September 1945, the Cold War years (1947 to 1991), the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, right up to the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in December 1991, all created a sense of security in the region. Economies grew on the then-popular assumption that trade will prevent future wars.
< style="color: #0063a9">With the creation of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a < style="color: #0063a9">political and military alliance in April 1949, the Allies fashioned a security institution, under the wings of the United States (US), with each country expected to contribute to the security pool. Over the years, it became clear that the strategic interests of the US became the strategic cover for the EU.
With the creation of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a political and military alliance in April 1949, the Allies fashioned a security institution, under the wings of the United States (US), with each country expected to contribute to the security pool. Over the years, it became clear that the strategic interests of the US became the strategic cover for the EU. According to the declassified files of NATO, this is what the first Secretary General Hastings Lionel Ismay had said that the organisation was created to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”
During the Cold War years, the US accounted for half the total allied funding; by the time the Cold War ended, the EU sought economic gains and the share of the US rose to 68 percent. In 1997, new targets of 3 percent were set, which were readjusted to 2 percent in 2006. That the EU was unwilling to finance its own security was clear. When former US President Donald Trump called out Europe on this matter, the issue deteriorated into whether the 2 percent spending was binding or voluntary on the one side and what constitutes defence spending on the other.
While the West was busy bickering about the legitimacy of amounts and nature of security, Russia and China (this requires a separate analysis) had their own prisms to study great power games. Even though both are considered adversaries, if not enemies, the continent was becoming increasingly dependent on, and vulnerable to, gas supplies from the former and low-cost imports from and markets of the latter. It invested in huge infrastructure to transport gas from Russia through the 7.4-billion euros Nord Stream, in which the Russian gas giant Gazprom owns 51 percent, the German firms Wintershall Dea and E.ON hold 15.5 percent each, while the Dutch company N.V. Nederlandse Gasunie and the French firm Engie SA have 9 percent each. Gas was cheap, which made manufacturing competitive, and enabled economic activity. What more could a continent want?
< style="color: #0063a9">The only country that envisioned this cold future and tried to first pre-empt and now fix the problem, Germany, was and continues to be shamed. Even distant India, whose oil imports from Russia are less than a fraction of Europe’s, was shamed. Is shifting blame, therefore, one of the security policies of Europe?
It took “Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine,” to bring the threat back on the discussion table with the September 2014 Wales Summit Declaration and drag Europe towards financing security. Para 14 reintroduced the 2 percent of GDP spending on defence, with those spending less moving to the 2 percent mark in a decade. The overhang of Russia in this declaration seems both, a face-save and a knee-jerk—there are 43 references to it. To put this in perspective, these were the actions of countries that in 2014 had a combined GDP of more than US$36 trillion (US$43 trillion today) on Russia, then a US$2 trillion economy (US$1.8 trillion today). So, while strategically Russia can be seen as a Goliath, economically it is a David. In the Madrid Summit Declaration, June 2022, however, references to Russia stood at 11 and NATO was back to using stale keywords to condemn it—"humanitarian catastrophe”, “food and energy crisis”, “irresponsible rhetoric”, “aggression”—making it more a war of words than a conflict to be ended.
A question emerges: How is it that an entire continent, with top-of-the-line institutions in education, diplomacy, and international relations, with layers upon layers of knowledge on every tiny aspect of globalisation, and with a complex unity that has largely worked (Brexit notwithstanding), misread the mind of Russian President Vladimir Putin? Call him by any name and accuse him of all excesses, you can’t ignore the fact that he has driven Russia’s civil-military-energy nexus for the past decade, and may know a thing or two about his customer-adversaries in Europe.
Where lies the gap between this 10.53 million square km political geography of Europe, its economy, its technology, its foreign relations, its market heft, its welfare measures, its inherited wealth and grandeur…and its inability to envision a security threat staring at it in the face? Of what use is the attempted unity of the European Union, if it cannot look beyond the interests of narrow silos and petty bureaucracies in it? How is it that member nations have allowed extreme wokism—on climate energy, for instance, turning a blind eye to traditional energy sources such as coal and nuclear—to infiltrate their security blankets and strategic actions?
< style="color: #0063a9">While the Russia–Ukraine conflict plays out with the blood of Ukrainians and the weapons of the West, there is an opportunity, a small opportunity here: This cold discomfort may push the continent out of its strategic slumber.
Provocatively breaching the “red line” clearly marked out by Russia, there is a naïve political psychology at play in Europe. Further, if NATO in Ukraine was a red line for Moscow, shouldn’t Europe have taken its vulnerability to Russian gas as a strategic component before crossing it? The only country that envisioned this cold future and tried to first pre-empt and now fix the problem, Germany, was and continues to be shamed. Even distant India, whose oil imports from Russia are less than a fraction of Europe’s, was shamed. Is shifting blame, therefore, one of the security policies of Europe?
As the European bureaucracies keep twiddling their thumbs, here’s a forecast: all, repeat all, large countries in Europe will follow tomorrow what Germany is doing today. While the Russia–Ukraine conflict plays out with the blood of Ukrainians and the weapons of the West, there is an opportunity, a small opportunity here: This cold discomfort may push the continent out of its strategic slumber.
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Gautam Chikermane is a Vice President at ORF. His areas of research are economics, politics and foreign policy. A Jefferson Fellow (Fall 2001) at the East-West ...Read More +