War and peace in the European borderlands

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Series Details Vol.7, No.47, 20.12.01, p8
Publication Date 20/12/2001
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Date: 20/12/01

Michael Emerson, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), writes that "unofficial" diplomacy may help shape a new European order across the EU's periphery

AS THE year ends and the dust settles on New York and Afghanistan, a new European order is shaping up, with three basic features:

  • Strategic partnership between the two European giants, the enlarging EU and the stabilising Russia, in alliance with the US;
  • Cooperative regionalism (the green circles on the map) across all the peripheral regions that overlap the EU and its neighbours, where these regions are at peace, but unable to accede to the EU in the foreseeable future; or, in an historical perspective, border relations between the EU quasi-empire and the former Russian and Ottoman empires;
  • Conflict regions (the red circles) of the European periphery, meaning the war zones, or the frozen conflict regions, or post-war zones under intensive care.

The main point concerns how these categories interact and evolve over time. The triumph for the new European order will be, or should be, when the EU's enlargement succeeds in converting the nearest red circles into green circles, in some cases absorbing them entirely.

For the more distant red circles the increasingly operational strategic partnership between the EU, Russia and the US succeeds in transforming them into green circles. How are things working out in practice? The narrative becomes rather interesting.

The strategic partnership around the EU-Russia-US triangle has advanced enormously during the past year, accelerating since 11 September because of President Vladamir Putin's choice to be a cooperative strategic partner.

The rhetoric was impeccably delivered in his speech to the Bundestag in Berlin in October, but the operational follow through is also there to see - no objections to the US using Uzbekistan as a base for operations in Afghanistan, a warming of Russia-NATO relations, and small but significant moves of Russian policy in the conflict regions of borderland Europe (Transniester, Abkhazia).

As for the cooperative green circles there are movements, opportunities and blockages. The Northern Dimension, embracing the Baltic and Barents Sea areas, and pushed by the recent Finnish and Swedish presidencies of the EU, is in business. The Central European Initiative is about to fade away, taken over by the accession of central European states into the EU - mission accomplished.

Black Sea cooperation is well established, and should become more operational as soon as the Caucasus conflicts are resolved, and when the EU starts to respond more positively to the invitation to join this organisation. The Euro-Med Barcelona Process also limps along, stymied still by the Israel-Palestine conflict. Thus two of the green circles are inhibited by the presence in their midst of smaller red circles.

The red circles are clients or candidates for the stability pact treatment. We are using the term "stability pact" generically to represent comprehensive international intervention in regions afflicted by inter-ethnic conflicts.

The Balkan Stability Pact, not just the mechanism presided by its special coordinator Bodo Hombach but the whole Europeanisation process in the region, is winning. The red circle is being steadily transformed into a green circle, with notable events in 2001, following the end of the Milosevic regime in 2000.

Full-scale civil war almost engulfed Macedonia in the summer of 2001, but thanks to the cooperative diplomacy and intervention of the EU and NATO, the worst was avoided and a new constitution is being put into effect.

Javier Solana's inimitable brand of hands-on diplomacy seems to have worked. Kosovo has just held its first elections, with the Serbs participating.

There is still the Serbia-Montenegro constitutional impasse to sort out, but here also the EU has mandated Solana to mediate an outcome for a common state solution. Other states in the region advance, more or less, although the future of the Dayton regime in Bosnia is going to require attention. The Stability Pact itself is now to be adapted, with Erhard Busek (Hombach's designated successor) mandated to refocus the mechanism in the light of the region's progressive Europeanisation.

Incidentally, the post-11 September environment seems to have been decisive in finally inducing disarmament of the IRA in Northern Ireland. The "with us or against us" question seems to have contributed to a positive conclusion.

Also, the frozen conflict of Cyprus is now out of the freezer. Presidents Clerides and Denktash resume negotiations, with a view to agreeing on a re-unified Cyprus within six months, to enter the EU amongthe next wave of accession. While the negotiations take place under the auspices of UN special representative Alvaro de Soto, it is also increasingly evident how the EU dimension can ease the constitutional solution and transform the prospects of Northern Cyprus.

The red circle is about to be subsumed within the EU, helping to contribute positive signals for Euro-Med cooperation and the Middle East "peace process". The 11 September effect seems to have worked on the leaders in Cyprus, with Turkey too now trying harder to cooperate with the EU. (Ankara presumably encouraged Denktash to move on the peace talks, and the row over the EU access to NATO assets for its rapid reaction force seems to be overcome.)

The Caucasus should be the next in line for transformation of the red circle. The past year has seen the Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia frozen conflicts heading back, at least in the rhetoric of the leaderships, towards outright war.

The US, Russia and France, as co-chairs of the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mandated Minsk group, tried together to broker a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in April 2001. Maybe the interested parties can be persuaded or pushed back to the negotiating table, given the new alliance with Russia. This would become all the more likely if the nearby Abkhazia dispute can be resolved.

The latest news is that Russia has at last dropped its former blocking position in relation to UN-sponsored talks to reshape the place of Abkhazia within Georgia.

As researchers at CEPS have been arguing for almost two years, the Russian position over Abkhazia seemed not only obstructive but also counter to any modern conception of Russia's own national interests.

A switch of policy seems to have been made, opening real possibilities for a cooperative approach to getting the whole Caucasus region onto a new track, wiping out the red circle, coming into the green circle of Black Sea cooperation. But the Israel-Palestine conflict degenerates by the day into a creeping, virtual war.

"When will it end?" is appropriately the title of the first commentary contributed to the CEPS Middle East website forum.

The paradox and tragedy is that the outlines of the solution have in the course of 2001 become increasingly clear, just as the conflict itself became bitter.

The Middle East Taba talks in January, on the eve of the fall of the Barak government, were finally edging forward towards the basic propositions of Israel getting out of the occupied territories, a compromise solution for Jerusalem and an international programme for the Palestinian refugees. These were all to be supported by an international peace-keeping deployment.

The conflict parties are in deadlock, one side willing to negotiate but not able to control violence, the other not willing to negotiate before cessation of violence. No one seems able to predict how the deadlock can be broken. A new burst of US Realpolitik is one answer. But some time, a gentle outward reach of the European model of stability and cooperation should touch the shores of the East Mediterranean, too.

Maybe the sight of Cyprus and even also the Caucasus choosing peace at last will help get the message across.

Last, but certainly not least, come Afghanistan and Central Asia, beyond the frontiers of Europe by most definitions, but now part of the continuous and linked chains of regional sets of disorders, ethno-cultural conflicts, violence and criminality stretching from the Balkans to the Chinese and Indian frontiers. Afghanistan becomes the latest stability pact patient, and Central Asia rises on European as well as Russian and US foreign policy priorities.

As the red circles closest to Europe are progressively squeezed out, the frontiers of unresolved conflict are pushed further away to the East. Thus the European model succeeds in extending way beyond the Christian-Muslim divides, with the Balkans, Cyprus, Turkey and the Caucasus all confirming or achieving a successful secularisation of politics. This already becomes a huge contribution

to avoiding the dreadful spectre, so perceptively advanced by Harvard University Professor Samuel Huntington some ten years ago inClash of Civilisations.

It remains still though to crack some tough nuts indeed, most immediately in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and some further way down the road a peaceful transformation of the Gulf states. At least this helps shape up goals for the EU's emerging foreign and security policies, and motivates the build-up of the EU's capabilities as a foreign policy actor.

This is the schema of ideas of a family of CEPS projects under the "wider Europe" heading.

Propositions are published or advanced in public conferences at a rate of several every month (see www:ceps.be).

Networks of like-thinking independent analysts are established in all the regions concerned. Such activity is sometimes styled as "track 2 diplomacy", or unofficial diplomacy. Its emergence in the world at large is part of the new international civil society (different from, but partly overlapping with the important role of the NGO sector as aid-delivering organisations and civil society development networks such as Oxfam, the Open Society Institute etc.).

The demands for track 2 diplomacy become vividly pressing in conflict situations, in cases where all of the interested parties - including the major international actors as well as the conflict partners - become paralysed, in the sense of being unable to table constructive proposals for negotiation.

The "frozen official diplomacy" surrounding the conflicts has been all-too evident for long periods in such cases as Cyprus, the Caucasus and the Middle East. In the absence of really constructive proposals the populations, the victims of conflict, typically hear only local radical ethno-nationalist rhetoric.

Track 2 diplomacy is about other ideas being heard.

Major feature in which the writer looks at external challenges facing the European Union.

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