"The Ukraine Crisis: What's Next for Europe?"

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Faculty and European Leaders Deepen the Debate at the 2014 Summit On The Future of Europe at Harvard

On September 22, 2014 the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES) welcomed a distinguished group of participants at the 2014 Summit on the Future of Europe – a cooperation between CES, the Berggruen Institute on Governance and The WorldPost. The day’s speakers included Carl Bildt, Vuk Jeremić, andMario Monti as well as Mark Blyth, Richard Cooper, Niall Ferguson and Joseph Nye. Below is a summary and select highlights of the proceedings.

Over the course of an off-the-record round table in the morning, a lively debate over lunch, and a public lecture in the afternoon, most participants agreed on three key points:

  • How Europe decides to confront Putin over the Ukraine crisis will shape the continent for years to come.
  • Confronting Putin head-on would require a substantial monetary and military commitment – and may even involve compromising on some core political principles which many Europeans hold dear.
  • Integrating Ukraine into the Western alliance will require a massive restructuring of its economy, and likely cannot be achieved without significant monetary aid from Western and Central Europe.

While most participants agreed on some of the analysis, they vividly disagreed on the best course of action. In Joseph Nye’s terminology (see article “A Western Strategy for a Declining Russia" in Project Syndicate ), the Summit debates crystallized along two axes: the "squeezers" who favored applying serious economic and military pressure on Putin and the "dealers," who advocated for resolving the conflict through negotiation.

The squeezers believed that Putin respects strength more than weakness. They argued that he acts opportunistically, trying to increase Russia's reach when he sees a tactical opening, but that his fundamental position is ultimately weak. The West, they were convinced, can manage Putin's ambitions by demonstrating strength and adopting policies that will weaken his position. But if Europe fails to help Ukraine, it will, as Carl Bildt put the point, face "an even more complicated future."

To confront Putin, Europe will have to make changes that will be deeply controversial on a continent long committed to environmentalism and marked by an aversion to the use of force. The squeezers suggested tough sanctions on Putin; one speaker at the morning session suggested – a little mischievously – that Europe could raise the stakes by sending its own set of "volunteers" to defend Ukraine. Beyond that, the squeezers agreed, European countries would need to beef up their defense budgets; buy LNG terminals; build a pipeline from Spain to France which would make it easier for North African gas to reach large parts of Europe; and re-activate atomic power plants lying idle in Germany .

The dealers, on the other hand, argued that Putin is feeling genuinely threatened by the Eastward expansion of NATO and the EU. They therefore believed that negotiations with Russia could lead to an agreement that will be respected by both sides, and set the stage for easing tensions between Russia and the West. Though they did not foresee Russia's hostility towards the West disappearing anytime soon, they were more optimistic about the country's long-term future: a liberal, economically successful Russia, they argued, will come about – but its arrival is a matter of generations, not years.

This still leaves open the question, put starkly by Graham Allison over lunch, of who Europe would fight for? Mario Monti and Carl Bildt were adamant that Western Europe would uphold its NATO commitments. But whether the West would risk a major confrontation over non-NATO members, like Ukraine, remained an open question. Bildt's observation that the crisis had already succeeded in making half of Europe – the states that had once been under the control of the Soviet Union – increase their defense budget was as eloquent in what it left out: so far, most Western nations have not upped their commitment to military spending. At the same time, Vuk Jeremić's criticism of the West's supposed disregard for Serbian sovereignty highlighted that the countries west of Ukraine have some lingering disagreements of their own to overcome.

Also at lunch, a number of economists sought Monti’s thoughts on Europe’s monetary policy. Monti posited, somewhat humorously, that German economists still regard monetary policy as a branch of moral philosophy: they do not believe in fiscal expansion because sin can only be expiated by atonement. Though Monti defended the need for fiscal discipline, he implicitly criticized such a moralized approach.

Another topic that elicited both agreement about the basic choice set and disagreement about the best course of action was the future of Ukraine itself. All participants agreed that the West could only co-opt the country by promising it a better economic future. But they diverged about how difficult it would be to proffer a real prospective to Ukrainians. Dealers emphasized that Ukraine's economy is in terrible shape, and its government rife with corruption. Squeezers retorted that Ukraine's long-term prospects were excellent thanks to its highly arable land and a long tradition of manufacturing; if Ukraine can access world markets and its politicians carry out the right reforms, they suggested, the country might have a more prosperous future than pessimists predict.