I am opening my blog editor for the first time in more than a month. A few days ago I returned to Belgrade after intense travel. It started with my participation in a series of work-related meetings and conferences in Budva, Montenegro, mid December. Whilst I spent my days with my colleagues in a Hotel Resort on issues supporting the efforts to control all aspects of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in the Western Balkans and South East Europe, I returned to my campervan for the night, where my cat was patiently waiting for me.
I took to the road then for spending time in Germany over the Christmas Season and the New Year’s celebrations. A long road trip along the Croatian coast line, getting into colder weather in Slovenia, snow in Austria and heavy snow in Bavaria. The epic winter scenery in Bavaria didn’t last more than a few days, accompanied by the usual chitchat on air waves, social media and in local bakeries on cold snaps and climate change. Christmas Day I traveled to Berlin, the weather had warmed up, typical grey dark winter weather in late December and early January in Germany. I spent time on work, time with loved ones and with friends, and with myself.
This weekend I returned to Belgrade, also capturing some impressions about two days of road travel through Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and finally Serbia. 01 January 2023, Croatia entered the Schengen Zone and the Eurozone. For somebody traveling so often, the fact that my first and only border control happened on entering Serbia was a source of excitement. Some of those impressions are available on Youtube (@allovertheplacewithtiggie), I publish little videos on aspects of a lifestyle which I have taken up since now more than three years, including part-time living in a campervan and, since last year, additionally a caravan.
If I wanted, aside of the private side of things, to summarize events and developments I have been following between mid of December and mid of January, I would fail. The complexity of global developments and their related news has been pretty overwhelming.
Yesterday evening I met with a long-time friend for dinner. As always we were catching up on what happened since we saw each other the last time. The mere attempt to focus on a summary account on my side for the past half of a year since we had seen each other left me with a feeling of inferiority: I felt like failing in giving an accurate account of everything that had happened. At the same time I tried to deflate my ego: My ego was trying to get me to talk about everything that had happened through lenses framed by my own interpretation of “reality”, my role in it, and my wish to demonstrate that things I said were very relevant. I’m happy to report that I was able to refrain from that.
At the same time my friend was chatting away against a background of own heavy involvement in his area of work. He is ten years younger than I am, with a professional career still pointing upwards to more, and more responsible, positions. By contrast, my intellectual growth happens within a context of transformation into being somewhat a mentor and an independent consultant, a retired individual with a distinguished career in the past, and with, hopefully, useful previous experience and the ability to turn that experience into strategic advice which helps in contemporary situations. Which constantly forces me to renew my strategic and contextual knowledge because otherwise I would become one of those “dinosaurs” who don’t even realize when people around them shrug their shoulders and turn away, because nothing they hear feels appealing or relevant to them.
That is also why I enjoy meeting so many people of all ages, gender, nationality, cultural belonging, and more. In order to make my advice relevant, it needs to fit into what people think and feel today, and not what people like I thought and felt at the time when I was younger and pursuing an active career, inflating my ego.
All those circumstances which were forming the pillars of my own framework relevant for my work, they have changed. Literally every aspect which I could compare to those circumstances when I worked, as a national senior police officer, and then for twenty years as a United Nations peacekeeper and as a European Union crisis manager in alternating senior functions, they appear to be less visible, less relevant, and increasingly also becoming a subject of a loss of corporate memory. By having a long-term involvement in international aspects of peace&security, I do remember things which other people have forgotten, or which they will never be taught. So I remember that there always were developments which I could see which led to the current state of affairs. But the speed of development of the past three years since I retired, it sped up so much, including erosion, decay and implosion of operational, strategic and political pillars of an architecture which we worked so hard on for many decades. Many of my blog entries deal with aspects of it. Of course, I always also reflect on the underlying DNA of frameworks: The underpinning values.
Some discussions between my friend and me yesterday also dealt with the question whether we correctly assume that those values which form the DNA for our passionate and compassionate attitude also hold true for younger generations. We were doubtful, to some extent. I would add that we, the previous generations, have failed to live some, or many, of these values in a convincing collective way. Why does Greta Thunberg’s sharp words of criticism come to my mind, just as one but very visible example for those who rightfully blame us, the previous generations. And: Will future generations including those who criticise us, be able to act more responsibe? My political roots sit with the generation directly following the German “68er”. We were the wind of change of those days, some of us outside of the system, some of us inside the system. Some went from the outside to the inside. A considerable number of them also played a role in my work, or together with me. All of those are in retirement, at least. Some of them are gone from this life.
But, on the other hand: Who am I to claim that the erosion which I believe to see goes so deep? Since I am not embedded into the organisational framework of national or international institutions any longer, whether in policing, or United Nations peace operations, or European Union crisis management, which insider knowledge of recent years can I use for concluding that things got really bad, in my assessment?
So I sat here over the past days, thinking about what what comes up next in this blog. Or related to other plans on my writing, such as my plan to work on essays. There is so much to say, so much to write about. I felt like if I don’t find a focus for 2023, things remain blurry, without depth, just chatter. My friend and I left yesterday shortly after I had asked “What will be the defining things which we can see for 2023?”. My friend hesitated, and after some silence both of us agreed that we know little, except that likely things will become more difficult, more bellicose, more unstable.
Against this background I quietly sat over lunch today. I let my thoughts calm down and I started writing this title “Seeing Deeper”.
In December 2019, I was invited by the University of Osnabrueck, talking to students on the topic of communication both being used as a weapon, or as a means for political conciliation. Boris Pistorius, then being the Minister of Interior of the German State of Lower Saxony, was addressing the students before me on the same topic. Tomorrow he will be formally appointed as the new German Minister of Defense. I so much wish him luck for this challenging environment.
I came across this memory when contemplating about my friend’s and my discussions yesterday on what we can see, or not, or only partly, or speculate about, related to the information warfare aspects surrounding the larger context in which Russia is conducting a War of Aggression against the Ukraine.
The topic of the talk back in late 2019, communication as a means either to manipulate, to disrupt, to antagonize, or as a means to find common ground and common sense, it is as relevant as the discussion of values on which I embark so often. These days, at the beginning of 2023, whether I like it or not, any effort to keep things together happens in a radically changed environment in which we need to take sides without loosing the ability to find paths and avenues which, at the very least, do not play into the hand of the enemies of values defining the post World War II order.
Enemies? Yes, very much so. Not the Russian people. But for war mongerers under, and including, Vladimir Putin, the scope of their aggression and warfare goes way beyond the Ukraine. Institutions of the post WW II order, organisations such as NATO and the EU, and their constituent States, are being met with open hostility. To put it mildly. We may navigate in order to contain, to limit, physical warfare. We may attempt to avoid becoming party in a war. But efforts attempting to pull us in, or to destabilise, or to disrupt, to weaken, to discredit legitimacy of democracy, to cover any meaningful truth under thick layers of lies, manipulation, and psychological warfare, are countless.
In that, the world definitely has become a very rough place. The system is under attack way beyond the physical war in the Ukraine. Today’s world requires a decisive mindset: We can only work for peace by being clear about red lines. We will make mistakes, of course. We will misjudge, because no perfect judgement in a highly complex and volatile kinetic environment is possible. But we have no time for complacency. We have no time for blurriness. Sometimes we need peacekeepers. Sometimes, the sharp edge requires more than keeping peace. It sometimes means to fight for peace.
And that is why I end, as a peacekeeper in my very heart, with a clear statement: Get these Leopard II tanks into the Ukraine. Now.
And, again: The best of luck, Boris Pistorius. Hopefully you will be able to send the right message off the ramp directly after your taking up duties.
N.B.: On the featured image: The author, almost to the day 22 years ago, in a United Nation’s Police capacity, being introduced into the capabilities of a Leopard II tank, undisclosed location.