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War returns

, by Lucio Levi

Does history repeat itself? Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Libya, and the Ukraine: “war returns”. This was the title of a prophetic article published by Carlo Rosselli in 1933 just after Hitler’s rise to power.

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In the first half of the last century, the dusk of the British maritime hegemony across the globe and the end of the European balance of power produced the great depression of 1929, fascism and world wars. Today, the decline of the US leading power in the world paves the way to the concentration of power in the hands of big financial groups which have subdued the real economy to their interests, while the economy has prevailed over politics. The retreat of politics has created a power vacuum that produced the financial and economic crisis – showing the emptiness of the notion of self-regulated markets –, the decline of democracy, weakened by the national size of its institutions, the flowing back of the “Arab Spring” tide, and ultimately the return of war. The latter manifests itself mainly in the form of civil war. This is the most significant difference in comparison with the World Wars age.

The changing nature of war is a consequence of ungoverned globalization, which weakens State authority, namely its capacity to resolve conflicts, regulate the markets, as well as to fight both international terrorism and organized crime. The military interventions that overthrew the dictatorships of Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi, and the destructive civil war in Syria have generated “failed states”, defective in terms of cohesion and legitimacy as a result of tribal fragmentation, which does not recognize the central government authority. Their frailty provides favorable grounds for illegal activities of criminal groups and terrorist cells, both menacing the existing international order. The failed establishment of the Palestinian State, once put in relation to the tensions between Hamas and Fatah, and to the creeping war with Israel presents characteristics similar to the abovementioned cases. Finally, the ISIS advance, the Caliphate-aspiring union of all Muslim believers – while implementing massacres with unprecedented ferocity – represents a gruesome factor of regional destabilization. The barbaric and obscurantist nature of Islamic fundamentalism is not only the expression of the internal struggle of Qur’an followers divided into different ethnic and religious groups, but also the poisoned fruit of the wrong policies of the West, which chose the shortcut of the resort to military force that created a climate of hatred among Middle Eastern and African populations. It is a reactionary movement opposing the processes of economic development, social modernization and secularization that have fostered the Arab Spring.

To all this, we must add that, on the eastern borders of the EU, the Ukrainian crisis represents an equally serious risk: a clash between East and West resurrecting Cold War spectres. This case also involves the heavy responsibilities of both Europe and the US. The Ukrainian-EU association agreement and Kiev’s request for NATO membership are all aspects of aggressive policies that arouse Russian nationalism and militarism.

In comparison to previous cycles of world politics, in which one single great power (Britain first and then the US) ensured the world order, today we are facing a process of power distribution among a plurality of global actors. The only alternative to worldwide chaos is a multipolar international order without hegemonies, capable of finding agreed solutions to local crises within the UN between the protagonists of world politics. The balance of power between the states discourages the use of violence, favors international cooperation and promotes the respect of common rules. This is the condition for an international order based on the rule of law and the constitutionalization of international relations.

The main political problem of our time is to strengthen international organizations through the advancement of the principles of the rule of law and democracy, in the arenas where the fate of the peoples is decided. Since the EU is the greatest experiment in constitutional democracy beyond the nationstate, it can represent the decisive factor leading to the construction of a new world order. The Lisbon Treaty sets out that unanimity is the norm for decision-making in foreign and security policy. However, a decision for establishing a “permanent structured co-operation” to develop EU common-defense capacities would not require a minimum number of participating member states and could be taken with a qualified majority. In 2003, France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, after the US attack on Iraq, had begun to move forward in that direction, but were immediately stopped. At present, the increasing disorder at EU borders demands with the utmost urgency that Europe resumes that project. The here and now priority is a military intervention to stop the ISIS advance. This must not be a Western crusade, but rather an intervention guided by a wide coalition of Islamic states, Iran included, alongside the West. Nonetheless, in order to prevent past errors, a plan aiming at stabilizing the region should involve a stronger Europe, able to play the role of global actor. This is the condition which would enable the EU to convene a peace conference for Africa and the Middle East, open to all the States of the region as well as the US and Russia. It is an initiative that would allow to abandon the imperialist and colonialist tradition of the past, promoting the pacification and democratization of this area.

It is unthinkable that North African and Middle Eastern countries can join the EU, as Central and Eastern European countries did, since they belong to another region, where an autonomous integration process can develop. Nonetheless, Europe can play a prominent role in the construction of peace in the Mediterranean, starting with the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a task that cannot be performed by the United States. Also, pan-Arabism could be revived, fostering solidarity among peoples who are seeking freedom and wish to strengthen it with common institutions, a goal which can be pursued by a federalizing process within the Arab League, including in the future Israel as well.

In addition, the EU could promote a development plan for the whole region. Who the promoters of such a plan are is not irrelevant. If the development initiative for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries originates in the EU, it would give an impulse to the democratization of these countries. If, instead, aid came from China or Saudi Arabia, no such added value could be provided. (It is noteworthy that Spinelli suggested a similar plan in 1978, on the eve of the first European election). In this perspective, oil revenues could be transferred from the speculative financial markets to investments in infrastructure modernization and in eco-friendly solar energy production in the Sahara desert.

We have to recognize Russia’s role in the reconstruction of the international order in the Middle East. It prevented a disastrous US military intervention in Syria and favored the dismantlement of Syria’s chemical arsenal. Hadn’t Putin dissuaded Obama from attacking Syria, by now a head-cutter would have installed himself in Damascus. The West should recognize the right of Russia to create a Euro-Asian economic union that includes the Ukraine (an objective compatible with its association with Europe). Simultaneously, the West should promote dialogue and negotiations with Russia within inter-regional organizations (e.g. OSCE and the Council of Europe), develop economic co-operation between the EU and the Euro-Asian union – chiefly gas and oil supply from Russia and advanced technologies from Europe –, and lastly support Putin’s demand to transform the Ukraine into a federal state.

The crises that have occurred around the EU claim once again Europe’s active role in shaping and consolidating the global order into a poly-centric world. If Europe makes progress towards its federal unification, the peace among the peoples of the continent will become irreversible. The new political actor will change the state of things in international relations. It will encourage the participation of the other regions (mainly those belonging to the developing South) in world governance, and will transform the UN Security Council into the Council of the great regions of the world.

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Article originally published in The Federalist Debate: http://www.federalist-debate.org/index.php/editorial/item/923-war-returns

Your comments

  • On 5 February 2015 at 13:28, by Ludger Wortmann Replying to: War returns

    Dear Mr Levi, thank you very much for this visionary plan for a role that a united Europe could play. I mostly agree with you, but I have to utter a little criticism. 1) The military intervention in Libya has not created a failed state. It was undertaken because the state had failed. Whether this was the appropriate measure is a difficult question, but it was not the cause for the meltdown of Libya. 2) You claimed that the planned association agreement between Ukraine and the EU as well as Ukraine’s request to join the NATO were “aggressive acts”. How was it aggressive towards Russia to find a trade agreement with Ukraine? What is the problem with trade agreements? The creation of Mercosur did not threaten the United States, the customs union of Russia and Belarus is no aggressive act towards Poland. It is just trade, and if the conflict can be solved, we can also have a trade agreement with Russia. As for Ukraine’s request to join the NATO: The NATO is a defense alliance and Ukraine has every right to request membership. That cannot be an aggressive act by NATO because it is no act by NATO at all, it is a Ukrainian idea. Moreover, the NATO expansion in itself was no aggressive act, either. NATO membership was even offered to and declined by Russia. The fact that Estonia, Poland etc. were afraid of Russia does not give Russia the right to invade a part of Ukraine. Or did Poland invade Belarus after it started to cooperate militarily with Russia? No. 3) Of course, Russia has the right to create a Eurasian Economic Union and to invite Ukraine for membership. If Ukraine declines this offer, Russia has to accept it. Ukraine cannot be part both of an association agreement with the EU and Russia’s customs union. The association agreement includes free trade, which is not possible if Ukraine is at the same time member of a trading bloc that has no free trade with the EU. Now I have written a little more than I thought at the beginning, but some points require a bit more detail. Anyway, thank you for your great article! Best regards, Ludger Wortmann

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