Moscow is encouraging a wave of populism that extends from the election of President-elect Donald Trump through Brexit and rise of nationalist politics in France and Germany to bring about “real security threats to Europe,” according to a report in a new NATO journal.
The report, in the January edition of the NATO Review online magazine, was put together by Mark Galeotti, a Russia expert at the Institute of International Relations Prague. He points out that the problems facing the European Union are in no small part down to the EU itself.
“A powerful driver has been a perceived — and not entirely unjustified — belief that a Brussels elite is committed to a project of political unification out of step with the interests and ambitions of national constituencies,” he wrote. He writes that many in the EU capital of Brussels who desire a federal Europe are viewing Brexit as an opportunity to push their agenda, which is not shared by many Europeans. And this, he wrote, means the EU today “is not only victim of the populist wave, it is also cause.”
The piece makes the case that a strong EU is important to European support for NATO, and is vital to strong European security. And this, the piece argues, is the root of Russian efforts to encourage popular dissatisfaction.
“If there is one crucial lesson in the current discussions about Russia’s way of war — whether we call it hybrid, non-linear or asymmetric — it is that conflict in the twenty-first century is just as much fought in the realms of politics, morale, economics and governance as on the battlefield,” he wrote. “Especially as it faces the loss of the United Kingdom — with Europe’s biggest military budget — the EU needs to focus on two, parallel priorities: firstly, increased ‘non-kinetic’ security, improving common counter-intelligence and financial and political protection measures; secondly, encouraging member states to devote adequate resources to their own national militaries. However, if the EU breaks apart or simply pales into irrelevance, then individual nations will in the main be far less willing and able to address these needs.”
The article points out that the European Union, with a collective gross domestic product that is just shy of that of the United States, commits to defense only a third of what America spends. It also notes that even this low level of European defense spending is more than four times what Russia is now spending.
The piece argues that the Russian push for populism in Europe feeds a mood favoring “self-sufficiency.” Galeotti notes a 2016 Pew Research Center survey indicating that more than two-thirds — and as many as 8 in 10 — Greeks, Hungarians, Italians and Poles think that “other countries should be left to deal with their own problems.
“It can hardly be a coincidence that populist governments are in place in three of the four, while in Italy, Five Stars is, as of writing, neck-and-neck in the polls with the Democratic Party,” he wrote. “The populist message is essentially hostile to alliances and mutual commitments.”