The Decay within the Alliance

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu claims a gentleman would keep a sword by his side even in the times of peace. Unfortunately, the gentlemen of the EU did the opposite. They have kept their sword elsewhere for far too long, and they failed to foresee the challenges they face today. Lack of preparedness inhibited them from dealing swiftly with Russian aggression in Ukraine at the initial stage. Worse, many European gentlemen have not yet realized the seriousness of the situation and continue to be focused only on their immediate problems.

An article recently published in Foreign Policy has raised concern on the waning enthusiasm for NATO among Europeans. Bruce Stokes, the director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center, shares in his article the poll conducted by his organization in June 2015. Over a half of participants from Germany, France, and Italy believes that their armed forces should not engage in a confrontation with Russia if there is a “serious military conflict.” German participants showed strong discomfort with NATO cooperating with Ukraine: 77 percent of German participants opposed sending arms to Ukraine and only 36 percent agreed that NATO should offer membership to Ukraine.

The lack of moral support for the alliance is not exclusive to average European. A number of European politicians have made questionable gestures that discredit the collective efforts to end Russian aggression in gestures. In July, a group of members of French National Assembly, mostly from the right-wing opposition Les Républicains, visited Crimea. Ironically, the party supports the European People’s Party, the least pro-Kremlin pan-European political party. There are concerns because the visit from members of a pro-EU party would help Kremlin to deter the accusation of collaborating with anti-EU European parties. Despite the fact that the French government has clearly stated that it would not recognize Crimea as Russian territory, the thoughtless act of these French MPs has allowed Russia to discount and challenge the French government’s stance on the Crimean issue. This non-official visit has become Kremlin’s “small victory” in foreign policy.

The French lawmakers’ action is followed by growing discontent among voters and businesses. An indicator of growing domestic discontent in France is the nationwide farmers’ protests. Since July, angry French farmers have been holding protests throughout the country. The farmers have demanded the French government’s action on low food prices, which have made domestically-produced agricultural goods uncompetitive. Food prices in France have been falling since Russia has imposed  sanctions on EU agricultural products to counterattack Western sanctions. In an interview with Russia Direct, Philippe Pegorier, the chairman of the Association of European Business (AEB) in Russia, also shared his discomfort with the sanctions. He stressed the businesses that do not have enough size and capital to localize their production in Russia have been suffering from the sanctions. He urges that the only way out of the crisis is to start negotiating terms with Russia.

The waning enthusiasm for the collective defense among the influential EU states poses a challenge when Russia has been holding a series of snap military exercises. A recent publication from the London-based think tank European Leadership Network (ELN) shows that Russia’s exercise is based on a scenario of confrontation with NATO. The authors suggest the “changed profile” of exercise, where both sides hold exercises based on a scenario of a full-scale confrontation, continues to polarize the relations between NATO and Russia. A NATO spokesperson denounced the report as “misleading” because NATO’s training was prompted by Russia’s endless acts of aggression against NATO members. Nevertheless, the spokesperson admitted that “the scale and scope” of Russia’s exercise has polarized its relations with NATO. Without a doubt, Russia’s action has been unproductive in restoring peace in Europe. And those who urge for a more “diplomatic approach” and wishing everything to return to normal without contributing to the collective defense of Europe must realize that Russia has relentlessly rejected peaceful gestures  with military provocations.

Reminding Russia that peaceful coexistence with NATO is possible by opening channels of communication with Moscow is essential to restoring peace in Europe. Nevertheless, NATO members must be aware that Europe is facing a dire security challenge. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg points out, NATO is in the process of “implementing the biggest reinforcement” of its collective defense since the Cold War. Being oblivious to the geopolitical situation is not the solution. NATO’s European members must take necessary efforts to prepare for the worst in the time of uncertainty.

About Elliot Cho

Elliot Cho is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council. He is currently an undergraduate student majoring in political studies at the University of Saskatchewan. His interest in history, politics, security and social issues in East Asia originates from his South Korean background. He has contributed a number of articles to U of S student newspaper, The Sheaf. His articles focus on informing his fellow students on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the complicacy of North Korea’s relations with its neighboring states. He has also contributed articles supporting Ukrainian causes to several newspapers published by Ukrainian-Canadian organizations including Ukrainian Canadian Student Union (SUSK). If you wish to contact Elliot, please send him an email at elc503@mail.usask.ca