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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Threat Reborn as a Matter of Necessity

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Washington's decision to place elements of an anti-ballistic missile battery in Poland and the Czech Republic has become a catalyst to a complex process in Europe. This affects not only the relationship with Russia, but also the "Old World's" strategic future as well.

In two weeks the European Union will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for integration. Most of the original goals of the EU's founders have already been realized, including a durable peace in Europe, economic growth and social prosperity. The one goal that has yet to be met fully, however, is strengthening Europe's global political influence.

Jean Monnet, the founder of European integration, never tired of repeating that only unity could prevent the marginalization of the European powers. The end of World War II sounded the conclusion of the epoch of the great empires and the beginning of their slide in international influence. The influence of the different European countries had to be combined in order to preserve Europe's position as a leading international actor.

It was unnecessary to exert external influence to accomplish these goals. During the Cold War, Western Europe hid under the U.S. political and military umbrella. The United States, involved in a global confrontation with the Soviet Union, gave its blessing willingly. But the need for a trans-Atlantic partnership between Western Europe and the United States diminished after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Washington began trying to reshape the world according to its own vision, while Brussels focused on pushing forward a deeper and broader integration of European countries.

The EU has now reached the stage where its socioeconomic achievements have to be transformed into a common political identity, especially when it comes to foreign policy. It has become increasingly evident to the United States, meanwhile, that it cannot single-handedly shoulder the weight of the world order it is attempting to establish. The United States needs allies that can help provide the necessary financial, technical and human resources. But Washington does not yet seem ready to share overall responsibility or to cooperate more in the decision-making process.

The United States expected support from its allies across the Atlantic in return for the protection and economic help it had provided Europe in the postwar period. Europe, as it turned out, had a different understanding of this debt.

During its development, Europe fostered a special kind of "civil power" -- a culture of peaceful expansion based on the spread of the rule of law. This expansion did not involve a military force component. As Germany's former foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, explained: "The expansion of the EU is the projection of force according to a European understanding." It is clear that this approach is only possible within Europe, and that the farther away from that cultural and political nucleus, the less effective this approach becomes. This is a problem for the United States, which needs Europe's support in other parts of the world.

As for more traditional, "hard" power, only Britain has retained anything close to its full military strength. France maintains sufficient military capabilities to defend its own immediate interests, but Western Europe as a whole is not militarily capable of participating in the global undertakings the United States has initiated. Moreover, the culture of making progress through compromise that has made Europe's accomplishments of the last 50 years possible runs counter to the methods currently employed by the United States.

The fatal contradiction for modern Europe is that it cannot help but be a major player in global politics, considering its financial-economic, cultural-historical and human potential, but at the same time, it is ill prepared to be active on a global political stage that has become more militarized and characterized by geopolitical rivalries.

The European Union is facing a dilemma.

Europe has to gather its collective strength and establish a strong foreign policy that works toward guaranteeing its security and then put that policy in practice as it applies to all of its partners, including Russia, the United States, China and the rest of Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America. This process is fraught with danger, including that of ending up in competition with the United States.

Otherwise, Europe will have to accept a global role only under outside patronage, functioning as the U.S. "rear guard." This would mean limiting the development of its powers to the regional level and continuing work on the development of countries on its borders, while demonstrating its solidarity with Washington when necessary.

This less ambitious approach is the one favored by governments in Central and Eastern Europe that don't believe "Old Europe" can provide for their own security or that of their younger partners. The new members prefer relying on the United States, even if this means involvement in some foreign conflicts. At the root of this is the U.S. guarantee of protection against Russia, which remains the primary threat for the former Eastern Bloc countries.

These countries also look to the EU to continue its eastward expansion. With the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, the EU crossed a new boundary into the area bordering the Black Sea, including Ukraine, Moldova and the South Caucasus. These countries are likely to be the focus of any future expansion activity. Since the EU also relies on support from Russia in trying to solve global problems, however, further expansion to the east risks provoking Moscow into an unwelcome confrontation.

EU leaders today are calling passionately for consolidation of the union, but the discussion surrounding the future placement of anti-missile battery components in Poland and the Czech Republic have put unified Europe in a difficult position.

On the one hand, when Strategic Missile Forces commander Nikolai Solovtsov threatened to re-target missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic, the other EU member states were obliged to back them up with a show of solidarity. Solovtsov's declaration, however, was provoked by the fact that Washington is playing strategic games in Europe without recognizing a need to consult seriously first with its old European allies or the nearby nuclear-wielding superpower, Russia. This is an approach that goes over well in both Prague and Warsaw.

Europe and the United States had a single enemy during the Cold War -- the Soviet Union -- and that common threat helped cement the trans-Atlantic brotherhood. But the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, though perhaps not entirely cognizant of it, are pushing toward a situation in which the Russian threat serves as an external force promoting EU solidarity. While this model helped the EU move ahead 50 years ago, today it is more likely to bury Europe's ambitions,

The escalation of aggressive rhetoric we are witnessing is capable of reviving the outward appearance of the Cold War, which will do nothing toward providing real security, inasmuch as the real threat does not come from any real conflict between Russia and the West. But it is far simpler here for politicians on both sides to fall back into familiar patterns of behavior, than to try to resolve the real problems they actually face.

Fyodor Lukyanov is editor of Russia in Global Affairs.