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St Andrews Lecture
On St Andrews Day, I was asked to give a lecture on the lessons of war and peace at St Andrews University in Scotland in connection with being awared a fellowship at its Centre of the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.

War and Peace in Europe – Lessons of the Old Century for the New.

The St Andrew’s Day International Lecture on Global Peace and Security, November 30, 2000.

By Mr Carl Bildt, KCMG

I am deeply honoured by this opportunity of addressing you on some of the most important questions of our time.

During the past decade, I have been fortunate in being offered the opportunity to contribute to reform of Europe in central areas.

As Prime Minister of my country in the early 1990’s, my task was to drive the reform of an out-dated economic model and try to pave the way for what has later been named the new economy, and which is now starting to transform all of our economies.

As European Union Special Representative, High Representative of the international community and Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations since the mid 1990’s, I have had to struggle with he issues of war and peace and in of South-eastern Europe.

And these issues – the conditions for peace and for prosperity – are the ones that will dominate the agenda of Europe for years to come.

In Helsinki last December, the European Union committed itself not only to far-reaching enlargement of its membership, but also to the setting up of the structures of a European defence and security policy.

In Lisbon this March, it committed itself to the reforms necessary in order to make Europe “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world” during this decade.

And in Nice next week, the leaders of the European Union will deal with some of the institutional changes necessary in order to make it possible to proceed towards these important policy goals for the years to come.

For me, the issues of war and peace in Europe have come to acquire a special significance.

For a long time, I used to believe that I belonged to what was referred to as the post-war generation of political leaders in Europe. But as the wall came down in Berlin, and we all believed in a new era of freedom and peace for all of Europe, we had to wake up to the bitter new reality that confronted us primarily in the Balkans.

We were living in a Europe where the questions of war and peace had not disappeared from the agenda. We had to go back and rethink the structures of Europe in order to be certain that we could safeguard the peace of our entire continent.

This was our responsibility not only to Europe. This is also an essential part of our global responsibility.

A Europe that is not able to safeguard the peace of its own part of the world is not only unlikely to be able to contribute to the peace of other parts of the world, but also risks become an inward looking Europe so preoccupied with its own problems that it can not contribute actively to the solution of the wider global issues confronting us.

For me, there is no looking forward within first looking back. We can never shape the future if we fail to understand the past.

And the issues of war and peace are certainly not new in Europe. They were central not the least throughout the entire 20th century.

As the 19th century drew towards its end, Europe was a continent of confident optimism in the future. Globalisation was as advanced as it was today. The telegraph was uniting countries and continents as never before. The system of checks and balances set up by the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic wars nearly a century earlier had worked reasonably well.

But there were also voices warning of the dangers ahead.

One of them – perhaps the most interesting of them all - was the Polish industrialist Jan Bloch, whose book “The Future of War” came to have a remarkable influence.

Based mainly on technical arguments, he argued so persuasively of the dangers that a new war in Europe might bring that it lead Tsar Nicholas II of Russia to take the initiatives which eventually lead to the two Peace Conferences in the Hague in 1899 and 1907 which gave us not only the International Court of Justice but also the major elements of the laws of war which apply to this day.

He predicted that a coming war would be a massive, long-lasting and brutal confrontation involving whole nations, but also that this would threaten the very fabric of our societies, paving the way for the social revolution which the Empires of Europe had been doing their best to prevent ever since the Congress of Vienna system had been set up.

He was successful in that his warning did have some effects, but in a more profound way he failed, since the institutions set up and rules decided upon amounted to very little as the states of Europe steered towards that catastrophic civil war which started in 1914 and lasted for close to half a century.

More by default than by design, the leaders of Europe had managed to set up a diplomatic and military “doomsday machine” that lead them not only to a war far worse than anyone of them could ever have imagined, but also to the feared social revolution.

Suddenly, all the old Empires of Europe crumbled and disappeared. There were social, political and national revolutions throughout most of Europe. The old Empires of Russia, of Austria-Hungary and of the Sublime Porte in Constantinople were thrown on the dustbin of history.

Great wars produce great efforts to make peace.

As the horrors of the Great War become more and more apparent, the war aims of primarily the Anglo-Saxon world were formulated in more and more radical terms. It was not only a war to restore a balance-of-power system which had failed to prevent the war, but increasingly a war to end all wars, and to erect a new international system based on universal values, with independent nation states within a firm international legal framework as the foundation.

The Wilsonian model of international relations was undoubtedly a noble one. Although the diplomats of Versailles spent months redrawing maps, creating states and dealing with the details of structures in the different disputed corners of Europe, their main achievement was the Covenant of the League of Nations, supposed to usher the world into a new era of peace and justice.

But the idealism of Wilson was defeated first by the isolationism of his own country. With a major power outside the system, it was bound to fail.

And when the revanchism of France, as it was expressed in the harsh terms of the Versailles peace terms, fuelled the revanchism of Germany, it was hardly more than a question of time until the European conflict would restart again, now with even more powerful military technologies to spread to conflict further and faster over the entire continent and world.

The glorious attempt of Versailles turned into little more than a lengthy cease-fire. The ambitious effort of the League of Nation came to nothing, and soon war was back in Europe, this time on an even more devastating scale.

Out of that war and of the ruins of the League of Nations came the United Nations, now including all the powerful states of the world, and with ultimate power over the ultimate powers of the new organisation given to them.

The United Nations system has been instrumental in resolving conflicts and creating the conditions for the development of nations and peoples during the past half-century. Blocked in its possibilities of developing into a universal system for conflict-resolution by the conflicts between the permanent members of its Security Council, it has nevertheless played a key role in key events during this long period of time.

It widened the scope of the efforts to secure peace to the entire world. It has played a key role in the important process of decolonisation. It has given a voice and a role to nations and state who otherwise might have felt isolated in frustration at the margins of the international system. It has provided a forum for dialogue between all the nations of the world.

And it has – through its different specialized agencies – been instrumental in the setting up of an increasingly important framework for the cooperation between nations in increasingly important areas. The importance of the Bretton Woods institutions – the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – can hardly be exaggerated, and the same applies to what has now evolved into the World Trade Organisation.

When Bloch and others more than a century ago wrote about the threats to the peace of Europe, they focused primarily on three sets of issues.

The first threat was the conflict between France and Germany. It was over most concretely over the disputed territory of Alsace and Lorraine, but was of course over the wider issue of dominance over the western part of the continent of Europe.

The second was what used to be referred to as the Eastern question. This was the question of the Near East; the management of the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the political order of the areas formerly ruled by it.

And the third was the question of the relationship between Russia and the borderlands between it and the central countries of Western Europe. The western borders of Russia at the time included not only Finland and the Baltic countries, but also substantial parts of Poland.

To a very large extent, these have continued to be the issues of war and peace in Europe during the century that has passed, and to some extent they continue to be.

After the last part of the civil war in Europe, it was obvious that there had to be a more radical solution to the conflict between France and Germany. Too many lives had been lost in the fields of Flanders during nearly a century of conflict.

The statesman who took the lead was Winston Churchill. In his speech to the academic youth in Zurich in 1946, he called for nothing less than the creation of “a kind of United States of Europe” to bridge the gaps between the nations and to unite them in a common framework that would make war between them impossible.

Having learnt the lesson of the failure of Versailles, he called not for retribution against Germany, but for its reintegration into “the European Family” so that “hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which makes life worth living.”

Churchill certainly saw both the problems and the promise of this grand design.

He said that, “if at first all the states of Europe are not willing or able to join the Union, we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and those who can.” But, he said, “if Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there should be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and the glory its millions of people would enjoy.”

Although the credits also goes to others, this model of European integration in order to create peace between old enemies have come to reshape Europe in the half-century that has passed.

Set up to bring primarily France and Germany together, the structures of European integration have developed into the present European Union bringing together practically all of what we used to refer to as Western Europe.

And these structures have brought the countries of Western Europe together in a structure that makes peace between them permanent.

A century ago, Belgium was a country that more or less disappeared as soon as the drums started to beat between France and Germany. Today, Belgium is a country that enjoys a more or less complete security in these regards. We take this for granted today, but it was by no means granted just a generation or two ago.

While the Western security system, through a policy of military deterrence, kept the evil empire of the Soviet Union at bay, the countries of Western Europe could build a new model of peace based on peaceful integration of nations.

And when the Soviet empire disappeared, the task was to extend this model to cover as large parts of Europe as possible.

Today, the European Union of 15 member states is negotiating with a further 12 states on the terms of them entering the Union. The process is by no means simple and straightforward, but there is hardly any doubt that it will happen.

Soon, we will see a European Union that brings together all of Europe to the West of Russia and the Ukraine. And, with the eventual accession of Turkey, we will see a European Union that stretches from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the northern plains of Mesopotamia in the south.

Although the process of accession to the European Union is of great importance in giving strength to the process of reform in all the transition economies, its prime purpose is nothing less than the creation of a system for peace in as large an area of Europe as possible.

The symbolic centre of the old conflict between Germany and France was the city of Strasbourg. Today, that city is not only the seat of the European Parliament, but also of the command of the so-called Eurocorps of integrated military forces, with a Franco-German brigade as its core.

As we, a decade ago, started to see the need to enlarge the area of the vision of integration as an instrument for peace to as large areas of Europe as possible, we also encountered the old Eastern Question in the different wars in what was once Yugoslavia.

This area of Europe is in some respects different from others. It has been shaped by millennia of multi-ethnic empires in a way in which no other part of Europe has, producing a mosaic of peoples, cultures, traditions and nations without parallels anywhere else.

It was hardly a coincidence, that when the effort was made in 1919 to build a new Europe based on the Wilsonian principle of self-determination, the principle had to make halt confronted with the mosaic of this area.

And the essence of the challenges presented by the areas of the Eastern Question – the areas of the old Ottoman Empire – is the clash between the multi-ethnic reality and the efforts to set up more or less pure nation states.

Sarajevo came to be the symbol of the breakdown of the old order of Europe after the fateful shots in June of 1914. But, at the end of the century, it came to be a symbol again for the challenges facing Europe. I vividly remember the symbolism of the when the France-German brigade from the once so contested city of Strasbourg was deployed to the outskirts of Sarajevo in order to contribute to the peace of this part of Europe.

There is no enduring way of solving the problems of this area different from the way in which other divisions of Europe have been overcome. The vision of Winston Churchill is no less relevant for the peoples of South-eastern Europe than it was to be peoples of Western Europe.

This will obviously require both determination and patience on behalf of the European Union and its member countries. The problems to overcome are immense. But we must understand, that if we do not break the vicious circle of disintegration in this part of Europe, not only is it likely to bring new conflicts in the area itself, but it will also endanger much more central European values of trying to bring peoples and traditions together within our respective societies.

In the shorter perspective, we might contain the conflicts of the region by the deployment of outside military forces, and we might try to deal with the particularly difficult parts of the region by the setting up of more or less clear-cut protectorates. But these are not solutions in the true sense of the world. It is only when there has been set up the political structures of self-sustaining stability, and bridging of the gaps that have opened up, that we can start to talk in terms of solutions.

This will require a more ambitious approach than we have seen from the European Union so far. There is in reality no alternative to a European Union willing and capable of acting as the driving force for the reforms, the reintegration and the reconciliation that is the only possible way towards peace for this region.

Thus, there is no way in which we can handle the issues of the second threat to the peace and stability of Europe without using the successful mechanisms with which we handled the issues of the first threat.

The third of the old threats was the one presented by the political order and orientation of the borderlands between Russia and the rest of Europe.

Here, the past century clearly demonstrated the dangers. Versailles saw the resurrection of an independent and proud Poland, but soon it was once again divided up between Germany and Russia, only to be subjugated by the Soviet empire after the defeat of the Hitler empire.

Now, Poland is free and member of NATO, with membership of the European Union on the immediate agenda. This is vital to the stability of all of Europe.

But for the peace of Europe, we need a stable order in all of these areas. It is of particular importance that the three nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are firmly anchored in the processes of both European and Atlantic integration.

To leave them outside, would be a dangerous signal to those in Russia who might still be dreaming of a day when old Soviet borders can be recreated, and would thus not only fail to contribute to the stability of Europe, but might even contribute to the instability of Russia itself.

In many ways, the situation of the three Baltic states remains the litmus test of the relationship between Russia and the rest of Europe. A Russia that clearly respects their wish to be part of the structures of the West will be a Russia that can truly be a partner to this West, while a Russia that contests this right will be a Russia with a big question mark.

We need a true partnership with Russia. We must not underestimate the extent of the damage that seven decades of communism has made to the Russian nations, and we must not forget that Russia is a nation with its own national agenda that might at times differ from ours, but this must in no way detract us from the search for a true partnership with Russia in the search for the stability of Europe.

The political order of South-eastern Europe is only one of the issue were we truly need a partnership with Russia. It was instructive to note in 1999 that it was perfectly possible for the West to start a war in the region without Russia, but that it was not possible to end that war without the active and crucial involvement of Russia.

To continue the process of European integration through the enlargement of the European Union, to bring the countries of South-eastern Europe gradually into the process, and to build a true partnership with Russia – these are the key tasks in our continuing effort to overcome the three major threats to peace with which we have been struggling.

But it will not be enough. We must be able to contribute also to the wider security of our wider environment. And this applies not the least to that wider arch of instability that stretches from Agadir to Astrakhan, from the Atlantic Ocean and Africa to the Caspian Sea and Asia. We cannot rely forever on the often reluctant interventions of the United States to secure the peace of our own environment.

The way in which we build the structures of external integration in order to secure the peace of our continent will also have implications for our possibilities of handling the internal challenges of our societies.

There are parallels that cannot be entirely ignored between the challenges we face in the hills of Burundi and the valleys of Bosnia and those confronting us in the suburbs of Brussels and the streets of Belfast.

The way in which we create harmonious relations between different cultures, traditions and nations is not only central to our external peace, but also to choice that is there between confrontation and creativity in our own increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-national societies.

The issues of war and peace must not disappear from the agenda of Europe. The challenges are real, but they can be meet. If we ignore the lessons we should have learnt, we are certain that history will force us to learn them again. That much we should have learnt from the last century.

Bildt Blog Comments

In addition to this webpage, and the email letters ongoing since 1994, I have now started a blog as well.

You find it at

At you will continue to find articles, speeches and different documents.

At the blog there will be the shorter and perhaps somewhat faster comments.

And the e-letter continues to give at the least an attempt at analys.

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