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Europe's strategy has been largely reminiscent of the Appeasement policy of Lloyd George before the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, which has once again failed to prevent the escalation of conflict, writes Cory Turner. A new strategy must be adopted, and it must overcome three hurdles: The capability of EU Member States to project 'hard power', European unity, and willingness to utilise this power.
EU Member States faced severe economic constraints in their Defence budgets. The UK government plans to continually cut its own, despite short term pretences, among others, threatening its capabilities to project power abroad. In an age of quickly changing methods of projecting power with the rise of terror groups and conflicts mainly being only localised, as with the Russian separatists (though not Russia itself), and so the need for large standing armies as Russia has for each Member State appears unnecessary for many. New, innovative methods for Defence are necessary to maintain Defence capabilities.
One such option available is the pooling of procurement and manpower resources. Member States with greater priorities in their budgets for procurement ought to be the main actors in providing equipment and reconnaissance aid if necessary. Those in the East and the Scandinavian states could prioritise efforts on manpower. Those such as the UK and France ought to not only provide a large degree of aid in the form of procurement, but provide a guarantee that at the very least their expeditionary forces are protected from cuts, if cuts are to be used at all. Through this method, Member States may spread the costs of military budgets and pool resources, reflecting a clear and distinctive 'defensive defence' policy that can feasibly stand up to Russian power physically.
This may even prevent the rise of local political discourse within the European Union such as the UK's UKIP and France's FN, which threaten to influence government parties to force the Union to breaking point from within. This would allow Putin to pick apart European states by hollowing it out from the inside. By pooling resources and thus creating a multi-pronged approach, such governments can limit the popularity of the populist Eurosceptics by legitimising the reasons for staying within the Union -t he very defence of Europe's doorstep, and thus, each respective Member State itself.
By spreading the costs, the EU can create a distinct and clear policy of defence without being directly provocative or aggressive, adequately defending its waters, airspace and land whilst consolidating European power, containing the regional conflict in Ukraine, and then shrinking it through greater support for the country.
In response to Russian expansionism, European leaders can halt the Russian invasion in the east through power consolidation. Europe must also aid the funding of Ukrainian financial and industrial development through soft power to supplement (instead of replace, as with the half-hearted Appeasement policy) its hard power capabilities. Indeed, Ukraine should become an example of the rewards that embracing free democratic principles, economic liberalisation out of the hands of oligarchs and fair justice can bring - it must not become a 'garrison state' by any means. In return, Ukraine must commit to, among the above, turn the tide against the rise of neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups, such as the Azov Battalion, in replacement of which should be phased in larger and more capable forces that it may raise through its funding and equipment & training by other states. Otherwise, Ukraine provides easy stories for the Russian propaganda machine to exploit and justify its actions.
Ultimately, no matter if European leaders continue to ignore the war, retreats from what it has already done or acts further, the propaganda machine will legitimise Russian incursions around Europe. Despite the impossibility of convincing those within Russia of the legitimacy of a decisive and combined 'defensive defence' policy, the EU can and should ensure it can defend its Member States borders in defiance of Russian military movements.
Combined with the use of soft power across international institutions to isolate Russia diplomatically and the adequate funding and aiding of Ukraine, the conflict can be locked into being only regional. In the face of Russian expansionism, the EU must take a stance of consolidation to prevent Russia filling power vacuums. The exercise of soft power in this way has seen positive successes with Iraqi and Kurdish forces against 'ISIS' (the Daesh), and should be emulated again to a much larger scale in Ukraine, allowing the defending party to contain the conflict regionally whilst facilitating its success and preventing further 'Western'-caused conflict down the line.
Therefore, to ensure that Russian expeditions into Ukraine and EU Member States as a whole do not continue, European leaders must commit to a common, more unified policy and direction. By ensuring that the Union appears distinctive and capable of defending itself, it may at least halt Russia from creating further tensions, due to the fact of there being no vacuum left to fill, and provides President Putin the excuse he needs to stop acting only to appease nationalist aims. Instead, he may return to the Russian people with the appearance of strength whilst still appearing the pragmatist.
However, this requires European leaders of many political persuasions, sometimes in vastly differing political situations of their own, to cooperate, but it may be the excuse that many are looking for simply to ensure they stay in the Union, to combat against the flank of hard-line Eurosceptics. Thus, Europe must look towards consolidation in the face of Russian expansionism, in the form of a similar strategy to that used to deal with the dire situation in Iraq, though on a far grander scale and in combination with a revived 'hard power'. European leaders will have to persuade their publics to support it at least enough to ensure stability to prevent the rise of far-Right extremist parties, and may be the clear, decisive line many may need to unify their peoples behind Europe in this aspect, especially with an EU referendum becoming a reality in the UK.