Security and cooperation are still required for Europe to be able to face a challenging geopolitical and geoeconomic map
Apr 11, 2023
" ---one can already see the emergence of three distinct shifts in global trade. These are the shifts from dependence to diversification, from efficiency to security, and from globalization to regionalization.---" (Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank) Awareness about the three trends quoted above is probably high in the private sector. Unfortunately, there is more to it than economic parameters alone.
Democracy and Rule of Law
It would be nice to say, as was standard at the end of the Cold War, that respect for democracy and rule of law is spreading worldwide, creating global like-mindedness on which trustworthy relations could be built. However, like-mindedness on this score is already limited, looking at the latest map showing the Democracy index of the world from 2022 (as illustrated by the Economist). Democratic areas are concentrated in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. There remains a glimmer of hope in southern Africa as well. But otherwise, the world, to a considerable extent, is populated by authoritarian and hybrid regimes.
The situation is even worse when looking at the world map from an international rule of law perspective. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. But a large number of states in the world do not take a clear position on this fundamental matter. It is particularly disconcerting that according to another map, these states include large parts of the areas judged democratic according to the Democracy index. These areas include Southern Africa and the most populous country of the world, India, and its neighbor Bangladesh. This effectively shrinks the areas of like-mindedness further.
Globalization and regionalization
Instinctively, one might propose not developing cooperation, including trade relations, with undemocratic states. But Europe has an enormous dependency on what remains of globalization in a period of rapid geoeconomic fragmentation.
The European Commission has found that 34 products used in the EU are highly exposed to supply chain disruptions, given their low potential for diversification and substitution inside the Union. And this vulnerability has become more evident due to Russia's war in Ukraine.
Still, there is room for developing European regional cooperation. Lagarde again:
" Europe's main challenge today is to achieve "open strategic autonomy" – that is, to strike a careful balance between insuring against risk in areas where our vulnerabilities are excessive and avoiding protectionism. Having spent decades investing in regionalization, the EU is well placed to succeed in a world where the global order is more fragmented, while still acting as a force for trade openness."
Europe has the world's largest single market, which gives Member States a strong base on which to establish new supply chains if strategic imperatives require it. Over 70% of the euro area's participation in global value chains was already regional in 2019.
But when moving forward towards regionalization, the costs will be enormous. For example, the United States is estimated to have to invest more than 1 trillion dollars in developing self-sufficiency in terms of semiconductors.
Regionalization alone is not an option. And the concept of strategic autonomy is, when applied to hard security, very controversial vis-a-vis the United States.
This sensitivity came out very much in the open following remarks by President Macron coming back from his state visit to China. In an interview he stated with reference to Taiwan that: “the great risk” Europe faces is that it “gets caught up in crises that are not ours, which prevents it from building its strategic autonomy”.
Focusing on Ukraine alone will not be enough
In terms of international security, many European states mainly put their eggs into the basket aiming to support Ukraine. As a short to medium-term strategy, this is understandable.
At the same time, it is not surprising that French President Macron did undertake his state visit to China in the first days of April 2023 appearing publicly with the President of China Xi and the President of the European Commission von der Leyen. They are all aware of Chinese strategic interests in and with Russia and in control over the Arctic passage of future fundamental importance for world trade. Still, there is hope to discourage China from actively supporting Russia militarily and encourage it to reestablish direct dialogue with Ukraine on the highest level.
And there are other vital European interests at stake.
Europe has a dramatic need to improve its resilience and stabilize its economy. The President of the European Central Bank attributes half of the current inflation in Europe to the lack of security of supply of industrial components. China is essential from this perspective. China was the largest source of EU imports and the third largest buyer of EU goods in 2022, highlighting Beijing's economic importance for Europe.
It is also noteworthy that if Europe and the rest of the world can tackle climate change, it must secure its supply of several strategic metals and other core materials such as copper, cobalt, and nickel. These are largely to be found in Africa, China, Russia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.
Therefore, European security and development is a multidimensional topic where skillful diplomacy is needed both on state level and the level of the private sector. And – of course – this includes engagement in order to fight world poverty and climate change.
Domestic politics are part of the problem as well
Even when looking at states professed to be democratic, we know there is a constant struggle to maintain rule of law and respect for constitutions – look at the situations in the United States and Israel. And, indeed, NATO, soon hopefully to include Sweden, has one prominent member characterized as a hybrid regime, according to the Economist.
That very country (Turkey) is currently moving towards elections. The worry of the current leadership about the risk of foreign interference in the election is indicated by the protest just expressed by the President Erdogan about the chief candidate of the opposition having a courtesy meeting with the ambassador of the United States. In most democracies, such contacts would be seen as perfectly normal.
Widening Swedish and European security concerns
Before the war in Ukraine, Swedish preoccupations with security were focused on northern Europe. The pandemic, the migration crisis in 2015-16, and terrorism had led to a parallel concern about flow security.
But the map changed further with the second Russian aggression against Ukraine. It became evident that war in Europe - as was the case of the Balkans – was not automatically deterred by the existence of nuclear weapons. It could and did develop into a major conventional conflict engaging Russia fully, which could also proliferate into northern Europe. To prevent that, all European states, members of NATO and the EU, would have to chip in to support Ukraine to withstand enormous multidimensional pressure from Russia.
Not least in Sweden, it remains conventional wisdom that national security should be analyzed, zooming in on the Nordic map and the border to Russia. Regarding flow security, protecting the most important harbor in Sweden, Gothenburg, was and remains a significant focus.
But in parallel and gradually, the overall security perspective has broadened as one crisis after the another hit the European continent.
The wars in the Balkans disproved the assumption that the European continent would stay peaceful after the Cold War and led to large migration flows, including to Sweden.
- These wars demonstrated the need for peacekeeping and peace support operations, civilian crisis management, and a role for the EU.
- Already 9/11 taught decision-makers that security problems have to be dealt with starting at their source when it comes to terrorism and organized crime, including drug trafficking, etcetera.
- The tsunami of 2004 illustrated the need for international cooperation of a more generic character when it comes to crisis response.
- The financial crisis in 2008-9 had multisector implications, not least in terms of preventing adequate investments into security, following similar effects after the financial crisis at the end of the 80s.
- Fukushima in 2011 illustrated that what was a natural catastrophe could have far-reaching consequences in other sectors of security, not only as regards the future of nuclear energy.
- The Arab Spring uprisings along the northern shores of Africa and the Middle East in 2010-11 created new threat perceptions of major international importance, not least the Russian fear of 'color revolutions'.
- The war in Georgia in 2008 and the first war in Ukraine in 2014 indicated that the battle over the Russian sphere of influence was starting to take more violent expressions also outside the territory of the Russian Federation after the Chechen wars.
- Several conflicts frozen after the Cold War showed tendencies of flaring up again, starting to involve directly not only Russia but also, for instance, Turkey, as in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh.
- The failed reset between the United States and the Russian Federation at the beginning of the Obama administration had far-reaching consequences for the decisions taken in Washington and Moscow on strategic arms and new forms of super weapons.
All these developments, taken together, indicate a fundamental change to the geopolitical map of Europe for Sweden. But it doesn't stop there.
The challenge is much wider in terms of geoeconomics. It requires close cooperation within the Western world and a modus vivendi with many states that are not established democracies.
The world will require a focus on both security and cooperation. But the primacy of European and transatlantic cooperation cannot be put in question.