The pacifist values of European Greens can sometimes come into conflict with the immediate needs of populations at risk of serious and imminent violence, for example when Greens oppose arms exports that would help these people defend themselves. In situations like this, many lives depend on how the international community responds to the threat. And Greens have to be prepared to react adequately.
This is not the only dilemma in which the foreign policies, as well as the values, of Green parties are not compatible with the acts that are needed to handle international dilemmas; in this article I will describe two examples that show that Greens still encounter serious problems when trying to harmonise theory with practice.
The problem becomes particularly evident when it comes to the European Union’s Neighbourhood Policy and to peace-building during armed conflicts. Neither of these are trivial problems, as they touch on the most current foreign and security policy dilemmas, to which the Greens need to find tangible answers, as soon as possible.
Greens and Their International Dilemmas
The roots of Green foreign policy can be found in two completely different theoretical schools: on the one hand, we can see the influence of Marxist and critical theorists, and on the other hand of the liberal institutionalist school of international relations. The antagonism that arises between these schools can help us understand what’s behind the current Green foreign policy stalemate.
Authors who have a critical attitude towards globalisation, tend to argue that all conflicts stem from global inequalities, and these inequalities are reproduced and further strengthened by the system we live in. Many Green politicians and activists agree with this opinion, and their statements are usually correct, but instead of looking at ways to solve problems, they concentrate only on analysing their causes. I accept their virtues: these theories are invaluable when it comes to creating a just and equitable world order in the long run. There is, however, not much they can say on what to do in an actual crisis, and how to minimise imminent damages.
Thus, when it comes to handling a current crisis, Greens have to consult the theory of liberal institutionalism. Institutionalist theorists think in terms of multilateral solutions, in line with the norms and rules of international organisations, such as those of the European Union, the United Nations or NATO. These are the institutions that enable them to make appropriate decisions while keeping member states’ great power ambitions at bay.
Greens who want to provide functional solutions to international conflicts, therefore, need to think in terms of a stronger European Union.
This is particularly important, as the conflicts in our immediate neighbourhood, as well as other global challenges, are far too great for any member state’s own diplomatic and military policy to deal with, which is why we regularly witness a group of member states teaming up with EU institutions or the Council of Europe to tackle crises together.
If we send peace-building troops, what is going to be their authority? What kinds of weapons are they supposed to have? Are they supposed to shoot, and if so under what conditions?
How to Take Concrete Steps?
I have spent the last few years teaching at a university; this task has required me to look at challenges differently than a member of parliament. As an analyst, I enjoyed the luxury of only making decisions when I am in the possession of all necessary information. In a parliament, however, this is not always possible (ant the European Parliament is no exception).
In politics there is less information and more uncertainty. That is why it is particularly important for Greens to agree on how to relate to our values and to realise that the protection of at-risk populations needs quick responses. Only this way can we ensure that we act not as gamblers, but as responsible decision-makers.
If this base is agreed upon, parliamentary debates will become more constructive, too. I come from a parliamentary culture in which there is no tradition of compromise-seeking. The current Hungarian government, as well as its predecessors, have built their politics on conflicts. In comparison, the European Parliament is stunningly cooperative and ready for compromise. This kind of political institution is built on compromise-seeking – maybe even to a greater degree than the parliaments of member states.
By definition, participants don’t get everything that they want in compromises, and if they become frequent, they will lead politicians to believe that they constantly have to make sacrifices.
Nevertheless, I believe that one of the greatest successes of my political career was due to a compromise: this was the resolution of the European Parliament on the recognition of the state of Palestine, in December, 2014. This resolution was widely supported in the parliament: 498 MEPs (71% of those present) from almost every parliamentary group voted in favour of it.
Before getting to the vote, there were, of course, compromises, and some significant changes were made to the text, nevertheless it ended up being closer to the standpoint of the Greens and most left-wing parties, than any previous resolution on the topic. This is a great achievement, despite the flaws in the text.
In the end, it was the Greens who made sure that the outcome of peace talks is not a condition of the recognition of the Palestinian State, and that the self-determination of the Palestinian people is mentioned in the text. These are two crucial points that could foster a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The debates on the text and the outcome of the vote have shown that even though there is no Green foreign minister in Europe at the moment, European Greens indeed have a say in the formation of European foreign policies. Thus, they cannot afford to have no answers to global problems.
How to Make Peace?
Since the early 90s there have been constant debates inside European Green parties on armed conflicts and peacebuilding, nevertheless, the possibility of a comprehensive peace-policy is still an open question. There need to be much more concrete ideas regarding the limits of traditional pacifistic views when it comes to humanitarian or human rights issues.
A good example of these limits is related to the advance of the Islamic State. When the Islamists reached the territories of the Kurds in 2014, the international community was confronted with a serious dilemma: the traditional Green solution would have been to send aid to those in need. The Kurds, however, signalled that they needed more than that: they needed weapons, since they were under siege, and water bottles couldn’t help them much when it came to protecting themselves from the militants of ISIS.
This is a very serious dilemma for pacifists, as the Greens agreed in the 70s that they would not send weapons to conflict zones, and many of them still want to stick to this agreement.
Since the Bielefeld conference of the German Greens in 1999, when most of the party members present voted in favour of the Serbian NATO-mission – in order to prevent a genocide in Kosovo – the majority of the party’s membership has accepted the legitimacy of preventive interventions, even if they necessitate military involvement. But the current armed conflicts are more complex than those of the previous decades, thus agreement on such a simple issue cannot really solve them. The growing number of non-state actors is blurring the borders between conflicts in need of humanitarian intervention, and those requiring armed solutions. Thus, Greens end up with a number of unanswered questions: if we send peace-building troops, what is going to be their authority? What kinds of weapons are they supposed to have? Are they supposed to shoot, and if so under what conditions? Are they supposed to defend a territory the same way the military would? – And so on.
The Islamic State, even though its name suggests something different, is no more than a group of Islamists, thus it’s not a traditional actor in international conflicts. In the case of Kosovo we had a state actor, so the Western states had the chance to use traditional diplomatic channels before deciding to intervene militarily.
But in the case of non-state actors there is no diplomatic solution, and intervention is not the last resort: it’s the only resort. In this case the pacifist values are overwritten by another moral principle: the protection of vulnerable populations.
Although this might seem obvious, it is almost impossible to come up with a set of rules that would help us overcome this problem. We cannot determine under what conditions one can deviate from the pacifist values, because we have no idea of how the next conflict will differ from the previous ones. The only thing we can do in these situations is to look for a political solution, as soon as possible, because otherwise we will have no chance of providing protection to at-risk populations.
The conflicts in our immediate neighbourhood, as well as other global challenges, are far too great for any member state’s own diplomatic and military policy to deal with.
A Neighbourhood Policy in Ruins
A second serious problem is the European Neighbourhood Policy, which may only achieve a small portion of its targets, within the current framework. Although the EU allocates huge amounts to this policy, there have been few signs of a significant increase in prosperity, safety or stability among our neighbours recently.
Out of the six eastern neighbours only three – Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova – have signed an association agreement with the EU, with the remaining three we can currently, in the best case, do business, but other forms of cooperation seem to be less likely.
Fixing this policy is of particular importance for the Greens, because thus far they were hoping that the promise of EU membership could create the kind of partnership with these countries that brings about reforms and prosperity. Now it seems like this part of the program has been pushed into the distant future, and thereby has lost its political significance.
In order to solve this problem, Greens, as well as other party groups, need to reconsider whether it makes sense to start membership talks with these countries, or whether the EU is willing to provide them, at least, an intermediate status. In a zone in which countries are not prospective members, but still enjoy the advantages of a partnership with the EU.
The Handicaps of Free Trade
There is another problem related to the neighbourhood policy: most Green parties voice serious concerns when it comes to the principles of international trade, since trade entails drawbacks as well as advantages. Due to free trade we create conditions that are harmful to local communities, local economies, or even national economies. On the global level Greens have very serious ideas on this topic, nevertheless, when it comes to the European neighbourhood policy, they seem to avoid asking whether or not free trade is beneficial for partner states inside this system.
On the regional level they act as if global dilemmas were not applicable at all. Without trade, a partnership with our neighbours is unthinkable, thus proponents of the policy emphasise, on the one hand, that the partnership is of political value and that the advantages of being part of a political community overwrite the possible economic disadvantages. On the other hand, they argue that economic problems are only temporary, and free trade will in the longer term lead to economic growth.
In theory, this may sound good, but when we look at the EU’s new member states, we can see that not even they have managed to recover from the vanishing of industries, and the vast amount of unemployment this leads to, even with the help of EU structural and cohesion funds.
The situation can be even worse when it comes to the EU’s neighbours: when a partnership is only built on trade, being part of a free trade area can mean serious problems for these countries. If there is no promise of EU membership (or the like) then the huge societal damages and growing regional inequalities will not be compensated. In a situation like this we cannot hope for stability and prosperity, they will never come. If not even Greens acknowledge the existence of this problem, we cannot expect it to make it to the agenda of the European Parliament.
However, if Greens manage to finally have a constructive debate on these issues, and find the necessary solutions, they can, in the framework of the EU, find timely and effective solutions to global dilemmas.