Academic journal article Policy Review

A Turning Point for Europe's East

Academic journal article Policy Review

A Turning Point for Europe's East

Article excerpt

IN THE EARLY months of the second decade of the 21st century that grey area of the Euro-Atlantic where Eastern Europe fades into the post-Soviet world seems much the same as it has been since the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991. Belarus remains a dictatorship. Tbilisi anticipates war with Russia. The ever unstable Kiev continues to flirt with national bankruptcy. Moscow grumbles on about its diminished status and searches the horizon for signs of NATO's encroachment. And forgotten Moldova remains forgotten.

One could be forgiven for thinking that nothing ever really changes in this part of the world. But one would be wrong. Lost in the latest flurry of reporting on the recent presidential election in Ukraine is the larger story that the European Union has begun at long last to build an eastern policy on behalf of both Europe and the United States. Somehow overlooked in the latest controversies over the construction of a pipeline or the self-interested sale of an aircraft carrier has been the unprecedented realignment of trade and multilateral institutions in relations between Europe and the former Soviet Union. And this has changed everything.

First and foremost, there has been a fundamental change in how the twin forces of NATO expansion and EU integration function. The change is to such a degree that it is reasonable to think that a new historical period is beginning in Europe's east. More to the point, this change is poorly understood in both Washington and Brussels. The recent past of massive European integration and multiple NATO expansions in Central Europe is simply no longer a helpful prologue to the challenges we now face in Europe's east.

The immediate questions are: How did we stumble into a new historical period? And, when did we leave the ebullient, optimistic, and expanding world of post-1989 Europe? Well, anyone who attended the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008 must have known that the go-go period of NATO expansion had become a thing of the past. Since the invitation of Croatia to join NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2002, there had been no further invitation to map until Montenegro was permitted to begin the process in December 2009. Beyond vague associations with Ukraine and Georgia, NATO as an institution has stalled at the border of post-Soviet space.

Like NATO, the limited optimism and timid political risk-taking of the European Union have been confined to the Balkans, and even forward movement there within the EU'S enlargement policy has been shrouded in public wailing about "enlargement fatigue" and rumblings in European bureaucracies about "privileged partnerships." Last year, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel were correct and cruelly candid in maintaining that nothing should happen in expansion or integration which could place the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty at the slightest political risk. These were all warning signs that a remarkable political period in Europe--stretching over 20 years, from the fall of the Berlin Wall though the integration of roughly 110 million "new Europeans"--was coming to an end.

A new phase

THE BEGINNING OF a new historical period, most evident in Europe's east, occurred sometime in 2009 and was caused and accompanied by four major shifts in geopolitics. If we look at each of these individually, we can begin to see the contours of a new politics in Europe's east.

The most important event in 2009 was undoubtedly economic. There is little doubt that the overthrow of large-scale integration as the grand strategy of the West was precipitated by the global recession. The protectionist, isolationist, and inflationary effects which we anticipated from the history of the 1930s did not occur, but our exuberance for expansion and globalization collapsed faster than Lehman Brothers. Overnight, strategy turned inward rather than internationalist--preservationist rather than activist. …

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