In the cascade of epochal events that have battered the foundations of our post-Cold War world in recent years, the phrase “turning point” has become cliché.
From Putin’s snatching of Crimea in 2014 to Obama’s near-criminal Iran deal in 2015, ISIS and the Syrian butchery, Brexit and Trump, China’s rise and Hong Kong’s fall, BLM’s racial insurrection and Covid lockdowns, the Net Zero agenda and the assault on Ukraine — the past decade has had its fill of era-defining moments and systemic shocks.
And yet, to paraphrase Adam Smith, there is a great deal of ruin in a world order. That is, it takes a sustained string of costly strategic failures to shake, crack and finally overthrow a certain structure and hierarchy that had ordered power relations between the major nation-states across the globe.
Particularly after the West emerged triumphant in the early 1990s from the struggle against Communism, the systemic “margin of error” for Western strategy — the mistakes that could be afforded without imperiling the overall primacy of the US and its allies — was very wide.
But the errors have been cumulative and the global framework has been progressively weakened. We have expended our post-Cold War power-allowance. Thread after thread from the strategic rope holding the global system together has snapped at the various points mentioned. And now it’s down to the final one. We have arrived at the true tipping point for the world as we know it, beyond which initiative may be lost to the revisionist powers.
Like all such historical moments it presents itself as a combination of political events. In Europe’s case, in particular, this very week, we face two: in the Middle East and in Europe.
War in the Levant
The massacres perpetrated against Israel last weekend by Iran’s proxies, the savage Hamas animals, have thrust the entire region to the brink of general war. The Jewish State is rightly and inevitably mobilising fully for a definitive campaign to wipe out Hamas’s extended network and drain the Islamic terrorist puss from Gaza — ideally down to the last supporter and enabler of the degenerate jihadis who took part in the October 7 slaughter. Anything less would be irresponsible at this point.
But there is no hiding the fact that this necessary Israeli offensive will almost certainly trigger a cascade of terrorist and military reactions from Iran’s proxy and allied network all around Israel, particularly from Hezbollah in Lebanon and the IRGC and regime assets in Syria. A chain reaction, not dissimilar to August 1914 in Europe, is now very likely — culminating with direct Israeli-Iranian clashes and involvement by the United States, as well as probably Turkey.
Iran’s strategic ascendancy in the Middle East — enabled by US policy under Obama and Biden — and Israel’s increasingly precarious position were described in these very pages only the week before the atrocities of last Saturday. That analysis explained some of the dynamics at play, and laid out Iran’s systematic strategy to corner Israel and remove its options.
This effort was always meant to lead to the annihilation of the Jewish State, which at some point will have required an all-out conflagration. We are now there, as Iran intended — hence the inevitability of a much greater war in the coming weeks or months.
For Europe, the implications of this kind of regional escalation in the Middle East would be monumental. In the short run we can expect a domestic security implosion across the spectrum of Islamist extremism, from the “civic” mobilisation of Islamic communities in order to try to shape policy responses in Western capitals, to new waves of ISIS/Hamas style terrorist attacks.
Europe’s Islamist problem
The scale of Europe’s vulnerability to this internal Islamist threat is not properly understood, and neither are its causes. This is the result of deliberate policy decisions by officials and politicians over the past few decades, from the UK to France to Germany and beyond.
Britain’s case is instructive for the extent of the foolishness whose consequences we are now about to confront. The presence on British soil of extremist organisations — involved in proselytising, fundraising and generally supporting the cause and interests of Middle East regimes, clerical elites and their unlimited political-religious aims — was driven by three erroneous beliefs.
Firstly, it was thought that opening the UK and London in particular to these extremist organisations would also ensure a copious flow of (primarily) Arab money into Britain, given the backstage inter-linkages between Islamist networks and Gulf royal houses.
Secondly, it was thought that allowing these organisations to set up shop in London would enable British security services to spy on them more easily — to the wider benefit of UK’s global intelligence relationships, whose currency is information, and also to the benefit of Britain’s foreign policy.
The third reason for this permissive policy was precisely the notion that if the UK and especially London is made a “safe space” for these networks, they would not want to spoil such a favourable arrangement by creating too much trouble for the British state. On the contrary, they would want to spare the locus of their European (or, in some cases, global) headquarters.
The extremists were thus given a stake in UK’s security through privilege and tolerance. So, a cynical, mutually-serving (in theory) symbiotic relationship was allowed to develop right at home, with very dangerous groups.
The post-imperial neo-Marxist ideological rot — with its well known recital of so-called liberal “human rights”-informed delusions — that is often blamed for the disastrous multicultural policies enacted in Western Europe is therefore only part of the story.
Understanding the other, deeper and — in the deluded mind of securocrats past and present — “rational” motives behind the creation of this huge Islamist extremist vulnerability right in our midst, is important in order to appreciate the scale of the challenge Europe will face when the Middle East blows up and its shockwaves reset the balance of interests between these organisations and their host states.
The geopolitical cost
In the longer run, a Levantine and wider regional conflagration would collapse Europe’s global strategy, or whatever is left of it even now. Aside from the likely severe refugee pressures and other strictly military-escalation risks — especially if the US joins the fight — Europe will suffer from the severing of its strategic geographic link with the Indo-Pacific (which the US can access directly around the other side of the globe) as well as with Central Asia.
The EU’s “Global Gateway”, which even now is an unconvincing project, would be at an end. Furthermore, the sheer economic impact of a Middle East in flames on an European economy that’s already in decline would only accentuate the continent’s strategic check-mate as events roll on.
The Russian challenge and CEE politics
But all of this is only half of the challenge facing Europe at this critical point in time — and arguably not the worst half. Even more threatening to Europe’s future is Russian power and the Kremlin’s relentless, multi-pronged, multi-level campaign to weaken, destabilise and ultimately neutralise it.
The Ukraine war is only the largest and most tragic aspect of this Russian drive, the military dimension of Moscow’s ongoing offensive westwards. Beyond this, Putin has a variety of escalatory options including “hybrid” attacks on critical infrastructure, as seems to have just happened this week on the Finnish-Estonian underwater pipeline.
But at the absolute core of Europe’s ability to resist Russia is political resilience. The practical instruments of power required to actually counter Russia (military, economic, even social and cultural) all depend on the politics of Europe, in two ways.
In the first place, there is an immediate requirement for political coherence and stability on Europe’s eastern flank, on the line of geopolitical contact with the adversary, including in the Ukraine context. This runs from Finland to Romania and Bulgaria.
Politics is increasingly chaotic and polarised across most of these countries, and especially in the only geography that has ever seen actual Russian military aggression: not the Baltic area (the convenient obsession of all key Western players before February 24 2022), but the Polish-Black Sea line.
And to start with, the key countries on this front, Poland and Romania, currently find themselves sandwiched between the Russian menace on their east and Russia-friendly or at least Russia-soft countries like Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia, to their west. Poland is in a slightly different situation of also having to deal with Germany which is a difficult challenge for other reasons.
Against this background must then be considered the fractured politics in Warsaw and Bucharest, and Sofia as well.
Poland is heading into one of the most divisive elections in its post Communist history. The determination of the Brussels Eurocrats (whose champion, Donald Tusk, leads the Polish opposition) and Polish liberal elites to break the current conservative government, at any cost — including support for Ukraine, as illustrated by the recent spat over grain transit — is utterly irresponsible.
Tusk’s crusade neatly fits the Israeli pattern, where extreme political warfare against the Netanyahu government helped create the distraction and conditions for Hamas to achieve strategic surprise.
The likely result after the Polish elections this weekend is not only bad blood and a divided society at time of war across the border, but the clear prospect of a hung parliament and protracted political crisis with early elections next year. In a word, chaos and a huge vulnerability created by blinding liberal hatred against a Polish government that has led the whole of Europe and acted flawlessly in support of Ukraine.
A similar outcome, if in a very different context, is shaping up in Romania as well. The EU country with the longest frontier with Ukraine and Moldova, Europe’s largest prospective producer of natural gas by the end of the decade, is set to hold no less than four rounds of national level elections next year — for the European and Romanian parliaments, locals, and presidential.
And for the first time since 1989 a Romanian conservative nationalist party — inevitably branded “far Right” by its critics — has upended the political contest and become one of the three main players. The political scene keeps fragmenting, to the extent that not even seasoned analysts can make any credible predictions for how things will pan out in 2024, including for the all-important role of president.
Europe’s political orientation
In a wider sense, Europe’s general political orientation is as — if not more — important to the survival of freedom on the continent, and the forestalling of Russia’s inroads, as outcomes in a couple of CEE nations, although the latter can have an outsized influence on the former.
It is beyond doubt that the European elites of Brussels and other Western capitals have failed in their most important (since most consequential) test of all: strategic policy.
The evidence can be seen all around Europe, whose neighbourhood, from Ukraine to the Middle East, from the Mediterranean to the sub-Saharan Africa, is riven by conflict.
In none of these lands is Europe able to influence the course of affairs or to achieve any first-order objectives: the very definition of geopolitical impotence. More widely, Europe has managed to fall between China and the US, needing both but trusted by neither, while also rapidly losing its economic clout.
Much of this complete failure is fundamentally due to a warped view of the world through the rose-tinted glasses of liberal institutionalism and a bizarre belief that European “soft power” and “regulations” are in any way an adequate response to the cutthroat geopolitical competition of the 21st century.
This core delusion was exacerbated by the fanatical efforts to stamp out “nationalism” across Europe – the kind of nationalism that, as Ukraine shows, actually saves nations. Conservative values, defined by Brussels as anything that runs against the prevailing progressive ideology that has given us migration, the green agenda and culture wars – among others – have likewise made pariahs of those political parties espousing them. Yet, as the results of decades of progressive weakening of Europe’s position in the world – and especially of Europe’s future – indicate, something has to change.
The Polish election this weekend can be a make-or-break moment for the political orientation of Europe at his crucial juncture of history.
A conservative triumph would send a strong signal that democratic Right-wing nationalist politics are here to stay and return some strength and sense to the European body politic, leading to more confidence in the continent’s ability to reassert control over its destiny away from globalist delusions.
Such good news from Poland would also spoil Putin’s day, and would provide a much-needed anchor for the political stability of Europe’s eastern flank in 2024.
The turning point
There is hardly any appreciation in Europe of the real level of geopolitical risk confronting us over the next year, let alone over the long term. And much will be decided this week. The combination of war in the Middle East and a negative outcome in Poland’s elections – i.e. reversion to the failing Brussels type – could be the double-whammy that makes Europe’s position irrecoverable.
The immediate danger is Russia, which is poised like a vulture over Ukraine, to take advantage of Western political weakness – which is on increasing display in the US, but which could be much more damaging if it came to define Central Eastern Europe as well.
What is most needed, here on the old continent, is a rapid build-up of political confidence, decisive action and a sense of hard power and assertiveness which can only be delivered by a completely new political mindset.
This much is clear: such a reform cannot come from the same “elite” or ideological hinterland that has brought us all to this pass in the first place. It probably cannot even come from the traditional founts of political leadership in this part of the world, i.e. from Western European cultures.
It is, rather, in the Eastern half of the continent, in New Europe, where a new perspective and hope for this continent’s future will be found – in a place where common sense and realism are still second-nature to many.
It is telling that in the wake of Hamas’s bestial attack it was not one of the strategic minds or political luminaries of the West, not one of the Occidental “experts”, who put his finger on the issue and delivered the most important truth and most precise diagnosis facing the “free world”.
No, it was Konstantin Kisin, a Moscow-born Russian-British Jew, who grew up in the Soviet Union, a satirist and comedian, a podcaster – in other words, an “unqualified” person to opine on these matters but smarter than most – who, with typical insight, said:
“Let me remind you ‘sophisticated’ Western people of something you don’t understand about ‘primitive’ people in the rest of the world. They’re more honest than you. They don’t pretend that strength is bad. They crave it. And it’s the only language they understand.”
It is also the language that Europe and the West more broadly needs to recover, fast. It may well be too late to prevent major strategic reversals and the loss of important measures of control over the international system – but the damage could be minimised, allowing the next generation of statesmen to recover what this one has squandered.
Gabriel Elefteriu is deputy director at the Council on Geostrategy in London and a fellow at the Yorktown Institute in Washington, D.C.