SEESOX/NATO Public Diplomacy Project 2016

Europe, its neighbourhood and the geopolitics of fear

Athens, 27 September 2016
A team from SEESOX, composed of Othon Anastasakis, David Madden, Antonis Kamaras and Julie Adams, together with Professor Eugene Rogan, Director of the Middle East Centre, St Antony’s College, Oxford, and Professor Paul Chaisty of the Russian and Eurasian Centre, also at St Antony’s College, visited Athens 25-28 September. The central event of this visit was a presentation at the Megaron Plus on the above theme by Professors Rogan and Chaisty and Dr Constantine Filis, Panteion University, Athens, as discussant. There were also a working lunch hosted by the British Ambassador at his Residence, and a round table discussion with Professors of International Relations from the Panteion University. The main theme at the Megaron was the position of the region within the triangle of uncertainty: Russia, the Middle East and North Africa. The question to the speakers was whether we were witnessing a return to geopolitics and more particularly the geopolitics of fear. Professor Rogan described how the Middle East had destabilised Europe since the Arab Spring in 2011. The gaps opened by the Arab Spring had been filled not by civil societies but by militias with guns. There were three main SEESOX on Greece paradigms of power: the Iranian Shia model; the Saudi Wahhabi vision; and the Moslem Brotherhood e.g. in Egypt. All had clashed among wider Sunni/Shia antagonisms, and in turn all were challenged by ISIS. The region had never been more violent or fearful. There were cold wars (Iran/Saudi, Israel/Palestine), hot wars (Syria, Libya, Yemen) and legacy wars (Afghanistan, Iraq). The destruction in Syria was catastrophic, with levels of destruction not seen since the Second World War. Russia would have to play a role in a settlement, despite its brutal tactics. So should the US and EU, with money for reconstruction, safe enclaves and no-fly zones. Once there was a real peace process in Syria, there should be a focus on Libya, Yemen and Israel/Palestine. Any redrawing of boundaries in the Middle East would have terrible consequences. Professor Chaisty said that both Syria and the war in the Ukraine had had profound consequences for the EU. They brought to an end the post-Cold War settlement. Russia believed in a system of great powers, with zones of influence; and opposed a uni-polar world. It particularly resented the eastward expansion of NATO. It saw values-based policies as a threat to Russian state sovereignty and national interests. Russian policy was essentially opportunistic, non-ideological and reactive to specific contingencies e.g. Maidan. But Russia still saw relations with Europe as important, especially in terms of trade, energy and culture; and these relations would continue to reflect elements of conflict, competition and collaboration. Military conflict between Russia and the West was unlikely, because of NATO and Moscow’s wish to avoid an existential crisis; but Russian policy would remain assertive, and there was always the risk of miscalculation. Action in the Ukraine had brought about a strengthening of NATO in the Baltics and Poland, and also encouraged EU countries to think more about European defence, and energy supplies.

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