chapter  1
34 Pages

Contending philosophies about security in Europe

ByKen Booth, Nicholas Wheeler

For the first forty years after the ending of the Second World War ‘European security’ was a lively but well-focused political issue. There was a consensus, East and West, on priorities and parameters. When people opened a book or attended a seminar on ‘Security in Europe’ they knew what to expect. The questions had become very familiar. What is the state of the NATO/Warsaw Pact conventional balance? How dependable is the US nuclear guarantee? Is the Soviet military threat growing? Would the introduction of a particular missile be stabilising? How flexible is flexible response? These trusty questions were defined by weapons, and were concerned with strategic problem-solving within a two-bloc framework. Since the mid-1980s the issue ‘Security in Europe’ has been revolutionised. It is no longer well focused. It has become increasingly apparent that ‘security’ cannot sensibly be conceived narrowly, and that dealing with ‘Security in Europe’ in the 1990s and beyond depends upon more than strategic problem-solving. The response of Western governments to the news of the anti-Gorbachev coup in August 1991 perfectly illustrated the new era. Some Cold War muscles twitched, and guns began to be counted, but the prevailing reaction was one of uncertainty about what to do next to enhance ‘security’. What precisely was the nature of the ‘threat’ posed by the possible changes in the Soviet Union? And was the most appropriate response a military gesture, the use of economic instruments, a diplomatic initiative or human rights protests? The failure of the Moscow coup, which then precipitated the fragmenting of the Soviet state, led to even more possibilities. It became clearer to almost everyone except unreconstructed old thinkers, that the European security agenda no longer consisted of the old questions or the old answers.