Reform #6: Foreign affairs (vol. 1) – Comprehending our era
Supposing that most member states of the current European Union have found a way forward to a political union on the right ideological basis as described previously (see Enlightened Europism), the last act of reformation remaining is to redefine Europe’s role in the world. The Republic of the United Europe (or RUE) must realise the direct as well as the indirect challenges that threatens Europeans and non-Europeans alike, and rise to the task of shaping a new scheme of international co-operation; leading by example as the beacon of reason in the world. Once the global challenges are comprehended and conclusions are drawn, the RUE needs to establish itself as a real global power in order to preserve and pro-actively promote its enlightened ideas.
As every period in history had its own unique challenges, our era has also plenty of difficult tasks waiting to be solved. In order to tackle them successfully, the leaders of the united Europe must understand the times we live in. Different eras, such as the Imperial Era (dominated by the colonial empires of Britain and France), the Versailles Era (defined by the consequences of the highly controversial Versailles Treaty), the Cold War Era (termed by the global rivalry of the Soviet Union and the US), and the Western Era (ruled by the Anglo-Saxon Five Eyes and West Europe), preceded our era, which I call the Crisis Era.
Characterised by numerous global crises, our era has seen a financial crisis, an economic crisis, an immigration crisis, and a health care crisis; not to mention the underlying ideological and social crises ticking towards explosion – all of them are still ongoing in Europe. Perhaps, the most vicious of all crises is the global climate crisis, which threatens not only human well-being and prosperity, but the very survival of our natural habitat (including mankind). Scientists forecast a massive extinction of plant and animal species – collapsing ecosystems –, which is going to hit the human population directly and severely. Uncontrollable global economic recession, mass migration, amplifying and escalating geopolitical conflicts, and new diseases are all the future’s certainties, unless the nations and civilisations of our world commit to an unprecedented and legitimate co-operation.
Regrettably, some powerful figures of national leadership and private entrepreneurs are either ignorant or uninterested, sacrificing the long-term wellness of humanity for temporary political and financial gains. It is shameful and infuriating to remember the enormous funds raised by wealthy individuals in a matter of days for the reconstruction of Paris’s Notre-Dame, whilst the demolition and desolation of the Amazon Rainforest, New South Wales, and Siberia attracted far less attraction from the rich in comparison. The Paris Accords and the European Green Deal are far less ambitious than what would be necessary and actually doable to prevent irreversible destruction. Science and technology could already bring a radical change in our means of production, but the lack of political will blocks scientists to invent the best methods of utilising the Earth’s resources, and re-engineering our industrial production, creating and maintaining a comfortable and safe life for all.
Major theatres of international conflicts
Another crisis potentially unfolding before our eyes is the overheating of international affairs, which – in worst case – could result in a Third World War. Even though many symptoms are already visible, climate crisis is rather considered to be a long-term threat, whereas the outbreak of a large scale war in a world that is more populated and spends more on armament than ever before in history is very much a risk on short-term. The two theatres of extreme tension are the South China Sea and the Middle East, where various regional actors backed by global superpowers are challenging each other in a competition for more resources, security, and political influence.
The origin of the South China Sea conflict is to be found in China’s transformation into a global superpower, which wants to break out of a potential encirclement of hostile powers (e.g. South Korea, Japan, and India backed by the US) and expand its influence in Asia Pacific. China has border disputes (both on land and sea) with almost all of its neighbours, which Beijing would like to settle in its favour. The range of claims is scaling from serious to less serious (e.g. Bhutan, Nepal) or even to informal (e.g. Laos, North Korea). The main disputes are involving India, the Japanese islands of Okinawa and Senkaku, Myanmar, Russia (Vladivostok), and Tajikistan. Beijing considers the entirety of Mongolia and Taiwan to be his. However, the strongest claim of Beijing (and other actors in the region) is related to the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is the hotspot of disputes and potentially escalating conflicts in Asia Pacific. The reason of contest is not only the rich hydrocarbon resources and fishing grounds beneath, but also the fact that third of the world’s maritime trade is passing through this area. It does not strike as a surprise that Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam all have claims against each other. The grandest claim is China’s, which demands control over the entire South China Sea based on China’s Nine-dash line. That is the reason why China is building artificial islands (areas of Paracel, Scarborough, Spratly), which act as aircraft carriers and thus have military use and purposes in the region. Despite opposition from the US, China is slowly achieving its goals. As 40% of China’s trade and most of its imports pass through the South China Sea, the giant of Asia is going to remain determined to push through its claims – one way or another.
Other sources of conflict are the dispute regarding Taiwan’s status and the unpredictability of the Korean Peninsula, where Beijing and Washington could directly back a large-scale armed conflict to preserve their interests in the region.
In the other theatre, the permanent battles for seizing control over oil production, the inextricable web of religious, ethnic, and historical conflicts, and the competition of various global and regional powers are creating a very insecure atmosphere. The face of the Middle East is formed by the relationship between the Arab countries, the Arab countries and Israel, the Arab countries and Iran, and Israel and Iran. Turkey, which is under Erdogan’s change of political course speeding towards Islamisation – deliberately erasing the traditions of Atatürk –, is also the part of this liquid medium. These countries and their web of diplomatic connections, including the support of global powers behind them (the US and Russia), are the defining factors of the Middle East’s tangled politics.
The Middle East’s power constellation is shaped either along religious affiliation or by the production and reserves of oil – namely wealth. The Arab countries, Iran, and Turkey are Muslim, whilst Israel is mainly Jewish. There is a Shia majority living in Iran, Bahrain, Iraq, and Lebanon, whilst there is a significant minority to be found in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. The number of Sunnis in Saudi Arabia is the double of Shias, but the latter live mainly in the territories known for their high oil production. There is a Sunni majority living in Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, Kuwait, Syria (however, the Assad regime is Shia), Yemen, Saudi-Arabia, UAE, and Qatar, whilst there is a significant Sunni minority to be found in Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain.
The Sunni countries seem to be the stronger of the two poles, due to their superiority in population, wealth, and military strength. This fact is underlined by Turkey’s NATO membership and by the pro-Sunni policy of the US and Israel. The leader of the Sunni world is Saudi Arabia (tied to the US), whereas the leader of the Shia pole is Iran (tied to Russia).
Besides the permanent Shia-Sunni (Iran-Saudi Arabia) battle, there is another dimension in the conflicts of the Middle East, namely the Arab-Israeli hostility. From the Zionist movement, through the violent seizure of lands, to the occupations of territories in the various Arab-Israeli wars, there are numerous events, which provoke the Arab countries. It is not my place to judge, which one of these was Israeli provocation, self-defence or Arab provocation. However, it is a fact that both parties are equally responsible for the current situation, beginning with the aggressive resettlement of the Jews in Palestine – supported by the Zionist movement – and continuing through a series of atrocities from both the Israeli state and the Arab countries (e.g. misplacement of Palestinians, wars, terror attacks). Even though symbolic steps were made towards normalisation (e.g. Camp David Accords, Wadi Araba Treaty, Abraham Accords), stability is still far out of reach. The instability of the Middle East could not be solidified until today – and will not be in the foreseeable future –, because the countries involved cannot and do not want to find a compromise in the most important issues (e.g. distribution of water, status of Jerusalem, situation of Palestinian refugees, borders of a legitimate Palestinian state).
The insecurity and unpredictability of the Middle East poses a direct threat to European security. Failed Arab countries, such as Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria are a hotbed for extreme Islamist terrorism and a source of mass illegal immigration. The collapse of Jordan and a not unlikely war between Algeria and Morocco could add to the flames of troubles of the Middle East and North Africa – not to mention the worrying moves in Tunisia and Turkey.
Therefore, the Republic of the United Europe must comprehend the era we live in and rise to act. Today, the member states of the European Union are watching the disintegration of Ukraine (and possibly eventually of Belarus), Erdogan’s aggression, the British government’s arrogance, and the collapse of the Middle East helplessly. Tomorrow, we may have to face a growing instability on the Balkans as well, where the ethnic and religious characteristics could redraw the borders through potentially violent conflicts. The result could be the disintegration of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the rise of Greater Albania (formed by Albania, Kosovo, and the north-western parts of North Macedonia), Greater Croatia, and Greater Serbia. The disintegration of Ukraine, the de facto annexation of Belarus by Russia, the Islamisation of Turkey, and the creation of Greater Albania are posing potential threats to European security in the backyard of Europe.
The reformed and united Europe must pro-actively preserve and protect its enlightened values, stabilise its neighbourhood, and enforce global agreements that guarantee sustainable development, climate protection, nuclear disarmament, and peace. We can achieve these goals only, if we pursue our own regional and global interests on our own terms, maintaining a good relationship with all of the global powers, without picking a side and sticking to it inflexibly – as we do it now. European decision-makers should no longer be chess figures on the global powers’ grand chessboard. In order to succeed in this quest, the radical change of our diplomatic mindset in accordance with the realities of our era is inevitable.