Ukraine War Has Started Moving Four Tectonic Plates Under NATO And Europe

Ukraine War Has Started Moving Four Tectonic Plates Under NATO And Europe

by R Jagannathan - Tuesday, April 11, 2023 12:02 PM IST
Ukraine War Has Started Moving Four Tectonic Plates Under NATO And EuropeWar-torn Ukraine.
  • The US view has almost always carried the day at NATO, but now there could be resistance as France and Germany decide what is best for themselves in the new world order where China is a crucial player.

    Broadly, four of five plates are moving under Europe.

The Ukraine war has changed Europe in ways that few can comprehend right now.

On the one hand, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has kept expanding, with Finland being the latest recruit. Sweden, another applicant, has been left wiping its feet on the doormat, which Turkey has threatened to pull.

At the surface, it would seem that the western military alliance is growing stronger than ever (Finland takes the alliance to 31 member-states). But if one were to look beyond the Ukraine war, several schisms will appear. They are already visible.

A clear indication of that came a few days ago, when French President Emmanuel Macron told two publications that Europe must not be driven by US or Chinese perceptions on Taiwan.

Politico quotes him as saying: “The worst thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and adapt to the American rhythm or a Chinese overreaction.”

As one of the two dominant powers of Europe, and with its own nuclear deterrent, France along with Germany will be the anchor of the new European approach to China and Taiwan.

This approach is not yet clearly articulated, and we don’t know if Germany is fully on board with Macron’s view. But Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited China last November, causing heartburn in the West because he chose to put economic ties over politics.

Between Macron’s recent handshake with Xi Jinping and Scholz’s earlier trip, it is clear that something is underway in terms of a break from past NATO policies.

The US view has almost always carried the day at NATO, but now there could be resistance as France and Germany decide what is best for themselves in the new world order where China is a crucial player.

Broadly, four of five plates are moving under Europe. 

First, there is the Franco-German plate, which does not want to be seen as playing second-fiddle to US interests. Germany’s decision to more than double its defence spending will add weight to this subtle shift, even though Germany may be more muted in displaying its independent mindset on security and economic issues. Once the German military grows, its views could become more strident.

Second, the smaller states of eastern and northern Europe, which means the tiny Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and the four Nordic ones, are contrarily becoming more vociferous in favour of NATO. Given their small sizes, Russia worries them more than the Big Two of Europe. Poland is a key pivot here.

The Nordic Four, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway, have recently agreed to integrate their air defences, an unheard of defence alliance between four independent countries. While the Nordics will be pro-US in NATO, they are going one step further towards creating their own joint deterrence strategy.

Third, the Australia-UK-US (Aukus) deal under which Australia will receive technology for nuclear submarines, suggests that there is an Anglo-Saxon alliance within the Western alliance.

The Aukus deal angered France, which had earlier believed it could get the Australian submarine contract, but the UK after Brexit has needed the US more than ever for relevance. And Australia, as a member of the British Commonwealth and additionally isolated in the southern hemisphere, saw benefits in having Uncle Sam on its side.

The view from Down Under is probably that only the US has the muscle to stand up to China in its backwaters.

Fourth, there is also Turkey, a member of NATO, but with close ties to the Russians. Turkey has supplied weapons to Ukraine, but it is also miffed with the West for harbouring some of the foes of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan is also unhappy with Western comments on the nature of the regime’s authoritarian tendencies. It is thus cosying up to Russia. And within eastern Europe, Hungary has similar reasons to not take a hostile attitude to Russia. It does not like Western criticism of President Viktor Orban’s style of functioning.

Fifth, the key Mediterranean powers, Spain, Portugal and Italy, will probably toe the Franco-German line, while the smaller states in the Balkans, the successor states of former Yugoslavia, will probably go whichever way the majority wants them to, with some specific reservations. Individually, they are too small to matter.

Europe is not anymore speaking with one voice, even though the Ukraine war has muted dissent.

Beyond the overt consensus against Russia, the different priorities of various sub-groups within Europe will drive policies towards Russia and China differently. While one group will be willing to toe the US line due to fears of Russia, another could be cosying up to Russia for its own reasons.

The UK will be seeking geopolitical relevance post-Brexit, and France and Germany may seek to create a core European view that will seek strategic autonomy from Uncle Sam.

For India, this means our diplomacy has to be finely crafted, with France and Germany being our main allies in mainland Europe, apart from a weaker Britain on the other side of the channel.

We need to buy into the British, French and German defence and economic linkages. Turkey is unlikely to be a friend, but the smaller states and the Mediterranean states need to be dealt with on their own terms.

Underlying this shift in Europe’s political undercurrents is one larger reality: Europe is not really a continent but made itself one at a time when its economic and military power was soaring.

If anyone looks at the map, Europe is really part of the larger Eurasian landmass, with modern-day Europe really being the north-western extension of Asia.

History connected Europe, India and China through the central Asian landmass, and this is likely to be the future hub of connectivity too, if only Chinese bullying can be reined in. Russia, once some kind of NATO sanity emerges, cannot be left out of this new econosphere.

The only countries that cannot see it this way are three island nations, the UK, Australia and that overgrown landlass called the US of A. When Eurasia becomes the centre of trade and geopolitics, these three can only play the role of tilting powers in Eurasia’s internal politics. 

The world has just got more complicated, but this was the way the world was before Europe discovered America and Australia. Europe is realising that America is not central to its geopolitics.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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