Should we wait for a new provocation from Putin to accelerate EU integration?

Are the global geopolitical situation in general and the war in Ukraine in particular a source of existential dangers for the future of the planet? The answer is undoubtedly “yes”; however, it is necessary to define these risks and to analyze the means available to confront them.

In terms of danger, a nuclear Armageddon is clearly the main risk (but not the most likely) because it entails the possibility of the disappearance of all human life on our planet. This leads to a twofold observation: on the one hand, that the use of nuclear weapons is highly improbable, but on the other hand, that it is practically impossible to eliminate the possibility of their use, since they would be the result of totally irrational behavior that is by definition uncontrollable. This should in no way restrict initiatives to limit, destroy and control arsenals, aimed at reinforcing (without eliminating) the improbability of their use and, at the same time, free up resources for more productive purposes such as the fight against global warming. Furthermore, it is imperative to take all necessary steps to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of private interests, as has happened in the conquest of space (Space X) or been the subject of fictional films (James Bond).

It must therefore be accepted that man must live with this risk and that he must organize society accordingly. By definition, this excludes giving in to the fear aroused by the threat of the use of nuclear weapons and submitting to an aggressor who does not have the necessary alternative means to impose his will.  This situation describes fairly well the state of the Ukrainian conflict at the time of writing: neither Ukraine nor the NATO/EU countries should consider concessions for the sole purpose of avoiding a nuclear war. Indeed, while the outcome of the confrontation on the ground remains undecided, it is clear that Russia, which has suffered significant losses, does not have currently the human and material resources (other than nuclear) to constitute a credible “military” threat to third countries.  

It is the responsibility of governments and political parties to inform their respective public opinions of the situation; they must refrain from exploiting the visceral – but inappropriate – fear of nuclear war to further their own political agendas, be they economic, social or simply ideological.

In the list of risks to which humanity is subject and over which it has only limited control, it is necessary to mention first and foremost that of “global warming” which, in the long term, risks making our planet just as uninhabitable as a nuclear apocalypse. This risk, which has been identified for several decades, brings into play forces whose effects man can at best attempt to mitigate, but cannot hope to control. This global challenge, the urgency of which is widely recognized, is the subject of globalized (COP) but very unevenly distributed efforts; they constantly come into conflict with other interests/priorities which, because of their proven long-term existence, take precedence over climatic phenomena whose apparently random occurrence and often circumscribed impacts slow down the implementation of a coordinated response commensurate with the challenge.

Here again, the crucial role of governments and politicians is to insist on the indispensable global solidarity rather than on the protection of comparative advantages of individual actors linked to geography, wealth, demography, etc., whose exacerbation will only defer their effects locally while accelerating and accentuating their consequences at the global level.

A third type of hybrid risk is exemplified by the recent Covid 19 pandemic which, despite its unpredictable appearance, has nevertheless shown itself to be capable of being controlled by human engineering. This was demonstrated by the development in record time of effective vaccines, resulting from international scientific cooperation, and accompanied by the development of appropriate health, economic and social policies which made it possible to mitigate the consequences; however, considerations of an essentially political nature, in China or North Korea for example, maintain uncertainty as to the capacity to definitively control not only the health but also the economic consequences of the plague.

This last example also illustrates the fact that with each progress, such as the spectacular increase in wealth generated by globalization (which has led to a significant reduction in poverty as a percentage of the world’s population), there is a simultaneous multiplication of new risks, such as those caused by the increased mobility of people and goods and the speed of transmission of the dangers that it can carry.

Finally, the fourth type of risk consists of those which depend predominantly on human activity and decisions, whether at individual or collective level. These include geopolitical risk, economic and financial risk, technological risk, social risk, etc. These risks are often interdependent and must be considered as part of a complex whole whose consequences will involve, to varying degrees, the entire world population. The requirement for equitable burden-sharing is a necessary condition for addressing them, whether at local, national, continental or global level. However, all too often, only fear generates a reaction capable of providing solutions that are equal to the challenges. Their implementation is opposed by deeply rooted egoisms and partisan interests whose destructive ravages may have caused irreversible damage in the meantime.

We have shown above that the EU/NATO countries are not currently at any significant risk of conventional military aggression, especially from Russia. This does not prevent Russia from pursuing its geostrategic objectives by other means, primarily targeting the destabilization of Western cohesion and in particular the dismemberment of the EU. Its tools take many forms, such as: exploiting the excessive dependence of certain countries on its raw material supplies; supporting Eurosceptic or nationalist political parties or movements; destabilizing public opinion by abusing social networks or disseminating false information; or promoting the use of rules of governance (unanimity) to block the functioning of institutions (UN/EU)

Russia will do everything in its power to exploit any dissension between Member States and provoke blockages that would ultimately destroy the Union. Their success would be a fatal blow to the cohesion of the Western world, which becomes the sine qua non condition of its survival; indeed, if the West still enjoys an undisputed material superiority, its moral and political authority is already being questioned by countries representing a majority of the world’s population.

For Europe, the management of this global risk translates into the inescapable imperative to pursue and deepen its integration as a basis for a balanced partnership with the United States in the defense of our common vital interests. Only an EU that exercises collective sovereignty on behalf of its members in terms of its security, foreign policy, currency, etc., can claim autonomy and protect its people from a progressive erosion of their freedom and enjoyment of values and living standards corresponding to their aspirations. 

The successive emergencies that have followed one another since the 2008 financial crisis have led to excesses whose accumulation has resulted in distortions (financial markets) and aberrations (exploding inequalities) that have become unsustainable. The result of well-intentioned policies that are difficult to criticize, such as those implemented by governments or experimented by Central Banks to manage the consequences of excessive budget deficits, the pandemic, the threat of recession, the confrontation in Ukraine, etc., is leading to its most recent iteration : the urgent implementation of measures to protect purchasing power in the face of the resurgence of inflation combined with the rise in interest rates and the risk of ‘stagflation’. This headlong rush to the future can only end in tears!

Conclusion

Just as Vladimir Putin unwittingly injected a new dynamic into NATO, considered by some until recently to be brain-dead, perhaps we should hope that the fear of the subversive influence that Russia is still capable of generating will become the driving force behind a comparable acceleration of European integration.

It is most likely the fear – if not the panic – created by the consequences of a disintegration of the € (and thus of the EU) which, like the outburst against Le Pen in the 2017 presidential elections, will act as a catalyst in public opinion to force completion of the € framework. In the process, it will allow the indispensable institutional reforms and restore stability on the European continent, which has been severely shaken by the Ukrainian conflict.

It is regrettable that we will then have to thank Putin once again – after the rescue of NATO – for having put the EU on the path of reason and contributed decisively to offering prospects of peace and prosperity to its population!