Internationaal2 mrt '22 17:47Aangepast op 2 mrt '22 22:18

Former NATO chief: 'Ukraine war is Europe's 9/11'

Auteur: Mark van Harreveld

As leader of a nuclear superpower, Russian President Vladimir Putin has become unpredictable and dangerous. Those remarks came from former NATO Secretary General and Dutch Minister of State Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, when interviewed by Dutch broadcasting company BNR. On the other hand, De Hoop Scheffer doesn't believe Putin will use his nuclear arsenal, as it would ensure his own downfall. ‘I do not foresee a war.’ Calling the invasion Europe’s 9/11 and a wake-up call, De Hoop Scheffer stresses that NATO should quickly beef up its military presence in the Baltic States.

New ball game

De Hoop Scheffer considers the Russian invasion of Ukraine 'a turning point', whereafter things will never be the same again. Europe's own 9/11. The current situation cannot already be called a Third World War, according to De Hoop Scheffer. But 'things will be completely different if Putin decides to put one toe in one square centimetre of NATO territory', he added.

‘When an incident like that occurs, the conflict enters its next phase. NATO as a whole would step into action. On a scale of 1 to 10, we are now at 7.5. In case of an attack on NATO, we would be well over 9'.

Putin is 'unpredictable'

Asked to what extent he believes Putin can still be considered as rational, De Hoop Scheffer replied that Putin's rationality seemingly 'made way for revisionism and resentment.' 'He is petulant, resentful and full of vengeance. That turns him into an unpredictable leader of a large country and nuclear superpower’.

'Putin knows that bij pushing the red nuclear button, he would ensure his own downfall,' De Hoop Scheffer adds. That's why Putin will probably not carry out his nuclear threat, according to the former NATO boss.

'NATO will not go to war with Russia'

At the same time, De Hoop Scheffer is worried about Putin's apparent isolation. ‘He's an autocrat who transformed into a dictator. He isolates, joined by only a few advisors, nodding their heads in agreement. That's extremely dangerous’.

De Hoop Scheffer believes Putin is actually more afraid of the European Union, than NATO. 'The EU stands for democracy, which puts the axe to the roots of Putin's regime. He fears Ukraine will turn into some kind of Poland'.

Awkward Von der Leyen

Despite remarks by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, De Hoop Scheffer rejects the idea of Ukraine becoming an EU-member in the near future. Von der Leyen stated that Ukraine should soon become a member of the Union. De Hoop Scheffer: ‘That's not up to her, it's up to the member states. Her remarks needlessly provoke Putin. You should't drive him into a corner even further. It's unwise to talk about this at this point in time. Von der Leyen now knows that too, I would presume.’

Beef up in the Baltic

According to De Hoop Scheffer, NATO should hurry in increasing its military presence in the Baltic States. He points out the so-called Suwalki Passage, a strip of Polish territory of approximately 100 kilometres wide, which connects the Russian exclave Kaliningrad to its ally Belarus. The strip constiutes the only land connection of the Baltic states and other European NATO-members. 'NATO needs a presence there. When the Suwalki gap would be closed. NATO is in big trouble, when they lose the land connection to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.'

If Russia succeeds in conquering Ukraine, NATO would share borders with territory controlled by Russia. According to De Hoop Scheffer, this means NATO's entire strategy would need rewriting, although parameters have changed anyway: 'Every European country is now aware that defence expenditure needs increasing, renewed European solidarity has showed itself, and formerly neutral countries such as Finland and Sweden are moving closer to joining NATO. The Finnish parliament has already voted in favour of membership.

More Europe, more NATO

‘We now need more NATO and more Europe.’ According to De Hoop Scheffer, the ultimate security comes from Washington, ‘but this is a serious wake-up call. Because now Biden is in the White House, but what if Trump will be president? When the Wall came down, we sat down in a beach chair with a glass of white wine and outsourced the defence to the Americans. We thought, as Fukuyama did, we’d arrived at the 'end of history'. But history is back and we have to rewrite it.’

China moves

Meanwhile, and quite unexpectedly, China has offered to mediate in the conflict. To De Hoop Scheffer it is clear: China is definitely not amused how things are evolving. ‘China has its fingers in the door. This was already evident in the UN Security Council, where the Chinese did not veto the resolution submitted by the Americans, but abstained from the vote. China has no ambition and no desire to come into conflict with the EU. China, as a superpower, is watching this with dismay. It shows that China is concerned.’

De Hoop Scheffer says China is watching Biden and the US 'very closely to see how the Americans will solve this’. Because in the background the Taiwan issue is looming. ‘Ukraine and Taiwan have everything to do with each other. That is why Joe Biden has sent a high-ranking delegation of former military and political figures from both the Bush and Obama administrations to Taiwan for talks with the Taiwanese president.’ The former NATO boss considers this a warning to China as well as a reassurance to the Asian allies: Japan and South Korea. The warning to China is unequivocal: despite a war in Europe, we remain on the alert in the Pacific. ‘China will not be given carte blanche to invade Taiwan.’

De-escalation via back channels

Finally, De Hoop Scheffer hopes, as was the case with the Cuban crisis in 1962, there is a so-called 'back channel' where the US and Russia communicate directly with each other. 'A means must be found through back channels to de-escalate. You have to have a line between people who have access to the presidents. The big risk in this kind of conflict is miscommunication. There has to be de-escalation.'

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