By James Krotz
Coming amid the now year-long conflict in Ukraine, the Republic of Poland has announced a 10 year long defense spending increase, with a price tag of 42 billion (USD). The move is surprising, but not altogether unprecedented. With Russian aggression plaguing the eastern third of Ukraine, Poland’s direct neighbor, the Poles can hardly be blamed for increasing defense spending so drastically. After spending nearly 60 years under the thumb of Moscow, Poland’s wish is to remain oriented towards the West, and retain its membership in the EU and NATO.
After the fall of Polish communism in 1989, the democratically elected government was quick to establish good relations with all its neighbors. However, relations with the West were far easier than with its volatile neighbors to the east, Belarus and Ukraine. An unstable Ukraine and a Russian-aligned Belarus remain the gravest foreign policy threats of contemporary Poland.
The defense spending increase will have several facets, although it remains in step with the trend of the Polish military since its admittance into NATO in 1999; that of lean and rapidly-deployable armed forces. The most expensive purchase will be that of 70 multi-role helicopters. The contract has yet to be awarded but has seen interest from U.S.-maker Sikorsky, European consortium Airbus Helicopters, based in France, and the Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland. Among other updates will be combat drones, a missile shield, updated anti-aircraft installations, and even two new submarines. The decision of the contracts made by the Polish Ministry of Defense will be a highly political one. It will tip Poland’s hand in whether or not the country will remain a loyal Atlanticist, as it has done since the Afghan War in 2001, or orient more towards an independent European security apparatus, advocated by powerful EU countries like France and Germany. In any case, the spending increase will bring Poland past the 2% of GDP marker that NATO requests all members spend on defense. Currently, only 4 NATO nations meet the marker.
In this researchers opinion, it would behoove other Central European and Baltic nations to follow suit, and it remains to be seen if Poland will take a stronger stance against Russian revisionism. Russia continues to violate NATO airspace with impunity, with more than 100 aircraft intercepts in the past year, up 300% from 2013. If more NATO countries choose to continue trends of paltry defense spending, then perhaps Poland could seize initiative and form a working alliance of geopolitically threatened countries to strengthen European resolve. Perhaps an organization like the Visegrad Four could serve this purpose.
In any case, I personally applaud Poland’s realist approach to Russian aggression in a Europe that seems unwilling to commit to a hard power strategy and urge the United States to stand firm with our Polish allies.
Rebecca L. Spang is the author of Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution (Harvard University Press, 2015) and a faculty member at Indiana University, where she directs the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies and is the Acting Director of the Institute for European Studies. Her first book, The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture was also published by Harvard.
Read her op-ed for HNN (History News Network) on the Eurocrisis and the French Revolution here.
Timothy Hellwig, the author of Globalization and Mass Politics, explores how globalization affects the world economy and perception of the economic crisis.
For months now, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been embroiled in a resurgent geopolitical conflict with Russia over events in Ukraine. Beginning in March, when Russian-speaking separatists in the Crimea region of Ukraine voted in referendum to join the Russian Federation, NATO and Western leaders called the referendum “a breach of international laws and norms“, citing the Russian use of “little green men”, or off-duty Russian soldiers being unofficially deployed to Crimea to incite rebellion and fight Ukrainian forces. With the annexation of Crimea a forgone conclusion, Western leaders have continued their strong rhetoric and defensive posturing amid the continuing rebellion of Ukraine’s eastern provinces, especially surrounding the cities of Donetsk, Mariupol, and Luhansk. Sanctions leveled against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his benefactors in the private sector, coupled with the ruble and energy export prices in freefall, have taken a toll on the Russian economy. The ruble is now worth roughly half of what it was a year ago. Despite the economic downturn, Russian sponsoring of the Ukrainian rebels in the form of money, equipment and alleged reinforcements is ongoing. Surely such open disdain for Western punishment would meet with greater solidarity within the ranks of NATO. However, new forces seek to undermine NATO’s legitimacy, and they have nothing to do with the Russian military.
A rash of Putin-style authoritarianism is underway in two key NATO allied states; Turkey and Hungary. For NATO to continue to be the bulwark of liberal democratic values that it has professed to be since its 1949 founding, it may have to quash dissension within its own ranks.
President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has tightened his grip on power, ordering Turkish police to raid media outlets affiliated with his political opponents. This clamping down on free speech is seen by many in the West as less than ideal, but Turkey remains THE crucial NATO ally in the fight against the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS). “Turkey’s strategic geography dictates that its allies continue giving it some leeway … People simply can’t afford to ignore Turkey, whatever the policies of President Erdogan,” said Fadi Hakura, Turkey analyst at the London think-tank Chatham House. This may be the case, but the trampling of free speech, a major critique of the Putin regime, undermines NATO legitimacy in its dealings with Russia. Hypocrisy breeds illegitimacy. And especially given Turkey’s prime geographic location, not only when confronting ISIS, but Russia as well, its sure to be an ally that needs to have a strong voice at the NATO table.
While the geographic location of Hungary is not quite as strategic in the conflict with Russia or ISIS as Turkey’s, a pro-Russian state that is quite literally the center of Europe is nonetheless alarming to NATO officials. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, now in his third term, has consolidated power over his rightist Fidesz Party, created a ruling class of oligarchs, and most alarmingly, expanded ties with Moscow. He even praised “illiberal democracies like Russia, Turkey, Singapore and China.” Orban, who at the time of the fall of Communism was an anti-communist activist, has alarmed his Western allies and other countries in eastern Europe, including the staunchly pro-West Poland and the Czech Republic. While Hungary’s recent orientation towards authoritarianism is alarming, Orban also enjoys none of the political capital enjoyed by Erdogan. Western European leaders in NATO and the EU could exercise some geopolitical clout and lean on Orban to orient him back towards the West. The right amount of rhetoric in favor of his opposition could pressure the Hungarian electorate to lean on Parliament to oust Orban as Prime Minister in favor of a pro-Western candidate. However, with little hard power to back up their rhetoric, it is unlikely Europe will do so without U.S. leadership.
In the post–Cold War era, NATO leaders repeatedly stress the organization’s commitment to democracy and human rights. It would be more than a tad embarrassing to have a Putin-style autocracy emerge in NATO’s ranks. Given the rapid backsliding into authoritarianism in both Hungary and Turkey, a major intra-alliance crisis appears imminent. Much as they might like to, civilian and military leaders in Europe and NATO’s cheerleaders in the United States will not be able to wish away that problem.
By James Krotz
From Murmansk in the north to Crimea in the south, Russian army, navy and air forces remain on alert along Russia’s western border, despite the 50% drop in the value of the ruble in recent weeks. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is under intense pressure due to the state of the Russian economy, has showed no signs of decreasing Russia’s military presences, decreasing pressure on NATO, or coming to the table for talks with EU and American diplomats to ease sanctions in return for more docile foreign policy.
In fact, the economic crisis, which is reaching its crescendo due to the collapse of banks, the halving of Russia’s purchasing power, and oil prices in free fall, makes Putin all the more unpredictable. Time and again throughout history, unfavorable domestic conditions have often led authoritarian and quasi-authoritarian leaders to manufacture foreign policy crises abroad to distract the populace from domestic issues. This “diversionary foreign policy” could prove dangerous for European countries, especially Ukraine, who is already embroiled in a rebellion in its eastern provinces, instigated by Putin and the Russian-speaking minority.
With the protracted decline of the ruble, coupled with increased naval presence in Murmansk, near Finland, Sevastopol in Crimea, and continuing violence in east Ukrainian villages, the evidence is becoming more and more convincing. European leaders and NATO members should wake up and smell the blintzes, because the violence that they’re so sure will never again spread to their continent may just be warming up with the weather.
Happy 2015! EURO is back for the new semester! Be on the lookout for new posts!
Just one week into 2015 the world was rattled by multiple terrorist attacks. Although it was Paris that endured bloodshed, it was the sanctity of freedom of expression that bore the red target on its back. In an impressive show of solidarity, millions of people took to the streets across France to proclaim that they would not live in fear, and dozens of world leaders expressed their support for the victimized country. The media has been ablaze with commentary on the atrocious events and has lauded the French for their fraternité in the face of tragedy. But what will happen once the high emotions of the moment begin to dwindle while the underlying tensions persist (likely with increased vigor)?
It is by now no secret that Europe is facing growing challenges of Islamism and Islamophobia. With Muslims making up approximately 7.5% of France’s population (the largest national percentage in Europe,) French society feels these chronic and exacerbating problems even more acutely than its fellow European nations. In addition, the lack of discussion regarding religion in France makes it even more difficult to get a grasp on related tensions and to try to neutralize them. This is one issue. Although the French devotion to a staunch separation of church and state is commendable, it should not lead to a general avoidance of the topic of religion. Moving forward, therefore, one step that could be taken—not only in France, but in Europe and the United States in general—would be to foster greater discussion of a topic so many voice strong opinions about without bothering to be properly informed. As Maajid Nawaz of the Wall Street Journal states, “we must fight smart, with improved integration, with messages of pluralism and the compatibility of Islam and human rights in our education programs, and with the promotion of positive role models.”
Nawaz also pleads that “unhelpful responses” to Islamist extremism be avoided at all cost. To this end, far-right populist parties add fuel to the fire. Their supporters must therefore be lured to the center by reasoning and a bare-bones appraisal of the facts. As a young French Jew claimed in a recent interview with a BBC correspondent, two main concerns following the events of January 7th are that the attacks will help the cause of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National and that they might encourage the adoption of a French Patriot Act. The first concern is especially pressing, as the increased popularity of the Front National would only aggravate the stigmatization of French Muslims and therefore foster further tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in France.
While fear is an easy campaign tool—and will undoubtedly be used by opportunistic politicians—it will fail to be effective as long as citizens across the world take it as their foremost responsibility to be informed and to not be swept up in cheap sensationalism. Radical Muslims viciously killed 17 French citizens in a blatant attack on freedom of expression, but a French Muslim also lost his life trying to protect his fellow countrymen from the nonsensical brutality of the terrorists. Moving forward, all those who proclaim rationality, understanding, and freedom of expression must refrain from painting entire groups of people with a broad brush and must not give in to sensationalism. Finally, they must show outrage for violations of freedom and safety at all times and for all human life, whether those abuses manifest themselves in the heart of Paris or in the (seemingly) remote Middle East. While the attacks of January 7th should never have happened, the lives lost will only have been lost in vain if we, as members of a modern global community, fail to move forward with a renewed devotion to freedom and peace. After all, we are all Charlie.