The Battle for Europe: Are Germany and France geopolitical rivals now? | publicatii - Politica La Est
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The Battle for Europe: Are Germany and France geopolitical rivals now?

Mihail E. Ionescu

It  is no news to say that the international arena is in an extreme fluid development  since several years . If the beginning of this fluidity has been the annexation of Crimea by Russia (March 2014)  or extraordinary advancement of the Chinese grand strategy OBOR, launched in 2013 or when US President Donald Trump won the presidential race in November 2016 is not so important for the topic of our analysis. All the events mentioned before ( we can add also Brexit referendum in UK  in June 2016 , the re-entrance of Russia in the Mideast after fifty years of absence in September 2015) have their importance in the definition of the main features of the today international  scene . That is undertaken in already well known published books by prominent  experts: G. Rachman  has observed even in 2015 that there is a process of ‘ Easternization’  in the international system , namely that the center of the world politics is moving from Europe to Asia (due to the rise of China mainly ), Richard Haass wrote in 2017 about ‘the world in disarray’ , connecting it with the foreign policy of USA. Many  others experts  are underlining the fact that the absence of leadership  is the main ingredient of  the international system today , when the international world order is under siege. But it is not about that in our analysis.

What is strongly connected with our topic are some old documents which has been published  two dozen of years ago or more and recently being declassified from  the American archives ( especially  Bill Clinton library ) o others.
  1. The fate of Europe has been of concern for world leaders in 1989, the year when began the process of changing the world order established after the Second World war and restructuration of the Cold War bipolar system. Mihail Gorbaciov , the head of Kremlin center of the world power, engaged in the titanic effort to reform the Soviet Union as a country and  society  via glasnost and perestroika, has given its own opinion about the state of the world to the Politburo after the meeting of the ‘trilateral’  organization  held very recently. It was January 21, 1989, when one of the advisers of M. Gorbaciov , namely A. Anatoly Chernyaev, took notes from the Soviet  Politburo meeting:
Gorbachev is speaking about the Trilateral Commission, with which he met ([former US Secretary of State Henry A.] Kissinger, [former French President Valéry] Giscard d’Estaing, [former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro] Nakasone). It [the commission] is interested in everything that is going on, especially in our country. It is working on all issues of European /and /world policy. I would emphasize two issues. First is how are you—meaning we, the Soviet Union— going to integrate into the world economy? These issues are [being] considered in the Trilateral Commission./…/. Second issue. They are coming to the conclusion that the biggest fights of perestroika are still ahead of us. And in the international sphere the main problems for us will emerge in the Third World./…/ They believe that in 10-20 years we all will have to deal with a federation of states named Europe.”[1]

It was the first issue on which Gorbaciov has insisted because such a development will entail an independent course of Europe, where European Commission has registered outstanding progress in spite of various contradictions inside. The enthusiasts of the European integration have begun to talk about enlarging it, and additionally to interrogate what kind of end result will be of such a continental –wide process and Soviet leader has submitted to his colleagues what H. Kissinger commented:

“Kisa [Kissinger] just shrugged at this statement by Giscard, and asked me a direct question: How are you going to react if Eastern Europe wants to join the E[uropean] C[ommission]?  It is not an accident that they asked me about it. They know that our friends/ Communist countries from Eastern Europe- our note / are already knocking on the door. And we should also look at what processes are going on there now—the economic and the political—and where they are drifting. What is going on in Hungary, for example? An opposition party led by [Miklos] Nemeth has emerged there. Hungary is on the eve of a serious choice. Of course, it will be different. And I think that every country should have, and has, its own face. And we will continue to be friends, because the socialist basis will be preserved in all of them. The roads of our development will be very diverse, while we will preserve our commonality. We need a mechanism that will ensure our mutual understanding and interaction. There will be a lot of political, economic, and military-political questions. We should consider them in the Central Committee’s Commission on Eastern Europe. We should undertake situational analysis with scholars.”[2]

So, being faced with the possibility of an exodus of the Communist countries from Eastern Europe to the Western European Commission, with imaginable  geopolitical consequences , Henri Kissinger asked bluntly Gorbaciov  how he would react to that move. It was eloquently of the utmost importance for one of the American main players on the stage of the Cold War to know the answer from Kremlin to this contingency.   Here is the answer of Gorbaciov related to his partners  in the Politburo:

For example, how would we react if Hungary left for the EC? Comrades, we are on the eve of very serious things. Because we cannot give them more than we are giving them now. And they need new technologies. If we do not deal with that, there will be a split, and they will run away. And then there is the question of what we should present to the working groups of the leaders of the socialist countries. By the way, let the Commission give us a substantiated answer whether we need this meeting at all. Before it, we should work out what we can give to our friends, and compare it with what the West can give them. The answer to this question, I am sure, lies with our perestroika, with its success. And we should try to involve our friends, to get them interested in our economic reforms. Let [Aleksandr] Yakovlev, with scholars, look at it. We are facing a serious problem there. The peoples of those countries will ask: what about the C[ommunist] P[arty of the] S[oviet] U[nion], what kind of leash will it use to keep our countries in line? They simply do not know that if they pulled this leash harder, it would break. It is time to transfer our relations to the forms that we practice in our relationship with China, but we can get to such forms only via the market, and, of course, via technological and scientific developments in our own country. In that case, we would break the old rule that we keep them attached to us only by means of energy resources. At the same time, we cannot just tell them that we would cut the deliveries. That would be a betrayal. “[3]

Invoking what he called ‘ very serious things’ , Gorbaciov took two important decisions. Firstly, to study what should be done when the process ( moving Westward of the Communist countries will begin) , and being   ‘ on the eve’ of that everything should be done fast; secondly , that the countries from Central and eastern Europe attached to the Communist leadership of USRR would have to be supported, that the relationship with them should be maintained as it is ( ‘ preserving commonality’ according to Gorbaciov) .

In that point, Gorbaciov has mentioned what Kissinger told him:
Kisa hinted at the idea of a USSR-US condominium over Europe. He was hinting that Japan, Germany, Spain, and South Korea were on the rise, and so, let us make an agreement so that the ‘Europeans do not misbehave.’ We should work on this range of issues also, but in such a way that it would not leak, because in Europe they are most afraid of that what they understand the Reykjavik summit means. And if you remember, in Reykjavik they saw an effort at conspiracy between the USSR and the USA over Europe. My impression from the meeting with the Trilateral Commission is the following: they understood in the West that the world needs a peaceful breathing spell from the arms race, from the nuclear psychosis, as much as we need it.”

Here is the point which was of the most important for the entire demonstration of Gorbaciov related to the necessity of not committing mistakes in launching the process and developing it along the already established directions: studying  the situation in every satellite country and promoting solutions; maintaining the strong relations with, including the Communist  parties in each of them ; etc. Namely to avoid any hint that there is a understanding between Moscow and Washington regarding the condominium of  Europe. We can speculate that there is no such condominium – or the other way around- but more important is what Gorbaciov said : Western Europeans are suspecting that after Reykjavik there is such a reality.
 What did  happen in Reykjavik ?

In October 1986 both leaders of the two superpowers , R. Reagan and M. Gorbaciov, met in Island’s capital city and discussed  possible future strategic arms control agreements. Considering themselves the only ones as having the worldwide nuclear capabilities , the agreements which they put on the table considering Europe have been disregarding the points of view of their Allies ( NATO for USA , and Warsaw Pact for USSR ). For example, they agreed not to consider the nuclear arsenal of France and UK to be  part of any agreement and concomitantly has considered the bilateral agreement regarding their own  deployment of the strategic capabilities in Europe. This only argument is sufficient to make visible the disregard of both leaders  about Europe and , more than that, to create in Western Europe the perception that it is more than neglected, namely dominated  by the  two superpowers.

So Gorbaciov has warned  his team to avoid- pursuing the  established  new tasks-  the perpetuation of  that kind of perception among the Europeans  ( including also the Eastern Europeans) . Even that warning is telling for the subliminal idea of  the Soviet leader regarding the fate of Europe , or more precisely, to whom depends it.  The fact that  US and Soviet Union concluded  one year after (1987 )  INF treaty, today being considered as the end of the Cold War, is strengthening that conclusion .[4]

Finally, Gorbaciov, being aware of the importance and sensibility of the process which he is going to launch, alerted the high Soviet responsible that “we need to know it all in detail in order not to make mistakes.”  He added that , according to his own assessment , “They/ perhaps the Westerners, most probably the Americans- our note/ want to channel the processes in such a way as to limit as much as possible our influence on the world situation, they are trying to seize the initiative from us, present criteria of trust as tests: if the Soviet Union would not want to agree to something, we would act in a way to gain more points. That is why we have to keep the initiative. This is our main advantage “ . [5]

So, what has been launched as an transformative action ,  should have to be promoted on the Kremlin watch. But , it was a process which had to preserved the geopolitical  status quo in Europe, irrespective the huge transformations which Communist East and Central Europe will undertake domestically  in the following months in accordance with the solutions envisaged for each Communist country by the four structures of the Soviet Union governmental institutions to whom Gorbaciov has asked with that occasion to  assess and submit way of action  within the transformation process/revolutions .
 
  1.  One year later, when the  geopolitical revolution in East Central Europe has finished at least the first phase , the main issue in Europe has been already the unification of the two German states. In that context took place a very important meeting of M. Gorbaciov  with the head of US diplomacy, J. Baker. According to the transcript of the document, the issue of NATO enlargement to the East has appeared during the discussion ( February 9, 1990):
Baker: [...] This morning I had a detailed discussion of the German question with Minister Shevardnadze.  I would also like to hear your thoughts on this matter./…/
Gorbachev: I wanted to ask you, what do you think about the possibility of a ‘four + two’  mechanism?

Baker: I think that it would be better to have a “two + four” mechanism./…/ Some other details. We indeed are not speaking in favor of Germany being neutral. The West Germans have also said to us that they do not consider such a decision to be satisfactory. I would like to explain why./…/ And the last point. NATO is the mechanism for securing the U.S. presence in Europe. If NATO is liquidated, there will be no such mechanism in Europe. We understand that not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.  /our underline /We believe that consultations and discussions within the framework of the ‘two + four’ mechanism should guarantee that Germany’s unification will not lead to NATO’s military organization spreading to the east. These are our thoughts. Perhaps a better way can be found. /…/

Gorbachev: I want to say that in general we share this way of thinking. Indeed, the process has begun and is underway. And we need to try to adjust to the new reality. A mechanism is needed that would assist stability in Europe--a very important center of world politics--in remaining undisturbed./…/ A question arises: what will this Germany be like? How will it tend to act in Europe and the world? These are fundamental questions. And as we see it, they are perceived differently in, say, Paris, London, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest.”/…/

Gorbachev: Yesterday I spoke with Jaruzelski on the phone. He knows that you are in Moscow right now; he also knows that Kohl and Genscher are arriving tomorrow. Considering this, Jaruzelski expressed his opinions on a number of questions, about Germany in particular. And Germany is a real question for a Pole! He thinks that contact should be maintained and we should consult on this question. He expressed the opinion that the presence of American and Soviet troops in Europe is an element of stability. In Czechoslovakia and Austria there is apprehension that powers might develop in a unified Germany that would lay claim to the 1938 borders--the Sudeten region, Austria. Of course, today such claims are not being voiced. But what will happen tomorrow? And in France and Great Britain the question arises: will they remain major players in Europe? In short, it is easier for us in this situation due to the mass and weight of our countries. Kohl and his team are speaking to us with an understanding of what that means./our underline/

Baker: I agree./…/ Supposing unification takes place, what would you prefer: a united Germany outside of NATO, absolutely independent  and without American troops; or a united Germany keeping its connections with NATO, but with the guarantee that NATO’s jurisprudence or troops will not spread east of the present boundary?
Gorbachev: We will think everything over. We intend to discuss all these questions in depth at the leadership level. It goes without saying that a broadening of the NATO zone is not acceptable.

Baker: We agree with that.”[6]

Why are we bringing these details of old secret documents- even if they are recently declassified- today to the attention  ?  Why are so important to know that kind of evolution in the past, when there were agreements between the great powers connected with the fate of Europe ?

Firstly, we are aware that in the moment in which  was built a new world order ( or is  refined  the one in existence , as it was the case  at the end of the Cold War ) that Europe has been from the point of view of security a kind of condominium of both USA and USSR. What defines that international status has been the presence of the troops of both superpowers of the Cold War  on the territories of the various European countries – USA using the NATO mechanism in that direction and USSR the provisions of the Warsaw Pact- and the general European agreement that  so the stability and peace in Europe is assured. What Polish leader Jaruzelski told to Gorbaciov and it is quoted above represents a clear evidence that the existence of the above mentioned condominium is supported at least by some European actors.

Secondly, that the change of  that status is possible only by understanding between those who is exercising the condominium , and that could have two directions: to maintain the geopolitical status quo but accepting some important changes – as the  two German states  unification- for avoiding some undesired developments or  change  and creating a new reality to replace the old one - as , for example, a “ common European house” , which was  the publicly assumed  target of Gorbaciov policy.

Last but not least, that will be easily recognized following these excerpts from the recent declassified secret documents - beyond the fog curtain of the propaganda and fake news-  when such kind o instances of changing the status quo is appearing again on the international scene the real  directions of understanding to be used  . Like is the case of  recent European developments summarized excellently in  the following thread of tweets of an German expert in international relations:
 

@ulrichspeck
 
Nov 18
For Macron, a radically changing international environment calls for radical measures. He wants to lead Europe into a post-American future. Macron sees the (partial) US disengagement as an opportunity: to build a (French-led) autonomous Europe. /1
 
At the center of Macron's strategy lies Russia: ‘If we want to build peace in Europe, to rebuild European strategic autonomy, we need to reconsider our position with Russia.’ (all quotes from the Economist interview) /2
 
Full European strategic autonomy requires a Russia that is not hostile and not threatening. That's why Macron wants to ‘rebuild … an architecture of trust and security’ with Russia. /3
 
For Macron, Russian aggression can be overcome because it is based on a misunderstanding. Moscow turned aggressive and revisionist, in Macron's narrative, not because of Russian ambition but because Russia has been cornered by an America that is driven by its ‘superego.’ /4
 
Yet Europe has accepted to be perceived as America's ‘Trojan horse’ by Russia. A mistake Macron wants to correct, with the help of Orbán. Macron had ‘a very long discussion’ with him on Russia, he is ‘quite close to our views’, may even help ‘convince the Poles a little more’. /5
 
For Macron Nato has become anachronistic, or ‘brain dead’, because Russia is not an enemy anymore -- unlike the Soviet Union during the Cold War -- but a future friend and partner. And Nato is useless in the South, the region that matters for Macron. /6
 
 
Macron's strategic ideas have forced Germany to come out with its views. The chancellor, the defense minister, the foreign minister have pushed back quite sharply. For Germany, NATO is not just the past, but also the future — as the main framework for European defense. /7
 
In the words of defense minister and CDU party head Kramp-Karrenbauer (@akk): ‘All proposals strengthening Europe's ability to act in the area of security and defence are strengthening the European pillar of Nato.’ /8
 
With this very public exchange of views, the French-German strategic divide has become visible. Both countries disagree about the future role of the US in Europe, and with it about Nato, both disagree about the relationship with Russia. /9
 
These divisions are not new. Germany and France for decades had very different geopolitical views. Yet in the past these differences simply didn't matter. On geopolitics, they didn't have to agree among themselves. They had to agree with Washington. /10
 
Yet with Trump, US strategic leadership is gone (but NOT the US role as protector of Europe, especially at the Eastern flank, providing deterrence against Russia). /11
 
Strategically, Europeans are suddenly alone at home. A new situation. Germany and France are used to cooperate closely, and very successfully, on EU matters. But not on wider geostrategy. They are nervous and stressed. /12
 
 
France has an ambitious, disruptive president who wants to shape Europe's future. Yet what he proposes is just a traditionalist French, ‘realist’ agenda, wrapped in the language of European federalism (which is appealing to some influential audiences). /13
 
Yet instead of unifying Europe, this agenda is highly controversial in Europe. It is not shared by most countries in the East and the North, who want to keep the US in, in order to keep Russia out, and who don't want to entirely focus on the South, on France's war on terror. /14
 
That puts Germany on the spot. Berlin needs to lead on the pushback against Macon's geopolitical agenda. Something that in the past a US president would have done — quickly and easily. But with Trump, the US is not playing this role anymore. /15
 
All this will become more visible, relevant and pressing in the next weeks, with the Nato summit in London on 3-4 December and the Ukraine-Normandie meeting in Paris on 9 December. /16 “ [7]
 
         Expert’s tweets are introduced by:

“ @ulrichspeck
 
Are Germany and France geopolitical rivals now? Thread.
10:26 AM · Nov 18, 2019”
 
[1]COLD WAR INTERNATIONAL HISTORY PROJECT BULLETIN, ISSUE 12/13, Vladislav M. Zubok, New Evidence on the “Soviet Factor” in the Peaceful Revolutions of 1989, DOCUMENT No. 3 -Anatoly Chernyaev’s Notes from the Politburo Session, 21 January 1989,p.16- https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/New_Ev_EndCW.pdf
 
 
[2] Ibidem
[3] Ibidem
[4] INF has been finished in 2019 by the two signatories after a several volleys of recriminations about violating it.
[5] COLD WAR INTERNATIONAL HISTORY PROJECT BULLETIN, ISSUE 12/13, Vladislav M. Zubok, New Evidence on the “Soviet Factor” in the Peaceful Revolutions of 1989, DOCUMENT No. 3 -Anatoly Chernyaev’s Notes from the Politburo Session, 21 January 1989,p.17- https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/New_Ev_EndCW.pdf
 
[6] National Security Archive,Document 06. Record of conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker in Moscow. (Excerpts) February 9, 19990-https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/russia-programs/2017-12-12/nato-expansion-what-gorbachev-heard-western-leaders-early
 
 
 
 

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