At a time when conflicts are raging on the very border of the European Union and tensions escalating in some of the most volatile regions of the world, the foreign dimension of European politics is certainly as intense and challenging as the social and economic crisis within the EU. Moreover, the recent victory of Syriza has brought to light a connection between the inner and outer faces of the crisis as the new Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s critique of the economic sanctions against Russia has threatened to end the fragile consensus so far achieved by his European partners.
We hear warnings of the threat of a new cold war, in the wake of the dismemberment of Ukraine and belligerent Russian policy, making the world seem increasingly polarised. Further, rising instability and sectarianism in the Middle East have resulted in the displacement of millions of people as well as in profound political repercussions within the borders of the EU. Meanwhile, continuing conflicts in Africa continue to inflict enormous human cost, and the question of intervention remains an issue of deep controversy.
In addition, while the nations of the world keep failing to agree on a new protocol to combat climate change, the growing awareness of resource scarcity fuels a worrying global race for resources thus contributing to the rise of commodity-driven economies.
While the US pledges itself to a more modest role in international affairs (or as President Barack Obama has put it “lead from behind”), new actors and new powers emerge. Over the past decade, an ongoing reshuffle in the balance of global power has seen China change scale from regional to world actor, Russia reassert its ambition to be treated like a major player, and calls emerging for Europe to play a more active role in world politics.
The need to formulate pragmatic responses to these developments presents a serious challenge to the vision of peace, human rights and ecological justice espoused by Greens. The aim of this edition of the Green European Journal is to get closer to this goal.
Welcome to the Desert of the Real
As United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon declared at the opening of the General Assembly in September 2014, “we are living in an era of unprecedented level of crises”. A world ridden with conflicts is pushing the Greens out of their comfort zone and their certainties. How do you deal with a violent reality when most of your political practice is rooted in the non-violent opposition to the system; when your message of peace, tolerance, interdependence, and responsibility, both individual and collective, constantly puts you at odds with the general perception of the public? How do you implement ideals in the desert of the real?
Violence, and how to deal with it, ranks very highly in the preoccupations of the Greens when reflecting on foreign policy. The first section of this edition offers a few reflections on possible solutions, taken mostly from the context of the Middle East (Meszerics, Kara) or the war in Ukraine (Harms), both areas of conflict very close to the EU borders and with specific impacts on the stability of many European societies. These examples raise fundamental questions with regards to the attitude of the Greens when the time for analysing the roots of a conflict is over and real actions are needed to stop a war and mend the peace. Drawing on the concrete examples of Bosnia or Palestine, it seems a sort of federalisation often appears as the preferred green way to solve conflicts (Shemer), while the very lessons of the Dayton agreements might suggest it definitely cannot be an option in the Ukrainian conflict. A thorny issue, indeed.
And there’s even more complexity to consider. The nature of the global stage has changed considerably over the past decades. While non-state actors, from criminal networks to terrorist organisations have also contributed to raise the violence to much higher levels, with the ambivalent involvement of thorough, global and continuous media coverage, world-NGOs, interconnected civil activists and social movements have also grown in influence, further challenging a world order exclusively based on stable sovereign states. Yet interestingly enough, this additional layer of complexity corresponds better to the Greens’ approach to international relations, with a strong support of civil societies as full actors. Some lessons can be drawn, for example, from the social and political dynamics following the famous “Arab spring” (Durant).
Green and European: Double the Trouble
Living in an increasingly post-Western and post-imperial world – where a modern state is losing its pre-eminence – should vindicate the green vision of the world. Instead it seems to bring a set of new, difficult questions and uncertainties to the debate. When it comes to global nuclear security (Cronberg), combating climate change (Seijo), assuming responsibility for global development (Schmidt), and engaging with the Maghreb (del Peral) or with the rapidly rising centre of new power, namely South East Asia (Bütikofer), the European Union is the favoured level of action for greens in matters of foreign policy – this is the focus of the second section.
But the EU does not resolve all contradictions. First, talking the talk is not enough. Turning the rhetoric into actions remains so far a privilege of established nation-states. The EU often lacks the actual means and legitimacy to rise above the interests of its member-states jealous of the symbols of their sovereignty represented by foreign policy. Secondly, the EU can allow itself to be easily confused with the broader West, defending the limited particular interests of one perspective rather than those of humanity and global peace. This can be particularly visible when it fails to put human rights ahead of rights of businesses or when it fails to uphold coherence and consistency between its various external policies.
War Is “Foreign” to the Greens
The last section tries to offer a more detailed view from within the parties and shows the tools, visions and contradictions Greens entertain when it comes to international relations (Beck). Of course situations vary from country to country – and the challenges for the different green parties greatly depend not only on their national political culture, but also their institutional order and of course their likely proximity to the actual exercise of power. Compare for example the French, British and German green answers to various aspects of foreign policy (Mamère/Clarke/Nouripour). Of these three major powers, two of them have a legacy of global standing, a nuclear arsenal and a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Yet the distance from executive power makes the responses of these last two seem less immediate than they are for the heirs of the first, and to date the only, green foreign minister.
Indeed, when one asks the Greens what foreign policy actually means to them, invariably the answer revolves around the same preoccupation: dealing with conflict, or the conditions of the use of force, be it for the Dutch (van Ree), the Belgians (Piron) or the German Greens (Schneegass). In fact, the green vision is in essence so transnational and global that it seems “conflict” would be the only thing “foreign” to them.
Development cooperation and a global trade regime that is fair and sustainable are cornerstones of what might be called a green foreign policy. Opposing the evils of globalised capitalism and its worst externalities (global financial markets, unregulated free-trade, global resource race etc.) is not opposing globalisation in essence. Globalisation is also global interconnectedness and interdependency. As the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk once very aptly put it (In the World Interior of Capital, 2005), globalisation has made a norm of the anthropologically impossible: to include the actual foreigner, the remote stranger, the distant competitor as a standard. Greens are the one political family to comprehensively understand this concept and build their political approach on it: think global act local.
They strive for a sustainable globalisation, whose ultimate goal would be a kind of world government with direct global citizens’ participation (Sfeir Younis). Global governance would not mean then end of “conflict”. But it would be the end of “foreign” policy.