I will start with some of the theses that I presented at the Rhodes Conference and then I’m going to address several aspects of the current transformation in the EU security and defense policy.
The foreign policies of both Russia and Germany are undergoing a transformation. Both countries are aspiring to be global playes – Germany as a leading country of the EU, which makes European integration a top priority for Berlin, – and Russia as the leader of the Eurasian Union. However, the Eurasian Union is far from being a political union, thus Russia does not rely on its partners as explicitly as Germany does, at least in politics and defense.
These processes are not new and they date back to at least the first decade of the millennium, which saw Russia's return to international politics and Germany's return to ‘normality’. Even before the Ukrainian crisis, which was a result of competition between two integration projects – the European and Eurasian ones, – these transformations complicated Russian-German relations, almost undermining them.
I believe that the definition of a ‘reluctant hegemon’ cannot be applied to today’s Germany anymore. Actually, Germany has never been an EU hegemon, the country is the Union’s leader committed to the conception of ‘leadership from the center’. It means that Germany plays a coordinating role among the EU members rather than rules over them.
Moreover, Germany is not ‘reluctant’ anymore. Since 2014, Germany has acted within a new foreign policy framework and new framework for security and defense policy was introduced this year. Both conceptions suggest an active, responsible, and global foreign policy. Both conceptions are also completely compatible with the EU’s common foreign and security policy, within which Germany claims leadership.
Today, lengthy discussions on integration and strengthening the common European foreign – and especially security and defense – policies are transforming into real actions. This process is developing very rapidly and, I suppose, in the near future we will witness the establishment of a European Defense Union. Probably, in several years, an EU Army or its prototype will be created. The current EU security and defense integration has several strong drivers and fewer obstacles than it did before. These drivers account for the rapid and continuous development of integration processes. I will examine four main factors in this context.
The first factor is the transatlantic one. As early as the last decade, it was clear that the US does not have enough resources to control the political and security situation across the world and preserve the current model of globalization. In 2009, the American administration proposed that the burdens of security, defense, and international politics be shared between the US and the EU. The conception of ‘burden sharing’ – the reverse side of the ‘leadership sharing’ conception – has been one of the main elements of transatlantic relations during Obama's presidency. This triggered the processes that we have been observing recently. Germany's new frameworks for foreign policy and defense, the European council decisions of December 2013, which outlined the defense union, the EU’s global strategy, and so on – all this can be interpreted as a response to the US ‘burden sharing’ proposal.
The incoming US administration will definitely not abandon the plan to delegate the responsibility for security in Europe and the neighboring regions to Europeans. Moreover, the US presence in Europe may diminish more rapidly in the next four years. Thus, integration and strengthening the common European defense policy will become a pressing need and this need will become increasingly evident for the vacillating member countries.
The second factor is changes in the international environment. Globally, it means the rise of new global players and redistribution of power. However, of greatest significance for the EU are the transformations in its immediate neighborhood. This concerns political and security destabilization, firstly, in the EU’s southern and, secondly, eastern neighborhood.
These transformations are not merely a potential danger to the EU – they already have a visible negative effect within the EU's borders, namely, the migration crisis and terrorist attacks. The changing political and security situation will demand a substantial response from the EU and, probably, not only a civilian one. Actually, we are already witnessing such a response in the Mediterranean, Syria, and Iraq, although its efficiency is a separate question.
The third factor is Brexit. Here, the situation is rather clear. Opposition from the US and Great Britain was one of the main obstacles to the EU's defense integration. As I mentioned above, the US changed its position in 2009 and Brexit eliminates the British opposition. It is of interest that the results of both British referendum and US election were perceived in the EU and especially in Germany as not only an unpleasant surprise but also a ‘window of opportunity’ to accelerate the reform of common security and defense policy.
The last but not least factor is Russia. In effect, it can be classed as a factor of transformations in the international environment but I would like to consider it separately. Since 2014, Russia has not been a principle partner of either the EU or Germany. The new German framework for foreign and defense policy and the EU Global Strategy perceive Russia as a challenge to both the global and the European order. Moreover, some of the eastern EU member states consider Russia a direct military threat.
The idea of such a challenge or threat is very convincing for the EU countries, particularly amid the diminishing US presence in Europe. Germany’s minister of finance Wolfgang Schäuble, when speaking in September 2014 about the power of conviction in the context of the EU's foreign policy and defense integration, said that, in three years, Vladimir Putin could be probably awarded the Charlemagne Prize for his contribution to European unity.
I cannot but agree with the thesis put forward by Herfried Münkler, who stated that Germany had resisted the temptation to escalate the external challenge in order to accelerate the internal integration of the EU. However, I’m not sure that the German and European politicians have resisted or will resist the temptation to take advantage of these challenge, since it can be very useful in convincing, for instance, the eastern EU members to support a Defense Union and other future projects of the European defense integration.
The development of the EU as a security and defense actor will considerably change and complicate both the security situation in Europe and the EU-Russia and Germany-Russia relations.
In effect, defense integration is a logical stage of European integration. However, we must understand that, in the current circumstances, Russia will perceive it as a challenge. There are many questions about a prospective Defense Union. One of them is whether its multinational forces will take part in the deterrence policy on the ‘eastern flank’. Such ideas have been discussed in the European parliament in recent weeks and months. Will the security dialog between the EU and Russia be established and is the EU prepared for such a dialog in light of the eastern member’s positions? What will cooperation in security and defense between the EU and the neighboring countries look like in the future?
I suppose that the last question is especially important, because the problem of ‘common neighborhood’ has been a stumbling block to the EU-Russia relations for a decade and the problem is still unresolved.
Integration competition in the ‘common neighborhood’ led to the Ukraine crisis. The situation in this region remains very unstable, which is fraught with new crises. Although the competition between the EU and Russia has focused mostly on the economy and norms, in the future it can assume a military character and make the situation more dangerous.
Thus, there is a pressing need for an EU-Russia dialog on security and defense matters, as well as for a complex solution to the common neighborhood problem, which would put an end to the geopolitical competition between the EU and Russia in the region. However, such a dialog requires the eastern EU members – especially Poland and the Baltic states – to revise their position and relations with Russia. This objectives seem to be difficult to accomplish. Nevertheless, they are crucial for the future of the EU-Russia relations and for the future of Europe in general.
A lot will depend on Germany and its future relations with Russia. If the American presence in Europe diminishes, Germany will have to step out of the US shadow and its EU leadership will assume a new role. However, this will require Germany to take on more responsibility, including that for the security of other EU countries, which will pose a difficult security dilemma. It’s hard to predict how Berlin will solve this dilemma, but I’m strongly convinced, that the worse scenario is Cold War-like relations between two security actors coexisting on one continent.