Self-destruction or common security? Our decade of extremes: Ukraine war and climate crisis
Author: Michael Müller Peter Brand Reiner Braun
Publisher: Westend Verlag, Germany
Many historical parallels have been drawn between the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and the power struggle between Russia and NATO. Those who advocate for sending weapons often compare it to the fight against fascism, while those who are against often compare it to the outbreak of World War I and the anti-war sentiment from the radical wing of the labour movement at that time. In the book Selbstvernichtung oder gemeinsame Sicherheit? (‘Self-annihilation or common security?’), three German veterans – SPD parliamentarian Michael Müller, history professor Peter Brandt, and peace activist Reiner Braun – highlight the policy of détente in the 1980s. This is contrasted with the current situation to point out ways out of this conflict. We need this.
The authors leave no doubt that the Russian invasion is an ongoing violation of international law that cannot be justified. At the same time, they emphasize that the most important task when war has broken out is to work towards re-establishing peace and direct this call to all the countries in Europe.
the liberation of Eastern European countries from the Soviet sphere of influence did not come as a result of military deterrence but as a result of détente and peace policy
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had a military sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the USA in Latin America – where neither of the superpowers challenged their opponent’s hegemony. The authors emphasize that the liberation of Eastern European countries from the Soviet sphere of influence did not come as a result of military deterrence but as a result of détente and peace policy pursued by leaders such as Willy Brandt and Mikhail Gorbachev. What is needed to increase the security of Europe’s countries and people today is to return to the successful policy of disarmament agreements and building trust. They refer to Olof Palme’s work for common security, where both parties recognize that they can only achieve security together with the other party, not at the expense of it. Conversely, they see the breach of the oral promises given to Gorbachev not to expand the military alliance NATO eastward as one of the causes of the current conflict.
The Norwegian debate is characterized by two different views on the reasons why Russia chose to invade Ukraine. One is that Russia reacted to NATO’s eastward expansion, which they see as a security threat, the other that the Russian leadership wants to re-establish the great power hegemony that was lost with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The authors argue that both explanations are correct and treat the relationship between them dialectically. It is documented that Putin’s and the Russian leadership’s policy in the last decade has moved in a reactionary and nationalist direction, but it is also pointed out that the same Putin two decades ago was a declared supporter of a common European home. It is noted that the well-known diplomats George Kennan and Jack F. Matlock already in the 1990s warned that an eastward expansion of NATO would lead Russia in a nationalist, militaristic, authoritarian and anti-Western direction. Seeing the nationalist development in Russia, at least in part, as a reaction to Western isolation makes sense for this reviewer, if for no other reason than the powerful Russian warnings against NATO expansions to Ukraine and Georgia came as early as 2007-2008, while the nationalist turn did not gain momentum until around 2012-2014. This is where it may be appropriate to quote Winston Churchill: «Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key: Russian national interests.»
militarily defeating Russia, appears far more unrealistic and unfeasible
Ukrainian, Russian, and European Modern History
«Everything has changed except our way of thinking», said Albert Einstein about the atomic bomb. The ongoing war brings enormous suffering to the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian and Russian soldiers. In addition, there is hunger in the Third World and the danger of a nuclear catastrophe, which hinders the international cooperation that humanity needs to prevent the climate and environmental crisis. This book places particular emphasis on the climate crisis. The documentation will probably be familiar to most readers, but it is still serious. If we are to save the planet, we simply do not have the time and resources to enter a new era of great power rivalries, wars, and mutual armament. It usually warms a Norwegian’s heart to hear foreigners speak kindly of other Norwegians, and it is fun to see how strongly they highlight Gro Harlem Brundtland and the report Our Common Future (1987) as pioneering and exemplary.
Naturally, the book places great emphasis on Germany’s role. The authors are concerned that the planned armament will make Germany the world’s third or fourth-largest military power. On the other hand, they see great opportunities for Germany and France to take a leading role in negotiating both a peace solution for Ukraine and a new European security architecture that entails common security for all states and that must include Russia to function effectively. They also emphasize the role of the OSCE, EU, and UN and believe that European countries should loosen their ties to the United States to achieve constructive results in what can be regarded as a European security problem. However, they also avoid the elephant in the room, which is that what Russia is primarily after is a binding security agreement with Washington, not with Berlin or Brussels.
While the descriptions of both Ukrainian, Russian, and European modern history are systematic and concrete, the book may be criticized for presenting the solutions as somewhat utopian and abstract. Regarding the Ukraine conflict, they briefly mention the following proposals, mostly based on the peace talks held last spring: Ukrainian neutrality outside NATO but with international security guarantees; Russian withdrawal; Ukraine’s freedom to enter into economic and political alliances as it sees fit; autonomy within Ukraine for Donbass; and either a de facto recognition of Russian control over Crimea without legal recognition or a referendum under international monitoring in which Crimeans get to choose their state affiliation themselves.
How we will get from the current situation to the negotiating table is less clear. But the authors themselves ask whether the opposite approach, that the solution lies in militarily defeating Russia, appears far more unrealistic and unfeasible? It is simply difficult to imagine any other viable future than returning to peace talks and the successful disarmament policies of the 1980s and early 1990s. Detente policy is realpolitik.