Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Georgia, Russia, the EU and future UK foreign policy

Russian troops heading to GeorgiaYesterday’s Observer was on really rather good form, with a decent long article amply demonstrating the human cost – easy to forget when trying to work out the wider geopolitical remifications:

“They sifted out villagers with Georgian surnames, immediately executing all teenage boys. Nugzari Jashashvili, 65, was returning home across the fields when he saw gunmen approach the house of his neighbour, Gela Chikladze, 50. ‘They cut his throat,’ Jashashvili said.”

I’m focussing on the politics, but that’s not to say that this is just an interesting intellectual exercise in trying to predict the future of Eurasian relations. People have been killed in untold numbers in Georgia and South Ossetia, both by the Georgian and Russian armies and by bands of roving maniacs with guns, loosely fighting in what they see as the interest of one side or the other. There has been ethnic cleansing. People continue to die. The death toll may be unknown, but it is in the thousands.

Further on, a good think piece from Neil Acherson, and a moderately sensible editorial that makes a couple of interesting arguments:

“One crucial difference between the current East-West confrontation and the Cold War is that, this time, the economic ties binding the two sides are stronger. Russia needs access to Western markets; the West – and Europe in particular – needs Russian oil and gas. That creates an opportunity for the European Union, the world’s largest single market, to play a moderating role, steering the conversation away from military grandstanding and towards economic negotiation…

“Such aggression must not be rewarded. But Cold War-style brinkmanship will not make Russia’s neighbours safer. It will only reinforce the Kremlin’s view that small states are pawns in a strategic game. The best guarantee of security and peace in Europe since the end of the Cold War has been economic integration, achieved through the EU. It is Brussels, not Washington, that stands the best chance of persuading Moscow to change its ways.”

Today this is followed up by a piece on Comment is Free by Lib Dem MEP Graham Watson, again making the case for the EU as peacebroker:

“Europe is the only player that can be seen as an honest broker… Europe’s initial ambivalence might prove the unlikely key to its success. Post-Soviet member states are more inclined to lay blame for the conflict at Russia’s door; others, including Italy, have expressed an opposing view. By acknowledging that there are different opinions over responsibility for this conflict, the EU can better adopt a position of neutrality in its negotiations.”

Yes, Watson may be partisan, but I can’t do anything other than agree 100% with him on this:

Playing to the gallery of populist opinion is short-sighted but inevitable at this point in America’s election cycle. But not all EU member states have resisted that temptation either. Notably, Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, and the Conservative leader, David Cameron, have engaged in a race to the bottom with each determined to use tougher, more anti-Russian rhetoric than the other. It is an unedifying spectacle that proves their mutual lack of suitability for the job that they are really squabbling over.

For reasons best known to himself, Miliband has been baiting Moscow for months in a series of vaguely populist soundbytes that have been highly critical of the Kremlin, further escalating the ongoing UK/Russia tensions that have been on the up since before the Litvinenko affair. Cameron… Well, what to make of Cameron? Thus far he’s rarely bothered making much of an effort when it comes to foreign affairs, far happier to score easy points at home. But his Tbilisi trip – coming as it has after the overly-extended decision to pull the Tory MEPs out of the EPP group (against their will) and his half-hearted attempt to build an alliance with the Czech Republic to push EU reform down an ill-defined new path – has nudged me right to the brink of declaring Cameron a man with no sense of the realities of international relations and foreign diplomacy.

Hell, with people like Cameron and Miliband potentially in charge of the UK’s foreign policy, I say bring on an EU-based common foreign policy as soon as possible. When it comes to The Great Game, we can’t risk having second-rate minds with no concept of history at the helm. Why are we still allowing Cameron and Miliband to go around kicking the hornet’s nest when a collective effort is so vital? Because just as it is not in the EU’s interest to alienate Russia thanks to Moscow’s control of so many vital energy supplies, it is not in Britain‘s either. Come on – this is Britain we’re talking about. We used to be good at this stuff. We didn’t get such a vast Empire by making stupid statements and shaking our fists at people – we got it through a combination of overwhelming military force and backed up with insanely good intelligence and expert diplomacy. We no longer have the overwhelming military force – which makes diplomacy and intelligence all the more vital. Miliband and Cameron, in their Georgia statements, appear to possess neither.

And now for a question, the answer to which I genuinely can’t work out. Considering that the Council of Europe exists to promote democracy, justice and the rule of law, contains all EU member states, plus every other European state with an interest in this affair – Turkey, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia – and, most importantly, both Russia and Georgia, why isn’t it the CoE rather than the EU that is taking the lead here?

6 Comments

  1. To answer your final question:

    First, because within the CoE both Russia and Georgia can block any major initiative. I was already surprised about clear statements from several important CoE personalities – not least the Secretary General and the current Swedish Ministers Council’s president – who were not only on the spot but also issued quite clear statements.

    Second, because the CoE lacks a conflict resolution mechanism; it is more fitted to work on technical questions than on high political issues. The CoE has Armenia and Azerbaidshan in something that you could call such a mechanism, but the question of Nagorno Karabakh is apparently not solved until today…

  2. True – but surely it was set up in part to deal with just such events as these? It has the basic framework of legal principles to which all members are supposedly signed up – why can’t the dispute be sorted out through the European Court of Human Rights? Or at least have the ECHR as arbitrator. Makes more sense than NATO or the EU, where neither of the parties are members.

  3. The Court has already acted (press release) with the measure that it has at his disposal. But the ECtHR does not have a political capacity to act, because he is based on the European Convention on Human Rights, which does not provide any political authority. Usually, all the actions of the ECtHR are based on cases, either of individuals against states, or, in rare cases, states against states, but only with regard to specific human rights violations.

    As a political body, the Council of Europe is based on its own statutes, and the most powerful organ, the Committee of Ministers (which usually is a committee of countries’ ambassadors), is a rather typical international organisation’s organ with de jure or de facto unanimity on most issues, especially on sensitive questions such as the Georgian crisis. With Georgia and Russia being members of this body, I doubt that we will see any substantial results from this side.

    And since the European Union coordinates its position also within the Council of Europe (with the EU Council Presidency speaking for the member states in CFSP matters), in the end we have the same situation as outside the CoE: Russia, Georgia and the EU remain the most relevant actors.

    Except for the Secretary General and the Commissioner for Human Rights there are no independent political persons within the structures of the CoE, while the first is dependent on the member states and the second does not have the material and legal position to intervene with the intensity needed in this crisis.

    So despite the general aim of the Council of Europe, I don’t see that it will be able to be a stronger mediator than for example the OSCE, which at least has a relevant mission and mandate on the ground.

  4. …and I would not doubt that those that want to push Russia away from the European Union are the same ilk that oppose the Lisbon Treaty and see no problem with the US/NATO order. It is the US/NATO order party provoked this crisis in the first place through endless and useless NATO expansion.

    The reality is the America has NO part in the peace, in fact, America is a party to the conflict. This is truly the hour of Europe – and “old Europe” truly is wiser than “new Europe,” which would want us to return to the Cold War and American dominance over Europe, especially ESDP.

  5. Western Europe has made the massive mistake of aligning itself with the neo-facsist policies of the United States.

    Iraq should have been a wake-up call–because other criminal adventures didn’t do the trick.

    I have a feeling that the majority of the world’s population are getting a bit fed up with the jack-boot coming from the US and her Euro-parasitic allies.

    Civilized? Your arrogance and stupidity mock any such suggestions.

    You people are afraid of what you have always been frightened of: the idea that those that you have imposed upon will resist and fight back.

    All this is long overdue–but I doubt you will see the Queen and Blair brought to the Huage.

  6. “Europe is the only player that can be seen as an honest broker”

    MEP’s on crack-cocaine? The EU may not have been as visibly ‘active’ as the US over Georgia, but they have been compliant and helpful (brits supplying armored landrovers for example). There is no honesty ‘in Europe’. Most of the large countries have recognized Kosovo despite UNSCR 1244 which mentions several times Serbia’s territorial integrity but this is ‘not relevant’. What exact ‘moral authority’ do EU member states have? As for legal authority…