VLADIMIR PUTIN, by forcing a war on Ukraine, may or, may not succeed in his war aims but the Russian president has rejigged and reordered world politics and international relations. The most poignant impact of the invasion might be on the European Union (EU) – an ambitious union forged out of ideals the need and desire to prevent recrudescence of or banish war from the subcontinent, supersede nationalism and balance of power politics. All these aims were interrelated. By forging a super-state predicated on a normative consensus, it was believed that the EU- by the theoretical grid of functionalism, then ne-functionalism and later by a network effect- would ‘widen’ and ‘deepen’. While it was or is a different matter that Europe, as an entity, had inherent limits, the EU forged ahead, albeit on a ‘multi-speed basis ultimately reaching a union of 27 states.
That there was some recidivism – the backsliding of Hungary and to some extent, Poland- plus issues of a financial and economic nature, it did not detract from the overall momentum of the Union. The EU’s ‘creed’(if there was any) was a focus and emphasis on multilateralism, disavowal of force in international relation, a minimalism defence budget of its constituent states , premised , it would appear on non-offensive defence allied to a foreign policy that eluded consensus. In essence, it can be boldly stated that the EU was a free trade area at large (maddening regulations notwithstanding). While there may have been the notion of equality of all states comprising the Union ( a convenient fiction), the prosaic reality was and is that at the heart of the EU lay core Europe- France and Germany, nations whose perennial rivalry in the history of Europe was a bane for the region.( It may be that to tie the two great nations together into a crosscutting grid and framework was the real agenda of the architects of the EU).
Semantically, the EU was the real and actual United Nations of the world, where states or nation states voluntarily abdicated or pooled their sovereignty toward a common purpose- as opposed to the real UN where nation states, notionally paid lip service to the organization but actually was a venue for power plays and power politics thereof. As the EU ‘widened’ and ‘deepened’, structural issues emerged but the entity’s real test in terms of foreign policy and clout in the rough and tumble of international relations was the second Gulf War where it was left helpless and even clueless. The postmodern experiment in international relations was left brutally exposed. Within, economically, the EU developed a ‘fortress Europe’ mentality- a paradigm to protect its social bargain but one that left immigrants to the entity generally as wards of the constituent states , neither functionally nor emotionally integrated. But, the EU meandered on.
Fast forward to the third decade of the 21st century. Vladimir Putin, or more accurately Putinism- a kind of a quasi -esoteric movement that seeks to reclaim and reconstitute Russia’s past glory , has forced a reckoning on the EU. The questions that the entity faces are: can it , on its own stand up to Putin’s Russia? Should it be part of a Western conglomerate that includes the US and which stands up to Putin? What would the former and the latter entail? Either way, if it is a confrontational dynamic, how to decouple from the gas markets? But more importantly, if again it is to be an escalatory and confrontational dynamic, should the EU be the junior partner of the US or strike on its own with a loose coupling with the US? Against the potential of a shadow alliance between China and Russia, what trade orientation should the EU adopt vis a vis China?
These are among the obvious issues, challenges and questions that the EU faces. No easy solutions present themselves. But whatever course of action the EU will or will have to adopt, will alter not only the complexion but the very nature of the European Union.
Consider a factual. Germany and its ‘rainbow coalition’ post the Ukrainian invasion has increased its defence spending and made a decision to arm Ukrainians in their struggle against Russia. Obviously, this wont be taken kindly by Russia and there is, as per game theory and the prisoner’s dilemma, going to be an escalatory spiral. The percentages that Germany has devoted to its defence spending by a logic and momentum of their own will only go up. Germany might find itself in a position where there might not be any cap on its defence spending. And , taking recourse to speculation, if its exports to China dry up and supply chains get scuttled, its major recourse to prop up employment and substitute for these losses in the national income would be to reorient some of its industry to armaments production. In a classic replay of the security dilemma, Germany may, at some point in time, forego dependence on extended nuclear dependence and opt to go nuclear. Admittedly, these are scenarios but if these come to pass, they will undercut and undermine the very nature of project EU.
The region will once again become militarized, out of necessity and maybe even split. But to prevent the EU from being a militarized zone and splitting, some degree of militarization of the region might have to be countenanced. This is the paradox that Vladimir Putin has forced on the EU. How it all pans out will or might be one of the most interesting aspects and features of 21st century world politics.
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