European Elections Special

Our neighbors need us

Europe is missing the second freedom revolution at its periphery. This is why it needs more foreign policy capabilities, including of a military nature.

Ukraine reminds Europe of itself. At least she should. Here, for the second time, a nation is trying to throw off the yoke of autocracy. The reactionary near-abroad regards this revolution as the beginning of a geopolitical domino effect, to be suppressed out of fear of the ghost of liberalism that haunts its own country as well as its satellites. What is playing out on Maidan Square is a freedom revolution, boasting flags and barricades. For a while it looked a bit like 1989, but meanwhile, in the Ukrainian twilight, it looks more like 1848. Both metaphors should commit us Europeans – especially in Germany.

Even the slightest danger of renewed “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe undermines “privileged Russian interests” within their traditional sphere of influence. At the same time, it is Russia’s own boisterous great power politics that upsets the confidence of the very last of its allies, especially Belarus and Uzbekistan – not even Russia’s territorial gains can belie this new fragility. Yet foreign policy preferences can change, now that – since the fall of the Iron Curtain – they are being negotiated more and more by societies instead of by foreign policy elites. In Ukraine today, this development is literally standing in the crossfire.

Keeping the flame alive

But Europe looks on. The reactions to the Arab Spring were already marked by a lack of enthusiasm: Instead of implementing a large-scale “Marshall Plan for the Maghreb”, a multitude of under-dimensioned and under-coordinated projects and programs were created. This lack of strategic foresight by the European Union is now on display again in Eastern Europe. This is the result of a lack of resources and capabilities owned or controlled by the Union, of course, which are jealously guarded by the member states. But it is the result of lack of vision as well, with an exhausted narrative of the European project.

This demonstrates how corrosive the effects of the euro crisis were, a crisis which conceals a deeply rooted integration crisis. It has hit Europe at a particularly bad time. Paradoxically, while Europe becomes more post-heroic and the commitment to its own values wanes, those values flare up at the edges of Europe in regions that still think strongly in terms of realpolitik and geopolitics. Yet these younger revolutions are echoes of our own European history of freedom. European values, ultimately a result of the Enlightenment, are still on fire. But to keep this flame alive, Europe has to increase its support for those actors who profess a commitment to liberalism and democracy.

Upgrade the Weimar Triangle

In order to achieve this, the Union must not shy away from upgrading even the most classical instruments of power in its foreign and security policies. On the contrary, with such an understanding the rearmament of European foreign policy would serve a new European narrative: that European values do not fade away, but shine brightly and enjoy active protection – not only at Europe’s core, but also at its periphery. This would signify a rekindling of the European peace project.

With its central geographic and economic position, commitment to liberal democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, and deep roots in the West, Germany – that reluctant power – will have to play a key role in this context. Ultimately, the liberal legacy of the peaceful revolution that led to reunification obliges Germany to act as a mediator between East and West.

A first step to enhance this role would be to upgrade the Weimar Triangle militarily by further strengthening the institutionalized military cooperation with Poland and the Baltic states in the forms and dimensions of the Franco-German example. Germany, encircled by friends as it is in today’s Europe, has to be capable of defending the democratic accomplishments in the new member states – robustly if need be. This does not mean that Germany should go it alone, but the strategic challenge posed by a possible return to great power politics in Eastern Europe means that Germany will have to breathe new meaning and new life into its partnerships and alliances. Such national resources and capabilities, even if they have to be planned and used in a European framework, still play a decisive role in determining the effectiveness of the EU’s foreign and security policies.

It’s a wake-up-call

But the EU has to take responsibility for her fragile peripheries as well, fighting for and wrestling as they are with the ideals and values which even we ourselves regard as universal. The societies in our neighboring regions need a guarantee that they can choose their geopolitical affiliation freely and fairly. The countries of the Arab Spring were dominated by domestic struggles, something Europe, using the instruments of civil development cooperation, can influence only with great difficulty. Already during the Arab Spring, Europe failed to fulfill its responsibility to ensure the success of a freedom revolution in a region of strategic importance. In the Ukraine crisis, however, Europe now has to realize that its responsibility also includes a military dimension. For Europe is beholden to its neighboring regions. We should understand the freedom revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Ukraine, from Tahrir to Maidan, as a wake-up call – and seize the chance to regenerate the European project. Our neighbors need us.

Read more in this debate: Adam Lenton.

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