“Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas.” So thought Joseph Stalin, a man who knew a thing or two about ideas, not all of them good, and guns. Uncle Joe is long gone, but Brother Putin, his successor in a manner of speaking, also seems quite handy on the ideas and guns front. The question is whether, for the sake of argument, since I suspect the threat is exaggerated, if Russia is the current enemy, we have the ideas and guns to respond?
It’s hard to say. On the ideas front, the Foreign ministers of Poland, Germany and France, the so-called Weimar Triangle (it’s like the Bermuda triangle – without the good weather but with a similar likelihood of becoming lost) met on Good Friday in Wrocław to discuss foreign policy and defence matters and to sign a letter. That letter was addressed to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to give Federica Mogherini her full rather Ruritanian title, and set out some ideas for enhanced cooperation in foreign and defence policy.
What these ideas are, I cannot say. “We signed a letter today,” Poland’s Foreign minister, Grzegorz Schetyna said. “We do not want to reveal the details before the addressee gets a chance to read it. The letter contains several ideas relating to foreign policy and defence policy. We have information that our ideas find support from other countries.” The others were no more forthcoming. Laurent Fabius of France said that the letter defines priorities for EU defence policy over the next few years and Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany added that the contents of the letter had been agreed on by the defence ministers of the three countries.
As Theodore Roosevelt urged, speak softly but carry a big stick, so perhaps one of the ideas was – or certainly should have been – to urge all EU member states that are members of NATO to commit to the Alliance’s recommended level of defence spending of 2 per cent of GDP. After all, it is NATO which has guaranteed Europe’s security since 1949, not the EU, and no amount of Junkeresque fantasizing about an EU army (more likely to be used against its own citizens than any external enemy) will change that. Letters are lovely, tweets are terrific, but weapons and willpower win. And while it may undoubtedly be true that in the final analysis ideas are indeed more powerful than guns, somebody has to be alive to put the ideas in to practice.
Be that as it may, and whatever the letter may say, Poland continues to put into effect its own defensive ideas, with the exciting news that it is to build observation towers along the 200 kilometre land border with the Russian Kaliningrad enclave. The six towers, which will range in height from 35 to 50 metres, will help border guards to monitor the border 24 hours a day, with images being streamed to local border control posts. The total cost of the towers, which should be operational by June, is over PLN 14 million, 75 per cent of which cost will come from the EU’s External Borders Fund as this border is an external EU border.
Last year some 3.2 million Poles and 3.3 million Russians passed through the four border crossings, up from the year before. Poland has been concerned by reports that Russia had deployed short range missiles in Kaliningrad which heightened the tensions between Russia and the EU/NATO arising out of events in Ukraine although, in keeping with the clichés of our time, the construction of the towers is of course “nothing to do with” the Ukraine crisis.
Perhaps the letter also urges a return to common sense. Too often folk seem to forget that “to them, we are they” and while invading other countries just because it suits you is not considered polite these days, President Putin can point to the Middle East where it suited the West to ignore these niceties. As far as Ukraine is concerned, it would be nice to think that the letter urged an approach whereby the EU agreed to try to understand the problem from Russia’s point of view; to ask brother Putin what he wants; to explain to him why he can’t have it; to agree something else that is acceptable to all. I thought that is what diplomacy is all about.