Faced with the assertive power of Russia, Turkey, Iran, and China, Europe is witnessing a return to geopolitics where the struggle for self-determination becomes the stepping stone for political profit. Opportunist leaders are evoking geopolitical thinking in an attempt to shade the balance of power and reassert old territorial claims. Considering the geopolitical interests of Europe vis-a-vis national security threats imposed for example by Russia’s revisionist ambitions and Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East’s current rearrangement of borders place a great pressure on the European Union to reconsider its defence policy strategy in an attempt to adjust the old territorial integrity concept in the era of new security risks. However, the issue is way more complex, as the interests of one player become the Achilles’ heel for another.
So far, the strategic line followed by the European Union has been soft, clearly avoiding taking military action or explicitly referring to a return of geopolitics that extends well beyond Europe taking into account the geopolitical arrangements in Eurasia, the Middle East, and North Africa, the neighbors of the European continent. Global leaders need to acknowledge the dangers of returning to identity politics in the era of multilateral trade agreements and international co-operation, and that is an area well played by the European liberal leaders who would focus on the human rights dimension spreading a type of liberalism that supposedly diminishes the ambitions of any state or domestic forces to reestablish their borders against a neighboring enemy on the grounds of self-determination and historicity with the firm belief that joining the global arena could potentially end the struggle for recognition, secession or reassertion of borders.
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The European Union is reluctant to take a stand even though the European agenda is filled up with Brexit, migration and the Euro crisis which intensify the inefficiencies traced on defence and security issues, leaving Europe following the usual sanctions strategy to deal with to those who put national security at a risk Russia, on the eve of the annexation of Crimea. Yet, Putin’s Russia is not the only assertive power threatening national security, having in mind leaders like Erdogan or Mohammad bin Salman who clearly illustrate how today’s politics are still shaped by geopolitical interests and a struggle for maintaining power, from taking advantage of oil extraction to energy security and natural gas issues, the boundaries that marked a country’s sovereignty for centuries are perceived as invisible fabricated lines that could be erased and “rewritten” on the grounds of historical necessity or simply out of a single leader’s ambitious attitude.
Here is where we should consider if the lines are being crossed or if there are any lines to be crossed, in the first place. One thing we can take for certain is that world politics is entering a new epoch marked by the return to geopolitics as a means of responding to new global challenges e.g. integrated markets, terrorism, refugee crisis and unstable political chaos in the Middle East affecting the whole system and individual leaders. At this point, we should consider as well whether the geopolitical reasoning is sufficient enough to justify reassertion of power, or whether indeed the anxiety and instability coming out of a rapidly changing world places the pressure of revising old territorial claims? The idea of a foreign policy crisis is well played by conservative minds that would rather drag revisited concepts of common past when playing the card of “classical geopolitics”, in an attempt to appeal to a community’s collective memories vis-a-vis greater world interconnectedness and mobility of people. Interpreting shared lessons of the past as the means to deal with the instability experienced today seems like approaching the issue of geopolitics as an identity crisis in terms of foreign policy and strategic thinking. A constructivist analysis tells us that a contemporary identity crisis is simply a blender of old-fashioned power tactics covered with legitimate claims on territorial borders and cultural and linguistic affirmations to respond to new world arrangements that threaten the interests of one particular party. Going back in history, European geopolitics in the 1990s concerned the unification of Germany, dissolution of Yugoslavia, dismemberment of the Soviet Union that subsequently strengthened the integration into the European Union and NATO, marking the post-Cold war settlements.
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In the post-Cold War era, outside players are using identity politics as a powerful device in meticulously taking advantage of the situation while European leaders are struggling to prove themselves as capable world diplomats yet engaging into debates within the Union concerning common policies on protectionism and trade barriers, sustainability and energy security, border control and defence, being quite successful in some areas but completely incompetent in some others which leaves us wondering: Are we, in fact, witnessing a return on geopolitics in the European continent or the practical moment has arrived for Europe to push for a return to geopolitics while still being able to make use of specific circumstances and influence current events around the globe, despite the lack in its institutions and a number of inefficiencies such as the preoccupation with the rule of law and bureaucratic procedures?
In light of opportunism, taking a step back and reflecting on the matter of agency in terms of legitimacy and authorization of action might seem precautionary and maybe dubious but the shared responsibility in tolerating the intolerant is something that Europe could start thinking about.
Ex-student, University of Cyprus