Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe

Georgioupolis, Chania, Crete, 16.5.2022


Evangelos Venizelos, 


The asymmetries of European security and the need for a renewed multilateralism after the war in Ukraine


1. European security is governed by deep historical asymmetries. The new challenges associated with the Russian military invasion and the war in Ukraine highlight the asymmetries that can no longer be hidden behind a rhetoric that embellishes problems and postpones difficult decisions. 

Already since the last phase of WWI, during the President Wilson era, European security has become a common Euro-American problem. The participation of the USA and the so-called new world in general in the great European war became necessary in order for it to come to an end with the defeat of the so-called Central Powers.

American involvement was necessary for the defeat of Nazism in WWII. During the long period of the Cold War, the American presence in Europe was a basic condition for nuclear balance and therefore security.


2. American involvement is dominant -militarily and financially- in NATO, the main pillar of European security. This has not changed, although the European integration at the heart of which lies today's EU is already seventy years old.

The discussions on the Common Security and Defense Policy had led, shortly before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, to the "strategic compass" and a series of ambitious goals beginning with the European defence industry and the establishment of a European Rapid Reaction Force, as a prelude to the European Army.


3. The outbreak of the war in Ukraine automatically highlighted the asymmetry of Europe's energy dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Energy security, however, is a key parameter of the overall power of each state and political entity.


4. In addition, the fact that within a few days from the start of the war, V. Putin reminded that Russia is a great nuclear power and directly brought forth the issue of the use of nuclear weapons, highlighted the existential asymmetry of European security. Europe is a small nuclear power, possessing the French nuclear arsenal -which is national- and the British nuclear arsenal which is part of NATO’s nuclear planning. Against Russia's around 5,500 nuclear warheads, the West has its own 5,500 nuclear warheads, 5,100 of which are American nevertheless.  The nuclear deterrence that Europe needs can only be ensured with the involvement of the United States.


5. However, the asymmetries also concern the very sense of security that is crucial to the attitude of European societies and electoral bodies. The fundamental strategic choice between a reluctant and passive response to Russian provocation and a strong response through the imposition of harsh economic sanctions and the provision of substantial financial and military assistance to Ukraine is a matter of political will and geopolitical perception. The Russian threat is not perceived in the same way by all European countries. The countries bordering Russia, having in addition the historical experience of “actually existing socialism”, of joining the former Soviet Union or at least the Warsaw Pact, have a much stronger sense of danger.


6. Europe on its own, without strong US pressure, could not take the necessary decisions with the necessary speed and efficiency. Nor could it apply them. Now that the sanctions are being extended and specialized, internal differences and reservations are surfacing. Especially in relation to the energy needs and the rate of lowering the dependence on Russian oil and natural gas.

The West, as a strategic entity in which Europe is a central component, cannot be formulated or function without American involvement. The United States has a crucial influence in shaping Europe's political will, first at the level of  Member States' plans (with a few exceptions), and in the end at the level of the EU institutions.

Geographically, however, the United States and the other countries that make up the so-called “global NATO” are not situated in the European continent and are not dependent on Russian fossil fuels.


7. The asymmetries of European security include total Western asymmetries in the form of reluctance or hesitation during earlier critical moments, such as the annexation of Crimea or the questioning of Ukrainian sovereignty in the eastern provinces of Donbas.


8. After all, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the formation of AUKUS may have led Putin to the erroneous assessment that the US wants Europe itself to bear the burden of its security, and therefore to react to a Russian military invasion of Ukraine. Perhaps Russia's prediction was that Europe would react much more hesitant.


9. The most critical asymmetry, however, is that which is connected with the functioning of liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is “Western territory”, and therefore the European “territory”. It is this "territory" that Europe is called upon to protect against violence, authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

Nevertheless, liberal democracy itself fuels and reproduces the questioning of fundamental strategic choices. The war can be won for the West (of which Europe is a basic component), if it is first won democratically and electorally within the political systems of the western states and primarily the US itself. We had the recent experience of elections in France, Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia. None of these experiences are as strategically and historically important as the upcoming US elections, starting with the midterm congressional elections and then with the next presidential election.

This is perhaps the greatest asymmetry of European security that the war in Ukraine highlights, since the key political choices that affect it will be made in the realm of American democracy and especially in the realm of the contradictions of American society.


10. In the context of a renewed, effective and inclusive multilateralism, the Council of Europe, as the guarantor of the values ​​of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, can take initiatives that are unique in nature and reduce the asymmetries of European security to which I have referred. 

After all, the biggest asymmetries exist in the United Nations system itself, because when a violator of international law and the Charter is a permanent member of the Security Council, the possibility of decision-making is practically annulled. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, for the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe.  

Council of Europe member states that are both members of the EU and NATO, especially those that are permanent members of the Security Council, can take important policy initiatives that retain the special role and added value of each international organization within an international and European landscape of harsh historical challenges that test every kind of acquis.



*Evangelos Venizelos is former deputy prime minister, minister of foreign affairs and minister of national defence 


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