Militarisation of Europe? (Editorial, Polarities/Focus, 22 June 2001)

Editorial by Tapani Lausti

During the recent Nice Treaty referendum campaign in Ireland, many 'no' voters expressed concern about the militarisation of Europe. This fear was vehemently dismissed by the Irish government and other 'yes' campaigners. In my view, the issue merits serious examination and debate. I disliked the contempt which was shown to legitimate questions about the way the EU looks at security issues.

Since the various Balkans crises, a widely held view has been that wars are always looming somewhere and the only way to prepare for their eventuality is to be ready to send troops to areas of conflict. Voices warning that outside intervention might make situations worse have been treated as somehow irresponsible. The possibility that western policies in their pursuance of selfish aims have provoked instability in many parts of the world has been dismissed out of hand.

The American historian Gabriel Kolko has described in detail how the use of military force has had a lousy record from the point of view of what it was supposed to achieve. In his remarkable book, Century of War : Politics, Conflicts, and Society Since 1914 (The New Press 1994), Kolko draws an alarming picture of the 20th century's military thinking. Time and time again, political decision-makers and military strategists have pushed countries and armies towards completely unpredictable outcomes.

Whilst it is true that Kolko writes mainly about major international wars, his observations about unforeseen consequences seem pertinent to some current local conflicts:

"Orderly and nominally military strategies, with all their forecasts, have repeatedly and continually proven to be chimeras, and their advocates, however unintentionally, have been prophets of deceit and disaster incapable of fathoming the real social and military forces that define modern warfare."

As an example of criticism of recent strategic thinking, Simon Jenkins's columns in The Times have been constantly questioning the soundness of American and European decision-making in security issues. In a devastating critique (Nato prepares to reap the Balkan whirlwind, 21 March 2001), Jenkins warns NATO of "playing with fire":

"The region faces unprecedented instability, possibly sucking in Greece and Bulgaria as well as Macedonia. This is precisely what Britain's interventions in Bosnia and then Kosovo were supposed to forestall."

Another voice of warning has been that of Jan Öberg, Director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research. Öberg constantly laments the fact that where western powers have claimed to be seeking stability, de-stabilisation has become the reality. He writes about "the militarisation of local tension". Instead of seeking to support people who believe in multi-ethnic co-operation, outside intervention has constantly been fomenting intra-ethnic hatred. There is a lack of imagination about how to seek peace with non-violent methods.

"The problem is that there are no threats in or around Europe to which EU militarisation and Rapid Reaction Force is the (most appropriate) answer", Öberg writes.

And how is this reported to European public?

"The media have lost track and merely quote press statements, i.e. what the decision-makers want people to know, not what there is to know. They are filled with formalities and legitimations rather than with realities and problems."

Öberg worries that instead of being able to formulate peace projects, the decision-makers "could well end up preparing wars instead, even without intending to". (European Union militarisation: Can imperial policies and wars be avoided now? TFF PressInfo # 110, January 3, 2001. See also Several U.S. policies for Macedonia make up one de-stabilisation policy — A prelude to military intervention? TFF PressInfo # 112, June 10, 2001; Macedonia in crisis, June 2001, British Helsinki Human Rights Group)

Thus an alarming picture emerges. When western powers express concern about an unpredictably dangerous world, they seem to have absolutely no idea about how much they themselves might have been responsible in creating this instability — or, as Noam Chomsky has observed, in American strategic thinking, it is possible, 'without contradiction', to 'destabilise' in order to bring 'stability'. (A New Generation Draws the Line : Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West, Verso 2000).

During Ireland's Nice Treaty referendum campaign, one comment stayed in my mind. Professor John Maguire quoted accusations according to which the anti-Nice groups were "moralising from the sidelines, selfishly refusing to get their hands dirty in the messy search for peace?" This was his response:

"Only if it is selfish to be concerned about what is done to people we will never meet, by other people acting in our name under the banner of peace. Isn't it ironic that the nearer we come to maiming and killing many hundreds of people, the less we should want to know what is done in our name?" (Militarism is a threat democracy, The Irish Times, 1 June 2001)

22 June 2001


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