Nordic Security in the 1990s: Redefining the Problem – A Sceptical Contribution

Nordic Security in the 1990s:   Redefining the Problem – A Sceptical Contribution

By Jan Oberg

November 7, 2019

2019 Introduction

The text below is 27 years old, written from 1992. It was the last chapter in a book edited by Jan Oberg, Nordic Security In the 1990s. Options In The Changing Europe (Pinter Publishers & TFF, London/Lund, 1992, 325 pages).

In other words, it was written shortly after the euphoria/Europhoria created by the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, and the revolutionary changes in the Eastern system that ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991.

A group of international scholars had been gathered by TFF to create this project through extensive discussion and then put it all into book form. They were Håkan Wiberg, Ole Wæver, Pertti Joenniemi, Barry Buzan, Johan Galtung, Clive Archer, Jyrki Käkönen, Sverre Lodgaard and, as mentioned, Jan Oberg.

You may read more about it on Goodreads – where you may also see where you may – still – be able to buy a copy of it.

The rather sceptical scenario about the West’s inability to, or lack of interest in, carrying through substantial reforms and not just build organisational frameworks – the EC into the EU in particular – is elaborated on in two smaller books that Jan Oberg wrote later about the EU as an actor for peace – more about that here and in this publication, Does the European Union Promote Peace?

Peace dividend and the end of the Cold War: Excuse me, but?

There was much talk about a ‘peace dividend’ after the Cold War came to an end, but this period has witnessed no grand aid schemes to help those in need, whether in the Eastern bloc, the Third World or in the poorer regions of the Western hemisphere.

The Soviet Union carried through unilateral transarmament, withdrew from Afghanistan, and dissolved its empire and the Warsaw Pact. Major reforms were carried through in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country from 1985 to 1991. The majority of NATO nations have reduced their military budgets too and most arms export markets are shrinking. This is all true and good.

But we still live with militarism, nuclearism, deterrence strategies, the Star Wars project, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and interventionism. Every day some ten wars rage worldwide, now also in the heart of Europe, in former Yugoslavia.

There has been no peace dividend and little genuinely ‘new thinking’ outside the Eastern bloc. What Mikhail Gorbachev got in return for his setting in motion what could well be the largest historical experiment this century, was a reunited Germany, a revived West European Union, a new intervention force under NATO, ever-increasing demands from the West as preconditions for economic aid – that never really materialized, the last chance probably being the G-7 meeting in London just a few weeks before the disastrous coup attempt in Moscow.

Instead, the West has celebrated its so-called ‘victory’ in the Cold War and the demise of socialism. The West chose to interpret socialism or Marxism as 100% bad or false and, as a consequence, capitalism, the market and liberalism as 100% good, following a primitive specious logic: if they failed, we must be a success; if their system was wrong, ours must be right!

Little has changed at a deeper level. Soul-searching is not in a characteristic of winners. Take, for example, the perception of national interests. Some see them best served by independence, others by integration into federal or union formations. Local, national or regional considerations take precedence over urgent global needs and problem-solving. There is a new search for ‘identities’ – local, national or European. Humankind, however, is not a reference point of those identities, although we all share in the fate of the Earth.

The economic and military concerns of societies and the international community take precedence over ethical, ecological, cultural and non-violent concerns. Concepts of power, economic growth and underlying Westernness have changed only marginally, if at all. We still belong to the First World.

Thus, if we define the problem in terms of culture, mentality and worldview, the Cold War is not over. The West is preserving the code and will be able, within months, to find a substitute for communism and the Warsaw Pact. Cold wars do not derive their energies from having one permanent enemy image only; enemies may come and go. The day before it was Japan or the Chinese ‘yellow peril,’ yesterday it was the Soviet Union and its allies. Tomorrow?

Among the candidates, old and new, I could imagine Libya (again), Iraq (continued), Cuba (as usual); there could be a civilizational conflict between Christian capitalist ‘enlightenment’ on the one hand, and Islamic feudal ’fundamentalism’, on the other. The contemporary foundation was laid during the oil crisis in the early 1970s, but the historical roots are centuries old and very firm. Furthermore, the focus could be some new state or union of states in the former Soviet Union – for instance, a nuclear-based, authoritarian nationalist-fascist/socialist formation in some of the ethnic trouble spots along the borders between the former union and its Muslim neighbours. Yet another could be North Korea or, in the economic field taking a long-term perspective, Japan and the growing economies of the Pacific.

Finally, the Cold War that ended was the one between the East and the West in the European-Atlantic sphere. The Cold War on the Eastern, Oriental wing did not end – the structures created by the Second World War have far from disappeared, although rapid progress is seen in the relations between the two Koreas.

New projects or old projects?

‘Europe’ is a strange term. As schoolchildren we learned that Europe stretched from the Arctic to the coasts of Northern Africa. In some sense, Swedes have always belonged to Europe, we would say, but they themselves talk now enthusiastically about becoming ‘members of Europe.’

Becoming part – or a member – of ‘Europe’ has a ring of the inevitable. This ‘Europe’ is the European Community, EC, striving to become a European Union and, consequently, a ‘United States of Europe.’ The founding fathers had that dream; the fathers of the ‘New Europe’ today have that vision and the designation was used in, e.g., Chancellor Kohl’s CDU Dresden Manifest of December 1991.

In a simple sense, it is an old project. For decades, the EC suffered from ‘Euro-sclerosis,’ from a top-heavy bureaucracy occupied mainly with agricultural sector problems and fighting ’mountains ‘ of meat butter and cereals. Suddenly, it gained attention from all sides, and even proud and independent-minded countries like Sweden switched attitudes overnight and said: It is either Brussels or the Stone Age. What had happened?

Nothing happened within the EC itself. True, a step-by-step process had taken place involving, among other things, direct elections to the European Parliament, the Single European Act and the Maastricht results. But the trigger was, again, Mikhail Gorbachev with his vision of a reformed, Europe-oriented Soviet Union, the ‘Sinatra doctrine’ for the former allies, his insistence on introducing the market economy and cooperating with all his neighbours from China to Norway – all summed up in the catchy concept of a ‘new European home’ related to a reformed United Nations. Gorbachev gave Europe, the EC, a new sense of purpose and addressed the regions, too – the Nordic countries in the Murmansk and Helsinki speeches.

In another, deeper, sense it is also an old project.

Neither the empire nor the union which integrates and harmonizes millions, not to mention the superpower, are fundamentally new ideas. They drive on ‘grandeur,’ sheer bigness and verticality, on being isomorphic with supranational economic trends of modern capitalism and transmitting a sense of ‘modernity’ and civilizing zeal.

Their basic philosophy is this: many actors face a lot of somewhat similar problems that they cannot solve individually. They have been created by themselves and by the accumulated consequences of their collective actions over a long period. To solve them we do not need a horizontal structure for consultation, coordination and cooperation that aims to preserve diversity and develop unity. What we need is a transnational, vertical, centralized top-down leadership which, in order to function effectively, must imply increasing unity at the cost of diversity. And, of course, it is all possible only if there is an out-group- a ‘they’ or ‘the others’ – who can be exploited or marginalized.

Inevitability is evident in this reasoning. Goal rationality, to use Max Weber’s term is far more important than value rationality. The important thing is to get all the actors to act in unison – ‘speak with one voice’ – and to have goals and purposes (among them the building of the Organization itself) that guide the activity. Whether there was and remains a correspondence between the goals and the means – let us say, between the problems Europe must solve and the setting up of the European Union – increasingly becomes an irrelevant issue. Rationality becomes, simply, everything that furthers the goal of building a Eurocentric organization and sentiments that embody the optimum satisfaction of as many members as possible.

No doubt, most people today see the EC as the answer. ‘If we do not join it fully and unconditionally we will be left behind and only through this type of organization can our large common problems find their solution,’ it is argued. A sceptic – and sceptics there must be in this Europe whose identity is historically infused with scepticism, doubt and self-criticism – would probably ask: if the EC is the answer, what was the question? If it is the solution, what are the problems it is likely to solve?

Value rationality would not give priority to organization and form but to content and values. It would ask first: what norms and values are more important to further? What is productive thinking and action with respect to the realization of these values? If Europe had started out there, is it so self-evident that it would have formed the EC as ‘the answer’? One does not have to be ‘anti-EC’ to raise that question, just a curious sociologist, or anthropologist or ethicist.

The EC is an old project. It builds on old European virtues such as modernity (whatever that actually is), materialism, science and technology, a vertical, contract-based dream of imperial peace among ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ it builds on faith, knowledge, enlightenment – and on historically unique brutality against and arrogance vis-a-vis other cultures. And it builds on dialogue among its own members.

Thus, everybody is inevitably knocking on the door but not to sell something, rather get something. With exclusivity, power becomes the ability to hand out membership cards to those who meet the criteria set up by the club management.

All this is now questioned by a larger non-European world ascending to power. It is only partly infused with European values and has a historical memory (some would call it a traumatic memory) of what Europe did – e.g. in India, China, America, the Middle East and Africa during the last 500 to 800 years. In the year 2010, ‘Europe’ – the present EC – will make up 3% of the world’s population and we are already less than 5% of the Earth’s land.

If there is one European value that will not be self-evident in tomorrow’s world, it is that of universalizing European values. The fascination the Japanese seem to have with Mozart, French cuisine, Italian design or German social engineering should not be confused with the universalization of European values. True, many parts of the world – particularly the centres of the peripheries – have adapted, assimilated, been curious about Europe.

But having European values imposed, being bullied because they don’t think like Westerners and Christians because they don’t have multi-party systems or respect for human rights the way European-based law and ethics expect them to, is no proof of the inevitability of universalization of European values.

The EC is – at least, also – a protective shield in an increasingly non-European world, a world in which European virtues such as hard work, economic growth, cultural diversity, principled ethics, devotion to religious and other life-values are increasingly found outside Europe. We find them in much richer variation because they have been shaped there through dialogue with Europe, imprinted with European values, but they have retained at least something of their own identity. Europe itself, on the other hand, has not received – or been receptive to – any major non-European cultural dynamics.

Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union also struggle to revive old projects. While we in the West struggle to revive the old supranational federation with imperial sentiments, in the East they dissolve the old federations, as in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, and assert their national identities. And while it is believed in EC Europe – also by many in this book – that the counter stream to EC will be the re-linking of regions, the counter stream in the Eastern bloc seems to be re-linking the nations to new (con-)federative structures or a new union replacing the Soviet Union while in Eastern Europe people look to the EC with their newly-acquired national identities.

The founding fathers of the new union, or commonwealth, in Minsk proclaim that their project is the sine qua non of solving their problems. In this, they resemble their fellow union-builders in Brussels and Maastricht. We are supposed to believe that the content is new because the form is. Whether things have really changed remains to be seen. It is not self-evident that these gigantic organizational transformations are the most appropriate means to achieve viable solutions to the real problems of either Europe, now or in the future. Neither can we take for granted that they will not create new problems.

Politics or the market: The risk of over-extension

Admittedly, most of the world is in a mess by the early 1990s. The responsibility for managing enormously complex and gigantic social systems is increasingly placed in the hands of the few – be it Yeltsin, Kravtchuk, Delors, Kohl or Bush. The systems are now so big that definitions of democracy will have to be stretched and twisted. First, accountability to citizens of power elites and decision procedures become increasingly difficult.

Second, the knowledge each citizen commands about the central issues and their implications diminishes in proportion to the wealth of information. According to opinion polls from December 1991, 63% of the Swedes find it very difficult to take a stand on EC issues although they find the information they get from the media reliable and sufficient.

Under circumstances such as these the market becomes politically attractive. When we let the market take care of society’s functions, way beyond the economic sphere, we diffuse our responsibilities – not to speak of the civilizationally regressive effects of turning deeply human, social and cultural values over to the market.

The market and democratic societies are supposed to go hand in hand. Could it be that the market undermines democratic politics, particularly when introduced ad absurdum, not as an instrument but as an ideological goal? With the demise of socialism, market forces gain strength as a social myth and as a technocratic tool. The myth says that Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ will optimize the satisfaction of all people and their ‘utility functions.’ In and of itself it plays the role of God – the invisible regulator making everything good if only we have faith in it.

However, the free market does not exist, except perhaps at the local market squares where we buy our vegetables, cheese and flowers. But that is no problem because the political function of ‘the free market’ is not to be a market but to serve as a hidden ideological glue in an era marked by junk academia that seriously discusses whether ideology and history is dead or not.

And then what? Winning or changing too?

So, there is a problem. If there is no ‘other’ ideology, what is our own ideology and identity? If everybody wants to become part of what they believe to be a free market in the West, in the world economy, if we are all to become identical economic players in one single world system – what is the use of dialogue? What is the point of conducting an ethics-based or value-oriented debate when the market proliferates horizontally to virtually all countries, when old economies disappear and no new ones appear and when the market penetrates vertically down in every fibre of our society and every corner of our living? A monologising Europe, Europe the Inevitable, Europe the Market, the Union, the Europe that speaks with One Voice is all we need.

If this trend continues much longer, European citizens will be faced with the choice between democracy/politics and markets/economism. This is, indeed, a paradox, and in Europe of all places, the cradle of democracy. Letting the market take over, as a matter of inevitability, is to give up politics and the value-based human community.

Another type of over-extension or overloading is now becoming evident. Directly and indirectly, the West Europeans have caused ever-rising expectations with the peoples of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and the poorer EC regions. The only economic system possible was their free market and high-productivity industries pouring out plenty of consumer goods and providing social services, all supported by effective financial institutions and social policies.

A finance minister of the FRG in the 1990s was of the opinion that a fraction of Germany’s economic growth surplus would be more than enough to finance the increase to FRG levels of the GDR sisters and brothers.

The dreams were not fulfilled and they will not be in the foreseeable future. Even Germany’s strong economy is heavily burdened with the re- unification process and living conditions have turned to the worse all over the Eastern bloc where people just one year ago happily embraced Chancellor Kohl. There has been much rhetoric but no substantial ‘Marshall-like’ aid programmes or transfer of needed resources, technology, etc. The West tells its fellow-Europeans that, at least in the short run, everything will have to get even worse before they can get better. But in the long run?

It is highly doubtful that the EC ever will be able to meet the rising expectations, expectations that were developed in the shadow of the victor’s self-congratulatory manners. What they are told in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, now that things are worse than they ever were under the old system, is that they will have to endure much more hardship before they can achieve higher living standards. But for how long, with what frustrations – and could it ever result in anything but second-class citizenry in the New Europe?

New conflict formations


The new Europe embodies a dream of peace. By 1991, however, one may argue that it is heading for a variety of new conflicts. There is the trend, already visible, towards a First Europe (Maastricht, Brussels, Strasbourg), a Second Europe (around the Mediterranean), a Third Europe (Eastern Europe and the Balkans) and a Fourth Europe (Minsk, Moscow, St. Petersburg).

Second, there is the social upheaval and human rights violations in former communists countries, predominantly against former communists (Czechoslovakia, Eastern Germany, Baltic States); there are nationalist and ethnocratic policies (in some of the mentioned plus, e.g., Croatia and Serbia) and there are problems of minorities in almost all EC countries. Nuclear weapons and arsenals of former federations are escaping control; nazism, anti-Semitism, xenophobic sentiments rear their ugly heads again, both in the East and in the West.

A hole in the wall – a piece of contemporary world history

Third, there are about 20 million unemployed within the EC alone. With the majority of peoples in this four-layer Europe, democratic procedures are not that well-established. Free elections and multi-party systems have brought many to power who, yesteryear, were not exactly known for their liberalism or internationalism. They thrive on nationalism, chauvinism and on age-old psycho-political animosity directed against other nationalities.

Changing forms may, indeed, be a necessity when contents undergo change and problems must be solved. In processes we witnessed in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union during 1991, few had concrete workable programmes or plans with which to fill the new structures. Old unions can be dissolved and new ones proclaimed in their place, but it was not self-evident why the new structures were totally superior when it comes to finding solutions to the problems.

As our need for effective conflict-resolution increases, the need for weapons will decrease. But neither the remaining superpower nor the newly born nation-states are likely to be the first candidates to practise non-violence or mediation, provide negotiation forums or conflict mitigation.

EC polices vis-a-vis the Gulf War and the war in Croatia indicate how far statesmen still are from understanding conflicts or helping bring abut solutions without getting involved. The EC has no procedures, no statutes or UN-like charter, no experience and no troops for peace-keeping. The consistently inconsistent efforts of member states probably undermined the efforts of the EC-appointed mediator, Lord Carrington.

The fact that these first major EC conflict-mediation attempts were a failure has been used as an argument for further integration of the community; it is said that to prove that there is a need to speak more determinedly with one voice. Indeed, it has also served as an argument for recognising Croatia and Slovenia as independent states. Again, the organisation is seen as the problem – not the lack of understanding of conflict structures and history in former Yugoslavia or what conflict-resolution (mediation) is actually about.

Neither can one seriously argue that the EC has been particularly responsive to the changes in the Soviet Union during the last 5-6 years. ’We could not have foreseen it,’ everybody says about perestroika and glasnost. The same may also be said about the dissolution of the Soviet Union and what follows from that. However, reacting only will not suffice in the troublesome future of this new Europe. Turning inward, like in Maastricht – where it looked as though England’s industrial and labour relations were the most important issue of all – while neighbouring countries go through potentially very dangerous processes – appears puzzling even now, and I believe it will be even more so to historians in the future.

The new Europe is overloaded with security organizations of the past such as NATO, the West European Union (WEU) and the CSCE (a process fit to soften and stabilize the consequences of the old bloc-Europe, but one that deserves a boost now), and outdated strategies of deterrence and national defence. Little is in the making for future tasks – early warning, conflict-control, war-prevention, conflict-resolution, non-violence, alternative defensive defence, ecological security; emergency relief aid – not to mention inter-cultural dialogue.

Imagine that ‘Minsk Europe’ and ‘Maastricht Europe’ develop into empires. What will their internal conflict structures and cooperation structures be like? And will they have exclusively friendly relations with each other or will we see some kind of new (old) bloc structure re-emerge? Just as there are certain layers in the West, layers can also be discerned in the new union/commonwealth arrangements in Minsk.

Thus, Russia, the Ukraine, Belorussia, the founding members make the centre. Within that, the western part of Russia is the centre and Siberia the periphery full of natural resources. These three command 73% of the people in the former Soviet Union, 80% of the Gross Domestic Product, 74% of the agricultural output, 89% of the foreign exports and more than 90% of the oil.

Depending on indicators, one can imagine various rank orders. If we choose economic and industrial potential it would probably look like this: Russia, Ukraine, Georgia as ‘First Class,’ Belorussia, Kazakhstan, Moldavia,, Armenia and Azerbaijan as ‘Second Class,’ and Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kirghizia and Tadzhikistan as ‘Third Class.’ With other indicators, e.g., the possession of nuclear weapons, the rank order will look different. And then there are other structures such as nationality and religion, more or less overlapping.

At the time of the creation of this commonwealth, in December 1991, we did not know what the peace-keeping modes of operation or organization would be in such an empire. The control of nuclear forces and warheads was far from the only problem.

It is difficult to see what is actually new in ‘new Europe’ in these respects. It is not very reassuring that we seem to be unable to find any genuinely new approach anywhere to security, defence, war-prevention or conflict-resolution in what could well be a quagmire of conflicts, new and old, throughout the continent.

Contradictions everywhere

Unity in Diversity or Uniformity

Europeans believe that one-party political systems invariably lead to dictatorship, no matter the time, space or culture. As we know this thesis has wide empirical support. We prefer the pluralism of more parties or at least two as in the United States. We want free choice.

But not so when it comes to choosing one’s own path or when it comes to the economy. Freedom of choice is incompatible with the inevitability of our times. Where there is only one way and one system, there is not a real choice. The public debate in Sweden 1989-91 is an excellent illustration of this dilemma.

In economics, too, uniformity is preached; each and everybody should preferably confess their faith in the free market, in liberalization, privatization, economic growth, freedom of movement for people, services, goods and capital, the division of labour, global sourcing and interdependence. National economics is the queen of university disciplines although national economies hardly exist any more.

The EC opts for one Central Bank and one currency from 1999. No ‘unity in diversity’ survives – an otherwise deeply European philosophical principle. Uniformity and standardization in a one-economy world system is rewarded. Integrate, marketize – or perish! Obviously, all this contradicts common sense derived from what we know about social and ecological systems. Simply, if one central element in this one system malfunctions, everybody will be drawn in and down. Economic mono-cultures are fragile, but look strong because of their universal appearance. And some subsystem somewhere will always fail, sometime.

This could well be a profound reason why capitalism has not been very eager to get involved in the Soviet Union. Getting stuck there, sucked into a project too large – and fundamentally different from exploiting already structurally underdeveloped Third World peoples – could be suicidal for the problem-ridden world capitalism. Japanese capitalism is much stronger, but they have their reasons for not engaging themselves (yet?) in the Soviet Union – perhaps waiting for the West to build the infrastructure after which they will enter the market for consumer goods.

In summary, combine unity in uniformity with this Zeitgeist of inevitability – ‘there is only one organization, one goal, one way and we have to be there’, add to it ever-growing units and centralizing materialism in an increasingly non-European world – and we have something to which a professional peace researcher and politician would – inevitably! – react with deep concern.

Universal but Only for the Few

What millions cannot have, we should not have,’ Gandhi once said. What he meant was that societies ought not strive for such levels of material welfare or use such means to achieve it that others were prevented from attaining their Welfare goals.

A quick glance in the serious global reports about the developmental and environmental ‘state of the Earth’ offers all necessary and sufficient evidence that the global system would break down should 5.3 billion people try to achieve living standards comparable with those now found to be ’natural’ in Europe and other OECD countries. Six to eight more globes would be needed. EC Europe is only possible as long as others do not act like Europeans. To illustrate, there are now 400 million cars on Earth, owned by only 8% of the people. What would happen if the remaining 92% insisted on having and using cars like we do?

The deeply moral dilemma we are driving at here is this: can we tell our brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union not to aspire for living standards such as ours? Are we morally equipped to argue that it leads to environmental decay, is built on the exploitation of peoples in the peripheries and creates new diseases and human alienation – and continue living like we do here? Can we tell them that they can become part of our system and reach our levels within some decades – knowing full well that the carrying capacity of the Earth will probably be impaired if they did?

Some may see the EC as the answer, but it is not the answer to dilemmas such as these. The EC as an idea appeals to nations, states and regions, to capital, goods and services, but certainly not to the world or global community, not to humankind. In this sense, it is exclusivist (‘a rich men’s club’), parochial.

The historic EC as well as this new Europe, has an anti-Eastern foundation. It is rather ignorant of this Eastern bloc now (history, I think will judge Maastricht as an almost autistic exercize, EC domestic policies with no relevance whatsoever to the larger world). It is an effort to assert itself vis-a-vis the United States, it is strongly anti-Japanese and ignorant about the Third World beyond its own economic interests. In civilizational terms, it could be seen as an attempt to make possible in the short run what will be impossible in the long run, namely limitless material growth and self-assertive Westernness.

Only if we in Western Europe are also willing to go through a paradigmatic and systematic transformation of our system and cooperate with the emerging new formations elsewhere, can we hope to solve the dilemma above.

In this paradoxical sense, we Western Europeans need the reformed Eastern Europe and new actors in the East. Not their old system, but neither should they simply take over ours as it is. Together, at this turning point in history, we could create something new together, something compatible with a global common future in a deep sense. But one precondition is that the West deliberately chooses to become less self-assured and more self-critical.

The breakdown in the East is an opportunity for the West. Not for exploitation, but for self-criticism and cooperation. The EC does not point in the direction of true sustainability or optimal, differentiated growth, i.e., growth where needed and stabilization where possible and reduction of luxury production and consumption where extraction, production, consumption and disposal processes cause irreversible damage to people, the environment and other cultures.

New and old identities in the new old Europe

The ‘new Europe’ emerging is not so new. It represents a new organizational form, a new marketing of the old system(s) and its civilizational code. One may actually say that the EC is modelled on Germany with a Central Bank like the Bundesbank, a federal political structure, with a parliament gaining strength and an EC police force like the Bundeskriminalamt. The Europeanized Germany was an important goal; the main way of reaching it seems to be to Germanize the organization of Europe.

New projects are actually often old. Croatia and Slovenia want to become nation-states states, created on the basis of one leading majority nationality, ‘hard’ borders, national defence, currency and centralization. Political energy is tapped in age-old national history, and most peoples in former Yugoslavia base their wish for independent states on history rather than on a vision or a programme pertaining to the future.

Bold step on Rue de la Roi – the Berlaymont Building in the background

The European identity is not in focus to remind us that we are Europeans. We knew and know that that is the case. Rather, it is a concept that helps us cope with the fact that our Europe is a shrinking part of the world, that we have to think in a common European way in order to survive in the larger world. Self-assertion in what is perceived as an increasingly hostile environment is an important driving force in both cases but on a different level.

Where earlier international relations professionals talked about the ‘billiard ball model’, we now see – in this volume too – that the computer with its images and games might be a better metaphor. In the whole debate about the new Europe, there is a question about how Europe can be ‘seen’ or ‘perceived’ or ‘interpreted.’ We tend to see new links, regions, connections, networks and people ‘linking-up’ in new ways.

Perceptions and interpretations are needed. But we must also ask questions about substance: What is it? Who are the actors? What are their motives? About cosmology: What does it mean? About implications: How will it change the future – our own, that of others and that of the globe? In comparison with these questions, perceptional analyses appear non-committal. Metaphors are not reality.

What would be new, instead?

If approached analytically from the point of view of the evolution of human society, it would be something new if the new Europe was built on a vision going fundamentally beyond itself. Just as a local community has to identify with the nation-state of which it is a part, nation-states have to identify with the international system of which they are a part. Part of their identity reaches beyond themselves.

The new Europe seems to identify with some kind of smallest common denominator of ‘European-ness’ – a unity of identification based on harmonization, uniformity and modernity.

For Europeans, it is important in and of itself to be modern, to search for what is new, to be progressive. Sweden since 1945 can be taken as an extreme case with its emphasis on social engineering, tearing up old city centres and building modern environments, making use of the computer, treating social outsiders according to modern educational theory, being very advanced in technology for civilian and military uses and practising old concepts in new ways.

To Sweden, Europe is the new thing. Sweden’s ‘future’ is Europe, not Sweden or the Nordic countries. The trend now is to Europeanize Sweden and – inevitably – to try to Swedify the EC where possible. But Europe is ‘in.’ The way to keep Sweden dynamic is to integrate it as much and as quickly as possible with the new Europe. The train is rolling to Brussels – inevitably.

The change in self-perception is surprising to anyone who cares to see it. During recent decades the Swedes knew they were different, did things better and had their own ideas – cars, neutrality, international solidarity, a welfare model and a mixed economy – following a ‘Third Path,’ not socialist, not capitalist, but in between in Swedish fashion. To be a real Swede today implies to be more European than other Europeans.

Regionalization is often perceived (for instance, by some of the authors in this volume) as a healthy or necessary counter stream, as an exciting dialectic, or as something good surfacing now precisely because supra- nationalization is on the European agenda.

The identification point of regionalization is, however, still ‘Europe.’ Business, towns and cities, citizens and associations of various kinds link up and form regional networks, but they do so within this Europe. Proudly, they hope, they will display plurality – show them there are different ‘ways of being European.’

In other words, they have no identification points beyond the new Europe itself, only within it. In the best of cases, the regions will succeed in their small identity-formation projects and preserve various aspects of plural Europe, but only in ‘low politics’ areas; their only frame of reference will be the ‘Europe where ‘high politics’ take place. In the worst cases, they will become parochial units regressing into folklore and some kind of future cultural zoos where we can observe ‘how we once lived.’

One does not have to be ‘anti-European’ or ‘anti-EC’ to raise such an issue in 1991-92, although I deliberately do it somewhat provocatively here. What I fear is that world events and the breakdown of neighbouring systems could well lead Europe to be more inward-looking and European than ever, much less visionary and experimental than before.

In a civilization sense, the world is closing in on the 3% Europeans. And the EC, in response, is closing itself.

Thus, the new Europe, its regions, supranational institutions will only be new if:
• it manages to go beyond itself in terms of identification and sees itself as an open region of the world community;
• its ‘mind,’ its collective consciousness, is infused with non-European values, and it is receptive in an entirely new manner (in all areas and not only when it comes to different cuisines);
• its organizational form becomes increasingly transnational instead of supranational, i.e., if it embodies fewer references to the nation-states and more to the regions and, at the same time, to the global community.

It is often said that we identify ourselves by being different from others. There is a necessary, logical truth in this. But the other side of the coin is that we have no identity outside the human community, outside values that we share, beyond our shared lives. We are someone because we identify, i.e., we stress contrasts and our individual uniqueness. But we are also someone because we empathize, i.e., we try to understand the position of others and their perceptions of us and we stress our similarities with others, with the larger community.

When we identify we ask: Who am I? When we empathize we ask: Who are they? When we combine these dimensions we get images of both, we get to know them through empathy, through seriously trying to put ourselves in their position and to see how we differ and how we are alike. We learn to see them as they see themselves, we learn to see ourselves as they see us, and we learn more about ourselves – precisely through balancing identification and empathy.

The present ‘Euro-phoria is Europ-centric and grapples only with identity. What we need in today’s world is empathy, from which flows care, reconciliation, compassion, peace, and a willingness to share in conflict-resolution, not win or lose. This goes for the human, political community. At the even higher level, nature – Gaia – could serve as a point of identification-empathy. As a matter of fact, we cannot do without relating to it with empathy.

Norden: Being Nordic in old and new ways

Norden is Europe. Our identity is Northern European. Some of the authors in this book insist that we are different as societies and as security policy actors, that we have survived so well during the Cold War era because we are different to some extent. And some draw the conclusion that the Cold War was the framework within which all this worked out fine, but that now something new will be needed.

What distinguishes Norden within this framework? I would like to believe that it is the Nordic capacity for empathy, for identification beyond ourselves, even beyond our European-ness, reaching the larger world. (1) Many fundamental world order values have been and are practised by the Nordic region – peaceful conflict-resolution, equality of trade, open borders, low militarization, decent welfare for all, etc.

Within the limits of the post-1945 world, the Nordic region practised some alternatives (see Chapter 13 of this book). In small ways – but fairly big ways considering our political size – we acted a little bit as if the Cold War did not exist. We had lively discussions about nuclear freedom in a world shaped by nuclearism. We practised democracy and citizens’ participation in a welfare order which neither the United States nor certainly the Soviet Union ever achieved.

Norden is now – inevitably – being drawn into the new Europe. Sweden, Finland and Norway, soon the Baltic states and – why not? – Iceland will be swept into the EC by the same winds. Our comparative advantage m that process will not be our basic Europeanness, our identity. It will be our empathy, our historical ability to identify with those who are different, our compassion, our environmental consciousness, our humanitarian solidarity with the poor peoples of the Earth. Finally, we are still small and have quite an experience in how to do things a little bit outside the mainstream.

If these qualities are swept away and said to ‘belong only to the Cold War era’, the prospects for Norden in Europe are bleak – for us, for Europe and for those we used to empathize with. Concepts such as the Baltic region or Hansa cooperation point fruitfully in the direction of a ‘new way’ of being European, and may serve as a good substitute for obsolete Nordic ways of coping with the Cold War framework.

But if it develops into a parochial Baltic-centrism, taking its inspiration predominantly from the past (‘Hansa’) and not from the needs and challenges of the future, if it is not infused with new concepts of politics such as defensiveness, non-violence, new economics, self-reliance, the genuine search for the progression of democracy and the balancing of material and other civilizational dimensions, etc. – then, why should we have it? Is that simply ‘the best we can get out of the present situation,’ a compensation for coping with the inevitability of being sucked into ‘Europe’?

The challenge to Norden, whatever its members’ relation to new Europe is this: how do we preserve and offensively develop thinking and policies that give expression to the age-old capacity of Norden to empathize with issues and problems beyond ourselves and even beyond Europe?

Our identity will survive in this Europe because it is part and parcel of it. But will our empathy?

Note
(1) While reproducing this book for The Transnational, I stumbled upon this appreciative review of a book that seems to deal with the concept of Nordic empathy by Lena Rachel Andersen and Thomas Björkman, The Nordic Secret: A European story of beauty and freedom (2017).

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