tisdag 2 januari 2018

The threat from the Bear

An American general, Robert Neller, the US marine corps commandant, warned US troops stationed in Norway at the end of last year that he felt “there’s a war coming”. His spokesperson later said the general did not believe a battle imminent, but was stressing the need “to be ready for the full spectrum of conflict”.

This is frightening. It seems that military considerations are apparently taking precedence over political and economic ones in Eastern Europe.

Most of the problems are residual from the break-up of the Soviet Union. In part, they have arisen from the mis-location of borders eg Ukraine, the boundary of which was drawn up at a time when there was never any thought that what was a state of the Soviet Union might become an independent country.

Countries which were annexed by the Soviet are a different matter, although historically there were always significant Russian populations within the Baltic countries. In the years after 1938, however, there was effectively a “plantation” of Russians, with the result that large Russian populations have ended up on the “wrong” side of borders which in principle are rational. Some of the Baltic countries seem to have been smarter than others in the way they have treated their “stranded” Russians inside their borders. The most satisfactory option has been where the Russians were given citizenship which has allowed them to live and work anywhere in the EU, thereby removing the potentially discontented.

The problem is compounded by the EU’s trade policies. Barriers to trade with non-EU countries cause damage to the economies of regions within at least 150 km on both sides of the border. Trade relationships which would develop naturally are stymied. This is the situation which seems likely to develop if there is a “hard” border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

The danger is not only of possible conflict but that EU countries are losing sight of the potential for conflict within their own borders; the rising cost of anti-terrorism measures is an indication of the way things could go. In this respect, Russia and the EU countries, far from being potential enemies, have a shared concern in dealing with a problem that affects both.

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