Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Visegrad 4: Eastern Europe as a Major Player

Our "Blocanization of Europe" series will include a number of posts, each outlining what the new bloc will look like, why the bloc is losing faith in the NATO/EU system (if it ever bought in at all), and why each country is choosing the group it's choosing. Our upcoming posts should look like this:

1) The Visegrad 4: Eastern Europe as a Major Player
2) The Re-Emergent Russian Bloc
3) Baltic Solidarity to an Emerging Russia
4) The EU Periphery: "Core" EU's Albatross
5) The Atlantics: A Return to Arms-Length Continental Management

Today, we'll be discussing the Visegrad 4, if for no other reason than we find them the most interesting and most potentially game-changing bloc of Europe.

The formation of a Visegrad 4 "Battle Group" was the original even that prompted our thinking about the blocanization of Europe; it is both a symptom of and (will be) an emerging cause of declining European solidarity.

Ultimately, NATO's inability to completely defeat the Russian Bloc (by failing to integrate Ukraine and Georgia into NATO) meant that European security could not be completely ignored; that, combined with NATO's attention locked in the Middle East (and thus not on Eastern European security: the United States has pledged only a single army brigrade to the defense of the Visegrad 4) have led to a serious security crisis for the V4. With a strong Russia and a weakened will by NATO to commit to Eastern Europe's defense, the Visegrad 4 had to take matters into its own hands.

The Visegrad 4 battle group certainly projects a strong regional commitment to a unified defense of the plains from Russia; perhaps more importantly, it will have a significant material impact on the region's ability to defend itself.

The Battle Group will allow each country to streamline its military to adopt regional command and control; sharing resources will allow each country to reduce redundancy and redirect freed resources to extra firepower or new specialization. Shared intelligence will lead to greater regional awareness, and thus better response times and effectiveness. Most importantly, the Battle Group means that the V4's entire military force could potentially focus on a single area quickly (both due to bureaucratic reductions and effective regional planning on troop mobilization and transportation), thus making it much harder to "pick off" individual countries in the region.

Historically, such "picking-off" has been a key strategy for both Germany and Russia in consolidating power in the region (Germany and the Soviet Union were both successful in such a strategy in the 20th century); the V4's Battle Group nearly guarantees such a strategy will not work, as long as the will to support it remains (which it should into the medium-term future).

Romania and Bulgaria similarly recall the harsh rule of the Soviet Union, and wish to avoid any similar arrangement. They joined the EU and NATO in order to guarantee security against any repeat incidents, but the relative aloofness of NATO and a breakdown of confidence in the EU as a supranational structure is likely to push these two countries towards the next-best alternative: the V4.

Neither Romania nor Bulgaria has yet shown commitment to join the V4; in particular, Hungary and Romania have had regional disputes over territory and mutual security. But, if Russia's regional assertiveness continues to grow, these two countries will need to seek shelter. There is potential, especially in Bulgaria, to fall into Turkey's sphere, but a European rejection of Turkey's bid for EU membership is likely to push it towards the Arab region (where it already seem sto be facing).

The Visegrad 4's strengthening has implications beyond its own interactions internally and with Russia. Eastern Europe is currently the EU's most dynamic economic region, with highest yearly GDP growth on the continent. While the region is still economically troubled, its structural advantages set it up to continue to grow over the next decade.

If the EU's financial strength continues to weaken, the V4 may become the economic stronghold of the continent--and its influence over the region will grow as many countries come to depend on its growing economic strength.

Practically-speaking, the US and UK will not abandon the V4 entirely: they see the V4 region (in particular) as a stronghold against an emerging Russia, and will support it when times become dire enough. But Middle Eastern distractions have turned the attention of the V4's major allies, and this group will wisely remember not to depend too heavily upon Western allied support against Russia--it has failed multiple times in the 20th century (during the German invasion of Poland, the Hungarian and Czech revolts against the Soviet Union), and the Visegrad 4 will not sit by to allow another such failure.

Expect, in the future, for the Visegrad 4 to grow increasingly strong and assertive as it finds its center of gravity. The region faces many risks to its long-term security, but it is likely to have the influence and weight, when the situation grows "dire," to man its own front lines and call upon the help it will need from the US and UK.

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