Epic phenomena are best understood by looking at them from a distance. To get a better idea of how much the war in Ukraine has changed the geopolitical role of Europe, for example, one must try to see things from Washington’s perspective. We hear here that we Europeans have not yet fully understood how surprising and effective our collective response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion will be. In the past year and a half, the European Union has dislodged everyone in the US capital, now considering how to rethink future geopolitics by giving Europe a central role. They think about it Center for Strategic and International Studies (Csis), one of Washington’s most authoritative think tanks, was founded in 1962 in the midst of the Cold War to search for solutions to what seemed at the time an imminent nuclear catastrophe.
Here the best person ever can help understand where transatlantic relations are Max Bergman, Director of Csis’ Europe, Russia and Eurasia Division, has for years been a senior State Department official who has always devoted himself to the study of European affairs. “Let’s say it clearly: in Washington at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, the prevailing idea was that it would be a new 2014 and that we would have to drag Europe reluctantly to do something,” Bergman explains to Foglio, who greeted us in his office at Csis in the center of the capital, where John Lewis Gaddis’ books on Cold War history stand out on the shelves. But everyone in the White House and the State Department was surprised. We’ve seen Mario Draghi’s Europe “Whatever It Takes” in action. The result is that Europe is now seen here as a crucial player in facing upcoming geopolitical challenges, including those related to China. This is evidenced, for example, by the speed with which Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, withdrew the term “decoupling” (decoupling) to refer to the relationship between the US and Chinese economies, adopting a “cynic” approach instead. It was promoted by Ursula von der Leyen. It is she, the President of the European Commission, who is always referred to here as the European leader, and not Emmanuel Macron or Olaf Scholz.“.
When, in the winter of 2021, the United States began warning allies of an impending Russian invasion, Bregman says, the prevalent concern in Washington was how to persuade the Europeans to move and do so quickly and the fear of seeing a similar scenario. To that after the attack on the crimea peninsula. “At that time,” he says, “it took months to convey anything. The invasion happened in March 2014 and the European sanctions didn’t exist until August, when the Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down. We thought that this time also we would have to drag the EU against our will.” Then war broke out and the European response was much stronger than anyone expected. Let’s say, nobody here was talking about sanctions against the Russian Central Bank, and then Mario Draghi picked up the phone, called Janet Yellen and proposed. And here was the reaction: “Oh my God, is it really possible?”. So it was with the Russian oil embargo, the consequences of which were worried by the Americans, not the Europeans. This allowed us to change the view of the United States.
Bergman has always studied Europe. The son of American scholars who dealt with European history, he grew up in Budapest in the 1990s. He focused on our continent in Washington after September 11, 2001, when all attention was riveted on the Middle East and terrorism, and unlike many in D.C., he doesn’t look at Europe through NATO’s lens. From this perspective, what is believed to have happened in the past year and a half is the ripening of a process that the European Union has been carrying out for years without fully knowing where it will lead and which is now bearing fruit. “Globalization, economic integration, open borders and the whole scenario of the past years have all to some extent limited the geopolitical potential of Europe and the strength of its economic market. Today we are facing a central union that cannot be ignored even by a possible new republican administration. For example, we might The Trump 2 government will be anti-NATO, but it should work differently with the EU.”
In the meantime, we have to deal with the ongoing war, and Bergman, from this point of view, invites us to consider the situation not limited to the F-16 or weapons in the field, but taking into account some fixed points. The first: “When it comes to sending signals that do not lead to thinking about escalation, the United States and Russia speak the same language, and they have experience in this matter, they spent the entire Cold War in this kind of distance diplomacy. And Biden, the man of the twentieth century, knows this game. In Washington, this is the meaning, there is a realization of how far we have to go, where to stop and how to continue in the game. The second point is that it will be a long time.” Until now we have responded to weapons requests with a short-term approach, now we need a long-term strategy. It’s taking an approach like the one we’re taking with Israel, to which we give $3 billion in military aid a year. It’s now fixed in the US budget, and it’s not even discussed anymore. Ukraine needs to make 10-year plans just like Israel does.” The third point concerns the situation in Russia. “As Americans, we should have some humility, says Bergman, when we evaluate a country that invaded another country and did something terribly stupid. Because we also did it in Vietnam or Iraq. Perhaps what happens to them is similar to what we have already experienced here. In these cases you stop having a clear strategy and try to get away from it in some way. I think they’re at that point now, hoping everything freezes and they can get away with it. They know they can’t win and that victory today is stalemate at best for them. They hope the West will get bored. But they know they did something stupid and there is no way out.”
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