A Special Report by Aurora Weiss
VIENNA | 24 November 2023 (IDN) — “Europe’s Major Challenges” was the focus of the 27th European Forum Vienna organized by the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES) at the Diplomatic Academy. Key experts, policymakers and think tankers from across the continent discussed the security challenges facing Europe against the backdrop of the Ukraine War and the conflict between Israel and the Hamas “terrorists”.
“It is evident that the war of Russia against Ukraine is gradually transforming from the aggression of one country, Russia, into a global geopolitical contest between the West and East. China is the main beneficiary of the war, able to buy discounted energy from Russia and deliver drones and other weapons to Moscow,” stressed Mikuláš Dzurinda, the former prime minister of Slovakia, who held the post from 1998 to 2006 and served in various positions in government since he entered politics in 1990.
Duzinda was speaking at the event organized by AIES jointly with the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, the Diplomatic Academy Vienna, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Defence, the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, the European Security and Defence College, Land Niederösterreich (the Province of Lower Austria), and the Political Academy.
“It seems China will ‘feed’ Russia as much and as long as needed to protract the war, profit from it, and weaken the West. China’s aim is that the longer the conflict between Russia and Ukraine lasts, the higher the chances for cracks to show within the Western community,” he added.
Another wider military confrontation looms in the Middle East, fuelled by the alliance between Hamas and Hezbollah with Iran’s support. “It is also obvious whom Russia is siding with. China stands inconspicuously aside, playing with its money and influence.”
The global contest between the West and the East, with China at the helm, concerns not only military mobility and hard power but also the economy, energy deliveries, strategic mineral resources, and technologies. China is continuing its policy of subsidies and aggressive assertions.
The OECD (38-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development based in Paris) has warned that the global steel market is facing growing overcapacity, which is attributed to Chinese investments in new production capacity, especially in Asia. The EU has recently launched an anti-subsidy investigation into China’s electric vehicle makers.
The Global West vs. Global East
Mid-October, we were witness to two distinct pictures within one week: Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping meeting in Beijing to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative and on the other, the European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen, the European Council President Charles Michel and EU High Representative Joseph Borrell with the US President Joe Biden in Washington. He invited them to join a “steel and aluminum club” in exchange for the US dropping its threat to reimpose tariffs on imports from Europe.
“The symbolism of the current global geopolitical contest could not be more accurate, more impressive. On one side, we have the Global East, represented by China and Russia; on the other, we have the Global West, represented by the US and the EU. Does it mean a new world order has been set in motion?”, asked Mikuláš Dzurinda.
The UN Security Council is more paralyzed than effective, the biggest players are challenging the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the number of conflicts is rising, not decreasing. There is no end to the challenges the European Security and Defence Policy is facing.
The United States and the European Union have always been geopolitical allies with growing security and defence ties and close military-to-military cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
However, at the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine War, a drone was launched from Ukraine that flew over Hungary and Croatia, both member states of NATO and the EU, and it dropped close to the centre of the capital, Zagreb—evidence that no one is guarding the sky above the EU, not even the “expensive subscription” of the member states to NATO.
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said it was a serious incident: “We need to review certain procedural issues and determine how it is possible that this size of the plane was not shot down on the way from Ukraine to Zagreb.”
However, the EU’s First Live Military Exercise from 16 to 23 October 2023 in Spain indicated that the European Union is keen to avoid incidents such as the drone dropping close to the centre of Zagreb.
“For the first time, military units, troops, and personnel from 19 Member States tested together the EU’s military readiness and capacity to respond more quickly and decisively to external conflicts and crises. More live exercises are expected to occur in 2024 and 2025,” assures an official document.
We asked Johann Frank, Director of Cabinet of the European Union Military Committee Chairman about the concrete operational strategy of EU defence and whether he considers it necessary to define and operationally protect the external EU borders. What if Russia, together with Belarus, invades neighbouring member states like Poland or Finland? What if a conflict breaks out in the easily inflammable Western Balkans?
“We no longer live in the same world as 15 or 10 years ago: From policy of choice to a policy of necessity! NATO invoked Article 5 for the first and only time in its history after the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States. Even Austria, which is neutral and not a member of NATO, can send aid in the case of the coming into effect of Article 5 of the Treaty. There is also Article 44 TEU introduced with the Lisbon Treaty, which allows the Council to entrust the implementation of a civilian mission or military operations,” said Johann Frank, Major General Director Cabinet of the Chairman of the EU Military Committee.
Assuming that in the event of an escalation of the conflict in the Pacific between China and Taiwan, entire resources will be moved there, Theresa Fallon, Director of the Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies (CREAS), branded China as a shark, adding: “They have fed this little shark. Now when it is grown up in a big shark, everyone says they are expected to be a dolphin”.
Continued Russian aggression in Ukraine
We talked to Markus Reisner, head of the Research and Development Department at the Austrian Military Academy and Commander of the Austrian ‘Gardebataillon’, tasked with representing Austria at home and abroad.
He said that further devastating escalations characterize the war over Ukraine. These include several spectacular but not decisive attacks and offensives carried out by each other. These indicate that a pacification of the conflict can be ruled out soon. The greatest danger for the West, and for Europe in particular, lies in underestimating the conflict with Russia over Ukraine. Since 10 October 2022, winter has been characterized by ongoing Russian attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. These have resulted in severe destruction.
“A new Russian strategic air campaign is expected in the coming winter. The Ukrainian secret service assumes that Russia has made over 1,000 cruise missiles and ballistic missiles available for this purpose. In addition, there are thousands of Iranian-made drones. New attacks could have devastating consequences for Ukraine. Its ability to continue the defensive campaign is at risk. Thirty-five million people in Ukraine are facing another harsh winter with an uncertain outcome,” Reisner warned.
In his view, the Russians currently want to take advantage of the current situation to conquer Ukraine and avail of the opportunity that the conflict in the Middle East has opened up. The centre of gravity must work. The Russian centre of gravity is the will of citizens to follow President Putin. The Ukrainian centre of gravity, on the other hand, is the support from the West and how many soldiers they have. Ukraine gets enough of it to defend herself but not to make a significant resistance, Reisner pointed out.
Hardly anyone expected the sanctions to have Putin give up on his ambitions. Alena Kudzko, Vice President for Policy and Programming at GLOBSEC, a think tank in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, said that the effect of sanctions should be assessed considering what the situation would have been if there had been no sanctions. She is convinced that Russia’s budget would have been significantly bigger than it is now without sanctions. That means Russia would have had much more money to spend on the military and domestically. Russia would have been able to produce much more advanced equipment, but now it has no option but to indulge in additional costly and imperfect manoeuvres to get the necessary supplies and technology for its military industry. While sanctions by themselves cannot ensure Russia’s defeat, they have significantly restricted Russia’s ability to advance in Ukraine.
“The US is the best ally the EU has, even if it’s not perfect—of all other partners in the world.” The two countries have similar interests. “At the same time, over the past two years, the EU has learned that it needs to have a much broader set of partnerships with countries and regions around the world. Many of those partnerships will be situational and concern a specific area of shared interest—security, technological cooperation, or trade. But they will also be indispensable going forward”, Alena Kudzko told us in a conversation after the conference.
Vladimir Milov, Deputy Minister of Energy of Russia, also agreed that the sanctions work, and that the EU needs to be patient. But he also reminded us that Russia is still a big player. The military and the economy are declining in Russia because of inflation, which shows the sanctions are working.
“Patience is what we need to have. Putin underestimated European unity. It should be maintained,” said Milov, who knows Putin and Russia very well.
Emil Brix, Ambassador and Director of the Vienna School of International Studies, pointed out that border porosity and migration are major threats to EU safety.
Regarding foreign political relations, Hüseyin Bağcı, President of the Turkish Foreign Policy Institute, is certain: “Turkey has always been a friend and biggest defender of Europe.”
Europe’s “soft bally,” the Western Balkans
One of the possible points of conflict escalation is in the Western Balkans, where Yugoslavia existed from 1918 to 1992. With almost daily escalations between the Republic of Serbia and Kosovo, the EU is trying to integrate the region’s countries into its system. While Montenegro has shown great progress in dealing with corruption and crime in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the motivation is sinking under the divided leadership between Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks.
Also worrying is the role and performance of Christian Schmidt, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina since August 2021, which is characterized as “colonialist and arrogant”.
In his presentation at the 27th European Forum Vienna, discussing EU’s security challenges, Schmidt devoted himself to the person and work of Milorad Dodik, the president of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while overlooking that the biggest problem in the integration of that country in the EU is not one individual, but, in the view of knowledgeable people, “Islamization and radicalization among the Bosniak population, that has a strong foundation in financing through the Arab and Muslim countries”.
“I can’t sit with him at the same table and talk. I can’t have a meeting with Dodik,” complained EU’s High Representative, Christian Schmidt. This left us wondering whether a diplomat who cannot sit at a table and talk to someone or persons to resolve a situation would not do well to resign his job. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: 27th European Forum Vienna | AIES Vienna
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