Missing the Target: International Stability

When international instability is mentioned, thoughts are inevitably drawn to recent theatres such as Iraq, Lybia and Syria. Undeniably, the rise of Islamic State was facilitated by the power vacuum rising from the Arab Spring. But little thought is given to the western foreign policy decisions that created that vacuum and by extension the subsequent migration crisis. Even less thought is given to the political environment that made those decisions possible. Therefore, as Islamic State falls and another power vacuum forms, it looks like western democracies are doomed to repeat the mistakes of history. So, rather than looking towards the middle-east as a source of instability, why not look closer to home. At the rise of authoritarianism in Europe and its threat to both international, European and domestic security.

Currently referred to as “populism”, the rise of authoritarianism and even fascism in Europe has had a profound impact on political decision-making. Europe is currently suffering the disastrous effects of Brexit, instigated by public disaffection with mainstream politics and the resulting rise of opportunistic far-right groups such as UKIP who offered to fill the void by making promises of radical change. This threat to the two main UK parties was quickly countered by adopting right-wing policies themselves. In effect, a minority group managed to subvert the democratic process and gain control over parliament on old-right positions.

"Of course Brexit means that something is wrong in Europe. But Brexit means also that something was wrong in Britain."
Jean-Claude Juncker

Looking further east, Italy suffered greatly during the migrant crisis as one of the first points of entry from Lybia. With the notable exception of Germany, almost every other western power sought to wash their hands of the crisis. Citing the 2013 Dublin III regulation as justification for leaving struggling economies to shoulder the asylum burden of over 100,000km of sovereign territory that had fallen under Islamic State rule. Understandably, in the face of the highest unemployment rates Italy had seen since the 1970s, the far-right Five-Star Movement led a like-minded coalition to power in the subsequent election. Once again selling a false sense of security with promises of isolationism and authoritarianism that they could not possibly hope to realise under European law.

This trend is not limited to the UK and Italy. It can be seen spreading across Europe. Denmark’s People’s Party, Sweden’s Democrats, Finland’s Finns Party, Austria’s Freedom Party, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland and France’s National Front have either taken power or gained significant influence in recent years, and that’s to name just a few. And when far-right groups take power or influence, policy decisions repeatedly place national and international security at risk. Power is centralised without accountability or oversight leading to political isolation, economic damage and greater vulnerability to external security threats. Dissent is neutralised politically, legally and ultimately violently. The economy and society are exposed to stricter regulation centred around self-determinism and anti-conservatism resulting in greater corruption and social inequality. Finally, emotive policy-making takes precedence over rational problem-solving, leading to reactive, inconsistent decisions and unstable leadership.

As economies, societies and European security deteriorates. The far-right will demand we look to domestic issues and ignore threats from overseas until they are knocking at our door. Weak governments will listen, and something very dark will grow in the space left behind by Islamic State in the Middle-East.

So, it appears that Europe is to be surprised by another entirely predictable security crisis in 2020. The finger of blame will be pointed unfairly at politicians, campaigners, civil servants, migrants and other states. All to avoid directing blame where it firmly belongs, ourselves. It may be difficult to face but as voters in a democracy our own human short-sightedness will be at the core of our security issues in the forthcoming years. Right-wing groups gain power and influence because we allow it, because we do not inform ourselves and because it is easier to accept a lie than to seek the truth.

"It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present."
Gordon Brown

"Never forget" is a familiar phrase that can be heard spoken by veterans at the remembrance day parades in nations across Europe as they lay flowers in memory of the honoured dead. Never forget why they fought and died. Never forget the face of fascism and how it begins in our own fears and selfishness. Well, as veterans groups stand vigil outside the houses of parliament in the UK and the Rassemblement National proudly aligns itself to French veterans, we can reflect on our shamefully short memories. The perception of corruption in government and private industry combined with migration being blamed for increasing social inequality gave rise to the far-right in 1919. Unless we are very careful we will witness it in another vile guise a century later; and just as it did before, it will come to us wrapped in our own flag.

This article is part of the Institute for European Intelligence and Security's "Missing the Target" series. The series draws on expert opinion through registrant articles on the flaws in the analysis of threats to European security. This article is a private contribution offered in the interests of debate by an independent registrant. Views expressed are not endorsed by the Institute and do not constitute their official position.