The moment of truth about what the West can and cannot endure is near. The Russian invasion of Ukraine forced the leadership of Europe and the United States to face real dilemmas. I’m sure European leaders felt awkward, sad and guilty when they heard Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tell them from Kiev on Thursday night that “this is probably the last time you can see me alive.”
Awkward, because they could not do anything tangible immediately to help him, beyond statements and lighting monuments up in the colors of his country’s flag. Sad, because they saw their continent descend into the darkness from which we all thought it had escaped after 1945. Guilty, because many were those who convinced Ukraine that the vision of EU or NATO membership was possible, but left the country helpless at the time of destruction.
Which Balkan country, which country in a difficult region will take Europe seriously in the next crisis?
The US spent its hegemony in the temporarily unipolar world on a series of useless or dead-end ventures: Kosovo, Iraq, Libya. Even in Afghanistan, which was the only necessary military campaign, they initially did exceptionally well but ended up in the fiasco that was their exit from Kabul.
Europe pays for former German chancellor Angela Merkel’s so-called prudent leadership. Yes, she did not do anything wrong, which was much appreciated during the Donald Trump era. However, it led to Europe getting bogged down in a strategic inaction, concerned only with the sales of German products. The US is paying the price for former president Barack Obama’s ambiguous reluctance. The red lines that kept moving, the lack of a solid foreign policy.
Now that the West was faced with a real red line, the awakening was abrupt and savage. Ukraine revived a purposeless NATO and united the West.
But for how long? The “jungle,” to which American historian Robert Kagan refers to in his book “The Jungle Grows Back,” is spreading rapidly and demolishing the post-war edifice. Russian President Vladimir Putin is weighing the endurance of the West, he is testing whether the French, the Americans or the Germans will fight if a country that is or will now become a member of NATO is threatened. China is watching from afar. It is also weighing the West’s stamina and wonders if and who will fight for Taiwan.
We have entered a dark period. We have been saying for a long time that it resembles the 1930s. Democracies will be tested and so will international agreements. Many things will certainly depend on what happens in the US.
As for Europe, it needs to grow up quickly. It needs to decide if it wants to be a Disneyland, full of history and culture, or maybe an unarmed NGO that will stand out for its good manners in the savage world that dawns, living with the illusion that it can survive this way. But until Europe decides what it wants, it would be good idea not to drag any other country down, especially those with dangerous neighbors.