Carl Bildt on European Security

Jun 26th, 2014 | By | Category: European Union, History, In Depth, Politics

Dear Friends,

It is an honour and a pleasure to come to Berlin and be asked to say a few words as an introduction to the discussions we will have.

These are indeed times when it is appropriate to reflect on the state of our Europe and of our world.

There is a profound feeling that the European and global order we have been trying to shape is beginning to change.

A century ago the world was at peace.

The Austro-Hungarian Army was engaged in summer exercises in Bosnia, where it was visited by Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand. The German Emperor Wilhelm was off on his summer cruise in the Norwegian fjords.

Little did they know how fragile the world was, and indeed no one could anticipate what would happen during the coming days, weeks, months, years and decades.

On June 28 Franz Ferdinand was murdered in Sarajevo. In itself not necessarily so unique in those times. But suddenly everything started to fall apart, and within little more than a month more or less all of Europe was at war.

The horrible 20th century had begun. And horrible it was.
The trenches. The revolutions. The depressions. The dictatorships. The gas chambers. The camps. The barbed wire. The walls.

It wasn’t really until a quarter of a century ago – an election in Poland, a wall coming down in Berlin – that our continent as a whole could start to rebuild its future and we dared to start dreaming of a Europe whole and free, democratic and dynamic.

There were major achievements – well beyond what most had thought possible. The peaceful reunification of Germany. The re- establishment of the independence of the three Baltic states.
But also horrible setbacks – a decade of war, again in the Balkans. Major wars in the history of Europe have normally ended with major peace settlements seeking to regulate the state of affairs in order to secure the peace and stability of the years ahead. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
The Peace of Utrecht in 1713.

The Vienna Peace Congress in 1815.

And there was of course Versailles in 1919, although its legacy, in important respects, leaves much to be desired. It has been called the peace to end all peace.

But it was not until a quarter of a century ago that the leaders of the day could sit down and seek a true agreement on the principles of peace for our continent after all the horrors that had their beginnings on that fateful Sarajevo day a century ago.

And they did.

The Paris Charter of 1990 set forth the key principles.

Later, and as a result, the ambitious and deep peace concept of the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe was set up.

Peace as not just the absence of war, but peace built also on respect for the human rights of each and everyone in our societies.

Thus, it was important that the membership of the Council of Europe and its important European Court of Human Rights was extended to all of our continent.

Much of this was of course about Russia.

And first a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was concluded between the European Union and Russia, to be followed later by the Founding Act between NATO and Russia.

There were some key principles embodied in these various arrangements.
They came out of the experiences of the preceding bitter decades. But they also came out of the challenging attempts to deal with the break-ups of first the Soviet Union and then Yugoslavia.

In the Belavezha Accords that ended the Soviet Union it was agreed that all of the constituent republics of that Union had the right to independence, but independence within the existing borders between them.

And at the beginning of the profound Yugoslav crisis, the Badinter Commission set up by the then European Community laid down the very same principle.

Belavezha and Badinter thus said the same.

Independence, yes. Self-determination, yes. But borders must be respected. Any change would have to be agreed.

There were very sound reasons for this.

The borders of Europe are more or less all drawn in blood through centuries of brutal conflict, ethnic cleansings and population movements.

Sometimes they might also seem logical to the modern eye.

But there are certainly cases – many of them in the former Soviet Union or in former Yugoslavia – where that can hardly be said to be the case.

And to open up those cases, and invite others, is to open up for the blood to start flowing again.

Thus, the principle of respecting existing borders was laid down as one of the key foundations of peace in our Europe.

And it has been adhered to up until March of this year.

All through the brutal Balkan wars we refused to accept any changes to what had been the republic or other boundaries of the old Yugoslavia.

We insisted on the territorial integrity of Croatia. We refused to contemplate the dissolution of Bosnia. We said that northern Kosovo should remain northern Kosovo and southern Serbia should remain southern Serbia.

The decade of wars from Slovenia to Macedonia was brutal and horrible – but I’m convinced it would have been far worse had we not stuck to this principle.

The divorce between the Czech Republic and Slovakia was agreed, democratic and peaceful.

And let us also remember that we respected this very principle also when it came to Russia.

We were often horrified by the conduct of Russian forces as they tried to put down Chechen calls for self-determination, and harshly critical of the massive human rights violations that followed.

But in spite of this we never wavered in our support for the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

And the principle we remained faithful to there in the Northern Caucasus we remained faithful to also in the Southern Caucasus, notably after the war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008.

As we thus resoundingly refuted the old practice of changing borders, we embarked on the effort to build Europe by peacefully taking away and reducing the importance of the old borders.

In the Nordic world we abolished passports and other such things well before the idea took root in the European Union.

And it should be noted that our present attempts are not limited to only the present members of the European Union.

Our vision of a Europe with freedom of movement for goods, services, capital, persons and ideas from Lisbon to Vladivostok – or even from Vancouver to Vladivostok – is still there, and you can see its different building blocks.

Our Eastern Partnership for Ukraine and the other countries in between us and the Russian Federation is one important building block.

Our accession negotiations with Turkey are another.

Our Thessaloniki commitment to all the countries of the Western
Balkans is yet another of these building blocks of our vision.

But suddenly we are faced with a new situation – our principles and our vision are challenged.

If the 20th century started in 1914, future historians might well say that the 21st century started in 2014.

The Russian invasion of Crimea, and the dismemberment of the internationally recognised state of Ukraine that followed with the annexation of Crimea, wasn’t just a smash-and-grab operation of limited importance and relevance.

It was a fundamental violation of the core principles of the security of Europe.

None of the arguments advanced to justify the invasion and annexation can be accepted without grave consequences for the future.

The Kremlin may well have profoundly disliked what happened in
Kiev.

But dislike of what happens in a neighbouring country can never be enough to justify an invasion.

Crimea, with its very rich history under different empires and rulers, was admittedly for somewhat less than two centuries part of Russia.

But there are few places in Europe that have not been part of another state for a couple of centuries.

A substantial portion of the Russian-speakers of Crimea might well have thought inclusion in Russia was a good idea.

But the same logic can be applied by a number of other nationalities in other parts of Europe – not only in the Balkans.

What we are facing is thus our vision of a Europe of peace and stability built on firm principles accepted by each and everyone being confronted with a power seeking a revision of the order we have been trying to build.

Revising the borders. Revising the principles.
Thus revising the post-Cold War order we have all – including Russia
– tried to build during the last quarter of a century.

Instead of the principles we had all agreed on, one country is now trying to return to spheres of interest with limited sovereignty for some and limitless rights for others.

A world where might is right, and where the law doesn’t apply equally to all.

If we were to accept this, the consequences would indeed be profound.

Primarily this would of course be the case in the eastern part of our Europe. What can be done in one place can of course be done in another place as well.

But I could well see that such a situation might also over time start
to strain the solidarity upon which our European Union is built, with most unpredictable consequences further down the line.

Indeed, we can already see some political forces in our countries returning to an admiration of the strong man, of military might, of disrespect for the international order and of the machonationalism that seeks to dictate the fate of others.

And it is a deeply disturbing fact that there seem to be a number of countries around the world ready to look the other way and avoid taking a clear stand on the issue.

I don’t think that they necessarily feel any particular sympathy for what Russia has done.

But it might be that they can see opportunities for themselves in the future. A quick land grab. Settling some old scores. Asserting some right they consider theirs.

Just think of East Asia. The South China Sea. Taiwan. The East China Sea.

And think for a while of Central Asia. Its borders are in many cases very far from logical. They were often arbitrarily drawn by the old Soviet power.

The implications of Crimea, then, go well beyond Ukraine and well beyond Europe. The implications of Crimea also challenge the rules of the international order.

And it is important that this is recognised.

In my opinion, it is thus of the utmost importance to our future that we are ready to stand up, and stand up together, against these developments.

We must never appease aggression. We must never give up our principles.

But perhaps we must also recognise that it will no longer be enough to just issue declarations and hope that a diplomatic dialogue will smooth things over even if it does not sort them out.

A report by a Group of Policy Experts to the NATO Secretary General last week made a somewhat wider assessment of the regional and global situation, and concluded that “the emergence of a more dangerous world in the second decade of the 21st century poses a historic test for the governments of the transatlantic community.”

“A more dangerous world.”

It is of course not only the revisionist Russian power in the East that challenges us.

To the south of our Europe we see the risk of the unravelling of the Middle East as we used to know it. Existing states are being challenged in the Levant and Mesopotamia. Attempts are being made to create new entities by the force of arms.

And this uncertainty stretches over vast areas.

We see in North Africa and the Sahel that the stability and security of our neighbours’ neighbours also affect the stability and security of our societies.

For some years Swedish army forces have been deployed in Mazar-el- Sharif, where the plains of Central Asia meet the mighty mountains of the Hindu Kush.

But as this deployment is coming to an end, we are preparing a new deployment to the ancient and legendary city of Timbuktu, where the dry Sahel meets the true Sahara.

And we are doing so at the same time as very basic issues concerning the security of our own part of the world are re-appearing on the agenda.

For us Europeans there is one conclusion from all of this that is as obvious as it is important and stark: it is only by keeping together that we Europeans in the European Union, often in close partnership with the United States, can try to master these challenges.

There is no certain success even if we do. But there is certain failure if we don’t.

The cohesion of our Union is the key to the peace and stability of our Europe.

We have gone through a period of profound financial and economic challenges. And there is certainly much that remains to be done in these areas.

New technologies are transforming the global economy almost on a daily basis. We must not be left behind in the hyper-connected world of tomorrow.

But if the past five years were dominated by the financial challenges, I believe the coming five years for all of us will be dominated by the political challenges.

The revisionism in the East.

The tendencies towards parochial isolationism we see in the western part of our Europe.

The cascading disintegration and disorder we see to our South. And we should not neglect the influence of other factors. The rise of a China that is already now increasingly assertive in its own neighbourhood.

And an America where political forces seem to give priority to what they call nation-building at home.

The 21st century might well turn out to be very different from what we dreamt of in the golden decades immediately after the momentous changes that happened a quarter of a century ago.

It certainly was not the end of history.

And it might be that the triumph of our ideas and values that we talked about so much was far shallower than we thought.

This is a time to reflect.

On the anniversary of 1914 as well as on the reality of 2014. And to try to draw the appropriate conclusions.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.