The Geopolitical Crisis Continues

by Sid Lukkassen. Lukkassen holds an MA in history and philosophy, is a Ph.D candidate and city councillor in the Netherlands (VVD). In January, he published his book Avondland en Identiteit (Occident and Identity).

In my previous article I argued that in post-World War II Europe, the balance between values and virtues shifted from masculine to feminine. This shift manifests itself geopolitically and is the sum of factors outlined in my book Avondland en Identiteit (Occident and Identity). Nick Ottens continued the discussion by stating that the United States of America had “purposefully kept Europe weak” to prevent a third, European force from rising during the Cold War. Today, “only six European NATO members spend 2 percent of their economic output or more on defense“. contributed a translated piece by Hans Bachofner, originally published in 2006, in which he argued that heroic societies, held together by honour and sacrifice, are better at resolving armed conflict than post-heroic societies, which are held together by commercial and juridical structures. “Their governments assert again and again that they never want to endanger the lives of their own soldiers […] Technologically superior weapons replace the readiness to die.”

Le Serment des Horaces

Before we proceed to the point of this article, which concerns a geopolitical essay by Dr. Peter van Ham that discusses the “feminisation of Europe”, I’ll make a note about the “post-heroic society”. This notion strikes us as a postmodern concept stemming from a Europe worn out by “the monstrous sacrifice of mass heroism in World War I, and the misuse of the terms ‘honour’ and ‘sacrifice’ driven by totalitarian regimes in World War II.” (Bachofner). The truth is that this distinction can already be found in Histories by Herodotus [1]. The Medieval scholar Ibn Khaldûn expanded on it in his Muqaddimah, where he claimed civilizations go through different phases – of the pen (legalistic, bureaucratic) and of the sword (might makes right). (“De Muqaddima“, translated by Heleen Koesen and Djûke Poppinga, (Amsterdam 2010) 186-7). The notion of post-heroism thus ties in directly to the civilization cycle (also expressed in Plato’s Politeia, the Bible (Daniel 2:31-35) and the Bhagavad Gita). The recurring pattern is that young nations are centred around builders, founders and heroes – as they age, personal commitment by heroes is replaced by impersonal legalistic systems. Old nations grow wealthy, then decadent and ultimately apathetic. This perceived weakness attracts hungry young predators and the sword once again becomes a guiding principle.

This cycle mirrors the rough contours of what we see today. Van Ham, a researcher at Clingendael, a Dutch think tank concerning diplomacy and international relations, recently published an article in which he argued that the controversial politician Geert Wilders is right on a crucial point. [2] In another essay from December 2008, Van Ham argues that Europe has become a “metrosexual superpower” and he quotes Parag Khanna: “[j]ust as metrosexuals are redefining masculinity, Europe is redefining old notions of power and influence.” (Originally: Parag Khanna, “The Metrosexual Superpower“, Foreign Policy, no. 143 (July/August 2004), 68). “The term ‘metrosexuality’ (which gained currency in the mid-1990s) is based on images of narcissistic young men who adore fashion and accessories, and who are comfortable with their feminine side […] Europe’s lacking warrior spirit and denial of war can largely be blamed on the domestication (or sissification) of EU politics, and the marginalization of force and violence. Europe’s culture no longer honours traditional codes of manhood. Masculinity stands for being in control at all times, being in the driver’s seat. But today […] the feminization of politics has also touched other post-industrial societies.” (Peter van Ham, “The Power of War: Why Europe Needs it“, Clingendael Diplomacy Papers, no. 19, December 2008, 19).

In May 2011, a crowd gathered outside the White House to celebrate President Obama's announcement that U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden.

In May 2011, a crowd gathered outside the White House to celebrate President Obama’s announcement that U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden.

Van Ham argues that Europe considers itself a “postmodern, Kantian space“, where ideals such as tolerance, human rights and fighting poverty prevail over realpolitik – humanitarian intentions trump geopolitical consequences. The American crowds cheering over the death of Osama Bin Laden, for instance, would not fit within this self-image. Van Ham quotes Christopher Hill who has, among others, pointed out that the European Union neglects geopolitical considerations. (Peter van Ham, “The Power of War”, 21). For example, “barbaric” enclaves rise up in this post-nationalist world order that necessitate a geopolitical response entailing military intervention. Mafia and fundamentalism collude in failed states to chip away at the postmodern humanitarian space that marks the borders of the European Union. This is a problem, Van Ham notes, because the European project does not inspire sufficient loyalty to draw hard lines in the sand and back these up with military force when crossed or challenged. “Nobody is prepared to die for Brussels”, he writes. (Peter van Ham, “The Power of War”, 23). Threats that are too large are simply shied away from. This brings us back to the aforementioned “intellectual culture of denial” in regards to aggression stemming from jihadist motives.

Bachofner made a point of emphasizing how asymmetric the contemporary “War on Terror” is. The West bombs enemy territories from high above, targeting infrastructure, whereas terrorists often choose their victims randomly – their real objective is to cause fear in those who survive. The “post-heroic” West has to be clean – it has to avoid innocents from getting injured or else approval ratings will plummet. The aim of the fundamentalists, by contrast, is to instil self-censorship through dread. Therefore their attacks have to be as visceral as possible, as demonstrated by the murdering of Theo van Gogh (Netherlands), train and subway bombings (Spain, Britain), London public beheading, Kenya shooting spree, Brussels Jewish museum shooting and recently the attack on Charlie Hebdo (France). The list goes on.

Islamist militants ambushed the Westagte mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 killing more than 50 people and terrorizing the city. Kenyan forces tried to drive the militants out of the mall and save remaining hostages. Somalia's Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack in Kenya since 1998.

Islamist militants ambushed the Westagte mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 killing more than 50 people and terrorizing the city. Kenyan forces tried to drive the militants out of the mall and save remaining hostages. Somalia’s Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack in Kenya since 1998.

A good contemporary example is the Islamic State (IS) beheading two Japanese journalists and burning a Jordanian pilot alive, captured on video and accompanied by recitals of Quran verses. Islam defines the world in two houses: dar al-harb (house of war) and dar al-islam (house of peace). Peace is understood as political rule based on Sharia and the Quran, which expresses the immutable will of Allah and therefore provides peace. (Henk Driessen (ed.), “In het huis van de islam“, Nijmegen/Amsterdam 1997, 116-118). Manmade rules are susceptible to interpretation, are changeable, and therefore lead to conflict. Expanding the dar al-islam is a process that spans centuries, making temporary treatises (dar al-ahd or dar al-sulh) with Christian or secular nations inevitable. The IS embodies an aggressive strain of this overarching expansion. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has mentioned Rome as foreseeable target of conquest, yet Italian authorities hope that this is a symbolic reference to his larger global goal. (Christopher Livesay, “Rome Is Not Intimidated by ISIS Threats to Conquer it for the Caliphate“, Vice News, 11.07.2014). It means the IS obtains victory once Dar al-islam overlaps all political regimes on earth.

The West, by contrast, has to obtain a victory inside a defined territory within a short time span due to the high costs of mobilization. The citizen is not an active participant but “consumes” the war through media. If the war lasts too long, the weary audience at home will alter their votes in future elections. This replaces substantive victories with PR victories: the Western soldier fights a “War on Terror” without defined victory conditions.

Musa, a 25-year-old Kurdish marksman, stands atop a building as he looks at the destroyed Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on January 30, 2015 (Photo: Bulent Kilic).

Musa, a 25-year-old Kurdish marksman, stands atop a building as he looks at the destroyed Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on January 30, 2015 (Photo: Bulent Kilic).

Of course there are also the armed conflicts that are part civil war, part foreign intervention by larger geopolitical players. This we see concretely in Ukraine. These conflicts remain tied to ethnic and national identities, whereas the conflict with the IS centres around colliding religious-ideological world outlooks. A conflict with Russia is territorial and can, in theory, be settled. The conflict with the IS, however, is an existential conflict that fundamentally cannot be settled (at best there can be temporary ceasefires). The conflict cannot be resolved in earthly trades of resources, lives and territories because the conflict is metaphysical. We have, in other words, a resurgence of Carl Schmitt’s “Feind”. The West is mentally unprepared for this confrontation because it sees “the enemy” in economic terms – as a “competitor” that can be bluffed, reasoned with, and ultimately bargained down. (Carl Schmitt, “Der Begriff des politischen“, Berlin 1987, 37f).

In his 2008 article, Van Ham urged Europe into “accepting a legitimate role of war to annihilate (or convert) failed states, and terrorist ‘undecidables’, whose very existence cannot be tolerated […] The European Union will (have to) realize that (its) territory is no longer the basis of (its) power; nor is it a sufficient guarantee of (its) security. The prospect of a ‘Fortress Europe’ is unrealistic, while unsustainable.” (Peter van Ham, “The Power of War”, 28). Van Ham concluded by making a case for “reviving and renewing Realism inside the European Union, [which] basically asks to strengthen Europe’s masculine side, to the detriment of its feminist persona. Feminist scholars’ classically ‘feminist’ agenda emasculates the armed forces’ warrior ethic.” (Peter van Ham, “The Power of War”, 19-20; see also: Mona Charen, “Feminist Agenda Emasculates the Armed Forces’ Warrior Ethic”, Insight on the News, vol. 16, no. 17, 08.05.2000, 48).

The prospect of a ‘Fortress Europe’ is unrealistic.

The prospect of a ‘Fortress Europe’ is unrealistic.

That Europe strays far from this prescribed role becomes apparent by reading any Dutch mainstream newspaper (De Telegraaf, 06.02.2015, 5). An issue opens with a grand headliner, “Barbarians hit our F-16’s” and follows up with a grandiose statement by General Tom Middendorp that “we are increasingly determined to destroy the IS infrastructure” (De Telegraaf, 06.02.2015, 19). Another article on the same page expresses the general’s concern about military cuts in Belgium. If the country does not buy new JSF-fighters and new M-frigates, the Dutch military would have to “carry the weight of Belgium” – this would jeopardize cooperation between the two countries. On another page, the Minister of Defence, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, states that the Netherlands is working to spearhead a NATO intervention force to counter any Russian aggression. On the same page, in another article, she states that she does not wish to arm the Ukrainian national forces because “this could provoke Moscow” – a Moscow that already arms a fighting militia. These mixed signals imply that on the one hand the Netherlands pursues an active policy of international military involvement; on the other hand the means to actually carry out such a policy are extremely limited. This results in the aforementioned “PR-victories”. Hence, Hennis states that “most of the European ministers emphasize that the Ukrainian forces should be provided with only non-lethal equipment”.

Van Ham found that “Fortress Europe” is not a feasible option – he emphasized that hostile cells could be anywhere, and that this necessitates an assertive global military attitude. How would Europe give shape to this today? With Russia in Ukraine, the IS preparing to storm the gates of Rome, and increasingly aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric by the president of Turkey? (“Erdogan: West doesn’t like Muslims, wants them dead”, The Times of Israel, 29.11.2014). While the Asia-Pacific conflict plays in the background? Faced with all this, to “batter down the hatches” seems the most realistic strategy. This means a martial mentality, including a willingness to retaliate, without getting sucked into endless field campaigns on foreign soil that have to be framed as “build up missions” to pass Parliament. [3]

[1]”For, just as Persia had once been a hard culture which was able to dominate its soft eastern neighbours, and thus become rich and powerful, so the Greeks (particularly the Athenians) had become rich and powerful as a consequence of their victory over the Persians. Herodotus demonstrates the Persian trajectory from hard to soft culture, as a result of their control over the resources of their softer subjects, and thus explains their descent from conqueror to conquered.” Sara Forsdyke, “Herodotus, political history and political thought” in Carolyn Dewald / John Marincola (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge New York 2006), 224-241.
[2] “Wilders warns us for the threat of Islamic terrorism, and while terrorists are committing murders with Quran in hand, progressive parties continue to look away. It is easier to deny and twist facts, and to frame his voters as ignorant and dangerous.” Peter Olsthoorn, “Clingendael: ‘Links-liberalen leggen denkverbod op inzake islam’“, The Post, 26.02.2015.
[3] “In a heated debate that continued into the early morning hours, a slim majority of MPs voted for the minority government’s proposal to send 545 men and women to Afghanistan until 2014 [..] Notably, it swayed the liberal greens, GroenLinks with 10 seats, by agreeing to seek a written guarantee from Kabul that police trained by the Dutch would not be used in any military action.” (“Dutch MPs endorse Afghan police training mission“, AFP, 28.01.2011).

This entry was posted in Basics, English, Security Policy, Sid Lukkassen.

2 Responses to The Geopolitical Crisis Continues

  1. Fernando says:

    Very good article.

  2. John L says:

    A cleared eye view of very difficult issues. The West must decide
    if it intends to fight for its culture in several arenas of conflict.
    As our “banned from Britain” Michael Savage has declared:
    “Borders, language, culture”. I note that Austria has just banned
    the use of Arabic in several venues. It’s a start.

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