Editorial of March 2022

By Pedro Madeira Froufe (Editor)

Europe and war

They do not know that dreams are a constant of life

As concrete and defined as any other thing (…)

They neither know nor dream that dreams command life![1]

(António Gedeão)

The history of European integration is made up of moments of war, manifestations of collective irrationality, and the permanent reaction to and overcoming of such instances. In fact, Europe itself, “the daughter of mythology and war”, was gradually built as a stage for violent and disastrous wars and, simultaneously, for virtuous and great conquests.[2]

The success of this 71-year-long integration can be illustrated by the fact that we are dramatically surprised by Russia’s war against Ukraine! European integration was born out of the debris of World War II, trying to permanently bury it. Its great merit was, after all, and as Jean Monnet said, to try to unite Men, more than to unite States.[3] Thus, we have been living in the illusion that the supreme inhumanity and irrationality of war would be definitively overcome. At least, on the European continent (not only in the European Union) and among sovereign states.

In fact, within the mental frameworks in which we were molding ourselves, much as a result of the success of integration, the inhumane irrationality of terrorism caused us less strangeness than a war between states and a territorial invasion. European integration (as well as the “new order” that emerged from Yalta and Bretton Woods), as a reaction to World War II, drew a limit and, at the same time, an unsurpassable assumption – namely, war, the use of military force between and against states.

With remarkable symbolism and a clear anti-war message, the first successfully established community (the first common market) was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) with the 1951 Treaty of Paris. From the get-go, the founding member states wanted to pool the resources of the so-called “war industry” of the time.

Nevertheless, the integration process itself has seen, in its early days, setbacks regarding the implementation and consequent institutionalization of a common European defense concept. The European Defense Community (EDC), whose founding Treaty was signed in May 1952, was perhaps the most notorious of these setbacks. This Treaty would, however, be rejected by the French National Assembly in 1954. However, its failure was perhaps due more to the institutional architecture foreseen for this Community – manifestly supranational and with federative features – than to some reservations of the Member States regarding the refusal of war in the abstract and as a matter of principle. The EDC’s goal was, in essence, to ensure the defense of Europe through the implementation of a true political project, providing for the creation of the respective institutional bodies – namely, a two-chamber Parliamentary Assembly, an Executive Council, a Council of Ministers, and a Court of Justice.[4]

Thus, inevitably, i) the circumstances of the beginning of the integration process (inseparable from the reconstruction of the war-torn European continent), ii) the political climate at the time (still not very receptive to an understanding of relative, limited or simply shared sovereignty) and iii) the international environment itself (marked by the “Cold War” and the role of NATO, as well as by the clear assumption of the United States as the global guardian of the security of the Western world) sidelined European concerns regarding common defense and security.

In fact, war in Europe had been understood as a historical dysfunction – that had existed but had been superseded! There have certainly been recent periods of war in Europe, but not in an integrated Europe and not between States. This was the case with the virulent wars in Bosnia (1992 – 1996) and Kosovo (1998 – 1999), where NATO ended up playing a decisive role (for example, the bombing of Belgrade).

There were also extremely gruesome and traumatic events that tarnished the history of Europe – the Srebrenica massacre will be a particularly striking case in point. Earlier, in the 1980s, Europe witnessed the so-called “Euromissile Crisis” which, in any case, was no more than a dispute in terms of political narratives in the context of the “Cold War”. However, with relative propriety, we can say that these events – and regardless of the violence, insanity, and risks to European peace that they represented – turned out to be exceptions that confirmed the rule. One may ask: “what rule?”, to which we respond: that of the conviction or illusion of the “end of war”; the illusory belief of the impossibility of war in Europe after World War II and the barbarism of Nazism.

It should not be assumed, however, that in Europe and with integration itself no steps were taken towards the construction of an autonomous policy and capacity for action regarding external defense and security. Initiatives concerning security and defense have followed one after the other – whether bilateral or multilateral between Member States, or within the framework of the institutional action of European integration. The foundations for a common policy in this area were slowly being built along the path of European integration itself.

There has been a long journey up to the present day, which began with the creation of the Western European Union (WEU), resulting from the London Conference of October 1954 – which replaced the existing Alliance between France and England, created in 1947, through the Treaty of Dunkirk or the Treaty of Alliance and Mutual Assistance. This Alliance had, in turn, been extended to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (Benelux) in 1948, by the Treaty of Brussels. Under the terms of this 1948 Treaty, the states undertook to cooperate in economic, cultural, and social matters and in collective self-defense. Following these changes to the Brussels Treaty, introduced by the London Conference, the WEU emerged in 1954 – replacing a body created within the framework of the Alliance. This body was the pre-existing Western Union Defence Organization. The objective of a collective European defense was already present in all these initiatives, treaties and alliances that emerged in the first years of European integration.

The Treaty on European Union (TEU) that came into force in 1993 laid the foundations (the intergovernmental “pillar”) for a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), corresponding to the increasingly asserted desire of the Union to assume itself as an actor with its own identity on the international arena. In fact, the Lisbon Treaty introduced significant advances to the TEU in terms of European foreign security and defense. The Union was explicitly given a legal personality (which is important for it to be able to act effectively on the international realm) and new actors were created within the CFSP (including the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – who is also Vice-President of the Commission). The European External Action Service (EEAS) was also created and, above all, the European Security and Defense Policy – which had been formally introduced in 1997, with the Treaty of Amsterdam – was institutionally reformulated and renamed the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The CSDP is, then, an integral part of the CFSP, and should frame the Union’s actions regarding the management of crisis situations.

It is clear that, so far, these institutional advances have not created an effective, material, and operative status for the Union on the international arena. Nor have they remedied its need to depend on NATO and the increasingly less vigorous position of the United States in matters of external security. However, if we look at the integration process – with all its specificities, characteristics and difficulties arising from the search for a permanent political balance among all its Member States – we will better understand the path it has been following. To this extent, the CFSP and the CSDP should be understood, as are other elements of the European project, as processes of construction – i.e., dynamic, evolving – both characterized by periods of progress and stagnation.[5] Therefore, the view that the inconsistency of those policies would be proof that the Union is nothing, but a “political dwarf” is misplaced.

Events often occur that set off chain reactions, catalyzing developments that ultimately change the course of history. Often the results of such events will not be as disruptive as they appear to be – in that they only precipitate changes that were already in the pipeline, that is, that were bound to occur sooner or later. To that extent, they only precipitate what was already in the gestation course. We are collectively living in such a critical moment.

As of right now, we are faced with the revival of a warlike action (of military territorial invasion) perpetrated by the Russian Federation and its leader Vladimir Putin (President of Russia since 2012, after having been Prime Minister between 2008 and 2012) on Ukraine. In fact, Putin’s action on Ukraine has caught us by surprise. It has put the European Union back in touch with memories of its origins, namely the need to react against a war that could ultimately affect it (or that does affect it, in fact). We claim this because it is already destroying a state that proclaims the principles and values adopted by Europe – which define the Union as a “Union of Law” and are the raison d’être of European integration.

We will not, however, analyze the conflict, its direct or indirect causes. We will only register some data that, although analytical, seem clear and defensible to us. We are facing a tragically historic event, in a double sense: on the one hand, the magnitude of this military invasion is devastating (judging by the images and reports that reach us through the press) and unique (since we thought we were living in an era of “the end of war” – at least a classic, traditional, physically, and inhumanely violent war).

On the other hand, there were evidence that could have allowed us, with some accuracy, to foresee the action underway. These indications are very similar to those identified in the historical and political period of 1938 – the year in which the Munich Conference took place. At this conference the future of Czechoslovakia was discussed. Indeed, Hitler stirred up general fears in the Europe of the time (which, let us recall, had seen the “integration”/annexation of Austria[6]) when he started referring to the inhabitants of German origin in the Sudeten (which included Moravia and Bohemia) stating that their living conditions were unacceptable. Hitler even explicitly suggested a military intervention on the territory of Czechoslovakia to liberate and protect the approximately 3 million Germans or German descendants who lived there.

At the Munich Conference (strictly speaking, two conferences were held in this respect), Hitler, Mussolini, Déladier (President of the French Council of Ministers) and Neville Chamberlain (British Prime Minister) were present. Czechoslovakia itself was not invited and did not participate, just as the then Soviet Union was not invited either.

The purpose of the Munich Conference was to satisfy Hitler’s claims through diplomatic means, thus ensuring peace and limiting what was already clear in the international community: an expansionist intention/tendency, from the territorial point of view, of Nazi Germany. A treaty was signed under which the Sudetenland would be handed over to Germany and Germany would not take any war action.

However, following the annexation of the Sudetenland, Nazi Germany’s pretensions of territorial expansion, contrary to what had been agreed upon at the Munich Conference and what had been assumed, did not stop. Hitler did the opposite of what he had committed himself to.

“(…) In the winter of 1938-39, the Slovaks called for separation from the Czechs; and the Danzig Germans, together with the German minority in Western Poland, protested against it. In March 1939 (all of) Czechoslovakia fell. Hitler marched on Prague as he had done in Vienna. Bohemia and Moravia were integrated into the Reich as a German protectorate. And Slovakia became an independent client state. Military aggression was changing the map of Europe.”[7]

One of the other characteristics that has been pointed out to Hitler’s behavior – in those pre-World War II times (1938-1939) – is his dissimulation and the fact that he never explicitly revealed his intentions, tactics, and objectives. He was a manipulator of information and used such manipulation to facilitate the fulfilment of his own ends.[8]

Taking into consideration the comparison between elements and facts of the pre-World War II period and the events triggered by Putin’s Russia in the context of the military invasion of Ukraine, another aspect that stands out is the use of the “living space” theory (“Lebensraum”) for the geopolitical justification of German expansion by the Nazi regime. This theory, formulated by Karl Haushofer, understood that a “zone of influence” adjacent to Nazi Germany was necessary for German economic development.

Thus, the concept of “border” would not have a legal-formal nature, nor would borders correspond to a stable, definitive territorial delimitation. It is important to emphasize that Haushofer had been a high-ranking military officer (general) and Professor at the University of Munich, and that he is credited with the creation of the so-called “German geopolitics” used by the Nazi regime. In effect, Karl Haushofer, and his geopolitical concept of “living space” were used by Hitler (at least, by the Reich narrative) to justify the expansion/conquest of neighboring territories that would constitute the German “zone of influence.” Indeed, in the view of the general-geographer Haushofer, the distribution of power across space (i.e., geopolitics) was supposed to contribute to Germany’s rebuilding as a “great power.”

Some concerns guide Haushofer’s thinking and his work which, as we have mentioned, aimed to help rebuild, as a “great power,” the Germany of post-World War I and post-Treaty of Versailles. We highlight two of these concerns: i) the need for Germany to rediscover the unity of its cultural space, which would lead, naturally, to expand into Central Europe; ii) an attention given to the dynamics of constitution of large groups, of large areas that bring together people, spaces, activities, cultural affinities that are called “pan-ideas” – such as Pan-Germanism or Pan-Slavism.[9]

In the military invasion of Ukraine, now carried out by Putin’s forces, we can find some traces that reflect a parallel between the expansion of Nazi Germany and the military expansion/occupation undertaken by Russia, as far as the respective “war narratives” are concerned. In the search for a legitimizing discourse,[10] Putin’s and the Kremlin’s arguments that are being disseminated by the press resort to pan-Russianism and, implicitly, to the need to guarantee a “vital space” for the Russian Federation – albeit primarily for reasons of external security. In other words, in Putin’s narrative, the need for Russia’s protection from NATO has always been alleged, i.e., the inadmissibility, from the Kremlin’s perspective, of Russia being confronted (having a border) with territories belonging to NATO member states.

In 2014, the Russian Federation, as is well and widely known, annexed as federal subdivisions the Crimean Peninsula and Sebastopol. This followed the so-called Euromaidan – the Ukrainian revolution (in street demonstrations) that culminated in the deposition of President Viktor Yanukovych (which Russia has always claimed was a “coup d’état” – therefore an illegitimate deposition, even though it was taken by the Ukrainian Parliament).

In those regions (Crimea and Sevastopol) that are significantly pro-Russian (even ethnically), there was a people’ s reaction and their unilateral declaration of independence from Ukraine, following a referendum only recognized by Russia. Crimea and the city of Sebastopol were annexed, albeit separately: Crimea was annexed as a Republic of the Russian Federation and Sebastopol as a federal city. Ukraine and the international community do not recognize this annexation; in fact, both Ukrainian law and currency have been replaced by the “ruble” and the Russian legal system, although this should not have occurred under international law.

It is noteworthy that the events of that time – especially the popular backlash against then-President Viktor Yanukovych that led to his removal from office by the parliament – were triggered by the postponement of the signing of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA) between the European Union and Ukraine. Indeed, following Yanukovych’s announcement that he would postpone the signing of such agreements with the European Union, the streets of Kiev were the scene of numerous demonstrations demanding rapprochement between Ukraine and the European Union.

There are multiple intersecting factors that seek to explain the then political events in Ukraine. “What could have led Yanukovych to postpone the signing of the agreement with the European Union?”[11] The financial situation of the state – which, incidentally, until 2012 had benefited from an aid program from the International Monetary Fund – as well as pressure from Russia are said to have been determining factors in the decisions of then-President Yanukovych.

A rapprochement between the European Union and Ukraine had been underway since 1998, and it formed the basis of the negotiating process that led to both the projected and negotiated agreements.  With the Association Agreement, the Union aimed at a political association with Ukraine. With the DCFTA, it aimed to promote the highest possible level of economic integration. In effect, the objective of both parties (European Union and Ukraine) was the establishment of a free trade area, opening Ukrainian access to the European market (estimated, at the time, at 500 million consumers and 17.6 billion US dollars) as well as greater foreign investment.[12]  

Getting back to the issue of the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, it is important to note in the way Putin has always been voicing about such annexation: a return of Crimea to the home of the “Motherland”.[13] Note that this expression (strictly speaking, “Mother Russia”) was an expression of tsarism; a way of expressing and legitimizing the self-proclaimed imperial vision and power of 19th century Russia.

Thus, the concept of Russia’s “living space” is a characteristic feature of the Kremlin’s current narrative – Russia being also implied as an empire with Tsarist reminiscences (hence, naturally and tendentially expansionist, from a territorial and geopolitical influence perspective).

In any case, there are other points of contact between Vladimir Putin’s official and current narrative and a worldview relatively close to that which was also followed (at least, verbalized) by the Third Reich in 1938-1939. Putin has always used as an immediate justification, when it comes to the annexation of Crimea and Sebastopol, the argument of aid to Russian-speaking communities – as it happened, now, in relation to the Russian intervention in Donbass (a region that is divided in two: Donetsk and Luhansk). That is, Russia’s action would be, according to the official narrative, motivated by the rescue, support and/or even defense of Russian citizens (or of Russian origin). The Donbass region – which borders, to the east of Ukraine, with Russia – is especially important with regard to coal extraction and declared itself independent in 2014, without this self-proclamation having been recognized, so far, by the international community. The current military operation was preceded by the recognition of such a unilateral proclamation of independence, with the argument of helping the (estimated) 3 million Russian-speaking citizens who live there, no longer just for the Donbass, but for the whole Ukraine. Therefore, the use of pan-russianism would be an element to consider in the Kremlin narrative – in a clear point of convergence with Karl Haushofer’s geopolitics and “living space” theory.

In brief, we are currently witnessing dramatic events that, at first glance, may indicate the end of a dream: we lived under the illusion that our time was the time of the “end of war”. From this perspective, a war like the one in Ukraine was (is) a historical dysfunction, starting with the civilizational acquis.

Perhaps we have not paid enough attention to certain indicators. As we noted above, some elements detected in the warlike and expansionist behavior and official narrative of Russia (today’s leading military nuclear power) can properly be understood as a revisiting of the worldview propagated by the Third Reich – which served as the argumentative basis for the tragic historical events of the European 20th century. Nevertheless, the debris from World War II that has not yet been definitively buried lies outside the space of integrated Europe. However, they also affect the European project, insofar as they call into question what was, from the outset, the original motivational impulse for European integration: precisely the “end of war”, the fulfillment of the dream of the historical and civilizational impossibility of the inhuman nature of war.

The European example could make a decisive contribution to ensuring that these remnants of “wartime” rubble are not only buried but destroyed for good. It is interesting to note that, in line with the idea that crises always generate opportunities, since the end of 2019 (when the Commission led by Van der Leyen took office), the European Union has been facing permanent crises.

We are still living through the Covid-19 pandemic and have entered a “time of war” brought about by the military invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The risk of a World War III is beginning to be seen as credible. In the meantime – one must not forget – we have had (or, strictly speaking, still have) crises (or, at least, evident and qualified disturbances) with regard to the effective implementation of the framework of principles and values that define a “Union of Law” (Poland and Hungary, mainly). We also witnessed, in the middle of the pandemic crisis (May 5, 2020) a position adopted by the German Constitutional Court that, in a way, tried to renationalize the teleology of integration. Previously, it was Brexit that shook the course of integration and the Union.

And yet, during this period and in a context of crisis (or permanent crisis) we have also seen decisive advances in the deepening of European integration. In particular, we have witnessed the adoption of measures which, being essentially federative, provide a response (the possible response and, for some Member States, the only possible response) to the dysfunctions and human risks arising from crises – such as the assumption of a financial plan to tackle the pandemic crisis and its effects, with a structural horizon in the economies of the Member States, adopted on a supranational basis and directly by the European Commission,[14] in addition to concerted action in the purchase and distribution of vaccines throughout the Union.

Nevertheless, we will only refer to two aspects of the opportunities (and the steps already taken) that this state of crisis has generated for the deepening of European integration. Firstly, and contrary to what many anticipated as obvious risks for the European project and the European Union, the war in Ukraine has not divided (and is not dividing) the Member States in terms of foreign policy. As with the effects of Brexit so far, instead of the risk of divergence or political fragmentation within the European project, the European Union is strengthened in its unity and cohesion. It is effectively “muscling in” as a true “bloc” on what is essential: adopting a firm position of refusal of totalitarianism and the return to “wartime”.

The position of the Union and all its Member States (and, incidentally, of the international community, as expressed in the United Nations) has been consensual, resolutely homogenous and firm, defending a principled position (the humanist and democratic principles of integration) and revealing a European unity that is practically unprecedented. In fact, Putin’s Russia is moving towards a pariah-state status under international law, largely as a result of the war sanctioning and condemnation plan carried out without hesitation by the European Union. If one of Vladimir Putin’s strategic objectives also pointed to the fragmentation of the Union (and, consequently, to the loss of civilizational influence that integrated Europe has), the political and sanctioning response of the Union was undoubtedly in the opposite direction.

On the other hand, the war precipitated – we believe now irreversibly – the rapid construction of an effective European military defense policy. This is not just a matter of building an Internal Market for the defense industry, but of adopting consistent measures that point to the Union’s claimed “military-strategic autonomy” and “European sovereignty” (for example, by French President Emmanuel Macron) – in the sense of having the capacity to autonomously defend its citizens.

The fact that Germany has already announced the goal of allocating 2% of its GDP to defense may be the starting point for this very significant step in deepening the current European integration.


[1] Free translation of excerpts taken from the poem “A Pedra Filosofal” by António Gedeão. The original version is written in Portuguese.

[2] See Katerina Servi, Greek mythology, Ekdotike Athenon SA, 2014.

[3] See Jean Monnet, Memórias. A autobiografia de um dos pais fundadores da União Europeia, Ulisseia, Lisbon, 2004. Monnet’s introductory sentence in his Memoirs is: “We are not uniting states, we are uniting men.”

[4] See Ana Isabel Rego, Mercado único da defesa: realidade ou utopia. Breve ensaio sobre estratégias jurídico-políticas europeias face aos desafios da globalização, Master’s thesis in European Union Law, 2018, p. 15, available at: https://repositorium.sdum.uminho.pt/handle/1822/60796

[5] Ana Coelho, Verónica Martins, Portugal parceiro global – conjuntura e prospetiva PESC/PESD: um processo em construção, National Defense Institute, Lisbon, 2004, p. 1-2. Available at: PESC/PESD: Um Processo em Construção (eurocid.pt)

[6] See Norman Davies, A Europa em Guerra. 1939-1945, Edition 70, Lisbon, 2008. On the “integration”/annexation of Austria, the Author writes (cit., p. 166): «In 1938, Austria, the victim of internal upheaval, fell into the hands of the Nazis. The act of Anschluss, or “integration,” was announced: Hitler and the Wehrmacht entered Vienna triumphantly, without a single shot being fired. Austria joined Germany in the Reich» (free translation).

[7] Norman Davies, cit., pp. 166-167.

[8] “(…) Hitler was, among other things, a master bluffer, so no one could tell to what extent his bluster had substance. Historians now know for certain what some politicians suspected: the Reich’s rearmament statistics were exaggerated. They also learn from the much-discussed Hossbach Memorandum of 1937, which contains a record of one of the conversations Hitler was in the habit of encouraging his generals with, that the Fuher anticipated starting the war in 1942-43, not 1939. Hitler’s intentions were by no means transparent” (free translation). See Norman Davies, cit., pp. 164-165.

[9] On Karl Haushofer, his geopolitical theory and the influences on the Nazi regime, see Wesley Arcassa/Paulo Mourão, Karl Haushofer: a Geopolitik e o III Reich, in GEOATOS – Revista de Geografia em Atos, FCT/UNESP, no. 11, v.1, January to June 2011. Available at: https://revista.fct.unesp.br/index.php/geografiaematos/article/viewFile/249/arcassa

[10] Law is expressed, in one of its aspects and manifestations, by the construction of a legitimating discourse.

[11] See Susana Abelho, Yanukovych’s decision to postpone the signing of the agreement with the EU: a poliheuristic analysis. JANUS.NET e-journal of International Relations, Vol. 8, no. 1, May-October 2017. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/11144/3034

[12] See Susana Abelho, cit.

[13] Among several reports in the international press at the time, see, for example: https://www.reuters.com/article/manchetes-russia-putin-crimeia-idBRKBN0K913I20141231

[14] The Recovery and Resilience Facility and NextGenerationUE. Among varied “sources” of information, see:https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/recovery-plan-europe_pt


Pictures credits: Geralt.

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