Two seminal crises hit the Western world five years ago. In August 2008, the years-long tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi culminated in a full-scale conventional military attack against Georgia by Russian forces. Only a little bit later, in autumn 2008, the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered a global economic crisis.
The latter has now been dubbed as the worst and longest crisis of the last one hundred years, the more so as it is still on-going, having partially been revamped into a European debt crisis.
The “acute phase” of the Russian-Georgian war only lasted for five days, but had far-reaching ramifications that still require tackling.
Yet the vicious cycle of crisis continued to escalate after those hot summer and autumn days of 2008. Popular uprisings in the Wider Middle East at the end of 2010 and at the start of 2011—the Arab Spring—led to a total transformation of the mechanisms of power in Egypt, to a toppled government in Tunisia, to the fall of Colonel Gaddafi and an international military intervention in Libya, not to mention a bloody civil war that currently rages on in Syria. The phrase “strategic shock” seems most appropriate for describing what is happening on Europe’s doorstep in the Middle East.
So, the whole period—these past five years—could be characterised as an era of strategic shocks.
All this has put Europe under immense pressure. The strain has been so intense that there was a moment when it seemed that the Europe we know, the Europe in its post-Cold War form of existence was going to crack.
This pressure will not recede by itself; these tensions are not temporary. They stem from systemic issues and discord: the equilibrium that prevailed in Europe and in its neighbourhood after the Cold War is no more—be it in the political, economic, military or social spheres. At the same time, Europe’s behaviour and its institutions have perpetrated an era that has already passed. So, tensions are inevitable.
Against this backdrop, it is one of the key objectives of the Lennart Meri Conference 2013 to seek solutions to the situation we are in.