Last year, the Atlantic Sentinel took issue with Andrew A. Michta’s pessimism about the future of Central Europe.
The political scientist and author of The Limits of Alliance: The United States, NATO and the EU in North and Central Europe (2006) argued in The American Interest at the time that Europe’s center-periphery dilemmas were in full view again and that the “lands in-between” had not after all escaped the dilemma of being the periphery of either the East or the West.
We were more optimistic and believed that the return of East-West tension had not yet killed the Central European idea, which remains a powerful rebuke to geography.
In his latest for The American Interest, Michta is more persuasive. But we refuse to be disheartened.
There is increasingly something to the idea of an independent Central Europe grouped around the “Visegrad Four”, Michta points out: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. The new conservative government in Warsaw has made this its policy, unlike the liberal administration that preceded it, which sought an entente with Berlin.
This Central European project could accelerate the process of the regionalization of security within NATO, argues Michta, which would be a double-edged sword: “The revisiting of the Visegrad idea can serve to strengthen security cooperation in Central Europe,” he writes, but it could also inadvertently put more distance between the allies and weaken an already tenuous consensus on allied solidarity.
If the regionalization of security in Europe puts more distance between the “old” and the “new” Europe, it risks transforming today’s Mitteleuropa into another incarnation of Zwischeneuropa, making it more vulnerable to Russian pressure.
Michta puts the onus primarily on Germany.
Last year, he suggested that the Central Europeans had been betrayed when it turned out that Germany’s commitment to the region did not trump its historical sensitivity toward Russia.
Now he laments that there is previous little coming from Berlin to assuage the sense of vulnerability pervading Central Europe; “on the contrary, Germany remains opposed to calls for permanent American and NATO installations in the Baltics, Poland and Romania.”
But that’s not the whole picture.
Consider that when Germany decided against selling armored fighting vehicles to Lithuania last year — presumably for fear of aggravating Russia — lawmakers from the left to the right excoriated their own government for it.
Germany may still be opposed to permanent NATO bases in former Soviet satellite states; it’s happening anyway.
And Germany has taken a harder line since Russia occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine than many expected it would, given its extensive trade relations.
It may not be enough to assure everyone. Many Central Europeans will sympathize with Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, who said last year, “We do not want to be the buffer zone.” But the trend in Germany’s foreign relations is clearly pointing away from Russia.
Germany is learning that accommodating Ostpolitik will not work if Russia seeks a revision of the European order rather than a recognition of the status quo, as was the case during the Cold War. This is a slow process, though. It’s unreasonable to expect Germany to turn its strategic thinking around in one or two years.
Moreover, it’s not as though there is unanimity in the region about how best to cope with Russian revanchism. Hungary, for one, seems far less alarmed about Vladimir Putin’s choices. You can’t blame the Germans for that.
Let the Central Europeans get their ducks in a row first. By the time they have, chances are Germany will have come around to fully appreciate the value of a strong and independent Mitteleuropa as opposed to an understanding with Moscow.