Is a European Peace conceivable?

(On the 13th of October in The Hague Adriaan van der Staay gave an improvised speech about this theme.

His main concern was to get the conceptual framework up to date for assessing the present situation, after the Russian incursion into Ukraine. Here follows a brief extract in English.)

In the first place it may be useful to reassess the concept of nation. Ukraine is a nation attacked by an empire. It is defended by an empire, America. To balance the playing field for a peaceful solution on the scale of Europe, one has to ask oneself what kind of players will be involved. Europe is not an empire, but a group of nations. Moreover in realistic terms it is rather a part of the American empire. That is also how Russia perceives it. So a settlement would imply first of all an answer to the question whether Europe will continue to be represented by the American Empire, or claim the role of empire for itself.

In the second place it is necessary to reassess how Europe has become a series of nations, instead of an empire. The main cause has been the conflicting ambitions of nations, like France, England, Germany, Austria, to assume the role of empire for Europe. In two world wars the illusion of empire may have been different for the seafaring (colonial) nations like England and France, and the landlocked nations like Germany. But the global result was a loss for Europe of geopolitical clout, not the achievement of empire. After it lost its colonial pseudo-empires, continental Europe remained divided between Russia and America.

Meanwhile the historical imprint of empire still lingers on in the form of the Roman and Byzantine churches, in the memory of the Carolingian empire and in dreams of unity of the European movement.

In the third place it is helpful to realise that the historical development of the idea of empire in the last half millennium has taken divergent forms. Outside Europe the Chinese empire has gone down for centuries, but is re-establishing itself today. The American empire expanded within the colonial sphere and has taken over some of the European ambitions. But it seems at the limits of its expansion today. In the last centuries the Russian Empire has turned from Asia to Europe as its main expansion zone, without becoming fully European. Towards the south it encounters remnants of the Ottoman an Persian empires, like in Europe those of the Roman Empire. China, America, Russia are very different empires.

In the fourth place: the impact of the ambitions of Russia, China and America is stirring misgivings within Europe. China is searching for a European footprint by land and by sea, by rail, road and by harbour. Russia is trying to conquer neighbouring nations. Russia and America are sparring for their zones of dominion in Europe. Meanwhile America is turning East, confronting China in the Pacific. The situation of European nations is too weak to fundamentally change these agendas of China, Russia and America. This is now sinking in and also weighs on the relationship with America.

Therefore if Europe wants to act at an equal level, the present situation demands a reassessment of the idea of Europe as an empire.

In the fifth place the realisation of a European empire between Russia and America implies a series of policies that are not yet on the agendas of Europe. For instance it implies that geopolitical autonomy should be sought for both in strategy and in practice.

This means giving form to a clear idea of geographical boundaries (the European limes) and even possibly zones of neutrality beyond. It means the sovereign capacity to defend these limes. And raises the question of hegemony over the surrounding seas: the Mediterranean, the Black sea and the Baltic. It presupposes a European Army. It also means a form of economic autonomy, for instance in energy, raw materials and foodstuffs. And a capacity to compete in science and technology.

An empire is an answer to existential (life and death) geopolitical questions, and will need adequate forms of decision making, which is not that of a concert of nations.