November 19, 2015
During a training course on geopolitics, just a few days after the Paris terrorist attacks, I was asked whether there are “geopolitical advantages and disadvantages” for countries and, if so, which are the disadvantages for Romania, considering the current challenges Europe is facing. My reply was that there are no advantages and disadvantages – there are only geopolitical imperatives. When analyzing those, we look at the geography shaping up the human society from a particular location and the way borders were set throughout history. We focus on the nation states and on the fundamentals shaping up their behavior: politics, economics and security. Events that may influence any of the three fundamentals are capable of having an impact over states’ behavior.
Geography explains the opportunities and the limitations of a country, as well as its priorities and needs. States make the most of their geography in times of peace – when external threats are at the minimum. This is when coherent governing, focusing on realistic goals is important. When there is no major international conflict, the political game supports, in theory, the consolidation of the national economy. During peacetime, countries influence one another establishing economic dependency links. Security should be an important beneficiary of the economic advances: national strategy should ensure that the economic development also builds on increasing independence and innovation, through technological progress also invested in the security field. However, while technological progress is at a high during peacetime, defense and security budgets get cut. Because there is the perception that peace is to remain for the long term.
The tragic events in Paris highlight that perception: France, as other Western countries thought peace is to stay and therefore cuts in the defense budges have been normal. As the attacks occurred, the perception changed radically. French President Hollande has said repeatedly during the last days that France is at war. He didn’t only mean that France is getting more involved in Syria – which it does, but has also brought forth the needs for increasing security spending in France: “the security pact prevails over the stability pact”. This is not true only for France, but for all the EU member states.
The terrorist attacks as well as the refugee crisis are both good arguments for countries to increase their security spending. In its latest release, the EU Commission already noted that the budgetary impact of the exceptional inflow of refugees would be taken into account when assessing possible deviation from the deficit rules for 2015-2016. This is how spending plans in Italy, Lithuania or Austria, initially criticized by the Commission for violating the bloc’s rules, may actually get Brussels nod. And thus, the current crisis could become the reason for increased spending in the EU. Something that will certainly affect European economics.
Paris attacks have also raised a very important political question relating to the future of the EU: how will the Schengen Agreement be affected? On the short term, we’ve seen France, Germany, Sweden and Slovenia reestablishing border controls. We’ve also seen interesting discussions, originating in the Netherlands about the establishment of a mini-Schengen area between Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Austria. While it is only an idea, it highlights an ongoing regionalization trend.
Nationalism was on the rise before the attacks – in their aftermath we could see the rise accelerating. The policy changes that may follow in asylum regulation in Germany will likely be followed by political changes, with Merkel having to admit some of her mistakes in front of the voters.
In light of the recent developments, Turkey relationship with the EU will become even more important, considering all the leverage that goes to Ankara post-Paris attacks. While military reactions towards Syria are still expected from nation states, they will remain limited: airstrikes will likely intensify in the short term and Italy and the UK will join in, along France. But no troops will be sent to Syria. Germany will continue being against any form of military intervention in Syria and will push for a diplomatic solution.
All in all, European countries could be more open to accommodate with Russia on Syria. This may open the door for cooperation on other issues, like Ukraine. This has been one of the Russian goals from the very beginning – but it is still unclear how successful they’ll be without giving into the implementation of the Minsk agreement as the Europeans have been demanding.
This is a time when the geopolitical risk is raising – a time of change and of reset for alliances that have slowly been forming within the borders of the West and East.Antonia Colibasanu