TFF PressInfo # 385 – How did Western Europe cope with a much stronger Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact?
By Jan Oberg
TFF Series ”The New Cold War” # 6
How did Western Europe survive the much stronger Soviet Union & Warsaw Pact 30-40 years ago? A pact that had about 70% of NATO’s military expenditures where today’s Russia has 8%? How did we get on after the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia – and a Union with much more global military and political influence?
Europe did so through a well-maintained military capacity, or superiority, technical superiority and, of fundamental importance to security – confidence-building measures (CBM).
And through a political leadership by personalities who knew what the 2nd World War had implied and why it must never happen again. One towering figure of course being Willy Brandt, the German chancellor who had himself been a refugee in Norway during the war.
CBMs were meant to both uphold a high level of war-fighting capacity while also seeking military early information/warning, attending each other’s military exercises, etc. They resulted in the establishment of the very important OSCE – Organisation for Security and Co-operation (then C for Conference) in Europe with the Helsinki Final Act of 1 August1975. It contained politico-military, economic, environmental and human rights dimensions – ’baskets’ that were seen as related to each other and which served as dialogue points between the two blocs.
The visionary President Urho Kekkonen of Finland was credited as the main architect of the CSCE – and his Finland was neutral but upheld a co-operation agreement with the Soviet Union.
Finland was also the only country in the European space that could show opinions polls according to which the people felt equidistant to both blocs.
The simple but brilliant idea was this: We need dialogue to feel secure. It was also called Detente. And it implied a disarmament dimension – negotiations about how to mutually scrap weapons in a measured and verifiable manner that both sides had decided they no longer needed.
These negotiations included not only conventional weapons but also the arsenals of nuclear weapons.
In the domain of nuclear weapons, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT, was signed in 1970 and carried four very important provisions:
1) the world shall move towards general and complete disarmament and the nuclear weapons shall be abolished;
2) those who have nuclear weapons shall negotiated them down, in principle to zero and
3) as a quid pro quo for that all non-nuclear weapons shall abstain from obtaining nuclear weapons – and
4) countries who want nuclear energy shall be assisted to introduce this civilian energy technology.
All this happened in the era of Detente and CBM. How had that become possible?
If one should put one person on it, it would be Willy Brandt, the German chancellor who – without a doubt – today must be seen as one of the greatest statesmen in post-1945 Europe. It was his personal, spontaneous act of falling to his knees at the war memorial in Warsaw and apologizing for what Germany had done that paved the way for detente and confidence with the Soviets who had had enough of Western interventions in that century and had lost at least 25 million people during WWII.
He did so on December 7, 1970. The year before he initiated the tremendously important Ostpolitik – a ”new Eastern Policy” aiming at the normalization of relations between the Western Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the Eastern German Democratic Republic, (GDR) – based on a philosophy called ”rapproachement” that another visionary social democrat, Egon Bahr, had suggested in a speech as early as 1963.
This entire European philosophy meant: You can only feel secure in Europe together with and not entirely against the Sovet Union. Swedish prime minister Olof Palme’s and his commission logically coined the term ’common security’ in their report with the significant sub-title A Blueprint For Survival published in 1982.
The trouble is that by 2016 when this is being written there is no blue-print for survival, i.e. no security philosophy in the EU or among NATO countries.
There is no European or NATO statesman who today would match half people such Brandt, Kekkonen, and Palme in terms of intellectual capacity, civil courage, political vision or commitment to co-existence and peace.
The trouble today is that NATO circles have only a very limited and negative toolbox: sanctions, confrontational military steps, attempts at humiliation of the Russians, only bad stories about Russia in the media, no decent coverage of its history or its motives in operating in today’s world. And NATO expansion which the West promised Mikhail Gorbachev would never take place.
The trouble is that the West got used to a world in which it could dominate and did not have, as before, to take a Soviet Union into account. Yugoslavia for example which was the focal point for most Cold War-era Third World (Nuclear) War scenarios could be divided with no real Russian opposition.
The trouble further is that the West has become more self-centered, autistic – and for those reasons: dangerous – not only to the world but to itself. That is, the balance of power that every Realpolitik expert considered the sine qua non of stability is gone long ago and anybody trying to again balance the West will be punished.
The Western world is becoming relatively weaker. The one thing it is better at than anybody else – second to none – is the military. By relying so heavily on that rather than the power of economics, development, humanitarianism, respect for international law and being perceived as principled and legitimate in its policies put one nail in its coffin after the other.
It could – one can argue – all have been avoided and Europe been at true peace today if NATO had drawn the logical conclusion at the demise of its raison d’etre: the existence of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. But triumphalism coupled with humiliation of the Russians was the chosen path – and it has ended in a new Cold War – different but also the same.
While the Soviet Empire went down with very little violence – thanks to another towering intellectual and moral man, Mikhail S. Gorbachev – there is no guarantee that the US/Western/NATO empire will dissolve with a whimper rather than with a bang – a nuclear exchange begun by the West as a death throe.
And that’s why an intelligent foreign policy in European countries ought to keep good and confident relations with Washington and NATO but prepare for the future world order in which the US empire is history like that of the Romans, the Ottomans, the British and the Russians.
As long as the West is in denial about its increasing weakness and keeps up its military agenda based on unreal, constructed assumptions about the threat – because it is what it is second to none in – it will remain a much much more dangerous actor to the world than Russia will be in the foreseeable future.
Russia has been through its crisis and while it may take years (or never happen) to get back to something like a position in the world system it ones had, it will gain strength in relation to the NATO/West – a West that has not hit the bottom yet.