Riga, Latvia. 25 September. "What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War...but the end of history as such...and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government". Twenty-five years ago Francis Fukuyama wrote one of those epoch-bending, era-defining articles that caught the imagination of the moment. "The End of History?" first appeared in the review "The National Interest" in 1989 before being expanded into a best-selling 1992 book. Fukuyama's book has been much misunderstood ever since, mainly by those who claimed to have read it but never actually did. Fukuyama was not suggesting the end of events but rather that law would replace power in international relations built on the principles of liberal democracy and peaceful free market competition. 'Law' to Fukuyama represented a series of normative rules and practices by which all states would abide. Still, twenty-five years on the re-appearance of Macho-politik and Machtpolitik in Europe challenge Fukuyama's thesis to the core.
The EU is in many ways the ultimate embodiment of the Fukuyama thesis, far more than his own native United States. Indeed, it is power versus law that is at the very centre of the clash of cultures embodied in the 2014 Russia-Ukraine War. On the one side of the clash (much more than NATO) is the EU and its European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) which was launched amidst much fanfare in 2004. Central to the ENP is a very technocratic view of international relations with so-called "association agreements" designed to tie states beyond EU borders to the Brussels Way. Future EU membership is implicit rather than explicit in such agreements with the prospect of copious amounts of EU taxpayer's cash on offer to ease the path of weak states to the east and south of the EU as they 'align' with Brussels via regulation and EU "law".
On the other side of the clash is Russia. For Moscow whatever the means the EU employs to extend its influence is still a function of competitive geopolitics and thus a zero sum game in which Russia loses. To Moscow Brussels might dress up its advances in "law" but ultimately EU expansion is all about influence and power and thus can only be at Russia's expense. In the recent past Russia rather lamely tried to counter the EU with its own Eurasian Union. However, Moscow's EU has little attraction to those in Russia's "near abroad" who have no wish to find themselves back in a Soviet Union re-born.
The irony is that Fukuyama's thesis is being contested by a Russia that Fukuyama did not predict. Russia is simply a traditional illiberal power (although it shares many of the hallmarks) but a state that sees itself as a form of hybrid "sovereign democracy". This confuses other Europeans and helps to explain why 2014 marks the end of the Fukuyama thesis (at least for now). Such confusion is also reflected in the stark nature of the clash and Russia's very real return to the principles of Machtpolitik.
This cold new/old reality was evident in the 5 September abduction of senior Estonian Intelligence officer Eston Kohver who now languishes in a Moscow jail. All the evidence suggests he was abducted from within Estonian territory by the so-called "Alpha" Spetsnaz team from the Special Operations Centre of Russia's FSB Intelligence agency. On the face of it Russia's action suggests that Estonia, the most exposed of the Baltic States, might be the next target for the ambiguous warfare Russia unleashed on Ukraine. Certainly, Mr Kohver will have deep knowledge of Estonian defences and Estonia's working relationship with both NATO and the EU and no doubt that has now been extracted.
So, power or law in Europe? At present it looks very much like Russian power is winning with what is essentially a weak hand given the state of Russian society and its economy. The ceasefire in Ukraine is in fact a de facto acknowledgement of Russian gains. Mr Kohver, much like the shooting down of MH17, seems sadly to have been confined quickly to the politically-convenient archives of history.
The essential folly of Fukuyama's EU has also been revealed. In practice Fukuyama's thesis has helped to disarm Europe, politically, militarily and even mentally. For twenty-five years Europe has played EU legal chess in a bid to fulfil Fukuyama's dictum with a Russia that pretended to play along. In fact, it was only a matter of time before Russia went back to playing the power poker with which Moscow is much more comfortable. Moscow's "defection" from EU chess this year has left Europeans simply unable or unwilling to see what is happening, not least because many of them have simply forgotten how to play power poker. Technocracy does not do geopolitics.
This reality was brought home to me in Oslo this week. I had the honour of addressing the excellent international Army Summit 2014 hosted by the Chief of Staff of the Royal Norwegian Army. It was a fascinating day. We talked about defence cuts, interoperability between armed forces, diversity and political correctness and the experiences of the ordinary soldier. The one word that was missing from the conference was 'power', until of course I rose to speak. I imagined Churchill alive today and what the great man would have said about Europe's retreat from power into 'law'. He would have gazed sternly at the audience and in good time and no doubt as politically incorrect as me, the great gravel of a voice would have thundered, "Power is a fickle mistress. Treat her with respect or she will soon seek favours elsewhere".
It is Fukuyama's relationship with power that causes his thesis to fail. In international relations power is more abiding than law. In geopolitics 'law' can never be an alternative to power but a consequence of it. Law needs power and no amount of clever technocracy can replace power. This is what Moscow understands and 1989 Francis Fukuyama caught up in the Cold War ending euphoria of the moment failed to understand. I bet he does now. Does Europe?