The changing security scenario in Europe
The war between Russia and Ukraine has changed several paradigms in Europe, with the most important being the security architecture of the continent, with a possible return to the Cold War era. After the terrible experience that we are going through at present in Ukraine, a new balance will probably emerge in Eastern Europe.
The British theorist of geopolitics, Halford Mackinder, used to say that whoever rules East Europe commands the heartland — meaning the present Russian Federation. His theory is still being tested. Many parameters of geopolitics may have changed since 1904, when he published his article “The Geographical Pivot of History,” but geography continues to be regarded as destiny in international relations. The dominance of Eastern Europe is still a bone of contention between Russia on the one hand and US, NATO and the EU on the other.
The atmosphere of moderation that prevailed after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union has been short-lived and has been transformed into growing mutual mistrust.
The most likely scenario for the security architecture of Europe in the foreseeable future is that Russia will insist on preventing Ukraine from joining NATO. There may be tough bargaining for keeping Ukraine out of the EU as well. To what extent a sovereign country can be banned from becoming a member of an international organization — or a political gathering — is a valid question, but there is no easy answer to it. Ukraine would thus become a state with restricted sovereignty. In the longer term, Ukraine’s status would depend on the outcome of Russia-EU bargaining.
The US, on behalf of NATO, has refrained from all sorts of direct military confrontation with Russia. It also refrained from declaring a no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace, while it did so easily in Iraq to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s attacks. Washington may have feared that such an attempt could lead to a nuclear confrontation. The US may be using this crisis to weaken Russia in a protracted war at the expense of Ukraine’s security. It approved sending Polish fighter jets to Ukraine, without considering the risks that it involves.
The new security structure of Europe is likely to be debated in NATO forums. Germany has already taken a bold step by increasing its military budget to 2 percent of its economic output, a step encouraged by the US and rejected by successive German governments for decades.
The US has allocated $13.6 billion for Ukraine in this year’s budget. Other big European economies may do the same in the future, but the destruction of the physical infrastructure of Ukraine will go far beyond these figures.
After successive debacles suffered by the US on various fronts such as in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, European members of NATO may open a debate on the merits of the US leadership. The emergence of China in the international power balance may further complicate this debate.
Another important component of the military confrontation is the increasing role of mercenaries in modern warfare. Mercenaries have been used since ancient times, but there has been a recent tendency to leave the bulk of the job to them. The US made massive use of Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq. Russian Wagner mercenaries helped Khalifa Haftar in Libya and they are now involved in Ukraine. Turkey has followed suit by establishing its own corps of mercenaries called International Defense Consultancy company — SADAT.
A Turkish newspaper last week reported that a label found on the body of a dead soldier — probably a mercenary — killed in Ukraine reads in English, French and Arabic: “Please help and contact us.” There was a telephone number with a Syrian international dial code and an email address. I called the telephone number. The answering machine said that the number was out of use.
Germany, which dragged Europe into two world wars, may now become an important actor in the defense of Europe.
Ukrainians are doing their best to defend their country, but it seems that an important part of the war will be fought by foreign mercenaries of all kinds. Ukrainian authorities have invited mercenaries from all over the world. This is natural for a country squeezed between a rock and a hard place. However, once the crisis is over, the presence of mercenaries in Ukraine may lead to insurmountable difficulties.
It is not realistic to expect that President Vladimir Putin will lead the Russian society toward a more liberal democracy. Therefore, East-West relations will probably be shaped according to whether post-Putin Russia will evolve toward a more liberal society or the deep-rooted imperialistic impulses of the Russian state tradition.
When I was at the NATO Defense College more than half-a-century ago, one of the lecturers used to tell us that NATO was created to protect Europe by “keeping the US in, Russia out and Germany down.” Germany, which dragged Europe into two world wars, may now become an important actor in the defense of Europe.
- Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar