Javier Solana (Madrid, 1942) was Secretary General of NATO (1995-1999) and High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union (1999-2009). He is currently President of the EsadeGeo Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics. From there, he reviews international news marked by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
He says one of the readings he recommends for his students these days is the famous 1962 speech by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the midst of the missile crisis. With his words, he deactivated a nuclear powder keg. The United States did not invade Cuba and withdraw its missiles from Turkey when Moscow promised to dismantle Cuban missiles.
“It is an excellent speech on nuclear war. It must be the philosophy. When we see chaos, war in cyberspace, pandemic or climate change, if we are not able to react, then we will have to cry over the mistakes made,” he says.
– What is your diagnosis on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine?
The first thing to remember is that Russia is not only afraid that there are missiles in Ukraine – which there is not – but that it is an economic part of Europe, because when the agreement agreement between Ukraine and the European Union was negotiated, Russia asked the then President, Viktor Yanukovych, not to sign it. This opened the thunder box and the pro-European Maidan protests in 2014. Moreover, the northeast of Ukraine, where the Donbass is located, is very important for the Russian economy. The main problem was therefore economic. It became a security issue when Russia annexed Crimea. The energy factor also plays into the tension with Russia, because we are moving towards clean energy and at the same time we have a conflict which can make it difficult to transport gas.
– In this context, how should the European Union view its relationship with Russia?
The European Union and Russia are part of the same geographical massif. We don’t have to cross the Atlantic. We have a physical border, which must be well defended, but there are no miles of water separating us. Russia and the European Union are, in quotation marks, the same territory. Therefore, I think the relationship must be good. And it was. It was during German reunification. But the breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of the 20th century was a blast. When the USSR existed, the EU was very weak, whereas in the middle of the 21st century, the EU has united and is compact. This is the big change.
-How was this change handled?
When the historic agreement between Russia and the Alliance was negotiated in 1997 [Solana era entonces el secretario general de la OTAN] It looked like progress was going to be made, but a mistake was made at the NATO summit in April 2008 by giving in to the temptation to talk in such a way that it looked like Ukraine and Georgia were going to join the Atlantic Alliance. This year is also important not only because there is a great economic crisis but also because it is the presentation in Chinese society through the Beijing Olympics. It should be remembered that the opening of the games took place on August 8 and 24 hours before Putin attacked Georgia.
– Will Russia follow the same pattern in Ukraine as in 2008?
Russia then reacted as if the decision had already been taken for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO when only one possibility remained open, because many members of the Alliance believed that it couldn’t go any further. However, Russia ended up with the couplet that Ukraine could be in NATO and now we are somehow suffering the consequences.
– How do you think the conflict between Russia and Ukraine will be when the NATO summit is held in Madrid next June?
At this meeting, during which NATO is mandated to review its strategic concept, I hope that we will arrive with the Ukraine crisis moderately resolved. This will not have been completely resolved, but I am sure there will be a more relaxed situation at the border.
– Spain would like the Alliance to also turn towards its southern neighbourhood. Do you share this approach?
The Sahel region is in a very delicate situation due to the presence of terrorism, drug trafficking and paramilitary forces. Russia is present with the Wagnerian mercenaries. However, we should deal with this issue not from the point of view of NATO, but from that of the European Union. I would not be in favor of redefining very distant objectives for NATO. What Spain is asking for has a certain rationality, but not all countries want it. NATO could carry out activities that are not traditional military operations, for example the whole battle that is fought in cyberspace. We live in hybrid wars.
– If the idea of creating a European army went ahead, would it be compatible with joining NATO?
Europe will not have an army marching behind the EU flag. Europe is a structure created for peace and therefore will not go to war. Countries will go. What it needs are supranational military capabilities to pool, which is perfectly compatible with NATO. There will be places, like Africa, where Europe will want to have some sort of peacekeeping operation and it is Europe, not NATO, that will take on that responsibility.
-Where do you see the greatest tensions in gaining global hegemony?
Without a doubt, the most significant tension is between the United States and China, a technological powerhouse that has overtaken the United States in terms of GDP. Today, eight times more engineers, mathematicians and biologists graduate from Chinese universities than from the rest of the world. It has a very great capacity for training scientists and technicians, and it uses it. Never in history has a country experienced such economic growth in such a short time. We will have to see how China reacts to Russia.
-Although it sometimes seems, today’s world is not the one that emerged after World War II. However, it is still guided by the same standards and institutions
We should make an effort to change. For example, in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, China should have its real weight, but the United States still wants to retain its veto power. In a globalized world, with nuclear weapons, with a huge crisis due to climate change, with a pandemic that has paralyzed us for two years, it is absurd that tension and mistrust are the norm. China, the United States, Russia and the European Union should sit down seriously to make more progress on climate change. If it were clear that there is a will to cooperate in solving this global problem, we would be able to regain strategic trust. Tactical confidence cannot exist without the first. The world has huge problems of inequality, national and international, and we are fighting for something that cannot keep us all going. A conflict that can be nuclear is a huge lack of common sense.
The Spanish newspaper