The Telegraph, January 11, Professor Robert Tombs
Russian and American representatives are discussing, and perhaps deciding, the future security of Europe. High-level meetings are not always significant. Participants are sometimes inadequately briefed, tired, and in a hurry to announce success at a press conference. But occasionally, such meetings can be very important indeed.
I am reading Tim Bouverie’s vivid history of 1930s appeasement. Central to that disaster, as he shows, was the chronic incapacity of Neville Chamberlain and his closest advisors to understand what kind of men Hitler and Mussolini were, despite the reality, quite literally, staring them in the face. Sometimes, politicians have to judge their opponents. What do they really want? Are they bluffing? Can they be trusted? Perhaps this has to be done by people looking each other in the eye. Chamberlain was absurdly confident that he had succeeded with Hitler. It matters a lot that the Americans do better in their meetings with the Russians this week.
It also matters who else is in the room. In 1938, the Czechs were excluded from the Munich conference and the French were marginalised. This time, the EU has been excluded from the talks in Geneva: an astonishing void – except that no one seems to be astonished. In a matter that so fundamentally affects its security – the future of Ukraine as an independent state – the EU is on the sidelines.
One might argue that Nato is the actor here, and hence that US-Russia discussions are the obvious step. But what does that tell us about the EU’s repeated ambition to be a major independent actor on the world stage?
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