1990 - 2010: The Unfinished Business of Unifying Europe

Oct 04, 2010

German Unification Symposium / Hertie Lecture at the GHI | Speaker: Wolfgang Ischinger

This year's German Unification Symposium/Hertie Lecture was delivered by Wolfgang Ischinger, who served as German ambassador to the United States from 2001 to 2006. Ischinger previously served as the German Foreign Office's Director General for Political Affairs and in that capacity represented Germany at key negotiations on the future of Europe, including the Bosnia Peace Talks at Dayton, Ohio, as well as negotiations on EU and NATO enlargement. In 2007 Ischinger became the European Union's representative in the troika negotiations on the future of Kosovo, which resulted in the recognition of Kosovo by most EU member states. He is currently the Chairman of the Munich Security Conference.

In his speech, titled "1990-2010: The Unfinished Business of Unifying Europe," Ischinger argued that Europeans have, for most of the last decade, "defended a European order that has become largely dysfunctional." Europe's existing institutions were unable to prevent the Russia-Georgia conflict in 2008, offer a solution to the instability in Kyrgyzstan, or resolve disputes in the Caucasus and the Balkans, including the Kosovo problem. In short, "the status quo in Europe is not satisfactory. It risks developing into a source of instability instead of providing sustained stability."

The unification of Germany, Ischinger suggested, "became the model for the unification of Europe: no new institutions." While this worked well in the case of Germany, this approach turned out to be less successful in the case of the European order. Since 1989, "Europe has seen more states born or destroyed than any region other than Africa in the era of decolonization": a total of 15 new states have emerged out of the former Soviet Union, seven from former Yugoslavia, while Czechoslovakia split in two. "Many of these states continue to be subject to crises and instability, ethnic strife, frozen territorial conflicts, economic hardship, and fear of foreign intervention."

The central issue in the "unfinished business of Europe," the Ambassador argued, is "building a new relationship with Russia". "If Russia felt comfortable with the European order, the rest of the puzzle would most likely fall into place. The problem is that Russia never accepted a European order centered on NATO and the EU." To be sure, Russia tolerated the expansion of the West. But this came to an end a decade ago when the West ignored Russian opposition and intervened in Kosovo in 1999. And the OSCE, with a certain focus on human rights issues, never became popular in Moscow and could therefore not fill the vacuum.

Looking forward, Ischinger urged NATO and the EU "to demilitarize [their] relationship with Russia, replace fear and frustration with mutual trust, and begin to flesh out a vision of a future European order focused on managing interdependence, and a little less obsessed with classic military threat perceptions."