The cross : The war in Ukraine has been contained in the east and south of this country for several months. However, is there a risk of the conflict spreading?
Thierry de Montbrial: First of all, this war shows that Clausewitz’s formula, “War is only the continuation of politics by other means », remains universal. International law is a dike that does not stop those who believe they can pay blood money for what they believe to be their vital interests. A territorial extension of the Ukrainian war seems unlikely in the short term, due to a balance of power insufficiently favorable to the Russians. If in the coming months Putin felt in great difficulty, he could take the plunge and decide to use a tactical nuclear weapon in the theater of operations. The evolution will depend on many parameters. Starting with human resilience, on both sides, and the acceptability of the particularly material consequences of the war, on the European side.
Are we witnessing the birth of a nation, Ukraine?
T.d. M.: Certainly. The nationalist current is very old in Ukraine, and Voltaire already spoke about it in his History of Charles XII. But it had never materialized into a state, except from 1917 to 1920, and in very different borders. Enthusiasts of the cause seized as early as the end of the 1980s that an opportunity was emerging and obtained the initially discreet support of the Americans. After independence, which occurred in 1991 within the borders of Soviet Ukraine, the war appears today as the founding act of a Ukrainian nation-state. This is why many remain ready to pay the price of blood. We can only admire them. But it is unlikely that the Russians will fully withdraw from the territories invaded since the annexation of Crimea.
The United States strongly supports Ukraine. Are they the great protector or the great destabilizer of Europe?
T.d. M.: What worries me is that after hesitating for a while they seized this opportunity to completely take back the destiny of Europe. And that they push for a new expansion of the European Union and potentially of NATO, to the Caucasus. The Germans and the French will only succeed at best in slowing it down, in particular through the process of negotiation and ratification of new treaties. The identity of Europe, already subject to strong tensions with countries such as Poland and Hungary, could resist it all the less as the effectiveness of the Community institutions would be increasingly undermined. Twenty years from now, we could sink into impotence and experience a real breakdown of the EU.
Another major risk: the end of the dream of strategic autonomy. We could arrive at what General de Gaulle refused with all his soul when he spoke of the independence of France: to find ourselves drawn into wars that would not be ours. The main issue in the near future concerns China. France and Germany refuse that NATO becomes an alliance erected against the “democracies”, Russia and China taken as a whole. But Germany remains very Atlanticist, and the Union’s center of gravity is shifting towards north-eastern Europe. Many yearn to live peacefully under the protection of the American empire. But if the United States distanced itself again from the Old Continent with a Europe relaxed by dint of having distended, the whole old nightmarish geopolitics of before and between the two world wars would reappear.
What do you blame the United States for?
T.d. M.: In the United States, there are two main types of foreign policy. The first is presented as the struggle of good against evil. Neoconservatives and Democrats love this discourse because, due to the correlation of forces, particularly economic ones, they can insert their most concrete interests behind this screen. The second type advocates the balance of interests, which requires taking into account those of others. This is the model of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, or the Helsinki agreements in 1975. Currently, we are totally in the ideology of good against evil. It must be said that Putin did everything for this.
In the present case, what interests of Russia should have been taken into account?
T.d. M.: Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s wish has been to negotiate with the West a new security architecture in Europe. But everything happened as if, pushed by the former members of the Warsaw Pact, the NATO countries had wanted to “go to the end” of victory against the USSR. This created deep frustration in Moscow. Which is not to say that war was inevitable.
France and Germany, before the war, tried to make this point of view heard, but events proved them wrong and they lost all leadership on this issue. What happened ?
T.d. M.: Memory weighs heavily. Germany is not yet freed from a past which is permanently sent back to it. As for France, it is still marked by the Munich agreements and by the “strange defeat” of 1940. All of us are afraid of being wrong again on a major question, such as the “imperialism” of Cheese fries.
One would have thought that, once in NATO and in the European Union, the Baltic countries and Poland, for example, would have felt protected. Well no. They are obsessed with the return of “the Bear” and they have ended up transmitting their anguish to the rest of Europe. Before the February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Europeans felt more in danger than during the Cold War era and the two superpowers.
Has Eastern Europe taken precedence over Western Europe?
T.d. M.: Poland and the Baltic countries want a “total victory” against Russia. Western Europeans, crippled by multiple problems, no longer have the “niaque”.
Every war has an end. What should be the priorities of diplomacy when it regains citizenship?
T.d. M.: When the time comes, we will not escape the global subject of security in Europe. This summer I had the opportunity to meditate on Ecclesiastes, a major book of wisdom in the Bible. There is nothing new under the sun.