Deconstructing the Geopolitical Setting of the Refugee Crisis

Featured Image

Peter Schulze

Professor at Georg August University Goettingen

The refugee crisis which right now haunts Europe, if not solved or contained could spiral into the most severe challenge the European Union has faced since the end of the Cold War. A wave of more than one Million refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict areas is moving north, primarily to Germany and Sweden through Southern Europe, the Balkans. The pronouncement of the German chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, to open the flood gates for refugees from Syria caused a snowballing effect, mobilizing hundred of thousand refugees from Afghanistan to African, which sought to escape from the dreadful realities of their tortured societies. The Chancellor’s decision to welcome Syrian refugees was not based on any common procedures or a consensus among the 28 EU-member states.

Even more bewildering the German government seemed to have no trace of awareness how to control the magnitude of such human wave set free, i.e. how to deal with ever increasing numbers of refugees, how to distribute them, and what should be done to integrate them into existing schemes of immigration and asylum laws. The decision created a systemic crisis in the EU: the Dublin consensus is de facto abandoned and the Schengen Agreement is in danger to be discarded, at least temporarily. Most affected member states of the EU took refuge to national safety measures, erecting border defenses to stop the refugees from entering or crossing their countries.

The crisis, far from over, is accumulating a dynamic of its own, especially if host countries are confronted with the fact that the mostly young and male refugees will insist on moving their families as well to the promised lands of the EU. Already by now, main values of the Acquis Communautaire are brushed aside; national interests are gaining the upper hand. And solidarity among member states, especially the ones from Central Europe to share the burden, is missing. Even more precariously, the present crisis adds to a trend prevailing among all member states that citizens lose their trust in the EU. The European integration process is at the crossroads.

Naturally, if EU-institutions and national governments cannot offer convincing solutions how to control the influx of refugees, social movements and political parties hostile to Brussels and to pro-European politics are cashing in on such tendencies. In such troubled times the air is flooded with assumptions, finger pointing, and guilt projection: Narratives of conspiracies spread like wild fire.

And it seems understandable that questions are asked if such rapid and massive movements of people were engineered or caused by a combination of political, military and socioeconomic facts which happened in the past? Quite logically, such query is followed by questions of interests and motivations. What kind of actor or force could have an interest and the power to launch such forceful movements, which threaten the homogeneity and stability of European states and to what purpose?

Many fingers are pointing to the US policy in the region. Washington is held partly responsible for creating chaos, civil wars and social hardship for millions of people in the Arab world since the Bush administration went to war against Iraq. But did Washington deliberately or by thoughtlessness create the preconditions for the move of millions of people away from their homelands? Was there even an interest in weakening the European Union, because it was clear from the start that migration would move north toward the shores of the EU. This process started already years earlier via Italy, Spain and Greece. But if such a policy was conceived, what were the objectives and motivations?

The process started already during the 1990s but gained momentum in the new millennium to explode in civil strife during the so called Arabellion. On the surface we observed the awakening of the urban intelligenzia and middle classes in the Arab world and their fight against autocratic regimes. Regime change was written all over the walls. However, after regimes were toppled in Iraq; Libya, Egypt and elsewhere the promised rule of law and democratic development did not materialize. Instability and lasting conflicts among rival militias and military power clans had a disastrous effect on social and economic conditions. The societies were propelled into chaos and ethnic and religious strife, giving rise to mass migration to escape the horrors of civil war and terror.

Since the consequences of the war in Syria were felt in Europe, threatening the cohesion of the EU a debate gained vigor that the massive human exodus from Syria and from Africa via the transit routes of Libya resulted from a failed and irresponsible policy Washington pursued to restructure the Middle and the Near East. Roots of such policy conceptions date back to the early 1990s when influential policy advisers, like Zbigniew Brzezinski et al. considered picking up and transforming the space into some sort of US- dominium. The time was considered perfect, because the demise of the Soviet Union removed a rival power, and the Arab states were in a process of reorientation. The Bush administration started to implement those concepts step by step. One of the mayor steps was the war against Iraq, followed by continuous activities of US-NGO’s to strengthen civil society groups in Arab countries in their struggle against autocratic regimes. Corresponding activities were launched in CIS countries, Georgia and the Ukraine.

Expert debates in the USA which of course infiltrated Washington’s policy objectives, focused since the 1990s on how to maintain, preserve and even expand global leadership. US global leadership was defined as the only barrier against global chaos. The US as the unchallenged hegemonic actor, was called to shape this new order according to American domestic values and institutions. Brzezinski argues strongly for the promotion of democracy in Eastern Europe and the Arab world. And to implement successfully such project, the USA would have only an open window of opportunity until 2015.

However, while the project got in motion, the first decade of the new millennium also saw fundamental changes in the power constellation of international actors. Such changes delayed a fast realization of Washington’s goals. Just to illustrate the main changes:

  1. Due to economic and financial reasons the hegemony of the US proved to be temporary; In order to act as a global Hegemon in future, Washington is forced to preserve existing alliances and/or seek new loyal alliance partners which can offer assistance and are ready for burden sharing.
  2. Starting in 2000 Russia returned back in from the Cold, and by the end of the decade achieved a new role and position in international relations.
  3. Shifts in the global economy and emerging growth centers like China, the G 20, and generally the BRICS strengthened expectations in Moscow. The policy shift toward a multipolar world order was echoed even in some EU member states.
  4. Since 2009 the EU’s Russian policy changed from a cooperative toward a confrontational path. German domination of the EU’s Russia First policy was weakened by Central and Baltic member sates which pursued a staunch transatlantic orientation.

These factors influenced the political outlook of states which could participate in shaping a new world order. But let us look first back at the original goal how to preserve Washington’s position as the global Hegemon. The concepts of security, national sovereignty and Washington’s global mission are central for this thinking. In 2004, Brzezinski acknowledged that the traditional link between national sovereignty and security, a link which dominated security and state concepts since the Westphalia Treaties centuries ago, was at least weakened if not severed. In the global word of today modern technology in commercial and military means emerges as the “great equalizer of social vulnerability”. Consequently, physical/geographic distances are losing their impact on interstate relations and conflicts. So does weaponry in reach and possession. As far as Europe/Eurasia or its neighboring spaces in the Middle East and the Arabian states of the Mediterranean are concerned the distinction between regional or international conflicts has ceased to be a governing factor. And in the absence of large scale warfare between nations – at least in Europe/Eurasia- different forms and features of war and conflict have emerged. Since the downfall of the Soviet Union, embedded in the rapid processes of globalization demographic pressures, the effects of climate changes, desertification, and the results of growing geopolitical instability, religious and ethnic violence and warfare, civil wars lead to massive waves of migration.

However, against the objective of world domination by one superpower, Brzezinski opts for the transformation of US supremacy into a “self sustaining international system”. “Co-optive hegemony” or a “global community of shared interests” will eventually replace the unipolar and hegemonic structure of the present world order. Taking this though as central, he argues for deliberate efforts to forge the US and Europe together in order to weave a “broader fabric of binding and institutionalized international cooperation”. The complimentary partnership between Europe and the US will allow the US to remain a “Superpower Plus”, and under its security arrangement Europe can unite.

In light of such crucial, clear and forward looking ideas to maintain security in an insecure global environment by forging a plethora of closer interdependent relations with Europe, the question arises, did the US government followed or deviated from such course?

Let me shortly illustrate the complicated US-EU-network of relations. Incontestable seems to be the fact that the US and the EU are closely interwoven in multi-and bilateral economic and social as well as educational and cultural interlinkages, that NATO plays an enormous role assuring member states of security against unforeseen eventualities. Since decades both sides are bound together in the transatlantic Community and share common believes and values. Any move by Washington to hurt such relation by direct or indirect means would backfire and intensify the latent anti-American motions in most of the EU member states, apart from central Europe and the Baltic countries. Consequently, the US needs Europe to remain a global player and shouldn’t have any interest in weakening the EU. This does not imply that US policies are alerted against possible moves of some major EU member states to reduce US influence on their national policies. The French-German-Moscow community of interests against the Iraq war was telling shock for the US. Likewise a European peace and security order which would include Russia is not in the interests of Washington. Ever since 2003 Washington’s policy is directed predominantly against Germany to block any repetition of a rapprochement between Berlin and Moscow. Washington is doing everything possible to derail concepts that elements of the cooperative and pragmatic German Ostpolitik would be revived again and dominate the EU’s Russia policy. However, giving the chancellorship of Mrs. Merkel, such a danger is not in sight. Her handling of the NSA scandal is proof of she is deeply rooted in transatlantic orientations. Therefore, speculations about the US being the cause and spirit behind the migration waves are not convincing. Furthermore, the US needs the EU as a mediator to solve conflicts in the European theater, especially the conflict in the Ukraine. An immobilized EU, overburdened by domestic problems and unable to project its soft power for solving external problems, cannot be in the intermediate or long term interests of Washington.

Those arguments leave room for other explanations of the refugee crisis. Definitely US activities to project democracy supporting activities for Regime change have caused the present chaos and instability among Arab countries. Such US interventions are following a course since decades. Looking back and assessing US involvement in earlier conflicts elsewhere in the Caribbean, Chile, Vietnam, the CIS and the Arab world a highly awkward track record of short sighted foreign policy maneuvers appears. US foreign policies, covert or open interventions, seem to follow a crude and arrogant logic: a superpower cannot be held responsible for its actions. Nobody is able and will challenge such power. Consequently the non intended spin-off effects of US policies are rarely taken into consideration and the damage caused is to be cleared by others. This time, member states of the EU are burdened with the disastrous results of irrational, futile US interventions in the Arab world. However, as long as the interlocking networks between institutions and individual in education, politics and economics unite the US and the EU, nothing will challenge Washington’s indirect domination over Europe. To quote Brzezinski: „the indirect exercise of influence on dependent foreign elites“ is the core element of US soft power and the basis for US hegemony. The networks installed and projecting US influence on European elites in political, economic and cultural affairs, especially in media mushroomed during the Cold War era. They have become constituent elements of Europe’s political cultures, especially in Germany. They influence political decision making processes from within, external pressures are seldom needed. Since the demise of the Soviet Union they penetrated Central and Eastern Europe even more, exploiting deep-rooted traumata of Polish and Baltic societies against Russia. To keep Europe firmly embedded in the US sphere of influence is of preeminent importance for Washington. Such policy reflects a principle goal of US foreign policies which every US-President hold on to: knowing quite well that the loss of Europe would reduced US supremacy in international politics significantly.

Despite statements that the Asian pacific region will be pivotal for US interests, that Asia will be the dominant area of the 21st century and global issues will be decided in that region, President Obama did not deviate from the European path.

“Here, we see the future. As the world’s fastest-growing region-and home to more than have the global economy—the Asia Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority: creating jobs and opportunity for the American people. Obama was nicknamed the “first Asian president of the US”, referring to his family background, education and family member ties. Seen in the light of severe changes of force constellations in the Asian-pacific region, Obama may be forced to embark on a new design of Washington’s foreign and security objectives. However, at the time being it would be premature to speak of an “Asia First” policy evolving in circles of Washington’s power groups. A more balanced policy, focusing on both Europe and Asia may follow. This could mean an increase in military expenditures, more burden sharing for NATO member states, and demands to support more actively US global interests by out of area involvements. Objectives for such policy shift focus especially on Germany. Already during the Cold War era, however especially since German unification, Germany was considered the cardinal point in Washington’s policy to dominate Europe. The old NATO figure of speech –“to keep the Russian out, the Americans in, and the Germans down” – never lost its meaning and relevance for Washington. However, ever since the so-called anti-Bush coalition of 2003 between Moscow, Paris, Berlin and Brussels challenged US foreign policy goals, continuous uneasiness spread among US-expert circles. The Obama administration underlined such efforts by supporting the EU’s shift from a German dominated policy of cooperation (“partnership of modernization”) with Russia toward a more confrontational strategy dominated by Poland and the Baltic States plus the UK and Sweden. The instruments of “indirect power” did work well among transatlantic orientated members of the EU. And again, such shift underlines the indispensable relevance to keep European member states either in NATO or EU from moving out of the US orbit of influence. Linking or balancing European security as well with Russia would at least weaken US predominance over Europe. Seen in this light, the ongoing Ukrainian conflict served as a helpful and potent instrument to extinguish such possible European course and was effectively exploited by Western media to marginalize Moscow within Europe. Consequently, Washington could not reject but did not like the Minsk II-agreement, to find a political, negotiated solution to end the conflict.

In such political context the proposed TTIP would amount to an additional instrument to influence and redirect European’s corporate business elite’s objectives. At issue is the idea of re-industrialization of the US via foreign direct investments/FDI. Under such circumstances, the present scandals involving two main German corporations, VW and Deutsche Bank, being accused of fraud and money laundering could well be described as warning shots to obey to US demands.

List of Comments

No comments yet.