Asia towards resilient peace
(Jeju Peace Forum 30th May 2019)
Keynote by Dr. Heinz Fischer
It is a great honour and pleasure for me to be invited to the Jeju Peace Forum 2019 and – coming from Austria – to contribute to the topic of “Asia Towards resilient peace” from a European perspective.
- What led to resilient peace in Europe in the last decades?
- And what were some of the major lessons learnt?
Dear distinguished participants,
I want to focus on three main lessons here today:
First lesson – balanced cooperation between adversaries at eye-level,
Second lesson – economic collaboration with a shared plan and goal,
Third lesson – upholding of the generally accepted international treaty regime.
Let me elaborate / by quickly looking back / on historic developments that led to these lessons in Europe.
After the French Revolution the turbulence of the Napoleonic wars had troubled Europe. However, in 1815 the Congress of Vienna developed a new system of European balance of power between Great Britain, France, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and Russia. This balance lasted for almost 100 years and it is Prof. Henry Kissinger who very often describes this balance of power in his books as an example of resilient and lasting peace. This lesson is still useful for today’s challenges. /
Power needs balancing power at eye-level in the essence of Kissinger’s strategic thinking.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the destructive powers of selfish nationalism in central Europe became stronger and stronger. The consequence was the outbreak of World War 1: Central European powers against the coalition of Great Britain, France, Russia and –in the last phase of the war– the United States.
The central European powers lost the war.
Russia was transformed into the Soviet Union, going its own way under the regime of Stalin. And the Peace Treaties from 1919 were dictated rather than negotiated. Regimes acted on the premise of “winners- and losers”- those that could dictate and those that had to obey. This was contributing to inflaming and initiating strong nationalistic feelings, in particular through the Nazi movement in Germany and similar movements in other European countries.
Only 20 years after the end of World War 1, the Second World War started.
But, after World War 2, several lessons from history were learned by the participating nations. Roosevelt, Churchill, de Gaulle and other leaders did not make the mistakes of 1918 and 1919 again.
Democracy, human rights and a new understanding of lasting peace became leading principles after World War 2.
The dominating new idea was that economic cooperation between former enemies, in particular between Germany and France, should be so strong, that political cooperation becomes a necessary consequence and war becomes impossible.
This was the basis for the European integration.
A second element of post war peace policy was the Marshall Plan, which built Europe up after the Second World War and evidently also helped the United States to achieve its geostrategic and economic positioning- it was a win-win situation for former adversaries. Economic cooperation makes political cooperation easier.
And the third lesson was to secure all of this by a generally accepted international treaty regime.
International treaties and institutions secured trust and displayed good will for political and economic cooperation.
The most important institution was, and still is, the United Nations, which was created in 1945, followed by the Council of Europe, created in 1949.
The treaty of Rome in 1957 was giving the European integration an institutional framework.
A big problem after 1945 was the contradiction and even antagonism between the so-called East and West, namely between the Soviet Union and its allies and the United States and its allies. One could also say, between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
The establishment of the OSCE in 1973, which today counts 57 Member States from Europe, Asia and North America, was designed for a global security dialogue, but in fact didn’t prove to be strong enough.
It was a dangerous period, but both sides tried to limit the risk of war.
Willy Brandt, the German prime minister in the 1970’s, decorated with the Nobel Peace Prize, whom I personally appreciated very much, once said: “Peace is not everything, but everything is nothing without peace”.
In my opinion, he is right. The collapse of the communist system in Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, again changed the situation. European integration was successfully developing. Many countries under communist dictatorships changed to more democratic systems and East and West Germany were united again peacefully.
Unfortunately, the peak of these positive developments was reached at the turn to the 21st century – at least from a European point of view.
A worldwide financial crisis was producing economic and political tensions and problems.
The political climate and stability started to change and to deteriorate. The extension of NATO to the Russian border was, in my opinion, not a very wise decision.
Egoistic and nationalistic tendencies were growing.
In the United States President Trump is to this day the inglorious proponent of the “my country first” policy, antagonistic to the lessons we had already learned in the past. The future lies in collaboration – not in confrontation.
In addition, the elections of the European Parliament last Sunday (26 May) have produced significant changes, and shifting seats and more influence from the center to the nationalistic right.
Are these European lessons also relevant for Asia?
I think, all of the lessons are global ones. Therefore, my conclusions are:
First – never give up on striving for balanced cooperation of adversaries at eye-level,
Only if one seeks cooperation instead of confrontation major challenges can be overcome. Europe unified when die adversaries Germany and France intertwined their war-related sectors of the economy.
Second – aim for collaboration with a shared plan and goal,
The United Nations has given the global community a solid plan for the future of our planet. It is the Sustainable Development Goals which can be also seen as a global plan for governing; at least as the closest shared compromise that we currently have as international community.
Third – everyone need to do the utmost to uphold the generally accepted international treaty regime.
Only in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect for agreements, the global community will succeed to find the necessary balanced solutions to varying interest.
In my opinion, the decision of President Trump to withdraw from the INF, from the Paris Climate Agreement and from the Joint Comprehension Plan of Action with Iran in my mind is the opposite of wise decisions because it is destroying trust in international agreements. This makes the very difficult negotiations with North Korea on nuclear disarmament even more difficult.
In my opinion, we have learned a lot from the dramatic history of the 20th century, but it seems that on the other hand, we just begin to forget some of the important lessons of our history.
Now it is our responsibility to make sure those lessons remain guiding principles for a peaceful future. At the same time, new ideas must be implemented in our actions in order to master the problems of the next generation.
Photo: Jeju Forum