By Dr Adoyi Onoja
Is Europe heading for another war? Can Europe and the rest of the world afford another war? Developments in European politics are edging toward war as diplomacy seemed to be faltering.
The source of the latest European crisis is the Special Military Operation (SMO) or war launched against Ukraine by Russia in a bid to, amongst others, discouraged the Ukrainian government’s attempt to move closer to Europe and the West.
Europe and Europeans have fought several wars in the past with the First and Second World Wars, of the last century, as the bloodiest in terms of human and material tolls.
In the bid to curtail the internecine and incessant conflicts among Europeans from degenerating into wars, two institutions were founded. On the one hand, is the European Union (EU) which seeks to draw member countries into a closer economic union. On the other hand, is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation(NATO) which seeks closer military/defence cooperation among Europeans and the United States following the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War.
The EU seeks to draw countries closer through common economic policies beginning with countries of western Europe and the NATO seeks to shelter Europeans, particularly their quarrelsomeness by bringing the United States into their affairs. The commencement of the Cold War between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics(USSR) and the United States of America(USA) also ensured that Europe or at least the western part was sheltered from communism.
Aside from bringing America into the affairs of Europe and Europeans, NATO’s other two founding visions is to keep the Germans down and the Russians out. One of the three initial founding ideals – keeping Russia out – was occasioned by its profession of communism. While Russia is no longer a communist state, other developments post-Cold War increasingly pushed for the continuation of this policy of keeping Russia out.
The presence of these two institutions succeeded in curtailing conflicts and wars in Europe and amongst Europeans for the better part of the rest of the twentieth century.
However, the fluid geopolitical environment created by the end of the Cold War, the aspirations of the EU and the NATO to expand membership and particularly those of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe for membership of the institutions, is engendering new conflicts in Europe and thus the world.
Russia is the new adversary in Europe and the trouble spots is the former Eastern and Central European countries. Russia is unwilling to countenance the aspirations of countries in these regions to joining these two institutions. These countries were formally part of its spheres of influence whether under the Imperial times, the USSR/Warsaw Pact and/or the Russian Federation and/or chose to stay neutral and/or non aligned.
The ascension of Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Montenegro etc., the aspirations of many other countries from these regions and the recent invitation to non-aligned countries of Finland and Sweden represented sources of angst and perpetual frictions in the relationship between the EU/NATO and Russia.
Ukraine’s ambition for these institutions following the election of the present administration led by Volodymyr Zelenskyy had worried Russia. The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 was part of this development. Prior to this, Russia and Georgia fought a brief war bothering on Georgia’s own aspirations to join these institutions.
Russia’s Special Military Operation(SMO) and/or war launched in February was meant to send warnings not just to Ukraine but to other Central and Eastern European countries that their aspirations threatened Russia’s interests in all ways and that this will not be accepted.
The recent G7 and NATO summits rather reinstated their commitment to extending their covers to embracing these countries including the invitation given to Finland and Sweden. The institutions acted in a manner that did not factor into consideration the concerns of Russia. They are not only promising to scale up the supply of defensive weapons and accessories to Ukraine. They have, seemingly, extended invitations to Ukraine in both institutions.
While the SMO/war is ongoing, Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave, cut off the rest of Russia following the end of the Cold War and hit the news as an additional source of conflict between Russia and NATO. The area is strategic to the Russia far east naval fleet. The source of the tension is the ban, by Lithuania as part of the sanctions against Russia, of certain goods passing the train track that connected Russia to Kaliningrad.
Other fronts are set to open in the building animosity between Russia, the EU and NATO. For instance, in response to Finland and Sweden applying to join the NATO, Mr Putin reminded them that Russia posed no threat to them; they were free to join as they wished and; that Russia will respond in kind. The statement is not a ringing endorsement of their move.
Russia is set to undermine the resolves of these institutions and those of the countries bothering its spheres of influence in whatever way it could be using whatever means available in order to protect, defend and advance its security.
The war fought in Georgia and the ongoing war in Ukraine is evidence of this determination. Europe and Europeans are set on a course whose causes are avoidable and whose course could set the world on another dangerous and potentially disastrous path for humanity.
At the moment, the SMO/war in Ukraine has set food prices skyrocketing, in most parts of the world. Ukraine had always been the bread basket of not just Imperial Russia/USSR/Russia. Ukraine supplies the bulk of grains going to the Middle East, Africa and part of Asia. The SMO/war has disrupted the grain supply chain sending prices high, hunger looming and political and social crises in the horizon, in these regions.
Russia had been Europe’s energy supplier until recently. The imposition of sanctions on Russia has affected this. The rising prices of oil and inflation are sending the cost of goods out of the reach of many people in different parts of the world. There is inflation and income is not keeping up with inflation. Consequently, there are growing protests in several countries. All of these occurred amidst the unsettled and unresolved economic, political and social crisis created in the wake of the global Covid 19 pandemic.
The United States and Europe are driving the new NATO and EU agendas in these areas. Both the United States and Europe must be careful in the geopolitical troubles unfolding with Russia as the direct and indirect consequences of their actions. The G7 and NATO conferences expressed the determination of NATO and the EU in supporting Ukraine and others in their aspirations. Russia did not hide its resolve to counter the development. The world is edging back to another Cold War with two superpowers at each other’s throats as the rest of the world serves as their pawns.
Eastern and Central Europeans will never enjoy the full cover of the NATO militarily and the EU economically and consequently their security will be vulnerable because the security concerns of Russia is intertwined with their own.
To persist in encouraging these countries is to risk an all-out war with Russia and/or the epidemics of endemic conflicts, in Europe, the implications of which will be indeterminate and detrimental to humanity.
At the heart of the crisis is SECURITY or SECURE. This is like the parties to the conflict- Russia, Ukraine, Europe including and especially Central and Eastern European countries, Britain, and the United States – see their security or what secure each of them. This security runs the gamut of what, whose, issue and the how of security or security for the peoples, cultures and the countries involved. In other words, the only universality in security, for the countries and institutions involved, is the word SECURE. Each country and culture get to construct security or security on its history, experience and reality (HER).
Security, for these peoples, cultures and countries, is first and foremost embedded in their histories, experiences and realities. Unless one understands their individual and collective HISTORY, security or security will have no relevance.
Nigeria is pathetic to the extent of the management of what it says is its security. The persistent imitation of other countries’ and cultures’ lived experiences of security is at the heart of the problem of security in Nigeria. The Nigerian military, as the governing class, for most of Nigeria’s country-hood until 1999, pioneered the imitation of other countries’ and cultures’ experiences of security as its own. In the last twenty-three years, this imitation played out in civil rule appropriating the lived and failed experience of the military and military rule security rather than creating one for its framework.
This is because HISTORY was removed from this consideration of security or what, whose, issue and how of secure; the histories, experiences and realities of its nationalities were excluded; the failure and failure of this security under the representative rule were ignored and; there was no combing inside-out and outside-in of what SECURITY or SECURE means in comparative, culture-specific and Nigeria’s history, experience and reality (HER) contexts.
The result is the tragic comedy orchestrated by and playing out between the civil political class and the military, intelligence and law enforcement, in the last twenty-three years, as they continue the political economy of security, in their relationship.
Should the United States and Europe continue in the course playing out in Ukraine? To what strategic considerations? Didnt the United States set out to guarantee the stability of Europe before and during the Cold War? Should this security guarantee, not factor into consideration the perpetually unstable and fluid developments after the Cold War ended? Should the EU and the NATO that set out to keep quarrels from graduating into shooting wars in Europe be the institutions driving Europe into another war?
There is a need for caution and reassessment on the part of Russia on the one hand, the United States, Britain, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on the other hand and, the countries of Eastern and Central Europe.
In the end, the countries of Eastern and Central Europe will be sacrificed(Ukrainian territory is the theatre of the ongoing war and not any of the big five countries) by the big five – Russia, the United States, Britain, the EU and the NATO- when the chips are down.
Dr Onoja is a Professor of African History at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi.