Concerns about the current situation in the world are growing. I think we all share them. For a long time now, we have felt that “something went wrong”. Especially worrying is the fact that Europe today is almost the main flashpoint.
In fact, we said in the past, and I am still confident, that Europe should be the engine driving the creation of a new global world, a safe, fair, and stable one.
At the heart of our continent, we see the continuation of a bloody Ukrainian crisis, which has claimed thousands of lives. In France and in other countries, we have seen cruel terror attacks. Relations between Russia and the West have worsened sharply, with the economic ties that had been built over decades being severed. Sanctions are used instead of dialogue. A new arms race has begun. Military spending is growing and additional troops are being deployed in Europe.
No government has so far been able to offer a reliable way out of the crisis that affects us all. We have to admit: in Europe and in the world as a whole, a shortage of new political ideas has emerged. The methods of the old policies are not working. We need a new policy. And it should start with Europe, with Greater Europe, including, of course, Russia.
Finally, it is essential to revive and put into practice the vision of a guaranteed common European security. Such attempts were made in the past: remember the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris; however, none of these initiatives was brought to fruition.
As a result, today in Europe, we have two security systems. One is the pan-European, but weak and uninfluential, OSCE, and the other one is NATO, which has powerful weapons and a number of military bases but serves only the interests of its member-countries. This is clearly a significant imbalance, which in itself prevents Greater Europe from being truly unified.
At their time, public figures like Hans-Dietrich Genscher, François Mitterrand, and me included, suggested the establishment of a dedicated “Security Council” (or “Security Directorate”) in Europe, entrusted with necessary powers. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western leaders seemed to have decided they could do without it and hastened to bury those plans.
As we can see now, it was a short-sighted decision, to put it mildly. One of the consequences of such carelessness is the current lack of pan-European levers to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. One gets a feeling of hopelessness, of an impasse.
In fact, this is not so. If the governments have failed so far to find a common language, it does not mean that nothing can be changed. In Europe and in the world, there are forces that are aware of their responsibility and are willing to find a way out, suggest ways to cut this Gordian knot.
These are both current political leaders and former statesmen who have invariably been held in high esteem both nationally and internationally – the people who are called “veterans of world politics”. These are also members of civil society: social activists, academics of world renown, and prominent cultural figures.
Many of them have publicly expressed their concern. I would like to mention as an example a statement by 60 politicians, public figures and prominent figures of German culture issued under an expressive title: “Another war in Europe? Not in our name!” Earlier in 2016, Yevgeny Primakov, now deceased former head of the Russian Government, forcefully and with great emotional strength expressed his concern and called for a return to the path of dialogue.
Now there are some signs of dialogue being resumed between Russia and the United States. It can only be welcome, because much depends on these two countries. Nevertheless, it does not change the overall assessment of the current situation. This situation is so unstable and dangerous that we have to state: we have little time to spare. The moment of truth has come. We need to act immediately and decisively.
The first, and the most urgent, step would be a determined effort to demilitarise the Ukrainian conflict. No more shots are to be fired in Ukraine. We should proceed to the negotiation phase. It might be a difficult, protracted process. I once spoke on the subject with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and I gave her my opinion: They should come to the negotiating table and sit there until an agreement is reached.
Another step would be to stop the “war of words”, or simply put, mutual incitement of hostility and hatred. Today, the propaganda war has taken on an unprecedented scale. One gets an impression sometimes that in terms of the damage caused, propaganda campaign can be equated to a mass psychic destruction weapon.
State leaders need to move beyond their personal animosity that might have developed. In this sense, we can take the example of political leaders from the period when the Cold War was ended: the once seemingly irreconcilable opponents gradually developed mutual understanding, and then trust. This enabled decisions on most acute problems.
Second, Russia and the West need to revisit the global agenda as soon as possible, re-launching a search for joint solutions to the challenges of the 21st century. The effectiveness of joint efforts relies mostly on proper prioritisation of problems.
Civil society has also a role to play. I think it would be useful to convene a Congress of the European Public themed “Ways to build a guaranteed security framework for our continent”. The initiators could include both “world politics veterans” and the younger generation of Europeans.
The above article was a message to participants of the international conference Common European Security after the Cold War: What are the Solutions to New Challenges? in Prague on 16-17 September 2016, organized by the New Policy Forum together with the Czech Iron Curtain Foundation and Italian Fondazione Italiani.