The world appears to be looking to the United States to solve the current crisis in Europe. This is not entirely unfounded. Indeed, in November last year Russia tabled two treaty proposals; one for NATO and one for the United States to initiate a long-needed conversation on the security architecture in Europe. Yet, Europe should move to the forefront and take the lead in solving what is essentially a European crisis.
Europe has a long history of relations with Russia, but more importantly for the current crisis, Europe has long had the ability to pull the United States and Russia towards a more conciliatory approach and not least towards European solutions to European problems.
Indeed, the general idea most people have about the Cold War is that it was a bipolar endeavour that was won by the United States. In this narrative, the European states played a small and relatively insignificant role in terms of determining the outcome of the Cold War and importantly the peaceful progression of it. Yet, the New Cold War History or the Euro-Centric narrative have uncovered a very different history. New archival material and new scholarship has shown that Europe – both East and West during the Cold War at times pushed and pulled the super powers towards cooperation that ultimately supported the peaceful ending of the Cold War.
The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe or the Helsinki Process in the 1970s was a multilateral forum for dialogue and negotiation between East and West. It led to greater cooperation in Europe and the Final Act on human rights and freedoms ultimately proved to be important to dissidents in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. This was a European initiative and a European solution. So was the so-called Harmel study that led to NATO changing its posture from purely deterrence to détente and deterrence in 1967, that supported the détente in the 1960s and 1970s. Another significant contribution was the West German Ostpolitik that eventually led to a peaceful resolution of the German problem. There is a long list of European initiatives that ultimately changed the trajectory of the Cold War for the better. This is not to neglect that the U.S. and USSR were the primary actors in the Cold War, but to show that Europe had a substantial and decisive role to play in the peaceful resolution of the Cold War.
We can see that when Europe – both East and West – began this endeavour to change the trajectory of the Cold War, it was the result of the so-called dual crisis, that is the Berlin Crisis and Cuban Missile Crisis. The dual crisis underscored in the European capitals that they had very little or no influence on the decisions of war or peace in Moscow and Washington despite the fact that Europe was likely the theatre of (nuclear) war. Today is not a New Cold War, yet the European capitals should realise again that the decision of war and peace in Europe still not only belongs to Europe, but that any solution cannot be found without a profound role for Europe.
A lot of water has run under the bridge since the Cold War, but institutional memory is valuable for another peaceful resolution of a European problem. Understanding that Europe historically has taken responsibility for the resolution of a tense and conflict prone situation should be a sobering lesson in the European capitals about the current crisis. Europe can mediate and broker solutions and there is no reason why this is not as good a time as any.
Europe has always known: a single crisis is a symptom of a broader problem. This holds true to today’s crisis, it extends beyond Ukraine to the broken security architecture in Europe. While Scholz, Macron and Johnson can and should provide meaningful intervention, it seems that the European capitals are missing an opportunity to broker a pan-European solution to the current crisis