Increasing European-Russian convergence
Despite the Cold War, Russia and Europe traded commodities entirely reliably and since abandonment of Russia’s command economy with its dogmas a broad movement for closer economic links has developed. More importantly, Russia’s culture is European in depth so it has also been possible for imaginative Europeans to think in terms of other areas of convergance.
It was therefore a welcome surprise to read of the Deauville summit this week at which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a meeting of minds on, in the Russian view, building “a common vision of Europe”. Apparently, Medvedev sees Russia as part of Europe, which is an excellent sign.
There is a great deal to gain on both sides, in both economic and political terms. Moscow hopes to create a Russia-EU committee on foreign policy and security, according to Russian news reports, and to build security cooperation in the “Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia region”. French diplomats have floated the idea of a new zone of economic and security cooperation comprising the EU and Russia, while German officials say they are open to the idea of Russian participation in the EU’s political and security committee, which is responsible for setting the bloc’s foreign policy. (See “At Deauville, Europe embraces Russia”,New York Times.)
An important suggestion is the possibility of Russia scrapping its visa requirements for European Union visitors. This would have an enormously positive effect in marketing Russia as part of Europe to the EU public, which has an older generation impressed with memories of the Cold War and younger people who, certainly in Britain, have recently been subjected to a barrage of pro-American propaganda about Russian aggression following the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia. Russia is a treasure trove of interest to tourists and of possibilities for business. Making the country more accessible and a good personal experience to visitors will pay enormous dividends on both sides.
In summary, Russia wants a security treaty with the EU in parallel with NATO and assistance with modernizing; France and Germany also want security assurances as well as secure energy supplies and would welcome the opportunity for their highly-skilled companies to work in Russia. In principle there appear to be no problems and it appears to be this that was being explored at Deauville.
France and Germany in the lead
America, which controls NATO, has pushed for the EU and NATO to extend to Russia’s borders in its own interests, as it mistakenly perceives them. Worse, at the same time as pressing for EU and NATO admission for Georgia, the US initiated a war between Georgia and Russia. The UK’s Brown government and the UK media were unanimous, with the US, in loud condemnation of Russian aggression. Those event were thoroughly investigated by the EU. The US role and the UK’s partisanship will have been seen very negatively by the core EU countries and Russia.
The United States made another very serious mistake, however. Recently, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway asked the US to remove its nuclear weapons from Europe. The US refused. An unidentified bureaucrat said that this was a NATO decision and individual countries should not become involved in such matters. This was really a test of US attitudes following the Georgian debacle and will also have been seen very negatively in Europe.
Europe has become disenchanted with the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were hawked around Europe by Anthony Blair on the basis of lies and a specious argument that NATO needed to become involved in theatres outside Europe in order to preserve the alliance. The US views its seizure of Middle East oil reserves as entirely legitimate given its military force, its economic interests and its desire to contain various countries that from time to time it decides it dislikes. The European and UK publics have never been in favour of participation in these wars which have served to undermine confidence in their own governments and leaders. Most European leaders now realize that they must exit these wars as quickly and with what grace they can.
Why only France and Germany with Russia at Deauville? Some countries are upset at this. Obviously these are the biggest EU countries with the strongest economies and armed forces. A factor just as important however is the history of these countries. France and Germany were the initiators of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) with the objective to make war between them impossible by economic integration. That small beginning became the European Union. Russia suffered terribly in World War II and has had the unhappy experience of invasion from both France and Germany. These three countries have a visceral aversion to warfare that Britain and the United States, because of their own histories of successful aggression, do not feel. Britain and the US do not, therefore, understand the core motivations of Europe and Russia.
This is not to say that other EU countries do not have an aversion to warfare but they interpret it differently. Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are in accord with France and Germany and joined in the original ECSC. Members of the European Union who joined later have viewed the EU merely in terms of economic advantage, if not financial handouts, and never understood its fundamental purpose. As EU members Poland and the Czech Republic have been playing America off against Russia and the EU itself in accepting US missile bases.
Iran, Turkey and Shanghai Cooperation Organization
The three at Deauville discussed Iran and have “left the door open” for a negotiated settlement on its nuclear enrichment programme. This gives a hint of future developments. Turkey is also sympathetic to Iran’s entitlement to enrich uranium and China has made oil deals with Iran. Let us bear in mind the existence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that is concerned broadly with security and economic cooperation, including the possibility of creating a common reserve currency. Indeed, according to the Financial Times a number of the world’s biggest banks, including HSBC, StanChard, CityGroup and JP Morgan, are promoting the Chinese renminbi for trade.
The SCO group includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. At the 2010 meeting in Yekaterinburg, India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia attended as observers. The request from the US to attend as an observer was refused; it is not, after all, part of Eurasia. Essentially, the European Union has an opportunity to join this continent-spanning group from the advantageous economic position of having Russia, the European member, on its borders with Russia taking primary responsibility for security problems that might arise when dealing with the others. Fundamentally, because of its geographical position, Russia is seeking not dominance as the American narrative would have it, but security and stability. The EU offers the best initial possibilities here. It is an opportunity that the EU should seize.
We are seeing not only a deepening relationship between the EU and Russia but the commencement of Eurasian cooperation across the whole continent. The push factor is that the United States has become a source of global problems. Unhappily, because of its own publicly-stated objectives of full-spectrum military and financial world dominance, the US sees enemies and countries to “contain” or for interventions everywhere. Its mistaken actions are contributing to serious instabilities. The pull factor is the need for law and stability at a time when patterns of trade and resource availability are changing.
Britain out in the cold
It is unfortunate that Britain has attached itself strongly to the US both economically and militarily. Britain’s enthusiasm for the European Union project is so weak that it would not have occurred to the Deauville three to invite its participation in these talks about wider integration.
Britain’s neglect of Europe and Russia is to its economic and strategic disadvantage. There is little doubt that it is now merely a satrapy of the United States. Its allegedly independent strategic nuclear deterrent, the Trident submarine system, now has the systems for arming, fusing and firing its warheads designed and manufactured by the United States. There have been problems in obtaining proper information about these, clearly because the US controls the use of these weapons. Effectively, therefore, Britain has no independent strategic defence at all; Trident is merely an arm of the US military and might as well be scrapped.
As a result of Britain’s attachment to the United States and its own incompetence, the British Ministry of Defence has a cumulative budget overspend of GBP 35 billion. One result is that commitments have been given for the construction of two aircraft carriers for which there will be no aircraft. The government also suffers from a massive, unsustainable deficit in other areas of government spending.
The United States attempts to tie other countries to it economically and militarily – witness arms sales to Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and other gulf states. These are to support the US arms industry and can only contribute to further instability in the Middle East. Britain, whose aircraft industry has all but disappeared, will cut its order of the Lockheed Martin F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. It would do well to cancel the order for this long-delayed, troubled aircraft whose price continues to increase far beyond initial estimates in accordance with the traditions of US arms suppliers.
In place of the F35 JSF, Britain should evaluate the Russian Sukhoi-designed PAK-FA fighter that would be much cheaper and is a superior aircraft. It appears that a carrier-based version will be built, which would be useful on those two new plane-less aircraft carriers. Australian Air Power’s evaluation considers that “The PAK-FA renders all legacy US fighter aircraft, and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, strategically irrelevant and non-viable after the PAK-FA achieves IOC (initial operational capacity – i.e. service entry) in 2015” (this website can be difficult to open but it is worthwhile persisting as this is an excellent professional evaluation of the PAK-FA). It says that the only viable option is for the US to terminate the JSF programme immediately and further develop the F-22 raptor (which has subsequently been cancelled by the US). India is building 250 of these air-superiority aircraft in collaboration with the Russians. Britain would do well to explore means of also obtaining it in gaining the best fighter in the world at a better price than the JSF.
It is an unhappy fact that Britain’s supposed “special relationship” to the United States has been a disaster. Anglo-American economics has drained Britain of cash in America’s favour while simultaneously destroying America’s own economy. Participation in and the marketing of America’s wars has destroyed Britain’s international credibility as well as parasitising its armed services. The trend is obvious. Britain has no option but to undertake a complete review, not merely of its spending plans but its place in the world and future for the 21st century. Let us hear no more grandiose plans for “projecting power globally”. Those days were over many years ago. It is time for Britain to take a rational and mature view of its position. If it continues to entertain fantasies of world power in concert with the Americans, its present downward trends will continue.
The future for Europe lies in further integration with Russia in course of planning Eurasian cooperation. Europe is inescapably an integral part of Eurasia and Britain needs to decide whether it wishes to continue on its present path of failure or join Europe in its positive and exciting rapprochement with Russia. The UK media has it that Euro-Russian accord became possible following the US’s initiative in undertaking a new START nuclear treaty with Russia. That is not correct. Europeans are not children; they have understood the US’s recent provocations of Russia and their purpose. The United States is now aware that Europe will move toward Russia despite its provocations and wishes. The new START treaty is the US’s attempt to avoid being left out and to gain advantage. Unhappily, the United States is merely being opportunistic and doubtless everyone is aware of this.
I would urge the Cameron-Clegg government to take the one decisive action that will assert Britain’s independence, impress Europe and the Russians and commit the country to an independent, realistic place in the world: leave Afghanistan militarily immediately and instead support purely humanitarian work there. It is now well known that the British army was run out of Basra. If that was because it would not take murderous action such as the the US inflicted on Falluja, there is no shame in it, but however it is viewed, British participation in the Iraq war has done it no credit. The same is true in Afghanistan. For all the deaths on both sides no good has come, nor can come of it.
There will be no ethical credit accrued nor lessons learned from staying in Afghanistan another four years or until the Americans give permission for British troops to leave. The opportunity is to leave now and put down a marker for Britain’s own character and self-reliant development.