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FPC Briefing: Rethinking ‘Wider Europe’ in Times of Liberal Crisis

Article by Dr Kevork Oskanian

September 24, 2019

FPC Briefing: Rethinking ‘Wider Europe’ in Times of Liberal Crisis


During much of the preceding decade wider Europe’s strategic landscape, from the Atlantic-to-the-Urals, has been marked by two interrelated phenomena. On the one hand, the continent has seen a continuous deterioration in relations between Russia and the West. On the other, as elsewhere, it has witnessed an ebbing of the once unassailable confidence in liberal[1] institutions that emerged in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War. Both of these processes have now reached crisis point. Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, its ongoing involvements in Eastern Ukraine and Georgia, its subversion of political processes in liberal-democratic states have so far been only partially addressed. While Brexit and its complications have to some extent decreased the continental electorates’ Eurosceptic tendencies, the liberal regional order’s longer-term challenges remain, as witnessed in the populist-authoritarian rollback in member states like Hungary and Poland, and a continuing populist challenge in Europe’s core.

The responses to these crises have so far been marked by incoherence. On the one hand, Russia has been subjected to economic and personal sanctions; both Ukraine and Georgia have continued their integration into the European Union (EU)’s norms and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) military frameworks; and comprehensive strategies have been worked out at both the national and international institutional levels against Russia’s hybrid forms of warfare.[2]  On the other hand, large-scale energy projects like Nord Stream 2 have been pushed ahead; the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty have been declared defunct;[3] defence spending by most European NATO allies has remained well under the two per cent target (much to the consternation of the current administration in Washington DC); neither Ukraine nor Georgia have been offered concrete timelines for full NATO membership; and only piecemeal measures have been taken in response to money-laundering by former Soviet elites, notably in the United Kingdom’s (UK) overseas territories.[4]

Neither have the weaknesses internal to ‘wider Europe’s’ institutional infrastructure been addressed. In spite of numerous earlier pledges, fundamental reforms to the EU institutions have been postponed. Ambitious proclamations notwithstanding, the EU and many of its constituent states have remained vulnerable to authoritarian backsliding and populist disruption. The other elements of ‘wider Europe’s’ organisational order don’t present a more coherent picture. Rivalry between Moscow and the West has turned the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – once touted as the core provider of ‘comprehensive security’ in post-Cold War Europe – largely irrelevant to high politics (although some of its components and programmes have retained their usefulness in monitoring the continent’s more problematic spaces).[5] The Council of Europe (CoE) – the central institutional plank of Europe’s Human Rights regime – has lost much of its effectiveness, and, in fact, legitimacy, through various corruption scandals in its Parliamentary Assembly – not to mention the ability of various, more illiberal members states, including Russia, to flagrantly violate its precepts without much consequence.[6] While the credibility of NATO’s core function – collective defence under Article V – has remained intact, earlier hopes that it would spread peace and security throughout the continent as it expanded have run up against the realities of an assertive Russia in Ukraine, and Georgia.

Russia’s unwillingness to abide by normative and institutional frameworks created in the 1990s has often been identified as a key problem in the charged strategic landscape of contemporary Europe. While, indeed, much of the weakening of these structures has to do with the disinclination of an increasingly alienated Moscow to recognise their legitimacy, there is another side to the story: in fact, the assumptions on which Europe’s current legal-institutional order was founded were specific to a particular era – the liberal 1990s – whose historically contingent conditions were projected far in to the future. Times have changed, and many of the assumptions that initially underlay these institutions have either been contradicted, or have become outdated; as a result, the institutions they engendered have been left vulnerable to attack, or become counter-productive to their original aims.

Much has to do with the internal crisis in which the liberal world order at large has found itself since the 2008 financial meltdown. As many prominent scholars of this world order have argued, it appears to be shifting from a once firmly established – some would say hegemonic – liberal system, to something less cosmopolitan, less dominant, with many of the precepts of liberal ideology – including the trinity of democracy, international law/institutions, and interdependent free markets – being subjected to, at the very least, reinterpretation and reconfiguration. Even stalwart supporters of liberal internationalism – like G. John Ikenberry – have acknowledged the role of internal contradictions in weakening liberal frameworks.[7] While few have predicted a wholesale collapse of liberal institutions, many have suggested modifications of varying aspects of that order, based on new, less liberal realities.[8]

What might such a reinterpretation of the liberal world order look like in the wider European context? As suggested above, the continent’s current institutional makeup was mainly a product of the liberal 1990s, when Central and Eastern Europe became the focus of what was probably the greatest transformational project since the Marshall Plan. Times have changed, and many of the assumptions made during that decade of transformation have ebbed away. In light of that reality, the next three sections will be asking the following three questions on the future of ‘wider Europe’s’ institutional order, concentrating on its implications for the four organisations central to it: the EU, NATO, the CoE, and the OSCE: firstly, as to the liberal assumptions driving the relevant organisations in the post-Cold War period; secondly, as to the effect of current realities on those assumptions; and, thirdly, as to the possibility of adapting these institutions to those new realities.

Liberal Assumptions and the Post-Cold War Wider European Order

Most of the institutions listed above – all, in fact, except the OSCE – can be traced back to the beginnings of the Cold War. Their unifying liberal logic combined efforts at pacifying the Western half of the continent through economic integration (EU) and a strengthening of civic and political rights (the CoE). These were supplemented through a transatlantic military alliance (NATO), aimed at ‘keeping the Americans in, the Germans down, and the Russians out’. The predecessor organisation to the OSCE was the child of a different age – of détente – when the Helsinki Process resulted in a quest for ‘comprehensive security’ through the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), including, importantly, the ‘human dimension’ as a prerequisite of security thus defined. As the Cold War came to an end, these institutions and their liberal normative foundations were deepened and expanded to include the ‘lost’ – Central and Eastern – portions of a reunited ‘European Family of Nations’.

The EU, NATO and the CoE were widened to include states in this regained part of Europe. Their and the OSCE’s scopes were also deepened to embrace the new possibilities that the ‘End of History’ was supposed to have opened up. Simultaneously with eastward expansion, EU integration continued apace, moving towards the abolition of internal borders through Schengen and the adoption of a common currency, in addition to Common Foreign and Security Policies. NATO also enlarged, after having proved its value as the upholder of the new international order on the post-Cold War continent in the former Yugoslavia. The CoE was expanded to bring most of the former Soviet bloc under the umbrella of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg Courts. The OSCE emerged from the CSCE at the 1990 Paris Summit, finally able to realise the ‘human’ element within its central concept of ‘comprehensive security’, long stymied by very different interpretations on either side of the iron curtain during the Cold War.

The assumptions behind these institutional-normative expansions and reconfigurations were inherently liberal; they were late twentieth-century adaptations of the Kantian idea that democracy, free trade, and international institutions held the promise of an ever-more peaceful world. Institutions that had been a product of the Cold War were thus integrated into a higher idea, as components of a Kantian ‘pacific federation’ that would expand eastward, and bring the benefits of these three legs of the ‘tripod of the Liberal peace’ to the once shackled nations of the former Soviet bloc. All of this occurred within the broader context of globalisation: the idea that the nation-state had withered away – or was, at least, far less relevant in the global world order – was common currency up to the financial crisis of the previous decade.[9] Spurred on by ever-deeper and complex interdependence, the world was moving towards a global market in commodities and ideas, with unified – liberal – norms governing the behaviour of its actors.

Democratic conditionality was part and parcel of this deepening and widening of the liberal zone of peace. From the mid-1990s, policymakers in the ‘old’ West adopted the adage that the rewards of institutional membership – first and foremost, in the EU – would drive candidate members towards adopting the norms embodied in the Copenhagen Criteria, eventually cementing their status as mature democracies within a broader supra-national polity, their societies made part of an admittedly elusive and controversial demos of European citizens.[10] NATO also maintained an element of democratic conditionality in its promise of safety from – certainly in Eastern European eyes – a possibly resurgent Russia.[11] A similar democratising logic – but one that included rather than excluded Russia – underlay the OSCE and CoE: here, the narrative was one of established democracies helping their less fortunate counterparts in their progression towards political maturity through the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the CoE Venice Commission. Their inclusion into these organisations was as much a prerequisite for, as a result of, their ongoing transition to democracy.

The peace-making feature of this transition would be strengthened through institutionalised interaction and socialisation: all organisations mentioned above therefore offered a number of fora which allowed both political and technocratic elites to interact and integrate, apart from supervisory mechanisms gauging new or prospective members’ compliance with wider Europe’s emerging ‘thick’ normative regime. The numerous mechanisms and institutions established by the EU to that effect were seen as so successful that they came to be viewed as part of its status as a ‘normative power’; NATO’s Partnership for Peace and Parliamentary Assemblies (PAs), and the CoE’s PA and Venice Commission functioned according to that same logic, as did the OSCE’s own PA, along with its aforementioned ODIHR.[12] Of course, membership in these organisations and their ‘thick’ legal-normative environment was also seen as providing a crucial institutional barrier to conflict, as well as a further foundation for democracy and human rights, with the CoE’s Court of Human Rights one particularly important example for this line of thought.

Such peace would, finally, be assured by making European economies inextricable: what had started with the integration of Germany and France’s Coal and Steel industries ended in the creation and expansion of an increasingly integrated Common Market, where goods, capital and labour would be freed from the shackles of international borders – the logic behind Schengen – and the unpredictability of currency rates – the argument behind the Euro.[13] Expanding this integration Eastward – through EU membership, TACIS[14], and the European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Partnership – would allow neighbouring countries to be subjected to these pacifying effects.[15] These peace-making assumptions also drove broader global developments as well: the 90s were the heyday of globalisation, a time when it was assumed by many – not least in the policymaking community – that integrating ‘transitioning’ economies – including Russia and China – into win-win trade and financial flows would foster an interdependence that would encourage a self-interested submission to a peaceful, liberal global order.[16]

From Mistaken Assumptions to Institutional Mismatch

Considering the series of assumptions outlined above, it would be a mistake to trace the problems in the contemporary European liberal order solely to choices made in Moscow. While the Putin regime and its irredentism have undoubtedly played an efficient role in the weakening of this regime, questions must also be asked of the permissive context created by increasingly outdated expectations. Firstly, the assumptions on democratisation have made this order unprepared for the possibility of rollback and crisis with mature democracies, whose stability was largely assumed to be assured – based in no small part on the linear view of history posited by liberalism itself. Secondly, the inclusion of illiberal, authoritarian states in normative institutions like the CoE and the OSCE has proved highly subversive, in some cases resulting in ‘reverse socialisation’ of parts of the Western elite. The EU and NATO have, moreover, continued relying on the logic of deepening and expansion when the geopolitical context allowing for the pacifying effects of the nineties has disappeared. Thirdly, a blind faith in economic interdependence has become increasingly outdated at a time when economic interaction should – contrary to liberal assumptions – increasingly be seen as liable to the creation of unwelcome dependencies on illiberal states which persistently maintain a zero-sum view of geo-economics – like Russia.

Firstly, the assumed linear development of Europe’s various states towards democracy and less relevance – under the benign influence of these institutions – has not proceeded as projected. In fact, some young democracies previously classified as ‘mature’ – including Hungary and Poland – have experienced authoritarian rollback, while even long-established liberal democracies – including the UK – have entered a period of protracted polarisation and crisis, partly based on a revalidation of state sovereignty.[17] Far from a linear transition to democracy – played up at various points in the previous decades, following 1989, and the colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, for instance – most post-Soviet states have seen ups and downs, a mixture of progress and regress, often hampered by the heavy structural and social realities of their Soviet legacies.[18] Added to this comes the failure of the democratic project in an autocratic Russia that, however imperfectly, has been able to emerge from the economic chaos of the 1990s while at the same time moving away from liberal political reform, in an outcome unforeseen by much of Western thinking during the previous decades.

This is important in three ways, especially over the longer term. Firstly, the democratic peace is robustly confirmed only between mature democracies, and does not allow for rollback – since this would, over the longer term, obviate much of the confidence generated in the shared norms and expectations underlying the phenomenon.[19] In a ‘wider Europe’ of immature, or reversing democracies, the stabilising factor of democratisation therefore risks becoming less pronounced, putting a question mark on the logic of ‘pacification through democratisation’ underlying the democratic conditionalities of the past. Secondly, political models in prolonged crisis do not attract emulation as easily as their well-functioning counterparts. The crises of liberal democracy, if sustained, will affect the West’s much-vaunted normative power as they sap its ‘social capital’ both within its boundaries, and beyond.[20] Thirdly, democratic stagnation and reversal has led to normative institutions like the CoE and OSCE being weakened substantially by their inclusion of states that promote values diametrically opposed to the organisations’ own.

This brings me to my second point, on the mistaken assumptions behind the functioning of Wider Europe’s institutions. Their expected socialisation of the elites of prospective members and neighbours into a shared culture of political and civic rights has not quite fared as expected. In the case of the expressly normative CoE, for instance, instead of undergoing such socialisation, authoritarian member states like Russia and Azerbaijan have ended up subverting many of the fundamental tenets the organisation is ultimately supposed to uphold. For example, multiple corruption scandals have rocked the organisation’s parliamentary assembly, in what could be seen as instances of reverse socialisation.[21] Meanwhile, authoritarian states in the former Soviet space have become quite successful in tailoring their repressive policies around the long timelines required for the ECHR, or have, in some cases – notably in cases involving Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechnya – simply ignored their provisions altogether, bolstered by a controversial 2015 law stipulating the primacy of Russian constitutional over international law.[22] With the full restoration of the Russian Federation’s voting rights within the organisation, the CoE is now also confronted with a situation in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea that cannot possibly be reconciled with its most basic principles (leading to its further discrediting in places whose governments – contrary to Russia – do hold democratic aspirations). These moral inconsistencies ultimately hold the danger of hollowing out the credibility and effectiveness of an organisation defining itself primarily in normative rather than realpolitik terms.

The OSCE hasn’t fared any better. Once touted as the premier organisation providing the triple benefits of comprehensive – that is international, economic and human – security to its members, its role has been largely reduced to the monitoring of legacy conflicts. Part of the reason is its late recognition of the ways in which semi-authoritarian regimes in the former Soviet space had perfected their hollowing out of the effectiveness of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and its observer missions, either through innovative methods, or their exclusion from electoral processes in their ‘sovereign democracies’.[23] Beyond the ‘low politics’ observation missions in Ukraine and elsewhere, the organisation has therefore lost its relevance partly because it underestimated the determination and ability of these regimes to push back rather than follow a linear, teleological movement towards inclusion into a now-weakened liberal order.  Another reason was the West’s decision to rely mainly on an expanded NATO – rather than an organisation like the OSCE, encompassing a Europe ‘From the Atlantics-to –the-Urals’, and beyond – for the provision of security on the continent.

And indeed, when measured according to its core function – as an alliance providing collective defence for its member states – NATO has arguably been the most successful of the four elements Europe’s post-Cold War institutional regime. Mounting challenges notwithstanding, the credibility of Article V remains intact, as the Russian Federation continues to largely respect NATO’s current eastern boundary. In that sense, the previous bouts of NATO expansion can be termed a success, but the same cannot be unequivocally said about NATO’s proposed expansion into the former Soviet Union. While those under Article V protection have indeed benefited from strategic stability, the potential inclusion of former Soviet states beyond the Baltics has elicited pushback from Moscow, now resulting in the exact opposite of its initial intent.

The problem here is that NATO eastward expansion was based on a dual, potentially contradictory logic. On the one hand, Western policymakers saw it as the cementing of stability in Central and Eastern Europe through the cementing of democratic conditionality. On the other, there was the more realist logic – most strongly expressed by the Eastern European states themselves – of securing the region from a possibly resurgent Russia.[24] As long as an internally incoherent Russia was unable to push back and the alliance in effect expanded into a strategic vacuum, this logic functioned without much contradiction: it was possible to stabilise Eastern Europe while at the same time providing it with its desired protective shield against Moscow. This changed with the inclusion of former Soviet states in the list of potential members, and the stabilisation of the Russian economy under Vladimir Putin. Russian pushback meant that, far from providing the stability it had in previous waves of expansion, NATO expansion collided with Russian zero-sum thinking and restored power to produce instability, exposing aspiring members – still outside the protection of Article V – to Russian revanchism.

Finally, on the economic front, the integration and geographic expansion of the commercial ‘zone of peace’ has not worked as expected. Internally, the great integration projects of the 1990s – Schengen and the Euro – have created imbalances that, far from ensuring greater stability and security, have left the EU vulnerable to destabilisation, both internally and by outside players. The imbalances internal to the EU have led to crisis after crisis, and the unequal distribution of benefits and burdens to which responses have been only piecemeal, and partial.[25] The Schengen agreement was not conceived for a world where increased migration flows would combine with right-wing populism and Jihadist terrorism to ‘undermine the European project’ through an easily kindled culture of fear, and an unequal sharing of burdens.  The 2008 financial crisis, moreover, laid bare the very real structural distortions that emerged from integrating Europe’s northern and southern economies into a monetary union, without the added element of fiscal integration and institutional reform. Both these crises stressed the idea of pan-European solidarity to the brink, also revealing the extent to which ideas of a common European polis, with a commensurate European demos – once prevalent in the halls of power in Brussels[26] – were beyond reach: the perceived lack of control of national electorates over a supra-national institution further weakened the European project’s legitimacy in the eyes of many of its citizens, leaving it open to subversion by outside powers, including Russia.

Externally, the assumed stability that would emerge from the integration of the former Soviet space – Russia included – has not come to pass. Much ink has already been spilt on the failure of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership in creating a ‘belt of stability’ around the EU; and in that sense, the problems with these initiatives run parallel to NATO expansion, stemming as they do from a tendency of a liberal West to view economic reform and modernisation in primarily positive-sum terms, as opposed to the zero-sum geo-economic thinking prevalent in Moscow. Moscow zero-sum thinking also subverted the assumptions made in giving Russia a stake in Europe’s economies, not least through Western energy and financial markets. Rather than moving Russia away from zero-sum thought through the mitigating effects of interdependence, they have created dangerous dependencies and sources of corruption, which powerful internal constituencies are invested in maintaining: witness German lobbying in favour of the Nordstream 2 pipeline, or the resistance in the City of London when it comes to tackling illicit financial flows from Russia and the former Soviet space, even in light of major scandals like Danske Bank and the ‘Russian laundromat’.[27]

Wider Europe Beyond the End of History: towards a Pragmatic Pluralism

What, then, is to be done in light of this disjuncture between an institutional setup founded on multiple outdated assumptions that survive by inertia, and the changed realities of an increasingly illiberal world? Many Western policymakers have been relatively slow in discarding or revising the above-mentioned assumptions governing the continent’s institutional structure; even when faced with dramatic demonstrations of their outdated and counterproductive effects in changed times, they have insistently held on to them, arguing that their abandonment would imply a capitulation, a relinquishment of the norms that had, to a great extent, become the centrepiece of the rules-based international (and regional) order established following the end of the Cold War. This reluctance is all the more understandable in view of the promises of regional peace offered by democracy, the rule of international law, and economic integration, a promise that has, to a significant extent, been spoiled by Russia.

But such a fundamental rethink is overdue: after all, the decay in the liberal order goes beyond malicious Russian agency, being also the result of fundamental structural changes in the regional and global contexts acting as the permissive causes of global and regional liberal decline. To cling to unchanging assumptions in the face of these very real structural changes that have transformed the world away from the ‘End of History’ would, in fact, leave many of the vulnerabilities that have opened up unaddressed. Over time, it would result in a superficial addressing of the symptoms of a deeper malaise and, continuing, potentially dangerous policy failures in an increasingly unpredictable strategic environment. The 1990s were called the ‘unipolar moment’ for a reason, and to pretend that moment has stretched into the current decade is untenable.

Firstly, there must be a recognition that liberal democracy – even in its mature form – is more fragile than thought in its 1990s heyday, and that, internally, it would have to be constantly guarded against inconsistency and decay. The goal should be to maintain the liberal Western European core as a ‘security community’: a group of states where relations based on trust are regulated through a dense network of rights and responsibilities, centred on the EU and NATO. This would, most probably, require a period of introspection and reconstruction aimed at addressing the tensions and vulnerabilities affecting the bodies politic of its member states, and its central supranational institution – the EU. Difficult choices would have to be made, not least regarding the adherence of democratically recalcitrant members states to commitments made when joining the security community’s ‘social contract’, or the nature of the EU’s source of democratic legitimacy, its demos (or its many demoi?). Considering the road already travelled – the depth of integration between the societies of the Western ‘security community’ – these challenges would not be insurmountable.

Such introspection would also require a re-examining of the limits and possibilities of the main military component of that community – NATO – as a defensive alliance of liberal-democratic states, rather than an ever-expanding Kantian project. On the one hand, as hinted at above, the organisation has been immensely successful in ensuring the security of its existing members. On the other hand, however, the extension of its post-Cold War expansionist logic to the former Soviet Union has manifestly not resulted in the promised peace that it was so successful in delivering in Central and Eastern Europe. A strong case could now be made for reinforcing the alliance in its quite effective original defensive role, by finally addressing long-delayed thornier issues, like the longer-term untenable nature of Western Europe’s free-riding on US defence expenditures for its security.[28] But this would also imply a reconsideration of the Alliance’s expansive ‘Kantian’ mission: added on because of the demands of Central and Eastern European states, and a crisis of purpose following the fall of the USSR[29], it has now arguably been made counterproductive by the resurgence of Putin’s Russia, and the unrealistic expectations of the long-dominant, more activist versions of the liberal world-view.

This brings be to my second point: the period of introspection would also require a reconsideration of the other outward-facing Kantian ‘grand projects’ of yesteryear, and the limiting effects of one-size-fits-all conditionality on the flexible and pragmatic foreign and security policies needed in a world where a liberal order no longer unequivocally rules the roost. If chosen, such a move away from normative and geopolitical expansion as the centrepiece of statecraft outside the liberal-democratic security community would simply be an acknowledgment of the limits of top-down democratisation in an increasingly illiberal outside world, or of military or commercial expansion into regions that are no longer a geopolitical quasi-vacuum. Engagement would depend on the demands and requirements of the relationships between the Western security community – EU, NATO – and its members on the one hand, and the states on the outside on the other, based on both  individual sovereign choices, and the limitations of a new, less favourable 21st-century geopolitics.

Arguably, the beginnings of such a flexible approach are already visible in EU and NATO policies towards former Soviet states;[30] more of the same would possibly be needed to tackle the challenges of this new age, combined with a measure of honesty towards those states aspiring liberal states left outside the Western security community – in the contested spaces ‘in between’. Such candour about the limitations of NATO and EU expansion and the values of strategic patience would, no doubt, be a difficult pill to swallow, but it would also be an open acknowledgment of realities that have, for too long, remained unspoken, leading to unfairly heightened expectations, and inevitably broken promises. Very few in the West see either Georgian or Ukrainian NATO or EU membership as realistic propositions in the short or medium term. Efforts should thus centre on using all instruments of statecraft in favour of stability as a collective interest, rather than expansion as an end in itself, pending a reopened window of opportunity at some indeterminate point in the future. 

Conversely, this emphasis on safeguarding rather than expansion may also require an end to the long-surviving fiction that expressly illiberal states and powers continue to be part of (or a prospective part of) a community of liberal-democratic values. From that perspective, the subversive, reverse-socialising membership of autocratic states like Russia and other ‘illiberals’ in expressly normative, values-centred institutions like the CoE would have to be queried. With the liberal order in crisis, the wisdom of maintaining the membership of clearly anti-liberal states in organisations with the specific aim of supporting and bolstering liberal values – in hope of a Damascene conversion of some sort – appears increasingly counterproductive. Instead of such normative institutions, illiberal states could be engaged with through a redefined OSCE, so-called ‘interstitial institutions’[31] between those of the security community and non-liberal alternatives. For example, the Eurasian Economic Union, or entirely new, ad-hoc frameworks for interaction, that would not require their adherence to democratic norms, but would be limited to a common interest in managing and reducing instability, and reconstructing a ‘thin’ rules-based order adapted to contemporary circumstances.

Thirdly, this institutional reimagining would also have to question the assumed advantages of economic interdependence. The same inside/outside divide between a to-be-safeguarded liberal security community, and the world beyond would have to be reinforced in the wider European political economy. Within the Western security community, again, introspection would likely have to focus on restoring the legitimacy and effectiveness of existing institutions: there would, for instance, have to be a clear re-examination of the unequal distribution of costs and benefits emanating from the grand projects of the previous decades (the Euro, Schengen), lest they reinvigorate populist opponents of a liberal, integrated Europe. Outside of the ‘democratic circle’, geopolitical considerations and demands for reciprocity would have to play a major role in shaping economic links. Again, policies would have to be flexible – but, especially in the case of illiberal powers like Russia, they would have to more explicitly include costs of dependence and corruption in addition to the hitherto assumed benefits of an often distorted ‘interdependence’ in their calculations. The assumption that unencumbered trade is the norm, and that any diversions from this are ‘sanctions’ would have to be discarded. Outside a narrow circle of trust afforded to fellow liberal states, a collective delineation of interest and security would have to govern, and, if required, limit, economic interaction. In what is no more than the adoption of a stance reciprocal to that seen in statist, illiberal entities like Russia.

I shall conclude with a few important caveats: the above should be seen as a highly speculative reimagining of wider Europe’s institutional makeup in light of a trend that will probably continue in the 21st century: a move away of international society’s centre of gravity from the liberal West. This will require a commensurate move away from assumptions made in the hegemonic 1990s, when much of the contemporary institutional infrastructure was shaped. In essence, it accepts the transition from the promise of a Kantian wider Europe – based on democracy, institutions, trade – to one that the great scholar of International Relations, Hedley Bull, referred to as ‘Grotian’; a wider Europe where norms and rules interact with power in often messy ways to nevertheless produce a modicum of ‘International Society’.

The specifics of such a move may turn out different from those touched upon above, but such a Grotian pan-regional order will still, by nature, be far from the heady ideals of ‘Perpetual Peace’ contained in liberal thought. And while many of the institutions that emerged and developed during its heyday will probably survive, they will have to adapt to the more realist logics of a less cosmopolitan age. While such a Kantian system has arguably been established in Western, Central and part of Eastern Europe, it remains elusive in the world beyond: acknowledging this by safeguarding Kantian accomplishments in the core, and toning down one’s ambitions on the outside may be the way forward if the liberal order is to survive, and perhaps revive, in reformed and reinvigorated form.

While this reinforcement of the Westphalian principle of ‘cuius rex, eius religio’ outside a well-defined liberal security community implies a ‘thinning’ of the institutions outside that core, it also makes the coherence more important: the call for introspection emerges from that concern. Challenges like the Trump presidency, Brexit, populism – all of which will probably reverberate far beyond 2019 – will have to be tackled with the strategic coherence of that core in mind; by addressing the underlying internal factors driving the current societal malaise in the West, including the de-legitimation of domestic political institutions; and a skewed political economy working for a small, privileged minority. Failing that, if the core falls, and centrifugal forces take over, all bets – including those formulated above – will be off.

Photo by Alexrk2, published under Creative Commons with no changes made.

[1] Within the context of this paper, ‘liberal’ and ‘liberalism’ refer to the ideologies underlying the global and regional orders established under US hegemony following 1945 and consolidated after 1991; these were defined by Ikenberry as being based on ‘open markets, international institutions, cooperative security, democratic community, progressive change, collective problem solving, shared sovereignty, the rule of law’ – principles also underlying ‘wider Europe’s’ post-Cold war regional order. See: Ikenberry GJ. (2012) Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order: Princeton University Press.

[2] NATO. 2019. Cyber Defence [Online]. Brussels: NATO. Available:, COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION 2017. Council conclusions on the Implementation of the Joint Declaration by the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission and the Secretary General of the NATO. Brussels: European Union,.

[3] TEBIN, P. 2018. No Peace – No War: the Future of the Russia-NATO Relationship, Brussels, European Leadership Network, SELIGMAN, L. & GRAMER, R. 2019. What Does the Demise of the INF Treaty Mean for Nuclear Arms Control? Foreign Policy.

[4] BULLOUGH, O. 2018. How Britain Let Russia Hide Its Dirty Money. The Guardian, 25 May, RYBACKI, P. 2019. Nord Stream 2: Russia’s Geopolitical Trap. Harvard Political Review.

[5] CSS – ETH ZÜRICH & GENEVA CENTRE FOR THE DEMOCRATIC CONTROL OF ARMED FORCES 2017. Empowering the OSCE in Challenging Times: Reflections and Recommendations. OSCE Focus 2017. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.

[6] DZEHTSIARIOU, K. 6 November 2018. Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Dilemma of Continuing or Ceasing Russian Membership in the Council of Europe. Verfassungsblog: On Matters Constitutional [Online]. Available from:

[7] IKENBERRY, G. J. 2018. The End of Liberal International Order? International Affairs, 94, 7-23.

[8] Buzan B and Schouenborg L. (2018) Global International Society: a New Framework for Analysis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Cooley A and Nexon D. (2020, forthcoming) Exit from Hegemony: the Unraveling of the American Global Order, Oxford: Oxford University Press; Walt SM. (2018) The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[9] HABERMAS, J. 1998. The European Nation-State: On the Past and Future of Sovereignty and Citizenship. Public culture, 10, 397-416.

[10] NICOLAÏDIS, K. 2004. “We, the Peoples of Europe …”. Foreign Affairs, 83, 97-110.

[11] SAROTTE, M. E. 2019. How to Enlarge NATO: the Debate Inside the Clinton Administration, 1993-95. International Security, 44, 7-41.

[12] FLOCKHART, T. 2004. ‘Masters and Novices’: Socialization and Social Learning through the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. International Relations, 18, 361-380, MANNERS, I. 2002. Normative Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms? Journal of Common Market Studies, 40, 235-258, FLOCKHART, T. (ed.) 2005. Socializing Democratic Norms: the Role of International Organizations for the Construction of Europe, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

[13] JOVANOVIĆ, M. N. 2013. The Economics of European Integration, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar.

[14] Technical  Assistance to the Commonwealth of  Independent States and Georgia

[15] EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT. 2019. The Enlargement of the Union [Online]. Brussels: European Parliament. Available:, EUROPEAN COMMISSION 2007. Communication from the Commission: A Strong European Neighbourhood Policy. Brussels: European Union

[16] WEEDE, E. 2004. The Diffusion of Prosperity and Peace by Globalization. The Independent Review, 9, 165-186, PLATTNER, M. F. & SMOLAR, A. (eds.) 2000. Globalization, Power, and Democracy, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

[17] BURAS, P. 2018. Poland, Hungary, and the Slipping Façade of Democracy [Online]. London: ECFR. Available:, MCCOY, J., RAHMAN, T. & SOMER, M. 2018. Polarization and the global crisis of democracy: Common patterns, dynamics, and pernicious consequences for democratic polities. American Behavioral Scientist, 62, 16-42.

[18] HUTCHESON, D. & KOROSTELEVA, E. A. (eds.) 2017. The Quality of Democracy in Post-Communist Europe, London: Routledge.

[19] The importance of these shared norms is pointed at by constructivist explanations of the ‘democratic peace’, including: RISSE-KAPPEN, T. 1995. Democratic Peace – Warlike Democracies: A Social Constructivist Interpretation of the Liberal Argument. European Journal of International Relations, 1, 491-517, OWEN, J. M. 1994. How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace. International Security, 19, 87-125.

[20] SØRENSEN, G. 2016. Cultural Challenges to the Liberal World Order. In: BÖSS, M. (ed.) Bringing Culture Back In: Human Security and Social Trust. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.

[21] HUG, A. (ed.) 2016. Institutionally Blind? International Organisations and Human Rights Abuses in the Former Soviet Union, London: Foreign Policy Centre.

[22] ROBINSON, T. & SMITH, B. 2018. Russia and the Council fof Europe. London: House of Commons Library.

[23] GOWAN, R. 2018. Muddling Through to 2030: The Long Decline of International Security Cooperation [Online]. New York: United Nations University. Available:, FOROUGHI, P. & MUKHTOROVA, U. 2017. Helsinki’s Counterintuitive Effect? OSCE/ODIHR’s Election Observation Missions and Solidification of Virtual Democracy in Post-Communist Central Asia: the Case of Tajikistan, 2000–2013. Central Asian Survey, 36, 373-390.

[24] SAROTTE, M. E. 2019. How to Enlarge NATO: the Debate Inside the Clinton Administration, 1993-95. International Security, 44, 7-41, MARTEN, K. 2017. Reconsidering NATO Expansion: a Counterfactual Analysis of Russia and the West in the 1990s. European Journal of International Security, 3, 135-161.

[25] DE ANGELIS, G. 2017. Political Legitimacy and the European Crisis: Analysis of a Faltering Project. European Politics and Society, 18, 291-300.

[26] BARTHOLOMEUSZ, J. 2017. Juncker’s White Paper Has the Answers – and That is the Great Tragedy [Online]. Brussels: Heinrich Böll Stiftung. Available:

[27] POPŁAVSKI, K. 2016. German Energy Companies Lobby for Nord Stream 2 [Online]. Warsaw: OSW. Available:, S.N. 2018. The Government May Want Oligarchs Out but It Can’t Bank on City Sanctions. The Guardian, 15 April.

[28] DEMPSEY, J. 2018. NATO’s Relevance [Online]. Brussels: Carnegie Europe. Available:

[29] Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

[30] FURNESS, M. & SCHÄFER, I. 2015. The 2015 European Neighbourhood Policy Review: More Realism, Less Ambition. Bonn: German Development Institute.

[31] THE GB TEAM. 2019. Considerations on Global Governance [Online]. Global Brief. Available:

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