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Europe can’t forget the reality of war

A British peace protester in 1966. Keystone/Getty

Europeans born after 1960 generally believe that “peace is the normal state of affairs”, says Caroline de Gruyter in Foreign Policy. Most of their countries have cropped defence budgets and have no military conscription; some of these countries even described their contributions to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as “peacekeeping”. Former war offices are now called ministries of defence, and universities are similarly euphemistic. When the military historian Margaret MacMillan told one educational consultant she was preparing a course called “War and Society”, he was dismayed, and urged her to title it “A History of Peace” instead. After centuries of bloodshed on the continent, Europeans felt they had grown out of it. “Wars are what others do, and we send them humanitarian assistance and special peace envoys.”

That’s largely why more than two decades of talking with Vladimir Putin came to nothing. When one no longer knows what war is, “one ends up not recognising war mongers anymore”. Moreover, one forgets how we should negotiate with them: from a “foundation of hard power”. Putin’s ruthless attack on Ukraine has made all this bitterly clear – it’s a watershed moment, “a kind of European 9/11”. The lesson is obvious. “If Europe wants to continue to live in peace, it must finally build a strong foreign policy and common defence.”