The questions are addressed to the former Secretary of State for Defense and professor of international relations at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Ana Santos Pinto. In the hundred days of war, doubts remain on European defense while NATO strengthens its influence in particular in the defense of the eastern flank of the European continent, beyond the Baltic countries, without forgetting the northern expansion. Meanwhile, the war continues with no sign of meaningful talks that will end the guns in a long-held battle that took on another dimension with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Do these 100 days show us that the military solution seems to be the only path that has not been broken by diplomatic initiatives?
I do not believe that the military solution is the only way. These hundred days show us that diplomatic initiatives require the existence of a favorable context. First, it is necessary that the parties have the confidence to engage in dialogue and the will to commit to finding a solution. In a context of war, this requires a series of conditions on the ground that allow Ukraine and the Russian Federation to sit around the table to start a dialogue. During these three months, the diplomatic initiatives to try to bring the parties into dialogue did not stop, but they did not take place from the public point of view.
All this depends, to a large extent, on what is happening on the ground and on a certain stability of the organizations of the two countries in order to be able to begin diplomatic negotiations. The Mariupol affair, with the intervention of the UN Secretary-General, revealed precisely that when the parties decided that it was possible to open humanitarian corridors and evacuate civilians, the UN had the ability to act. Let us not forget that the Russian Federation is a member of the United Nations Security Council, the body responsible for guaranteeing international peace, security and stability.
This is where the great factor conditioning the pursuit of these diplomatic initiatives lies.
One of the most visible consequences of the conflict seems to be the strengthening of NATO unity. What major realignments can be identified in international politics during these 100 days of war?
After a time when we talked about the uselessness of the Atlantic Alliance, this war brought the members of NATO closer together and gave visibility to the work of the Atlantic Alliance. The rapprochement of the allies within the framework of NATO and a possible enlargement for Sweden and Finland is a very significant realignment. A second realignment is response and cohesion within the framework of the European Union with the decision to apply sanctions, financing and the acquisition of arms transfers to Ukraine within the framework of the European Union.
This is very important, given the indecision and inability to realign the consensus on foreign, security and defense policy in the European Union. These two alignments – European Union and NATO – seem to be the most significant. A third realignment requires additional attention, at the level of other regional spaces, looking at the votes in the UN General Assembly and the positioning of the States of Africa, Asia and Latin America, which have largely passed by abstentions and not by votes against Russia. invasion of Ukraine.
European states and the United States must be aware of these alignments and interpret them in the light of their foreign policy and the relationship that may arise from it in terms of food shortage and food security. This interpretation remains to be made.
Do signs of difficulty reaching an agreement on the sixth sanctions package indicate that Russia’s European divide strategy could intensify?
What we are really waiting for are these fractures. The last European Council showed us that this requires a capacity for negotiation and accommodation of a series of wills. The existence of war on Europe’s borders means that political leaders have a different consideration for decision-making processes on issues such as energy policy.
It’s not short term, it’s linked to relations with supplier countries, it’s a transition from an energy point of view and it’s linked to the reindustrialisation of Europe. These are far more complex issues than a decision on a new set of sanctions against the Russian Federation.
The European Union has already understood that a coherent response is much more effective in pursuing its interests than division. Since 2014, Putin’s regime has paid particular attention to the division of the European context and succeeded in certain circumstances. Ensuring this united response from the EU is what secures the interests of all European states, which then have to internally negotiate their different interpretations and national interests.
This is also placed in the defense dimension. This is a challenge for the years to come in the EU, in the industrial dimension, through the production of defense equipment on the European continent, and in the dimension of the joint acquisition of armaments. This will create differences between Member States, between those who are NATO members and those who are not, between those who have defense industries and those who do not, but we normally expect these divisions. Politicians need to explain the advantages and disadvantages of a common position and understand the effectiveness of this position in the international context.
In the field of defence, we have the war in Europe again and we know that this sectoral policy has had its ups and downs. On the other hand, a European player is emerging, now outside the European Union, which was very active in the war like the United Kingdom. What does this tell us about internal realignment in the field of European defence? What future for a European defense policy in a context where the war shows the preponderance of NATO as security umbrella on the European continent?
Most EU members are also members of the Atlantic Alliance. And each of them does not have the capacity – and it would not be rational if that were the case – to invest twice in the Atlantic Alliance and the EU. The idea of complementarity and cooperation between the Atlantic Alliance and the EU seems to me to be the most effective, rational and beneficial alternative for all Member States.
This means that, on the one hand, it is necessary to develop EU partnerships with third countries such as the United Kingdom. the UK has the largest defense industry and armed forces capability in the European context. This implies an investment in defense which, to put it simply, consists in defining what is going to be bought and from whom.
Here, the European Commission acquires a preponderance that it has never had historically and which requires an adjustment in terms of competences in the Treaties. It is the European Commission which has the capacity to finance through the Community budget what is not provided for in the defense policy.
We are trying to understand how the EU, which has always had defense as a taboo, is taking up the question of defense industries in order to boost the industrial dimension in Europe and achieve the acquisition of its own capabilities on the basis of this idea of strategic autonomy. The most rational way is through common projects between Member States which, in a way, contradict the principle of national sovereignty.
It is a long process that will not happen overnight. Very advanced technical work is necessary, including from the point of view of financing, to have a truly European defence. The context of the war will make it very evident that his vulnerability and lack of capabilities revealed so far become crystal clear. And states know it.