Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is the latest – and heaviest – blow inflicted on what we tend to call the »European security architecture«. It has brought major interstate war back to Europe. Deterrence, rearmament and defence are back on the political agenda. The Zeitenwende taking place in parts of western Europe has brought Europeans’ threat perceptions and political reactions closer together. Unexpectedly united, the EU has answered the Russian invasion with unprecedented sanction packages and arms deliveries to Ukraine. Formerly »braindead« NATO has been revitalised. Not only has Finland joined and Sweden is now waiting at the door, but transatlantic bonds have been strengthened by a US administration dedicated to European security.
The current situation on the battlefield and beyond is precarious. Ukraine, supported and supplied by the West, is trying to regain the military initiative with its counter-offensive. Russia has prepared for this with partial mobilisation and the erection of barriers in the occupied territories. But everyone agrees that the counteroffensive will not end the conflict. It may usher in negotiations, but it may just as likely lead to further escalation by Russia, with full mobilisation still on the cards.
In recent months there has been very little talk of potential Russian resort to nuclear weapons, or even NATO involvement. But war is inherently chaotic and uncontrollable, so these are still dangers to be reckoned with. On top of all this, the war is only the most tangible disruptor of European security. Many stabilising elements, such as arms control treaties, dialogue forums and the organisation dedicated to security in Europe, the OSCE, have been suspended, abandoned or barely kept alive.
Peace, one of the major achievements on the European continent since 1945, is barely mentioned anymore. When it is, too often it is accompanied by connotations of appeasement and defeatism. That is a mistake. Peace is one of humankind’s most precious achievements. But building it and making it last requires effort, ideas, political will and perseverance. At the moment, too many hurdles seem to obstruct a fair peace in Ukraine, and a clear avenue even to a ceasefire (a negative peace) remains obscure.
Peace should nonetheless be European politicians’ long-term aim. This series of comments provides ideas for a new European security environment able to provide the basis for a more peaceful future in the face of new challenges.