April 24, 2015

May the Force Be With You. Perhaps Not …

Federal chancellor Helmut Schmidt (r) and the GDR state council chairman Erich Honecker (l) shaking hands on 1st August 1975 before the beginning of the working session on the last day of the CSCE conference in Helsinki in Finland.
Federal chancellor Helmut Schmidt (r) and the GDR state council chairman Erich Honecker (l) shaking hands on 1st August 1975 before the beginning of the working session on the last day of the CSCE conference in Helsinki in Finland.

The entire 20th century meant finding answers to the question of how to end wars. Both WWI and WWII caused mankind suffering and destruction on an unprecedented scale. The line between victors and vanquished became almost invisible, albeit that each war had its official peace treaty. But the very logic between politics and war changed profoundly. “War is the continuation of politics by other means”, the famous maxim by the Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz, lost its validity after WWII. At least between the great powers.

The birth of the Helsinki Final Act 40 years ago was carried away by the same logic—no use of force in the settlement of international disputes. One cornerstone of the Final Act was that there should be no change of borders without mutual consent. Clausewitzian thinking was heralded to be dead and buried, and the end of history was proclaimed.
So it all seemed. The West, and Europe in particular, enjoyed prosperity safe in the knowledge that the international institutions created after WWII to keep an eye on security and refrain from war-making would overcome all challenges. This thinking was strengthened with the end of Cold War, as many European countries reduced their defence spending.
If the Russo–Georgian War in 2008 did not serve as a wake-up call for the West, the occupation and annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014 certainly did. Clausewitzian logic is back, whether we want it or not.
Was not the West able to answer the question how to end the Cold War? Russia sees Ukraine’s behaviour as Western intervention in her sphere of influence, although the US has given much more money to support democratic reform in Russia than in Ukraine. One could say that the West did much to prevent Russia’s isolation after the end of the Cold War and lessen her feelings of humiliation.
The West did not succeed. Although Russia was the most important country to emerge from the communist bloc, the other former communist countries had be taken into account as well. This all led to growing tensions between those countries and Russia, since the latter did not welcome the post-Clausewitzian world, but instead returned to the 19th century.
The Lennart Meri Conference 2015 tries to answer some of these issues, especially the question of what to do in a world where the constraints of the Helsinki Final Act have essentially been broken.

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