By William Pfaff
SOFIA, Bulgaria—The most striking phenomenon at the discussions taking place at the New Policy Forum held here last weekend, under the sponsorship of Moscow’s Gorbachev Forum and the Bulgarian Slavyani Foundation, was that the great American “Long War” on global terror and violent extremism was not once mentioned. No one seemed to think it worth attention, although the present national outlook for the U.S. was alluded to, usually in pessimistic terms.
Since the conference participation was East-Central European and Eurasian, as well as West European-British-American, this seemed an interesting comment on how little interested others are in Washington’s present military and geostrategic preoccupations.
There was much more interest in the various possible future configurations of global political and economic power of Russia and its Central Asian and Caucasian neighbors, the European Union bloc (to which Bulgaria is the most recent adherent), and China.
The formal subject was “Europe Looks East,” and while that seemed to mean Atlantic and Central Europe looking at Russia and beyond, more important was Western Europe looking at relations between Europe and Russia, plus Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. The second perplexing subject was the Balkans, still the location of Europe’s most persistent (and contagious) troubles, including those of Western Europe’s own problems in dealing with Balkan immigrants and migrants.
In Balkan state relations, much now is blamed by the interested parties on the American-drafted Dayton Accords that ended the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, following NATO bombing of Serbia, and the effective amputation of Kosovo from Serbia (which left several other ethnically defined nations on the fringes, in parlous independence).
However the American intervention was the consequence of Western Europe’s own disgraceful refusal to deal seriously with the Yugoslav succession wars, instigated by Serbia’s efforts to seize the Serbian-populated areas of neighboring Croatia and Bosnia. Instead of demanding that Slobodan Milosevic desist, under threat of a (U.N.-mandated) European military intervention (the U.S. refrained—“we have no dog in this fight,” James Baker said, and indeed it was time for Western Europe to assume responsibility), the Europeans settled for an absurd and pusillanimous U.N. peacekeeping resolution and mission.
Since there was no peace to keep, this mission spent its time being shot at by both sides until the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, and Serbia’s repression of the Kosovo population, prompted the Europeans to appeal to the U.S. for help. NATO’s bombing of Bosnia and Herzegovina followed, and then of Serbia, until the Dayton Accords ended the war.
These events produced several troublesome precedents: NATO’s illegal bombing intervention, and Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008, confirmed in international law in 2010. (It has been suggested that on the Kosovo precedent, the Palestinians could demand U.N. enforcement of their national independence within the territories assigned Palestine by the U.N. partition of the country in 1948. Caucasian irredentists also have taken note of the possibilities of unilateral declarations of independence.) It has also left the EU with the question of admitting the Balkan states still outside it—and, if not, what to do about them.
Turning to the larger geopolitical issues, Russian membership in the EU was broached, not too seriously, as was Russia’s joining NATO. The latter would seem to make NATO’s existence rather pointless, although presumably leaving the U.S. as the permanent leader, which would please Washington. The mission of the alliance in the past was to fight Russia. Now it seems to be to fight America’s wars, which one would think Russia reluctant to do. (What would Georgia and the Baltic states make of Russian membership, since their main reason for belonging to NATO is to be protected from Russia?)
Among the Russians present at the meeting, and some of the Europeans, there seemed to be more interest in a Russian-European Union grouping—Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Common European Home”—which offers peaceful relations as well as economic and trade advantages, especially with respect to energy markets and supplies. However, under Vladimir Putin, at least, this relationship with Russia is understood in Western Europe as containing an unspoken danger, implying possibilities ranging from political intimidation by Russian energy suppliers, to wholesale energy blackmail, a serious source of conflict.
No one knows quite what to make of China’s future, nor of what its role would be in a future global geopolitical scheme, the possibilities seemingly including conflict with the U.S. over Far Eastern domination (or global rule, as the neo-conservatives would suggest). During the Cold War, there was concern in Europe concerning the U.S. and the USSR’s dividing up Europe between them. What would Japan make of an (improbable, let me add) American-Chinese political condominium? All of this leaves the Afghanistan war seeming simple. All the NATO allies have to do is to go home, and leave the Afghans (Talibans and the others), Pakistanis, Pushtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Pamirs and Indians to settle the region’s problems among themselves, which, in the end, is what they will do.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.
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