Syria and a Failed Europe

The concept of a European “common market” began as a way to integrate a defeated Germany into the Anglo- dominated West without the friction of the 1920’s and 1930’s. In the decade after the end of WWII, Europe remained divided between a Russian-Soviet empire and the American-Anglo West. However, France still feared Germany. Hence the need for the deep economic ties that a “common market” entailed.
The Allied occupation of Germany could not last for long, given that the US war-time draft ended, and with it the number of its troops declined precipitously. So mechanisms were devised to enhance West Germany’s US-led integration. Germany had been divided by the two empires down the middle. The US had demanded Germany’s unconditional surrender, and its future direction was completely outside its control. But unlike East Germany, which essentially remained occupied, in the West the integration of the Federal Republic was accomplished through NATO (the Western military alliance) and the European Common Market. Within a few decades this latter institution expanded, and it is now called the EU (European Union).
The division of the European continent became known as the Cold War. The combination of a divided and occupied East Germany and an economically-integrated and NATO-dominated West Germany solved Europe’s “German problem”, but it certainly did not bring about peace. The era of the Cold War was precarious, to say the least. With the Soviet Army occupying half of Europe, the conventional balance was highly tilted against a pared-down West. The balance of power was created in a most unorthodox manner, through the terror of nuclear weapons. Commonly known as mutually assured destruction (MAD), the West literally threatened all-out nuclear war (mass genocide combined with mass suicide) if any NATO members were attacked by Soviet-led forces. The threat was chilling, and it worked. In fact it worked so well that, in order to keep pace with the US nuclear expansion (offensive and defensive), the Soviet Empire was slowly being fiscally bled dry by the Western build-up.
Finally, the financial crisis of the Soviet state became too much for the autarchic communist authorities to handle. By 1991, the Russian-dominated empire to the East vanished, and Germany once again was reunited. But the “German problem” did not go away. A whole Germany still needed to be anchored to some type of European security institution, or the pre-WWI and pre-WWII geopolitical structure (having failed twice) would be back in place. So the Western institutions of NATO and the EU remained, and with time they both expanded eastward. However, Europe still found itself divided along an east-west axis. Only this time the new line was much closer to Moscow than at any time since the 1940’s.
The expansion of both the EU and NATO have now proven themselves to be hollow. The “German problem” cannot be solved at the expense of Russian security. Although NATO declares itself to be a defensive military alliance, from a Russian perspective the current situation is unstable and in need of correction. Instead of promoting a “Europe, whole and free”, the current impasse over the Ukraine has proven the exact opposite. Europe is neither whole nor war-free. In fact, the present moment is fraught with danger. And without vast changes by European leaders, the ugly and tyrannical side of European nationalism could place everyone in jeopardy. Freedom from war can only be accomplished through the integration of Russia into a new security system for all the countries of Europe. In fact, a secure Russia can only mean a more European Russia. But without drastic changes to NATO or its complete elimination, the very opposite — an anti-Western Russia combining with other like-minded forces — will most likely be the outcome.
The situation in the Ukraine has exposed many of the flaws in the post-Cold War strategic arrangement. The economic integration of the continent has fallen into one large sinkhole called the international debt and demand crisis. The catastrophic events of the financial meltdown of 2008 are still with us as neither European austerity, Chinese Keynesian demand management, nor the US-Japanese monetary explosion have rectified the global economy. Parts of Europe have become basket cases, and that certainly would include the Ukraine. Although not a member of the EU, the Ukraine’s political problems stemmed from the overreach of the EU Brussels bureaucracy. For whatever purpose (it wouldn’t have made the demand crisis any easier), the EU attempted to bring the Ukraine into a partnership program whereby NATO might also have a played a role. This was not the first time this has happened, and Moscow smelled a rat, especially when it was placed right outside the Kremlin’s doorstep. Only a fool would put in jeopardy the Russian Black Sea fleet. But the fools belonged to the EU and Washington; they didn’t reside along the banks of the Moskva River.
But the recent events of the Ukraine are only the tip of a very large iceberg. NATO under US leadership had long ago abandoned the promise made to Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand eastward after the split-up of the Soviet Union. Slowly but surely, and in combination with the EU, the old countries of the Warsaw Pact were institutionalized into the western alliance structure and the EU economic framework. Russia could do little about the advancement, other than to draw a line in the sand over its near-abroad (Georgia, Transnistria, Belarus and Ukraine). But Moscow also decided not to cooperate with the West by making its life miserable in another part of the world, the Middle East.
From the events of 9-11-01 onward, the US had become consumed with its “War on Terrorism” and its dual occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Over a thirteen year period, the US had invested trillions of dollars and much precious blood in conducting two wars at one time. President Putin understood that the US involvement in the Middle East was a means of keeping the US bogged down and preoccupied. As the war efforts wore on, and the US public became more and more disillusioned, NATO’s free hand in Europe (even at Russia’s red lines) was less able to operate without this most-needed public backing. For Putin, the Middle East was a place of US distraction and perhaps an all-important insurance policy against potential NATO encroachment. The attempted NATO expansion into Georgia (2008) proved Putin right.
As the war in Iraq became increasingly unpopular with the US public, a third war in Georgia seemed completely out of the question. And it was. Russia’s occupation of two Georgian provinces was a statement to all of NATO: “We will not allow an expansion to our borders”. But in order to protect those borders, Moscow needed to have leverage. With Europe, especially Germany, it was energy and the near geographical immediacy of war. With the US, it was the Middle East and a policy that could keep Washington off-guard, if not preoccupied. Enter Syria and Iran. Washington needed Russia to maintain the sanctions regime against Tehran and to take a strong position on the Iranian nuclear issue. But although it was cooperative within the P5+1, Russia’s policy in the Middle East has been otherwise completely divergent from the US allies within the region. On the question of Iran’s quest for regional hegemony, Russia has been instrumental in its support for both Assad and Tehran. The Obama administration’s inability to forge a coherent Middle East policy has been the direct result of this Russian divergence.
But the longer the Syrian War lingered and morphed into an increasingly regional dimension, the worse it has become for both Russia and the US. The same is true on the Iran nuclear issue. Both Moscow and Washington, as well as Beijing, all have a vested interest in preventing either a nuclear Iran or an Israeli attack. If and when the talks should break down, the Syrian War will surely expand. I do not believe for one minute that the current Russian policy toward the Middle East (support for a hegemonic Iran) serves the long-term interest of anyone, including Iran. But to think an anachronistic and failed European military structure was the culprit for such an immoral Russian policy (to support Assad) borders on a kind of geopolitical madness.
President Putin has made his point. Now the Ukraine crisis should be rightfully negotiated through the “road map” set up by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. In this day and age, war on the Euro-Asian land mass could inevitably involve nuclear weapons. NATO expansion into the Ukraine or Georgia is an invitation to disaster. Europe needs to unify its military structure, because neither NATO nor the EU has shown that it can prevent war in this new second-Cold War era. Germany needs to understand this before it is too late. Only Germany can lead the way to solve the “German problem”. The European institutions of the 1950’s worked only because deterrence worked. But what kind of world was that? And is Europe now proceeding backwards?
Europe (Germany and France) need to bring the Russians into a unified, defensive European military structure as the next step in the 1975 Helsinki process. The OSCE Plus can and must become the future in order to, once and for all time, erase the Cold War east-west axis line. The EU is only as strong as the future of capitalism, and that is not necessarily very strong. In the final analysis, only total European military cooperation can lead the continent out of the hole it has dug for itself. The same is true for the UN Security Council. Without an inclusive European Russia, the Council will remain mired in the morass it now finds itself. However, with a functioning Security Council, hopefully the Syrian War can begin to be wound down.
Finally, before nuclear proliferation devours the unstable Persian Gulf, steps must be taken to implement a Zone of Peace in a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East. Only a G-3 anti-hegemonic world (the US, a whole Europe and China) can begin to solve this planet’s most pressing problems. Let us hope that a failed Europe can right its ship through a new military design and begin a new peaceful journey forward.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).