The concept of Intermarium was developed and promoted by former Polish President Józef Piłsudski between the First and Second World Wars. The main reason behind it was to keep out Russian imperialism through the co-operation of several Central and Eastern European states and was also important in opposing German influence. In contemporary times, several Eastern European politicians have been bringing up the idea of an Intermarium anew. What does this mean for Germany? Would it bring more security for Ukraine or other countries in the so-called “grey zone” between Europe and Russia?
Is German Foreign Policy overburdened by too many influences?
In Germany there is yet no serious discussion about the concept of Intermarium. Even in the current situation Germany has no discussion about the prospective security framework for Ukraine beyond the Minsk Agreement. When Russia annexed Crimea three years ago, the security of Ukraine was the number one challenge for Germany. With regards to Germany’s leading role in the European Union, former Federal President Joachim Gauck at the Munich security conference in 2014 said: “Germany must take more responsibility in international politics”.
Other crises have added since that time, such as the war in Syria, the refugee crisis, the rise of fundamental Islamic terrorism, Brexit, the difficult situation in Turkey and the changed attitude of the US government towards NATO – “NATO could be obsolete” – after Donald Trump was elected president. Germany has taken a leading role in EU affairs such as the Greek bailout and the refugee agreement with Turkey. For a majority of questioning young Europeans, fundamentalism and terrorism is actually the biggest security problem for the EU. The Russian war against Ukraine is only one among many of the other problems. Germany appears to be is overburdened, unable to handle all these crises as the leader of Europe.
Many Germans do not agree with the request that Germany should be more active in international politics. A study published by the Körber Foundation shows, that 53 per cent of the Germans consider that their state should be reserved in international crises and interventions.
What Germans think about the Russian-Ukrainian crisis
A study by Emnid after the annexation of Crimea indicates that 44 per cent of Germans agreed with the sanctions against Russia and 45 per cent disagreed. Also according to a more recent survey, a majority of German people are sceptical about sanctions against Russia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and leading politicians will not provoke a military confrontation with Russia unless Russia attacks a NATO state. Merkel insists on continuing the sanctions and has stated that dismantling sanctions will be only possible if Russia fully implements the Minsk accords. A major opposing actor here is the Bavarian Christian Social Party. The head of the party, Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, argues that sanctions should be removed. They are too ineffective, he argues, for the resolution of the conflict and too harmful for Germany, especially for the Bavarian economy.
The Social Democrats have also argued that Russian foreign policy is threatening European security. The party supports a gradual dismantling of the sanctions if Russia complies with the Minsk agreement. However, social democratic politicians, such as the head of the party Martin Schulz and the new foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, continue to support the policy of detente as it was under former Chancellor Willy Brandt and his advisor Egon Bahr.
The Green Party is more likely to support the Christian Democrats concerning this question. However, there were different disputes about the details within the CDU party itself. Some politicians such as Michael Gahler, who is a member of European Parliament from CDU, has called for the delivery of weapons to Ukraine. Elmar Brok, another European politician from CDU and former head of the committee of foreign affairs, agrees with weapons delivery to Ukraine unless Russia uses this move to sabotage the Minsk agreement. The Social Democrats and the Greens do not completely agree with this proposal. The German dfence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, argues that supplying weaponry to Ukraine could make matters worse. Marieluise Beck, who is a member of parliament from the Green Party, demands weapons for Ukraine. She has argued that nobody uses clear terms to define the situation: “We don’t have two guilty war-parties in eastern Ukraine. We have an aggressor and a defender.”
Many people in Germany do not understand that Ukraine is a sovereign and independent state. The left wing party and the far-right “Alternative für Deutschland” benefit from this situation. Moreover, the AfD promotes a policy of reconciliation with Russia and even providing financial support to Russia.
Could an Intermarium strengthen the European Union?
Three years after the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine, Germany is involved in numerous diplomatic and military issues as well as takes more responsibilities on itself than usual. Merkel considers that the answer to new challenges and rising uncertainty must be a united Europe. However, can the co-operation within the Intermarium region be a contribution to a stronger Europe?
The inability of the Budapest Memorandum (which guaranteed Ukraine’s borders in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear stockpiles – editor’s note) to prevent the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the armed conflict in Donbas led Ukrainian politicians and leaders from neighbouring countries to seek alternative models of regional co-operation and collective security. For that reason, former leaders of Poland, Ukraine, Moldova and the Baltic states signed The Kaunas statement in March 2017. This statement underlines the strong desire for a “Europe without wars and annexation”. Petru Lucinschi, the former President of Moldova, said that “countries are not ready for a possible alliance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin”. The Kaunas statement reveals a common security interest of Eastern European states however it also unveils a mistrust regarding NATO and unpredictability of Trump. In his turn, Polish President Andrzej Duda spoke about an Intermarium concept already in 2015 and urged all countries in Eastern Europe to speak with one voice.
There are only two issues in which Eastern Europe speaks with one voice: the refugee crisis in the European Union and the sanctions against Russia. Former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radosław Sikorski, said about Germany some years ago: “I don’t fear German power, I fear German inactivity.” He referred to the German attitude of supporting a United Europe and European values. The question today is: What are European values?
No common voice in Eastern Europe
Eastern European leaders condemned the European decision to redistribute refugees among European member states. This goes totally against German policy which actually made the German government suspend the EU rules. The Schengen agreement stipulates that asylum seekers must be processed in the first member state in which they arrive. Merkel had declared a German responsibility for refugees and stated: “We can manage it!”
According to a Gallup survey of 2016, at least half of the population in 15 Eastern European countries believed their country should not accept Syrian refugees. In the opinion of many Eastern European leaders the migration crisis was existentially more threatening to the European Union than either the euro crisis or Russia's annexation of Crimea. This made Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, warn against a dangerous division between the East and the West of Europe.
Regarding sanctions against Russia, Eastern European states are not that consistent. According the Gallup survey, support for the sanctions is most solid in countries such as Poland, Romania, Croatia and Estonia. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, however, has expressed hope for a relaxation of the sanctions. The Czech President prefers a pro-Russian policy and he even doubted the participation of Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine.It shows that the partners within Intermarium have diverse interests in building unity against Russia.
Could an Intermarium promote security?
Proponents of an Intermarium argue that it could protect Eastern European countries such as Ukraine and Georgia from external aggression. One may find an example in the security treaty between Turkey and Azerbaijan. It shows the possibility that a NATO country could protect a Non-NATO country. However, what is the chance that Azerbaijan will get protection by NATO in case of a need? This is also a very important question for Ukraine.
A merge of NATO and Intermarium states could also weaken the obligation of the alliance to defend their partners. NATO will likely say that defending states on its borders is not its responsibility. Thus, an effective Intermarium needs strong support and co-operativeness from an international leading power.
Too many interests, too few similarities
Germany has an existential interest in a United Europe as well as in protecting Ukraine and other countries on the EU border. In this light, Intermarium co-operation can bring more security to Eastern Europe. The risk, however, is that Intermarium could also divide the Europe Union; as a driving force behind it may counterweigh German role as a leading power in Europe.
It is also very questionable whether an Intermarium could be a security solution for states in the “grey zone” between Russia and Europe. Eastern European NATO members should have resources and willingness to defend their Non-NATO neighbours. Yet, apart from this, all regional states should share the same interests, which is not fully the case today.
Jan Menzer is a foreign policy advisor and speechwriter for German politicians and members of parliament. He was on the campaign team for Angela Merkel at CDU Headquarter in 2013.
This text is part of the series titled: “Intermarium in the 21st century” based on the conference held on July 6-7 2017, Lazarski University in Warsaw.