The sabre-rattling in Ukraine is heating up the Black Sea

As things heat up between Russia and Ukraine, George Vișan explains the stakes for each player and the strategic landscape in the Black Sea region.

Seven years have passed since Russia annexed Crimea and began a proxy war against Ukraine. These events marked the beginning of the most brutal and serious armed conflict in the Black Sea region since the end of World War II. The advent of war between Russia and Ukraine in 2014 has had a negative impact on the regional security environment. Furthermore, subsequent events have changed the regional balance of force in Russia’s favour. 

Russia: projecting force within the Black Sea region and beyond

Since 2014 the Russian Federation has been engaged in a proxy war against its neighbour Ukraine. The purpose of the Kremlin’s military campaign against Kyiv has been to stop it from joining the West and thus bring Western influence closer to Russia’s border. Russia claims the former republics of the Soviet Union as its own sphere of influence.1Moscow began its aggression against Ukraine in 2014 when it became clear that rather than joining Russia’s Eurasian Union, the country would have preferred to have closer relations with the West, by signing an association and free trade agreement with the European Union. Russian elites construed Ukraine’s option for the EU as a further step towards NATO accession. Despite being a part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP), Ukraine’s NATO accession was not on the table in 2014 and seemed a very unrealistic possibility. There was no consensus in 2014 within Ukraine in favour of becoming a NATO member, and there was no consensus within the Alliance for Ukraine to join it. 

In February 2014, Russian troops wearing unmarked uniforms took over military installations in Crimea, as well as key civilian infrastructure. On 18 March 2014, Crimea was officially annexed by the Russian Federation after an illegal referendum. In parallel with its actions in Crimea, Russian-sponsored individuals started a breakaway movement in eastern Ukraine, in the coal-rich and mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region. When Ukrainian armed forces decisively beat back the rebels in Donbass, Russian forces intervened on their behalf, decimating the Ukrainian troops with precision fire and armoured assaults.

The annexation of Crimea provided Russia with an important geostrategic asset in the Black Sea region and beyond. The Kremlin can now effectively project force within the Black Sea region, as well as beyond in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Despite the Minsk agreements signed in 2014 and the ongoing Normandy Format talks, fighting continues in eastern Ukraine to this day. Russia is fighting a proxy war of attrition against Ukraine, the goal of which is to compromise Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity in order to turn Kyiv away from its Western path. 

The annexation of Crimea provided Russia with an important geostrategic asset in the Black Sea region and beyond. The Kremlin can now effectively project force within the Black Sea region, as well as beyond in the Eastern Mediterranean. According to the new US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, “Russia’s strategic goals in the Black Sea include maintaining access to the Mediterranean Sea and facilitating the defense of the Russian homeland. In the Eastern Mediterranean Russia seeks to expand power projection capabilities, demonstrate expeditionary reach to potential partners and influence a variety of ongoing diplomatic issues in its favor”2

The value and relevance of the annexation was proven in 2015, when Russia intervened militarily in Syria using Crimea as the main staging ground for the operation. The only limitations regarding the use of Crimea as a power projection asset are geographical and legal: the Straits of Bosporus & the Dardanelles, and the Montreux Convention. In the Black Sea, Russia’s military presence is reinforced by its naval base at Novorossiysk and by the troops deployed in the breakaway ‘republics’ of Abkhazia and Ossetia, in Georgia. 

Over the past seven years Russia has managed to gradually overturn the military balance in the region in its favour. Moreover, the Kremlin has learned how to take advantage of the existing differences between NATO members and use it to its favour. Turkey’s grievances with the US, Greece and France have been exploited and used as a wedge against NATO.

One of the Russian Federation’s main priorities after it took over Crimea from Ukraine has been to revamp the military assets based in the peninsula: the Black Sea Fleet (BSF), air bases for naval aviation and the Russian Air Space Forces, as well as infrastructure for the land forces. 

Since 2014, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has received six new Kilo class submarines and three new Admiral Grigorovich class guided missile frigates. It should have received six of this new type of guided missile frigate, but Ukraine cut off the supply of turbine engines. Nevertheless, until Russian industry can replace the Ukrainian turbines with similar products, in place of the three frigates, the Black Sea Fleet has received small missile corvettes capable of launching land attack cruise missiles. Moreover, the shipyards in Crimea have started building fast attack craft for the Russian navy. 

The Crimean peninsula has been transformed into a ‘strategic bastion‘ by Russia in order to protect its territorial acquisition as well as to project power. It has also become one of the places where Russia showcases its latest military technology, for both strategic reasons and marketing purposes. In Crimea the Kremlin has deployed S-400 Triumf long-range integrated air defence systems, as well as Bal & Bastion-P coastal defence systems3. It has created an area denial and anti-access (A2/AD) network  which secures the newly acquired territory, provides a good air and maritime picture, increases the cost to outside actors of projecting force, and allows it to blackmail neighbouring countries into submission during a crisis. In the near future Russia will improve its surveillance and awareness of the Black and Mediterranean Seas by deploying the Voronezh-SM long range radar in Sevastopol4.

Lacking new large surface combatants, the Russian navy has been forced to deploy Kalibr cruise missile on every newly commissioned submarine and surface combatant.5 This tendency towards ‘Kalibri-sation’, as the Military Balance has called it, is being used to compensate for the newer and larger surface ships which are now beyond the capabilities of the Russian shipyards, as well as for the cost of such vessels. It represents a trend for escalation dominance and operational flexibility, as the Kalibr missile in its land attack variant is capable of hitting targets as far as 2000 km away. 

Of particular note for the Black Sea region is the development and deployment of the Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile. This is likely an Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile adapted for launch from MiG-31K long-range interceptors6. Its stated purpose is to take out ballistic missile defence interceptor bases, such as the one at Deveselu in Romania. This particular combination of missile and aircraft was first deployed in the Southern Military District which encompasses the Black Sea region. This is a very potent combination of carrier and vector: the MiG-31 is a high-speed long-range interceptor designed at the height of the Cold War to deal with US SR-71 supersonic reconnaissance aircraft. The Iskander-M is equipped with an electro-optical guidance system which allows is to make terminal manoeuvres before hitting its target. The MiG-31K and the Kinzhal could be used to strike time-sensitive targets in the region such as air bases, naval bases and reinforced command centres. 

Russia plans to further escalate the arms race in the Black Sea region by deploying the first hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile in the world, the 3M22 Zirconwhich is currently undergoing operational testing. If the system works as advertised by Kremlin propaganda, it will provide the Russian Navy with a capability without parallel in NATO navies. Moscow considers hypersonic weapon systems as a major component of its conventional deterrence. 

Of particular concern for US planners is the so-called ‘escalate to deescalate’ strategy, which is defined as “a strategy that purportedly seeks to deescalate a conventional conflict through coercive threats, including limited nuclear use”. The Kremlin could use this strategy in a potential conventional war against NATO to secure territory Russia seizes by threatening and even using tactical nuclear weapons. However, it must be noted that this strategy has not been mentioned in any Russian policy-planning document, but has been inferred by US military and nuclear weapons experts.

Although Russia seems to have achieved some sort of local military superiority, it has by no means overtaken NATO. Overall the Alliance, and the United States in particular, still have the lead. However, Russia is trying to use some of its few competitive advantages in missile technology to offset NATO’s military preponderance by trying to exploit its dependence on follow-on reinforcements.19 The process of modernising the Russian armed forces began in 2011, but has not yet been completed. Russia’s armed forces still depend on battalion tactical groups (BTGs, similar to Western battle groups) rather than standing operational military formations. Russian forces now have around 136 battalion tactical groups made up exclusively of professional soldiers; the target is 200 such groups20

Russia’s military posture may not be sustainable in the future for a multitude of overlapping reasons. First, Russia has overextended itself militarily over the past seven years: it has been involved in conflicts or has deployed troops to Ukraine, Syria and Libya. It maintains a significant naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea, and has plans to build bases in the region. Losses from these conflicts have mounted over the years, sapping political support at home. Second, its economy has been affected by the cumulative effects of the sanctions imposed after 2014, the drop in oil prices and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. More importantly, with access to Western technology being curtailed, Russian defence programs have stalled or been delayed7. Third, the pandemic is forcing the Kremlin to pay attention to domestic developments. The handling of the SARS-CoV 2 pandemic has not been stellar, Russian authorities being forced to acknowledge at the start of 2021 that more Russians have died of the pandemic than previously announced. Finally, the protests that have developed following the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and his subsequent arrest is forcing the Kremlin to prioritise the survival of the regime, rather than force projection.

In the ex-Soviet space, Russia’s reputation as an ally and security provider has taken a serious hit after Azerbaijan’s success in reclaiming some of its territory in the Nagorno Karabakh region, following a short but highly sophisticated war in 2020. Moreover, an outside power (Turkey) has been allowed to give military support to a client state (Azerbaijan) in Moscow’s ‘backyard’ (Central Asia) without visible consequences. The security guarantees provided by the CSTO and Russia’s claim to a sphere of influence in its near aboard have been called into question. In the case of Armenia, the Kremlin has sacrificed strategic credibility for dubious local political gains.

Russia presents a complex strategic picture of military and diplomatic prowess, but also of political fragility. This situation defines Moscow more as a regional actor, with some limited capabilities of power projection, than as a global player which could keep up with the US or China. However, this disparity between capabilities and status should not lead to underestimating Moscow’s will to generate instability in its near abroad. 

NATO: a two-speed approach for the eastern flank 

Seven years after the annexation of Crimea and five years after NATO’s Warsaw Summit, the alliance is maintaining a two-speed approach for the eastern flank: Poland and the three Baltic states are recipients of the Enhanced Forward Presence force-posture approach, while Romania and Bulgaria have to make do with the Tailored Forward Presence. A two-speed approach regarding the security and defence of the eastern flank is not conducive to a coherent deterrence posture. The Trump administration exacerbated this issue with a schizoid policy regarding NATO and a Janus-faced approach to Russia. Despite deploying more troops on the eastern flank and allocating more funds to the European Deterrence Initiative, the Trump administration did not fundamentally alter NATO’s military posture on the eastern flank.8 Moreover, it failed to articulate a new NATO strategic concept; also, President Trump’s instinctive distrust of multilateral alliances dealt a severe blow to the Alliance’s cohesion. The decision taken in July 2020 to withdraw troops from Germany, because Berlin was not meeting its 2% of GDP spending target and for supporting the ill-conceived North Stream 2 gas pipeline, has needlessly exacerbated relations with one of Washington’s most important allies in Europe and has called its commitment to Europe’s security into question.9 Overall, the American attitude towards NATO in the past four years has had a negative impact on the Alliance’s cohesion, and has contributed to what President Emmanuel Macron has termed NATO’s ‘brain death‘. 

If Washington exposed profound divisions between the president and the deep
administration over strategic directions and tactical execution, some Western European members have sent mixed signals that have negatively impacted NATO’s posture on the eastern flank. Germany and France have indeed deployed troops in the Baltic states and Poland; however, Berlin is still underinvesting in defence and cooperating with Russia in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Paris considers terrorism to be the greatest security threat it faces, and is mainly focused on the Middle East, North Africa, the Sahel and the Indo-Pacific.10 The eastern flank is merely an afterthought on the Élysée and the Quai d’Orsay – or even a source of irritation, when the countries in the region acquire US military equipment11

Turkey: NATO’s linchpin in the Black Sea region

Turkey’s control of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits combined with its military prowess, make it the most important alliance member in the Black Sea region. However, most of Turkey’s strategic attention has been focused on the Mediterranean Sea, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East as far as the Indian Ocean. However, the main issue with Turkish foreign policy is not necessarily its reach, but its predictability. 

Over the past two years Ankara has successfully confronted Russia in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as in its own backyard, in the Caucasus. Most debates concerning Turkey right now concentrate on its dispute with Greece over maritime exclusive economic zones in the Eastern Mediterranean, the procurement of the S-400 Triumf integrated air defence system and its descent into authoritarianism. Turkey has a complex relationship with Russia, characterised both by competition and cooperation. The Kremlin did indeed exacerbate the tensions existing between Ankara and its western allies over Syria, Iraq and the attempted coup in 2016 in order to separate it from the Western alliance. However, Turkey proved to be a genuine competitor to Russia in Syria, Libya and in the South Caucasus. Ankara was instrumental in Azerbaijan’s successful campaign in Nagorno Karabakh and deployed advisors, foreign fighters and state-of-the-art military equipment in support of the Azeri forces. In Libya in 2020, Turkish equipment and military advisors helped the GNA to stem the attacks launched by the forces of Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose main supporter is Russia12

Over the past two years Ankara has successfully confronted Russia in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as in its own backyard, in the Caucasus.

Turkey’s procurement of the S-400 missile system is both a cautionary tale of political hubris and diplomatic brinkmanship as well as a lesson to the rest of the Alliance. Turkey was not entirely satisfied with the military assistance it received in protecting its territory from ballistic missile attacks and air raids during the Syrian civil war. Moreover, Ankara has technical and technological ambitions that the Western allies have not taken seriously, as they have not offered a level of technological cooperation commensurate with Turkey’s expectations. The Turkish defence industry has progressed a great deal, and the Turkish authorities want to cash in by creating lucrative partnerships with large Western manufacturers. Technical cooperation concerning the development of an integrated air defence system would represent a high-tech prestige project for Turkey which would emphasise the advancements in science, technology and military power Ankara has made over the past 100 years in general, and under the leadership of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in particular. In the case of the S-400 procurement, Erdoğan felt that his country was not being taken seriously and needed to send a signal to its allies in NATO. However, his brinkmanship may have not paid off, as the United States has eliminated Turkey from the F-35 Lightning II multirole fighter programme and has imposed a number of sanctions against it. The F-35 programme is far more lucrative in financial terms, and has more cutting-edge technology than what the Russian Federation may offer in the long run. 

The Kremlin may have overplayed its hand when it comes to separating Ankara from the US and its NATO allies. Despite the ongoing controversies regarding the Erdoğan regime, Ankara’s disputes with Athens in the Eastern Mediterranean, tensions with Paris over Libya and Syria and with Washington over the S-400 procurement and Syria, Turkey remains anchored within the Western camp and disapproves of Moscow’s policies in the Black Sea. Turkey is helping Ukraine rebuild its navy and its shipbuilding industry by selling its latest type of multirole corvette. In 2020, Turkey discovered a rich gas field in the Black Sea13. This discovery may help resolve some of the disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean with Greece, France, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, while at the same time focusing Ankara’s attention on the Black Sea. 

Romania: the fulcrum of NATO in the Black Sea region

The importance of Romania for the Western alliance has steadily grown since it became a member of NATO in 2004. Bucharest’s strategic partnership with Washington its and support during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have enhanced Romania’s strategic profile. In 2011, Romania along with Poland became the host nations for the US ballistic defence system in Europe. Romania’s main interest in the Black Sea is to balance Russian power by means of integrating the region into what is broadly termed the Western Alliance, that is NATO and the European Union. A defining feature of Romania’s strategic posture is the large popular support enjoyed by NATO and the EU in the country, as well as the general consensus of its political elites concerning the benefits of being a member of these two organisations. 

The Russo-Georgian war of 2008 and Russia’s proxy war in Ukraine began in 2014 have greatly affected Romania’s security posture in the Black Sea. For the first time since World War II the region has become a theatre of war. The main threat in Bucharest’s perception is the re-emergence of the use of force as the primary means of resolving disputes between states and territorial revisionism.14

After 2014 Romania’s diplomatic and military efforts concentrated on improving its defence posture by allocating 2% of its GDP to defence, securing the deployment of NATO and US troops on its territory in order to deter any potential aggression, and promoting a Black Sea agenda in NATO and the EU, in order to maintain the international diplomatic focus on the region. Bucharest has been moderately successful in its efforts to improve its strategic posture in the face of the Russian challenge.

Romania’s main interest in the Black Sea is to balance Russian power by means of integrating the region into what is broadly termed the Western Alliance.

Largely neglected until 2014, defence procurement plays an important role in counterbalancing Russia. In 2017 Bucharest began an ambitious defence acquisition programme worth €9.3 billion in order to revamp its military. However, after four years most of Romania’s procurement programmes are suffering from delays due to litigation, and have been implemented later than originally planned15. The branch of the Romanian armed forces most affected is the Romanian Naval Forces, which have seen all of their procurement programmes delayed. Without a modern navy, Romania cannot be a credible actor in the Black Sea region.

After 2014, the US and NATO deployed troops on the eastern flank of the alliance on a rotational basis. Ever since becoming a member of NATO, one of Romania’s main aims within the Alliance has been to host US or allied troops on its territory on a permanent basis. The rotational nature of the US and allied forces deployed in Romania is suboptimal, and not conducive to a coherent deterrence posture on the eastern flank. This is made worse by the alliance not treating the eastern flank as a single, coherent space. The distinction made between Enhanced Forward Presence status for Poland and the Baltic states on one hand, and Tailored Forward Presence for Romania and Bulgaria on the other, translates into a less credible deterrence posture on the southern tip of the flank. Although Bucharest has been lobbying to have this status changed, it has so far failed to achieve a change of policy. 

The Trump administration, despite improving the US presence on the eastern flank, also introduced an element of unpredictability, as was demonstrated by the ill-conceived decision taken in July 2020 to withdraw US troops from Germany.16 Most of those troops would have been sent back to the US, while the rest would have been deployed on the eastern flank and in Italy. Worse, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, a unit originally deployed to Romania and Poland in 2015, would have been sent back to the US. Besides the political hurdles Romania faces concerning the deployment of Alliance troops on its territory, the country’s poor infrastructure hinders the deployment, mobility and re-enforcement of US and NATO forces.

Nevertheless, despite Romania’s misgivings regarding the status of US and NATO troops on its territory, there have been some palpable benefits for Bucharest. The US has pre-positioned heavy equipment in Romania and is investing in modernising Romanian military bases. Recently the US has deployed unmanned Predator aerial vehicles at the Câmpia Turzii air base in order to improve the Alliance’s naval command over the Black Sea. Moreover, Bucharest is hosting a NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU), the Headquarters Multinational Division South-East, East, the Multinational Brigade South-East, and is also investing in modernising its basesespecially Mihail Kogălniceanu near Constanța. 

Romania is promoting a Black Sea agenda within NATO and the EU. The most successful diplomatic projects so far have been the Bucharest Nine forum (B9) and the Three Seas Initiative (3SI). The B9 is an intra-alliance forum which promotes the issues of eastern flank, while the Three Seas Initiative promotes economic development for the member states in the EU adjoining the Black, Baltic and Adriatic Seas. 

Bulgaria – the ‘soft underbelly’ of NATO on the eastern flank?

Bulgaria has a complex relationship with Russia. On one hand there is the cultural and historic relationship between Bulgaria and Russia; on the other, Sofia is a member of both NATO and the EU. Bulgaria’s security dilemma in the Black Sea is further complicated by its fraught relationship with Turkey. Sofia is concerned at Turkey expanding its influence into the Western Balkans. Moreover, Bulgaria wants to leverage its geographic position in order to become an energy hub in the region. Consequently, Sofia’s policy is oriented towards avoiding direct confrontation with Russia, but also maintaining and benefitting from its status as NATO and EU member.

Despite sharing the same security dilemma in the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey have not agreed on a strategic agenda for the region.

Compared with the eastern flank’s northern tip, the southern tip has not agreed on a particular strategic assessment regarding the threat posed by the Kremlin. Despite sharing the same security dilemma in the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey have not agreed on a strategic agenda for the region. When Romania proposed in 2016 the creation of a Black Sea flotilla to train and patrol in the region, Bulgaria initially agreed to the Romanian project, but then withdrew its support for the project before NATO’s Warsaw Summit. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov then stated that he wants to see “sailboats, yachts, large boats with tourists, and not becoming an arena of military action … I do not need a war in the Black Sea.”17

In the Black Sea region Bulgaria, along with Romania, are the only regional states that are both members of the EU and NATO. They are also among the poorest members of these international organisations, which limits their defence capabilities as well as their regional influence. Sofia has started to modernise its air force and its navy, after a long period of time in which it had underinvested in defence. Bulgaria has bought 8 F-16 Block 70 multirole fighters, and it is likely to buy 8 more in the near future in order to have an operational squadron. Lürsen has won a tender to build two multirole patrol ships, roughly equivalent to multirole corvettes. Bulgarian is participating in the Multi-National Brigade South East, based in Romania. The United States uses four Bulgarian bases and training facilities in Bulgaria, and will deploy 2500 troops in the country over the next 10 years.

In Russia’s assessment Bulgaria may be the ‘soft underbelly’ of NATO on the eastern flank. This is proven by the latest espionage scandal that has affected Bulgarian-Russian relations and has cast doubt over Sofia’s credibility as a NATO ally. A network of six Bulgarian active and retired military personnel has been caught spying for Russia. What made matters worse is that some of its members were officers in the military intelligence service of the Bulgarian armed forces. 

Ukraine needs to maintain diplomatic momentum on Crimea and the Donbas

Kyiv is currently facing a triple challenge. First, there is the conflict in the Donbas that has yet to be resolved. Second, the pandemic has affected Ukraine quite hard, and the government has had trouble finding vaccines for inoculating its citizens. Third, it has been difficult to continue the democratic upgrade of Ukraine’s institutions while fighting a war. 

Russia failed spectacularly in 2014 when it decided to use force against Ukraine in order to support its proxies in the east of the country. The Kremlin’s main aim was to undermine and irreparably damage Ukrainian sovereignty; but despite this, Ukraine managed to survive the Russian armed onslaught. Ukraine’s resilience in the face of territorial losses and aggression proved the Russian narratives about the artificial nature of Ukrainian statehood to be entirely wrong. It reconfirmed the old political science adage that ‘states make war and war makes the state’18; Ukrainian statehood has been consolidated by the conflict. The election of Volodymyr Zelensky in 2019 as Ukraine’s president demonstrated both the country’s capacity to resist prolonged aggression, as well as the need for structural reforms in order to make the state more accountable to its citizens.

Ukraine is trying to build up its civilian and military institutions with the help of the West. Nevertheless, the help that has come from Europe and the US has not come without controversies. Germany and France insist that the conflict in Ukraine is civilian in nature and does not represent an instance of foreign aggression. The Minsk and Normandy negotiation formats are premised on this notion, and consequently favour Russia. The Kremlin has consistently ignored the Minsk agreements, despite Kyiv adhering to them. The lack of US participation in both formats further tips the scale in Moscow’s favour. 

Although NATO has no plans to admit Ukraine within its ranks in the near future, it has helped the Ukrainian military deal with the Russian threat. Advisers and trainers from NATO countries helped the Ukrainian armed forces get back on their feet after the initial defeats at Donețsk and Ilovaysk. The US, Turkey and the UK are providing training and are selling naval vessels to Ukraine to rebuild its navy. Non-lethal and lethal equipment has been donated or sold to the Ukrainian military; most importantly Washington has provided Kyiv with Javelin anti-tank missiles to deal with advanced Russian armour. Unfortunately, in the case of US military aid this has been entangled in American partisan politics. As the 2020 elections approached the Trump administration conditioned US military aid on Kyiv providing incriminating evidence on Donald Trump’s political rival Joe Biden. When the information was leaked to the press it led to Trump’s first impeachment trial; the scandal came close to compromising US-Ukrainian relations.

Kyiv has also invested its limited resources in modernising the Ukrainian armed forces. Leveraging its existing industrial base, Ukraine is developing locally designed anti-ship missiles, anti-tank missiles and armoured vehicles. Ukraine is forging industrial partnerships with Turkey and Poland to build tactical UAVs, multirole corvettes and advanced anti-tank missiles

Ukraine’s resilience in the face of territorial losses and aggression proved the Russian narratives about the artificial nature of Ukrainian statehood to be entirely wrong.

On the diplomatic front, Ukraine is trying to put Crimea on the front burner of international diplomacy by promoting the Crimea Platform project. If the fighting in eastern Ukraine still catches the eye of the international community, Crimea is being treated as de facto Russian territory. In Western chancelleries the prevailing wisdom is that Ukraine has no chance of taking back Crimea, either by peaceful means or through force. However, it is diplomatically important to keep Crimea on the international agenda, especially now that it has become an asset for Russian power projection. 

For Ukraine, maintaining diplomatic momentum on Crimea and the Donbas in the near and medium term is important. Crimea may be drowned out by other issues on the international agenda such as the pandemic, strategic arms limitations and climate change. Faced with internal pressure and the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, Russia in the near future may be tempted to ‘freeze’ the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Such a development would have a negative impact on Ukraine, which would find itself in a strategic limbo. 

Georgia: resisting creeping annexation 

‘Creeping annexation’ is how Georgian officials are describing the process through which gradually Russia is annexing the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The 2008 Russo-Georgian war was the first instance of military aggression in the Black Sea region and showed that ‘frozen conflicts’ in the former Soviet space can be rekindled. In 2021 Tbilisi obtained a symbolic but significant victory at the European Court of Human Rights, which acknowledged that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are under occupation and that Russia committed war crimes during the 2008 conflict. Nevertheless, this decision changes very few things on the ground. Russia’s military presence in the breakaway territories has increased, while Georgia is facing a troubling political crisis. Before the 2008 war, Georgia was described as a post-Soviet success story; now it looks more like a ‘frozen conflict success story’ for the Kremlin. 

Conclusions

The Black Sea region is going through its greatest period of instability since the end of World War II. Control of the region is being disputed between NATO and Russia, as the Black Sea offers access to other geopolitical relevant regions: the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East and Central Asia. Russia has obtained a certain military advantage at the regional level, but it is not clear whether this is sustainable over the long run. NATO and the US need to have a coherent approach to the eastern flank in order to deter Russia and secure the Black Sea. This approach should consist in viewing the eastern flank as a single and integrated military space. A unified Alliance military posture should be applied to the entire eastern flank. The U.S. should increase its presence on the eastern flank while maintaining an adequate response force in Germany. Paris and Berlin should also increase their military presence on the eastern flank: this will improve the case for European strategic autonomy. Key infrastructure for military mobility should be improved as soon as possible to improve the deployment of follow-on forces.

The Black Sea region is going through its greatest period of instability since the end of World War II. Control of the region is being disputed between NATO and Russia, as the Black Sea offers access to other geopolitical relevant regions: the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East and Central Asia.

NOTES

1 Richard Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016)

2 Senate Armed Service Committee Advance Policy Questions for Lloyd J. Austin Nominee for Appointment to be Secretary of Defense, p. 39

3 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘The Military Balance 2020’, (Routledge: London, 2020), p. 170

4 Ibid., p. 170

5 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), op. cit, p. 6

6 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘The Military Balance 2020’, (Routledge: London, 2019), p. 169

7 Overall some of the comparative advantages of NATO over Russia are: better and competent command structures; the advantage of ‘home turf’ in defending the eastern flank; better training and a greater pool of experienced troops than Russia’s armed forces; better communications and command facilities; superior ISR capabilities; a more balanced force structure overall.

8 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Op. Cit, p. 171

9 Author’s conversation with a Russian defence analyst.

10 The EDI began in 2015 with $985 million in funding. The effort peaked at $6.5 billion in FY2019, while in FY2020 it was reduced to $5.91 billion. Source: Congressional Research Service, ‘The European Deterrence Initiative: A Budgetary Overview’, 16 June 2020, pp. 1-3, available at https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF10946

11 Heinrich Brauß, ‘The US Troop Withdrawal Plan: Bogus Strategic Claims and a Warning Signal for Europe’, DGAP, pp. 1-3, available at https://dgap.org/sites/default/files/article_pdfs/dgap-commentary-2020-24-en.pdf

12 Interview du Président Emmanuel Macron au think tank américain Atlantic Council, Élysée, February 5, 2021, available at https://www.elysee.fr/emmanuel-macron/2021/02/05/interview-du-president-emmanuel-macron-au-think-tank-americain-atlantic-council. See also Le Grand Continent, ‘The Macron Doctrine. A conversation with the French president’, 16 November 2020, available at https://geopolitique.eu/en/macron-grand-continent/

13 Ibid.

14 Jason Pack and Wolfgang Pusztai, ‘Turning the Tide: How Turkey Won the War for Tripoli’, Middle East Institute, pp. 1-22, available at https://www.mei.edu/sites/default/files/2020-11/Turning%20the%20Tide%20-%20How%20Turkey%20Won%20the%20War%20for%20Tripoli.pdf

15 Reuters, ‘Turkey lifts Black Sea gas field estimate after new find: Erdogan’, 17 October 2020, available at https://www.reuters.com/article/turkey-energy-blacksea/turkey-lifts-black-sea-gas-field-estimate-after-new-find-erdogan-idINKBN2720MF

16 Strategia Națională de Apărare a Țării pentru perioada 2020-2024: Împreună pentru o Românie sigură și prosperă într-o lume marcată de noi provocări, available at https://www.presidency.ro/files/userfiles/Documente/Strategia_Nationala_de_Aparare_a_Tarii_2020_2024.pdf

17 George Vișan, ‘The Known Unknowns of Romania’s Defence Modernization Plans’, ROEC, 3 July 2017, available at https://www.roec.biz/project/the-known-unknowns-of-romanias-defence-modernization-plans/

18 Suspended in 2021 by the Biden administration pending a review of the US military global commitments.

19 Reuters, ‘Bulgaria says will not join any NATO Black Sea fleet after Russian warning’, 16 June 2016, available at https://www.reuters.com/article/nato-bulgaria-blacksea-idUSL8N19835X

20 Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States, A.D. 990-1990, (Oxford: John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 1993)

“We are still in a world where military power translates into geopolitical power. If Europe wants to sit at the table, it needs military capabilities” – an interview with Ulrike Franke (ECFR)

Dr. Ulrike Franke is policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). Her areas of focus include German and European security and defence, the future of warfare, and the impact of new technologies such as drones and artificial intelligence.

What potential do you see for truly projecting a geopolitical Commission, especially in a post-pandemic Europe? What are the critical ingredients for a successful geopolitical Commission? Over the past years, France was very active in advancing bold visions for the future of Europe that were received with little enthusiasm in Berlin. Is a Franco-German alignment on a geopolitical Europe agenda more or less likely in a post-pandemic context? 

This is the big question for the EU at the moment. In my view, the first step in shaping a geopolitical EU would be for the Union to define in a clear way the interests it has in the world, and to communicate them. But this interest-focused thinking is something that the EU is not very comfortable with, and Germany in particular is neither comfortable, nor used to doing it. The second challenge is finding agreement among the 27 member states on various issues, whether it is on Russia, China or anything else. It is often difficult to get to a unanimous decision among the 27, which is why Ursula von der Leyen has proposed qualified majority voting on some foreign policy issues, especially in the areas pertaining to human rights, as she pointed out in her latest State of the Union speech. 

For now, the EU still struggles to be a geopolitical actor. And Germany in particular appears not ready for the EU to be a geopolitical actor. The current situation in the Mediterranean is a good illustration of this. There are still important voices in Germany who believe that the EU – even in this specific instance – should be an honest broker and an arbitrator rather than an actor. But this is a dispute between an EU member state and a non-EU member state! The idea that here the EU could be an honest broker is rather surprising, but that is what you hear from Germany. France is taking on a completely different vision; they argue that this is an EU member state, so of course we are taking sides and we are sending support to the Greek. This is a perfect example where you see the difference in approach between France and Germany when it comes to a geopolitical EU. 

With regard to COVID, I don’t think that it will have a major impact on European foreign policy, or that will contribute to a geopolitical awakening of Europe. Rather, at least at the moment, the consequence is that geopolitical issues have been pushed into the background  – and we’ve seen this in the von der Leyen speech – because there are other things that seem to be more important at the moment.

The three decades following 1989 have been extraordinarily  stable and, well, weird, geopolitically speaking. But for my generation this was normal. We are absolutely not prepared for a world where geopolitical power play is again the primary language.

To what extent are Europe and Germany ready for a world where the return of great-power competition is becoming the new normal? Thomas Bagger in Washington Quarterly was emphasising the lessons that his generation took on board from 1989 that influenced their worldview – convergence, multilateralism, the belief that Germany was no longer threatened and that the future was more about development aid and mediation. It is very much a mind set that slows Europe down in the geopolitical arena as opposed to all the other major players. Put more broadly, is a generation shaped by the ‘end of history’ mindset ready for a world in which the “jungle grows back”?

I very much liked Thomas Bagger’s article, and I am in the midst of writing a follow-up article which looks at the question from a Millennial point of view. I thought what he said about his generation, the legacy of 1989 and how it influenced the thinking of his generation was very interesting. But what he may not have thought about so much is what this means for my generation, who didn’t experience 1989, but grew up in the world that was shaped by it. The three decades following 1989 have been extraordinarily  stable and, well, weird, geopolitically speaking. But for my generation this was normal. We are absolutely not prepared for a world where geopolitical power play is again the primary language. This is true for Bagger’s generation, but it is even more true for my generation, as we never learnt this language. This, in my view, explains why Germans have so many problems with geopolitical, strategic thinking. 

But this is not solely a German problem. The EU, as an organisation, also struggles with this new situation, because it wasn’t built with a geopolitical mind set either. I like the rhetoric about the geopolitical EU but if you look at the State of the Union speech that Ursula von der Leyen gave recently, she didn’t mention defence with one word. And on geopolitics, she ran through the list of the foreign policy challenges but didn’t advocate a particularly strong position on any of them. Changing this will be difficult  and it will be particularly difficult as the biggest country in the EU is particularly unprepared  for this. 

Let’s unpack a bit the issue of strategic autonomy. How far from each other are Paris and Berlin on this issue? Which are the main disagreements? To me a very divisive issue, especially in the CEE space, is the French instrumentalisation of the Trump factor in order to push for strategic decoupling and become more independent from the US.

By now, more people are talking about “European sovereignty”, or European strategic sovereignty rather than autonomy. Many found that autonomy sounded too much as if it was directed against the US. So today the term is strategic sovereignty, rather than autonomy, although the idea broadly remains the same. But in any case, there is a certain level of ambiguity, which allows everyone in the EU to define the concept in a way that suits them.

The general idea behind European sovereignty is that the EU, that Europe, should become more of a geopolitical actor. In my view, this is a good ambition for the EU to have. But one can already see that different countries emphasise different elements. Germany for example, seems to support the idea because it is something that could help bring the 27 EU members closer together, which is a German priority. France, on the other hand, tends to be much more focused on concrete outcomes, even, sometimes, at the detriment of European unity. Plus, there is the defence question; European sovereignty includes a defence element, but the extent to which the EU should be or become a defence actor is controversial. In the European East, many worry that a too ambitious EU may undermine NATO. So there is still a lot of work to be done before the EU can claim sovereignty. 

To sum up, Germany seems more focused on process as a team-building effort, while France is more interested in the concrete ends.

It depends on the context, but this is something we are indeed seeing when it comes to the issue of defence and military cooperation. Germany has always focused more on the common part of common defence than on the defence part. Germany likes building up European defence because it helps strengthen EU unity.  Therefore, the creation of common security structures, from PESCO to the EDF was seen in itself as a victory. France, on the other hand, is more interested in the defencepart of common defence, and therefore points out that the establishment of common projects does not mean anything yet.

How realistic is a potential strategic convergence between Europe and the US in counterbalancing Chinese influence in the post-COVID world? Or will mercantilist pressures (very high in Germany for example) trump geopolitics?

Over the last few years, the EU, and Europeans broadly speaking, have woken up to the fact that China is not just an economic competitor and rising power, but an ideological and strategic competitor. For quite a long time, China has been seen primarily through economic lenses, this has only changed recently. For Germany, a big wake-up call was the acquisition of the German robot maker KUKA by a Chinese investor. More recently, the aggressive disinformation campaign on COVID by China reminded Europeans that China’s geopolitical power is an issue. 

There is now more cooperation between Europe and the US on the issue, although the US’s stance is much more clear-cut than the European one. Also, on this topic, the Trump administration has caused a big problem, in particular regarding public opinion. In some countries, there is such a rejection of the US under Trump that people have begun to wonder whether a more dominant China would really be so bad. European policy-makers are still broadly transatlantic in their thought process, but the last four years of the Trump administration have destroyed a lot of goodwill among the European population and this will come back and haunt the US when it comes to teaming up with Europe on China. If Trump is re-elected, I think that it is going to be much harder for Europe to work with the US on China.

Finally, Europe has a unity problem when it comes to China. Among the 27 EU member states, there are different views when it comes to China. Of course economic interests are big here. As long as there are countries in Europe that struggle economically and feel that they are being helped more by China than by the EU, the European bloc will have problems.

Germany has always focused more on the common part of common defence than on the defence part. Germany likes building up European defence because it helps strengthen EU unity. France, on the other hand, is more interested in the defence part of common defence.

Having in mind the broader trends impacting the character of contemporary war, what should Europe prepare for? There is the pressure of geopolitical rivalries and that of the high-end war. At the same time with everything that is happening in the broader MENA space, it may be a dangerous illusion to think that we are beyond the post-9/11 campaigns and the stabilisation operations.

The biggest problem is that Europe needs to prepare for all eventualities. I study new technologies and it is true that this is an area where Europe needs to do much more – but at the same time it can’t neglect more conventional threats. European countries need to retain a conventional military capability. They will remain important for operations, be it stability operations or for defence. Even if we don’t use it – we are still in a world where military power translates into geopolitical power. If Europe wants to sit at the table, it needs military capabilities. This is the reality with which a lot of people are not necessarily comfortable or don’t like but I very much believe that that is still the case. So the big challenge is that Europe needs all the above: conventional military capabilities and new technologies.

Over the past few years, the US has invested constantly in searching for a new offset strategy, going beyond a precision-guided munitions regime and focusing on what is often called algorithmic warfare (combat operations dominated by intelligent weapons and platforms using artificial intelligence as the core, but also enablers like big data, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and intelligent control). Does Europe have a similar effort?

I don’t think Europe has a similar effort as the third offset strategy. But I don’t think that this is surprising, or concerning – even in the Cold War, even for the first and second offset strategies, the big ideas of reinventing, rethinking warfare and conflict always came from the US. 

That being said, of course there is a lot of thinking being done all over Europe about the future of conflict. It doesn’t necessarily happen at the EU level. But at the national level you do have quite a few people thinking of the future of warfare and conflict, especially in the UK and France, which makes sense, as they are the big military powers of Europe. One big challenge is how to continue working with the EU, what will new technologies mean for joint operations, such as within NATO. Interoperability will be a big challenge, and it is essential to figure out how to work together and make sure we don’t end up with an interoperability gap at the NATO level.

You are specialised in drones. What role will drones and swarms of drones play in enhancing deterrence? Such solutions could be contemplated in better securing the Eastern flank. 

I don’t think that the current generation of drones have a big role to play in the inter-state wars, or for deterrence. The current generation of drones are particularly good in asymmetric conflicts, where you enjoy air superiority, but they are vulnerable to contested environments. That being said, smaller countries benefit quite a lot from having more airborne capabilities, and this is something which we are seeing right now in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where both sides have used drones extensively.

A lot of work is being done on the next generation of unmanned systems that have more autonomous capability, are harder to find, faster etc. This changes the situation, as it means that they will be more of a challenge for  air defence. Swarming especially is an area where a lot of work is being done. Swarms are particularly thought to be a great way of overwhelming the enemy’s air defences, which are not built and optimised against swarms of 100 or 1000 attacking drones. 

But what we should never forget is that it will not be only our side trying to get this technology. I do see a danger of an arms race when it comes to ever more capable AI-enabled autonomous systems.

Macron’s has simply looked at the map of the world, he has assessed Europe’s interests and Russia’s interests and he has concluded that we need to find some kind of modus vivendi with Russia and that the current situation is just bad for everyone.

It seems that there is a different mood and tone in Berlin vis-à-vis Russia, driven by what happened in Belarus and particularly by the poisoning of Navalny. Will such a stance last? Should we expect a change also in Macron’s plans of rapprochement with Russia?

This isn’t my primary area of expertise. If I had to speculate, I wouldn’t  think that Navalny’s poisoning is going to change the approach substantially. After all, it is not as if Macron had been saying “let’s work with Russia, they are going to be our friends.” I believe that the French government is entering into talks with Russia with open eyes. They are aware of the spoiler role that Russia has been playing with regard to European stability for the last 5 to 10 years. The poisoning of Alexey Navalny hasn’t changed this assessment.In my view, Macron’s has simply looked at the map of the world, he has assessed Europe’s interests and Russia’s interests and he has concluded that we need to find some kind of modus vivendi with Russia and that the current situation is just bad for everyone – which strikes me as a valid point. But France has not done well in explaining its approach, particularly to the Eastern Europeans. I think it was some misunderstanding among the Eastern Europeans that France wants a new partnership with Russia, but I don’t think this is what they are trying to do. 

“Governments can band together in a fight against China and authoritarianism, but the real threat is more from inside” – interview with Mathew Burrows

Dr. Mathew J. Burrows, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security

What would you expect to be the possible geopolitical fallout/aftershocks that will shape the post-coronavirus world? 

The obvious path that we are on at the moment is a world shaped by bipolarity, in particular by the competition between the U.S. and China. Within the West there are some common concerns about China. The Chinese side seems to feel more and more embattled, becoming more defensive in their diplomacy and announcements. There is very little multilateralism. The US pullout of the WHO, while a terrible idea, is also a leading indicator of the mood inside the Trump administration. There are other measures too: the Trump administration not allowing the US government pension system to invest in Chinese stocks; there is growing support for the repatriation of the supply chains in order to have far less dependence on China (especially for pharmaceutical supplies). If anything, I would say that we are seeing less globalisation (at least in terms of trade and investment flows), more political antagonism between the US and China and very little global cooperation. There will be less economic growth, a downturn in trade and investment across borders, and the movement of people will diminish, but none of all this will disappear unless the US and China get into a conflict which would end this period of globalisation.

There will be less economic growth, a downturn in trade and investment across borders, and the movement of people will diminish, but none of all this will disappear unless the US and China get into a conflict which would end this period of globalisation.

Can the COVID crisis become also an opportunity – a change in mindset for a more united West, especially a Europe ready to embrace the great power competition against China? Even the debate inside NATO has lately taken a China angle. Is COVID an opportunity for the Atlantic system, for reinventing the Atlantic strategic unity & solidarity?

I see Europe being ambivalent about going along with the US on all the measures that the Trump administration is taking against China: on tariffs plus a prohibition against Huawei in Western networks. I don’t think many in Europe want to be too closely aligned with the US in such strident attacks against China. They understand the US point of view and share many of the concerns, but they are also fearful of bipolarity, of getting into a world that sends everybody back to a 1950s and 1960s-style Cold War. There is another issue within Europe, a division over China, as some are increasingly economically dependent, reliant on China as an investor: for some countries in the south and east that are already bending towards China, the crisis could accelerate this path even more. Moreover, the EU took a blow in this pandemic, where every member state had to fend for itself. Certainly Italy felt that it didn’t get the support from the other member states that it was entitled to or from the EU as a whole. There is an ongoing debate about the economic recovery: who pays? Many feel that Germany and Nordic countries should be much more generous in terms of the economic recovery support. There is a lot of division, and Europe remains far from speaking with one voice.

For sure, NATO is also split. A key factor on the European side is the distress created by the Trump administration. Germans worry that the Trump administration could impose tariffs on the automobile industry, an export which the entire German economy depends on. Of course, if there would be a sudden Russian move against the Baltic states, I would still see NATO coming together. The problem to me is when there is no major live external threat like that, and given that you have different interests by all the players and a US administration that is disengaged, disintegration has the upper hand.  

Europeans are also fearful of bipolarity, of getting into a world that sends everybody back to a 1950s and 1960s-style Cold WarThere is another issue within Europe, a division over China, as some are increasingly economically dependent, reliant on China as an investor: for some countries in the south and east that are already bending towards China, the crisis could accelerate this path even more.

How would you see the EU faring in a world in which power politics, not multilateralism is again the new normal? 

This is not the world that Europe expected. A decade ago the EU was looking forward to a postmodern world in which there were far fewer conflicts, where  European integration would become the model for others. Obviously that world is not happening. What is essential is Europe’s ability to reach or retain a political consensus. In the recent crises (whether the euro-crisis or the migration crisis) the end result has instead been a deepening of the divisions between east and west, north and south. The pandemic looks like that, too, deepening the same cleavages. That is what I worry the most about. Unless Europe finds a way of overcoming these divisions, the EU will gradually disappear or become irrelevant, particularly for younger generations. In general, the EU has a tendency of coming together at the eleventh hour, but in finding a solution at the last minute it allows hard feelings and resentments to accumulate. Trying to speed up some of the solutions will help the process of binding together the community again, necessary for remaining a force on the world stage.  

It is said that history rhymes. To some observers the current pandemic brings parallels with the type of world in which Spanish Influenza was spreading after WWI – intense geopolitical competition, inward focus and protectionism, nationalism on steroids and nation-first type of responses, democratic recession, a crisis of international architecture, all wrapped up in a profound economic recession. What can be done to avoid/ tame such an interwar cycle? What lessons should we be reminded of?

We should be very worried about the economic recovery. High unemployment and income stagnation could bolster populism and widespread discontent in those countries where the middle class are already under pressure. If you look at the economic recovery after 2008, it led to more inequality and to a part of society, the lower middle class, feeling its interests were not being looked after, that they were losers. The bankers got bailed out, it was the ordinary guys that paid the price. So if you have another iteration of the same pattern, you will create a class that feels that they have few stakes in society or in a democratic government that doesn’t work for them. This would be a very dangerous turn of events, and we know that part of what happened in the 1920s and 1930s was a middle class which felt dispossessed (by the combined conditions generated by WWI and the economic collapse that followed). Consequently, it didn’t have any particular faith in democracy and saw its salvation in strong leaders. That could happen again, although we are much more sensitive to the signs of that happening. The tendency with many economic crises has been that they do prop up the strong, and those that are weaker pay the biggest price. This has to be our number one concern. Another concern should be not to fall in the trap (which we see the US falling into) of seeking shelter under protectionism, even if the feeling against China is running very high. This is another lesson of the 1920s and 1930s, that protectionism may feel good in the short term, but it will make it harder to recover in the long run.

Unless Europe finds a way of overcoming internal divisions, the EU will gradually disappear or become irrelevant, particularly for younger generations.

These days we see the revival of an old idea meant to fix to some extent the crisis of multilateralism, but also to respond to the new revisionism – a global concert/alliance of democracies (supported in the past by John McCain, embraced today by Joe Biden, promoted in a certain version also by Heiko Maas). Is such an idea feasible and operationalised?

I am not sure that it solves what I think is the real issue. People lost faith in democracies because they don’t seem to be working particularly well for the less skilled or the lower strata of the middle class. There are very few people in the US that think this democracy works. So governments can band together in a fight against China and authoritarianism, but the real threat is more from inside than from the outside.

Are you worried about the domestic resilience of the West? Are we already too far in this process of polarising ourselves and becoming more like Sunni vs. Shia/Hutu vs. Tutsi? Can we come back? 

During the pandemic there was an initial period where people were coming together. Congress passed in record time the 3 trillion dollar stimulus and rescue plans. In the recent weeks it has returned to the old pattern of partisanship. The pandemic seems to be reinforcing the division between Blue and Red states. Blue states like New York and California have suffered far more so far than Red ones. At the same time Donald Trump openly tries to deepen these divisions as part of his strategy is to keep his base mobilised. It is very hard for both sides to work across the aisle, because they are stuck in a system in which they derive more advantages from this polarised atmosphere. Partisanship is deeply entrenched. In the long run, you may have more populism on the left, the kind of Bernie Sanders type of socialism focused especially on providing free university tuition and better healthcare to those struggling in the middle class. What certainly will be different for the US is that the state is going to be a lot more powerful as a result of it having to save the economy in this pandemic. In this context, it is very likely that we are going to see a revival too of the Tea Party on the right, opposed to the big government and to moving the US closer to the European model.

Is the West, and especially Europe in danger of over-learning the lessons of the post-9/11 campaigns, in the sense of ‘never again’? Everyone is running away from the liberal interventionism, stabilisation operations or R2P today. But sometimes they might be needed. Can Europe recapture the patience of winning the peace? Especially in a world in which Europe continues to be affected by MENA instabilities that could be even more significant in a post-pandemic world?

High unemployment and income stagnation could bolster populism and widespread discontent in those countries where the middle class are already under pressure. If you look at the economic recovery after 2008, it led to more inequality and to a part of society, the lower middle class, feeling its interests were not being looked after, that they were losers.

I don’t really see anybody prepared to do what the US and NATO did in the Balkans in the 1990s. In Europe the main effort will be to protect itself against huge flows of refugees. The effort will be focused on not allowing the crisis to get to the worst-case scenario. It will be an effort to drive down some of the worst outcomes of conflict, but not to really settle them. 

In the 1990s, the West — both the US and Europe — was at the height of its power, which also made it confident of solving others’ problems. Hence the wish to solve the world’s ills, from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, to the disintegration of Yugoslavia. There are groups today within Western societies — NGOs and civil society — that remain activists. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done enormous good in combatting disease in Africa and other developing regions. But because of the internal problems, Western governments don’t have the means or bandwidth to solve the world’s big problems. Instead of offense, it’s defence. They get involved if there is the threat of the conflict having the potential to spill over in the form of terrorism, threatening the West. And then the effort is to seal off the problem, not solve it. Syria is a prime example. The US effort was geared to combating ISIS, not supporting the rebels against Assad.     

Dr. Mathew J. Burrows serves as the director of the Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. He was appointed counselor to the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in 2007 and director of the Analysis and Production Staff (APS) in 2010. He was the principal drafter for the NIC publication Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.

Turkey and the quest for limited autonomy from the West

By over-projecting its power potential, Ankara finds itself on a conflictual trajectory, on a case-by-case basis, with the interests of other major or regional powers such as the US, Russia, France, Italy, Israel, Egypt, and Germany.

The summer of 2020 has been unlike any summer in recent history. Usually, during the long summer months, a sort of informal moratorium appears between Greece and Turkey so that there would be no particular spike in tensions between them, as the inflow of ever-growing number of tourists with their greenbacks on both sides of the Aegean was deemed too important for the economies of both countries. This summer, when the coronavirus has been wreaking havoc and tourist revenues have been negligible, the action has shifted to gunboat diplomacy and the search for leverage in an increasingly complex and unsteady European security architecture. Yet there is no novelty here, as this has been the state of relations between the two countries – both NATO members since 1952 while Turkey is still formally negotiating its accession to the European Union since 2003 – for a long time. It reflects the surreal pragmatism in both Turkey’s relationship with the West, to which it still belongs but doubts whether it does, as well as the transactional reflexes of both Greece and Turkey regarding their relations with each other, given the ambiguous positions of their partners and allies. Should there have been no NATO or EU, a good argument could be made that relations between the two countries would mirror Turkey’s relations with some of its other neighbours, such as Iraq or Syria, or even Iran and Armenia. 

Yet apart from this surreal state of play between Greece and Turkey, which most of their western allies do not understand or do not want to understand or pretend does not exist, this summer has been different because a number of other paradoxes are coming to the fore. Most stem from ideological imperatives and domestic cleavages within Turkey proper that have rapidly acquired an external or foreign policy dimension. Here the broader implications of the reconversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque come into play, although barely six weeks after the 10 July decision to do so, the issue no longer seems to dominate the headlines anymore. 

‘It’s the domestic politics, stupid’

The decision to reconvert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque was primarily motivated by domestic considerations and the deep dividing lines within Turkish society, which undoubtedly have political characteristics. The current Turkish government and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, seem to favour the implementation of a civilisational discourse into a civilisational state reality, primarily for reasons of political expediency. This is particularly relevant in the perennial battle between Kemalists and Islamists that has shaped Turkish politics for decades. This does not imply that the emergence of a ‘clash of civilisation’ discourse does not have deep seated roots within both the governing party and its electorate, in particular as a revindication of the Kemalist turn toward modernisation, Westernisation and secularism upon the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, away from the virtues of Islam as the dominant ideology of the Empire. Nevertheless, a level of political expediency is very much in evidence, especially since the 2010s when the synthesis between the instrumentalisation of religion, nationalism, and anti-western Kemalism or Eurasianism has been shaping the direction of Erdoğan’s Turkey today. According to political scientist Ahmet Erdi Öztürk, the decision represents an example of the assumption of moral superiority over Kemalism without necessarily impacting upon the nature of the relationship between the state and religion since Turkish secularism or “laicism, as the continuation of a Byzantine-era practice, is inherently dependent upon the state’s control and guidance of religion in line with the state’s interests and objectives.” As to the effect on Turkish multiculturalism, its practice is already problematic, as the inherent and privileged correlation between Turkishness and Sunni Islam has been a way of life throughout the 97 years of the existence of the Turkish Republic. The troubled history of the country’s Greek orthodox minority, as well as that of its Armenian, Kurdish, and Alevi populations, among others, are a testament to this sad state of affairs. Though successive polls since the reconversion of the Hagia Sophia do no show that it has had a significant impact in the government’s sagging poll numbers, the mitigated reaction by the Kemalist opposition reflects an acceptance that its ability to influence the country’s ideological direction has been further limited. What emerges is a very real existential dilemma for the country’s secular population as to what this gradual, overt promotion of political Islam means for their way of life. 

The synthesis between the instrumentalisation of religion, nationalism, and anti-western Kemalism or Eurasianism has been shaping the direction of Erdoğan’s Turkey since the 2010s.

For the Greek Orthodox minority and Bartholomew I, the embattled Ecumenical Patriarchate and spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christian worldwide, the reaction of the Patriarch encapsulates the reality: “What can I say as a Christian clergyman and the Greek patriarch in Istanbul? Instead of uniting, a 1500-year-old heritage is dividing us. I am saddened and shaken.” As his close associates have told me, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has survived 567 years without the Hagia Sophia, which was converted into a mosque in 1453 and then into a museum in 1935, and can continue to do so.

Promoting an Islamic agenda

A second dimension has to do with the perception within the Muslim world as to which leader is defending or promoting an Islamic agenda. Although many predominantly Muslim states, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, are at odds with Turkey’s perceived infringement upon the global Islamic discourse (and their geopolitical interests), the battle is actually for the hearts and minds of Sunnis around the world. Erdoğan’s reference on 10 July that the “resurrection of the Hagia Sophia heralds the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem is a case in point.

An increasingly coercive posture

The third facet linked to the conversion of Hagia Sophia is the wider geopolitical and geo-economic context which capitals around the world have been grappling with, given the consensus that the regional and global security architecture, and as a consequence the international liberal multilateral order in place since the end of the Second World War, has been faltering. With the United States – the crucial link holding the order in place – doubting both its role in the world as well as what its priorities should be, regional states have been scrambling to reconsider their priorities. While for the European Union and its member states, this implies a painful conceptual and material transition into a more geopolitical union, Turkey’s methodology has involved the promotion and implementation of a more transactional approach where assertive and coercive diplomacy predominates. Here the attempt is both to rationalise the vacuum that a less strategic United States leaves both within the wider European space and in the Mediterranean, and to ensure that consensual national strategies – such as the country’s place as a regional energy transit hub, and, by extension, as a regional power with global reach – do not get sidetracked. While for the European Union and its member states, some form of multilateralism and its normative framework are a sine qua non for addressing regional and global challenges, for Turkey the militarisation of foreign policy instruments as evidenced in the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as the challenge to international forums and institutions and their norms and rules to which Turkey is a party to, will be an acceptable means of conduct if these limit its ability to extend its Lebensraum and its ability to manifest itself as an indispensable regional actor. For example, the Hagia Sophia reconversion is a case in point, as Turkey went through the process without prior consultation, for example with UNESCO, as it was bound to do given the monument’s World Heritage Site status. 

The instrumentalisation of religion as a foreign policy tool, in this case, promotes the simplistic perception of a ‘Neo-Ottomanist’ turn in Turkish foreign policy where Ankara leads the fight against the West. In other words, as Nicholas Danforth notes, “[w]hen it serves their purposes, Turkey’s leaders will undoubtedly continue to dress their foreign policies in neo-Ottoman garb.”

More of a disruptor rather than a pole of stability 

Despite the aforementioned instrumentalisation of religion and the militarisation of foreign policy, Ankara has not made a move to either withdraw from the Atlantic Alliance or to break totally with the European Union. Yet the tell-tale signs are many, starting in particular with the overt attempt to couple greater strategic autonomy from the West with its growing relationship with the Russian Federation since 2016. Alarm bells were raised by the 2019 purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile system and its implications for Ankara’s relations with Washington as well as NATO as a whole. Its recent and ongoing strong-arm tactics against Greece and France, among others, have led many to suggest willy-nilly that Turkey has become the Alliance’s ‘elephant in the room’ with a proliferation of strategic divides on a variety of fronts, with implications regarding NATO’s already problematic reach in the Black Sea region and the Middle East. 

An argument could be made that Turkish actions imply the implementation of a security doctrine based on the concepts of forward defence and self help, given its assessment of the regional security concept as well as the synthesis domestically of political Islam, nationalism, and anti-Westernism. Yet the contradictions of Turkish foreign policy, and its possible self-entrapment due to an overestimation of its influence or an acceptance of the manner in which it tries to enforce it, make it more of a disruptor rather than a pole of stability in the wider European, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Eurasian spaces. In other words, by over-projecting its power potential, Ankara finds itself heading for a conflictual trajectory, on a case-by-case basis, with the interests of other major or regional powers such as the US, Russia, France, Italy, Israel, Egypt, and Germany.

With the United States – the crucial link holding the order in place – doubting both its role in the world as well as what its priorities should be, regional states have been scrambling to reconsider their priorities.

As long as Turkey’s break with the West does not become more permanent and the transition away from Kemalist tenets is slow and contained, the wider European regional context implies one of balancing and rebalancing, action and reaction between the region’s powers. The US’s ambivalence and ambiguities have led regional states to seek different ways to augment their security, many (especially the European countries) within the confines of international law and multilateral institutions, while others test the system’s limits. The pace of change is rapid, with the verdict still out as to whether the frayed relationship between Turkey and its partners and allies does remain a Gordian knot. The options on the table now are between limited strategic autonomy for Ankara or strategic independence. Both of these choices or developments can be managed, provided the methodology Ankara uses to promote either choice does not become excessively heavy-handed, putting at risk the interests, sovereignty and sovereign rights of EU and NATO member states, and by extension, the organisations they belong to. Although there is not much room for optimism at this point in time, a more permanent, long-lasting, value-laden binding agreement with Turkey is necessary. There is a need to move beyond the stopgap triptych of ‘solidarity, de-escalation, and dialogue’ as Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, suggested after the video conference meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the EU Member States on 14 August. Whether this is possible remains to be seen.

The West should avoid the Beatles’ predicament and become more like the Rolling Stones – interview with Dr. John C. Hulsman

In your latest book – To Dare More Boldly; The Audacious Story of Political Risk – you talk about the ‘butterfly effect’ (where random events have outsized consequences), and quote the British prime minister Macmillan – “Events, dear boy, events.” Do you see COVID-19 in such a disruptive manner for the international order? What trends, new or old, would you expect to accelerate? 

Going into COVID-19, there was a 20-year pattern, a generational pattern of a poker game between the Europeans, the Chinese and the Americans. The Americans were the richest people at the poker table, the Europeans were the oldest player, while the Chinese were the up-and-comer. And every year in the game the Chinese tended to win, the Americans broke even and the Europeans lost for a variety of reasons. Now with COVID-19 you see all the cards thrown up in the air. The question is who plays them fastest and best. COVID-19 was a disruptive event to a very routinised and predictable pattern.

Crises don’t tend to make things new; they tend to clarify things that are already going on.China has already been rising, but now that it’s getting through COVID-19 quicker, it has a first-mover advantage. It got hammered in the first quarter but it’s coming out now, whereas the Americans and the Europeans are going to be hammered in the second quarter. So in the short run, the Chinese have the freedom to act while all their enemies are preoccupied. So what do the Chinese do? They are going to settle their unfinished business, because no one is going to stop them. China is on the march. They crack down on Hong Kong, they bully the Indian army along its shared Himalayan border, they cause trouble in Vietnam and the South China Sea. All these moves suggest that they know that in the short run they have an advantage. Everyone is going to be preoccupied so they are going to be aggressive. The problem with being aggressive is that doesn’t change the longer-term problem that they have. The Chinese economy is 14 trillion dollars, while the American one is 22 trillion dollars. The US is still by far the dominant economy in the world, while China is clearly second. By bullying all the neighbours, the Chinese are giving the United States a tremendous opportunity to gather allies both in Europe and in Asia, NATO plus the Quad basically, and a League of Democracies in the long run. If the United States can husband together the resources of NATO and the Quad-plus (Australia, India above all, Japan plus the ASEAN countries) in a global League of Democracies, the US will be in a perfectly good position. The Chinese have an immediate, fantastical advantage, but they are overplaying that, because they don’t see the strategy behind things. 


“Events, dear boy, events.”

Harold Macmillan and John Kennedy had totally different histories, and that explains their different points of view. I have a historical approach to political risk, as opposed to most of my competitors that have a more political science approach. History is the experience of lived life, the way we’ve lived in society since time began, meaning it’s empirically based on how humans actually behave. So here is a man whose entire cast of life was shaped by Balliol College, Oxford and WWI (of the 28 students who were in his year at Balliol, only one other classmate survived the Great War), and he has this gloomy view of human affairs; Kennedy, on the other hand, has this WWII rationalist can-do kind of mind-set. They got along really well: they were both intellectuals, both had a sense of humour, had fairly decent lives, but when Macmillan says to Kennedy, what do you worry about, Kennedy the rationalist said he worried about the deficit and nuclear weapons – things with numbers, political science stuff. Kennedy was scared of the known. Macmillan, on the other side, is a historian and says, “I worry about the events, I worry about the things I don’t know are coming, I worry about the unknown.” COVID-19 is the greatest example of that. 


Is Donald Trump the right steward and the ideal builder of a League of Democracy? The concept is an old one – it was used by John McCain in his 2008 campaign, now it’s being embraced by Joe Biden as a core concept of his foreign policy.

The easy answer is that he is not the right guy. I am unique among the people you are going to interview. I neither love or hate Trump. Most analysts love or hate Trump. It gets in the way of their analysis. I don’t love or hate the people I analyse. I analyse. As a disruptive force, Trump has done some good things. It has forced the Europeans to pay more money for NATO. I was polite to Europeans for 20 years. How much progress did I make? Thank you for laughing. Zero. Trump made good inroads in Central and Eastern Europe. That’s a good thing. Trump got most of the Americans to see China as the next Cold War enemy. That’s an incredibly important historical thing. When I left Washington everybody was pro-Chinese. When I go back everyone is a hawk. Trump is the catalyst in that change. All that is to the good. 

Saying that, given that world I just described, smart realists have always said that institutions can be a force multiplier for power. Hard realists don’t think that. Of course, institutions should be used as power maximisers. NATO and the Quad are two great examples. This nuanced argument is what separates realist internationalism from isolationism and unilateralism. So no. It disturbs me that he spends all his time insulting our friends. It disturbs me that he doesn’t see that it is in America’s interest – if you really are ‘America first’ – to work with as many natural democratic allies as humanly possible. He is very useful on pointing the finger at China, but to best China you need a different kind of leader. 

On the other hand let’s not assume that that is a Wilsonian democrat who doesn’t understand the power realities of the world at all. Talking shops are no good if they are talking shops. If they maximise power and reach common decisions that suit people’s interests, then they are good. Joe Biden has his own problems to deal with. More importantly for him, he has a real record of weakness on China. He has been part of the old pro-Chinese consensus, and this is going to come to bite him, and I imagine Trump will spend a lot of energy on that. Frankly neither of them is ideal for the world we are living in. But it is up to those of us across the party lines that see that the League of Democracy is the future to band together for this argument, and take someone who is not a natural ally and convert him to this idea. 

How can the West be re-invented as a geopolitical & geo-economical unit for a world shaped by great-power competition? Should we start planning in terms of the resilience of the West? What initiatives should be contemplated for strengthening the West?

That is the question. We have to remember what unites us, and not necessarily the obvious things that divide us. We need to go back to first principles. We are democratic. When we see what the Chinese are doing in Xijiang province with a million people in concentration camps; when we see the door closing on freedom in Hong Kong, where they totally neutralised the agreements made in 1997 to the British and where the ‘two systems, one country’ mantra falls apart; when we see the way they threaten the Taiwanese for nearly having democratic elections; when we see them throwing their weight around in the South China Sea; when they ignore international ruling and treaties that don’t suit them, or trying to bully the democratic Indian state – this is all part of a larger pattern. Yes, I am a realist; there are times when you have to engage authoritarian countries, when you have common interests you have to do things with them. However, values do matter. In the West we share a certain way of looking at the world: individuals matter, the state doesn’t dominate everything, we have free internal elections where people make the decision, when I mention Thomas Jefferson is a common point of reference, when we say democratic, we broadly mean the same thing. This is a tremendous amount in common, and it puts us on the side of the Hong Kong protesters, on the side of the Uighurs, on the side of the Indians, on the side of the Hague Court ruling on the law of the sea. It puts us all on the same side on all these policy issues. Let’s take a deep breath and remember: for as annoying as a NATO meeting can be – and God, they can be annoying – it is better to have friends with disagreements than be surrounded by people who don’t see the world as we do, and normatively are against it.

Second point, the US needs to be agnostic about Europe. Through COVID, Europe has yet another navel-gazing exercise about what it is: is it a Hamiltonian state? (which I think it will never be, given its history) is it a Jeffersonian confederation? (that might be possible) or a free formation of nation states? That isn’t our concern. That’s up for Europeans to decide.

The more the US meddles in that, the worse we will do. Obama overdid it with Brexit by saying we will never support Brexit; that didn’t help the cause. And Donald Trump overdoes it by saying ‘I hate everything the EU does’.

That doesn’t help either. We need to say that because we share democratic norms, that’s up to you. What is up to us is that – whether Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, or free nation states – we will work with you. We want to work with you: we share interests, we share values. 

In Asia it is much easier because the Chinese are throwing their weight around. I would argue that we are in a better strategic position in Asia than Europe because, with the Chinese doing all these things, the outcome is that our new best friends are the old best friends. We are closer to Japan, Australia and India (that is the key to the region) than we have ever been. This happens not because we are nice guys, but because the Chinese are behaving like a neighbourhood bully and an offshore balancing friend is always better than the bully next door. Even the ASEAN countries that are not democratic, like Vietnam, are doing things with us because they are aware they’re next door to a very angry and a very brutal neighbour.

To unite the West we need to find ways to get the Europeans interested in a common position that says, yes, you can commercially do things with China given certain limitations, but let’s be very careful not to sell the strategic silver and pay the butcher. For this reason we need common standards against Huawei. We didn’t let the bloody KGB run the telephone network in the 1980s, why should we let Huawei in the British network now?

Given the Chinese situation, we need Europeans to play a role there. Europe is great with trade. This Cold War will be much more about trade, about standards, things that are European strengths. At the same time, Europe has a tradition of being involved in Asia. We need Europeans to do more in a global way. If we do all these things, and at the same time work on a free trade deal (here Biden would be much better than Trump) – a version of TTIP with Europe uniting Europe and the US at last – this will put the West in a much better position. The worst thing Trump has done was getting rid of TPP. We had a brilliant trade deal with all of Asia who was united in an anti-Chinese, pro-free trade, pro-American position, and we threw it away. Easily the worst thing we’ve done. We need to go back to first principles, and resurrect those alliances and link that world together. We need to remember that we have each other. If we do all those things, that is an agenda for a Harry Truman-style presidency and that is what we need back – a transformative presidency policy that will resurrect the West. 

You are always the best in crafting gifted metaphors to explain visually key geopolitical predicaments. So let’s discuss a bit the implications of the Beatles vs. Rolling Stones as alternative futures for the West.

The problem with foreign policy is that you have to know in what system you are – is the system stable, and how is the power working in the system? Rather than talking about what in IR we are calling Waltzian systemic analysis (I am bored even saying that), instead it seemed to me more interesting to talk about the breakup of the Beatles, as a cautionary tale for today’s Western world as a whole, and the rise of the Rolling Stones. We all understand the story and you can visualise it. The basic point is that the Beatles in a very short period of time went from being a very stable, very happy band, and everything was great from about 1965 to 1967, when they did their best work – they do Rubber SoulRevolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The reason everything worked so well was that the system was stable. George Harrison got two to three songs, Ringo got one, with everything else being Lennon/McCartney originals. Everybody was happy with that system. That system began to break down because George Harrison got better and better, John Lennon lost interest and Paul McCartney was resentful for being the force holding the band together when it frankly would do other things.

In a very short period of time, between 1967 to 1970, the whole thing breaks up. What makes it a great metaphor is to put geostrategic realities in that. What does the world look like today? If the global ordering system is the Beatles, then John Lennon is Europe utterly preoccupied with himself, with Yoko Ono, with his past, wanting to get out from the tours around the world – neo-isolationist, self-involved, and not very helpful. When I go to Germany I talk to them about China; they are polite, but they are more interested in the future of the EU, how do we get off our knees economically, what we are going to do with the French – that’s what drives them. They are not driven by China, it’s a longer term issue.

Europe is doing a pretty good impersonation of John Lennon.

On the other hand, the US is a harassed Paul McCartney. We keep calling NATO meetings demanding more from people, we keep calling meetings with the Quad in Asia and demanding people work together.

But we are angrier as we do it, hence the Trump phenomenon. We keep grinding everyone up, we are resentful, they are resentful. Eventually this is what happens with Paul McCartney. Increasingly, Paul finally says in 1970 – I’ve had enough, I am going my own way – Make Paul Great Again. 

George Harrison is China in this scenario. He can’t understand why, despite his increasingly dominant position, he still was not being given real opportunities to rise in the Beatles’ system. He soon becomes resentful and distrustful, and after a while he says I don’t like the system anymore, it doesn’t give me room to grow so I want out. So by the time we hit the ’70s, they all want out for different reasons, and the system breaks down. 

We are at this key moment at about 1968 in this analogy, the system hasn’t broken down yet, but nothing new has taken its place. One of the outcomes is that things break down, and we have naked jungle-living great-power competition. But there is another model, the Rolling Stones – a system that evolves over time to change to the power reality. Originally, under Brian Jones, the founder and original leader of the Rolling Stones, the system was unipolar. He was the manager of the band, he picked the other band members and the profit places. But that didn’t work because he didn’t write the music, and was increasingly incapable of sustaining performances because of alcohol and drug problems. Over time the band evolves into a multipolar power triumvirate of Jones-Jagger-Richards, not much liking each other, but working together. That doesn’t work either, so Jagger and Richards ruthlessly get rid of Jones. A month later, he dies mysteriously in his swimming pool, but now the system has lasted for 50 years as the band was able to adopt a power relationship that mirrors its basic creative forces. Richards and Jagger are the creative powers of the band, and they have been since 1969. The power and the reality of who does what is the same, and when that is the case, the system works. So I would argue that a League of Democracies linking Europe (while in relative decline, still important and viable) to up-and-coming powers like India and the Asian world, to the greatest single power still in the world – the US. That is a strategic threesome that has the dominant power to sustain itself in terms of global governance – if it wants to. It is a duty thing. But if it does that instead of the Beatles’ outcome, we are going to end up like the Rolling Stones.

You’ve lived in Europe for the past 15 years. You’ve seen the weaknesses and the strengths, the debates without end, the cleavages between North and South, East and West. Can Europe become structurally ready for a more great power-centric world, and become ready to go beyond a Steven Pinker belief in the ‘Better Angels of Our Nature’ strategic mindset?

The good news is that Europe is kind of the key power, along with a rising Asia. If the US and China are by far the two dominant powers, certainly who scrambles for allies matters immensely. Does the Quad emerge as a Chinese or a pro-American group, or is it neutralist? More importantly, does Europe maintain its pro-Western, pro-American and trans-Atlantic outlook, meaning that it is broadly anti-China and broadly pro-America? If it does that, that’s enough power in the group to dominate. But if it is neutral, which Europe could well be given what’s going on, then we are living in a very different world. Given the structural position, Europe has a real say in what kind of world we are living in.


For the past fourteen years, Dr. John C. Hulsman has been the President and Managing Partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises (www.john-hulsman.com), a prominent global political risk-consulting firm. Presently, John is also the widely-read senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper for the city of London. Dr. Hulsman is also a life member of the US Council on Foreign Relations, the pre-eminent US foreign policy institution. The author of all or part of 14 books, Hulsman has given over 1540 interviews, written over 790 articles, prepared over 1330 briefings, and delivered more than 540 speeches on global political risk and foreign policy for blue-chip corporations and governments around the world, making a name for himself as an uncannily accurate predictor of global geopolitical risk (and reward) in our new multipolar era. In recognition of this, Hulsman presently sits on the Editorial Board of the prestigious Italian Foreign Affairs Journal, Aspenia. His most recent work, the best-selling To Dare More Boldly; The Audacious Story of Political Risk, was published by Princeton University Press in April 2018, and is available for order on Amazon.


An agenda for reviving the West

“First, it must re-engage the emerging market powers – on new terms that actually reflect today’s changed multipolar global geopolitical and macroeconomic realities. It must forge a new global democratic alliance with rising regional powers, connecting itself more substantially to South Africa, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, and India. The single greatest strategic challenge for the next generation is determining whether the emerging regional democratic powers can be successfully integrated into today’s global order.”

Second, the West itself must be bound together anew; Lennon-McCartney must recommit to the band, in this case the project of serving as the ordering powers in an increasingly factious world. The common grand strategic project of enticing the emerging democratic powers into becoming stakeholders of the present international order can serve as a large portion of the glue that relinks Britain, Europe and America.”

Excerpt from To Dare More Boldly; The Audacious Story of Political Risk  published by Princeton University Press, 2018.