Europe has seen many moments marked as a “major passage.” Most of them are self proclaimed, but one was suggested by an American.

Forty-one years ago–then Secretary of State–Henry Kissinger declared that 1973 was to be the “Year of Europe.” His explanation–”because the era that was shaped by decisions of a generation ago is ending. The success of those policies has produced new realities that require new approaches.”

In a speech he gave in April of that year, Kissinger explained what was at stake.

There have been complaints in America that Europe ignores its wider responsibilities in pursuing economic self-interest too one-sidedly and that Europe is not carrying its fair share of the burden of the common defense. There have been complaints in Europe that America is out to divide Europe economically, or to desert Europe militarily, or to bypass Europe diplomatically. Europeans appeal to the United States to accept their independence and their occasionally severe criticism of us in the name of Atlantic unity, while at the same time they ask for a veto on our independent policies–also in the name of Atlantic unity.

Our challenge is whether a unity forged by a common perception of danger can draw new purpose from shared positive aspirations.

If we permit the Atlantic partnership to atrophy, or to erode through neglect, carelessness, or mistrust, we risk what has been achieved and we shall miss our historic opportunity.

In 1973, we can gain the same sense of historical achievement by reinvigorating shared ideals and common purposes with our friends.

The United States proposes to its Atlantic partners that by the time the President travels to Europe toward the end of the year we will have worked out a new Atlantic charter setting the goals for the future.

Back then, a few things got in the way of those ambitious plans, including the resignation of Richard Nixon and a war in the Middle East–among others. And, the Europeans themselves were not all that enthusiastic about hearing the proclamation from the other side of the Atlantic anyway.

Yet, that was not the last time we would hear about a year of Europe–or maybe even about the hour of Europe–or transatlantic declarations.

The ‘hour of Europe,’ the memorable phrase coined by Jacques Poos, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Luxembourg and President of the EU Council in July 1991, was proclaimed at the outbreak of the Balkan wars. That hour went by quickly and the following years turned out to be dangerous for those living through the breakup of Yugoslavia and deadly for many thousands who didn’t survive it. In the end it required American military firepower to halt the violence at Europe’s door and more time after that for the EU to take hold of that ongoing crisis.

And, then there was 2004–another occasion to proclaim the year of Europe. With 25 members and its own currency, Europe was reaching its zenith. In the words of then Deutsche Bank’s chief economist, Norbert Walter…

A political and economic region with a great wealth of cultural diversity will become a reality. In 2004, the Olympic Games return to their historical and modern roots, and Athens welcomes the youth of the world. This is an occasion for remembrance, for feeling a sense of greatness, for new departures, for contributing to the global future.

History continued to interrupt the celebrations–particularly the emergence of the Euro crisis, which threaten not only the coherence of the financial structure of the European project. It also undercut the political basis of its goals, reflected in some of the backlash appearances of anti-EU sentiment around EU member states.

Yet, even as that challenge is still being met, we see another now in the streets of Kiev. The battle over Ukraine’s future is another passage for Europe’s future. Some argue that this crisis tests the EU’s ability to act with impact. Yet, the engagement of German Foreign Minister Steinmeier together with his Polish and French counterpart in negotiating a settlement agreement between the government and opposition forces was critically important. Now comes the harder steps and that will require leadership in Berlin and Brussels, but also in Washington.

Ukraine’s financial needs will be massive if its economy is not to implode. Here is the necessity for the EU, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the United States to send the right signals to Kiev. Yet, the government’s ability to deal with the crisis is in question. Following the 2004 crisis in Ukraine, things got only worse. There is no guarantee it will now work better. But, it is in the hands if Ukrainians to meet the challenge.

Germany’s role will be central in forging the EU approach toward Kiev and in dealing with Putin’s unpredictable interests, which will not necessarily converge with those in the EU. Yet, Germany will be the primary actor to engage with Moscow to argue that an explosive Ukraine on its borders is in no one’s interest.

As far as Washington is concerned, its influence is critical in sending Moscow a clear message that it will support the emergence of a unified Ukraine under new management. This message must also discourage Moscow from interfering in that development. From the moment of Ukraine’s independence, the United States saw democracy and prosperity for the country as not only a key strategic component of stability in Europe, but also as a factor in influencing Moscow to be more cooperative. The fact that Ukraine cooperated in removing nuclear weapons was a first step in shaping U.S. interests in supporting pro-Western trends in the post-Soviet regions. The H. W. Bush administration also supported Ukraine’s designs to become a member of NATO–enhanced by post 9/11 policies. That ran into resistance in Germany in particular. But, Ukraine’s geopolitical role remains a central U.S. interest.

As much as this is a passage for the Ukrainians to steer, it is another important passage for the EU–another moment to demonstrate its ability to forge a Europe, unified and free. While this must not necessarily result in a stand off with Russia, it will require demonstrating a commitment to what the EU stands for.

During the past decade, efforts to address the relations with Ukraine and its neighbors through the European Neighborhood Policy were meant to assist in the stabilization and transformation of what was previously called the “post-Soviet space”. Germany and Poland took leading roles in this effort to create what was referred to as the Eastern Partnership. Enhancing agreements on energy supplies and trade relations along with financial support were designed to encourage those countries outside the EU to focus on their future association and even membership with the EU.

Ukraine is going to need many years to prepare itself for entry into the EU, but it should have the possibility to aspire to this opening. The evidence of the power of that aspiration was clearly visible a decade ago when ten European nations joined the union.

Today’s Ukraine offers an opportunity for the EU and United States to accomplish what was proposed in a different environment but still remains important. It also offers a chance for the United States and the EU to pool their policies and perspectives on the larger regional arena in which Ukraine is located.

Over four decades after calling for a new agenda of common goals and purpose for the transatlantic community, Kissinger’s appeal seems timely again.

Our challenge is whether a unity forged by a common perception of danger can draw new purpose from shared positive aspirations.

  • James D

    Dr. Janes writes that after the 2004 Ukraine crisis, the Ukrainian government was unable to take up to the task of democratically representing its people. It took ten years for it to finally reach a breaking point, but the reputation of the Ukrainian government appears to have been irreparably damaged. Amid this crisis, I have found myself talking to Ukrainian friends and colleagues (as there are many who have settled in Chicago) and they have all told me something that isn’t getting mentioned by policy leaders, academics or the media: the real possibility that Ukraine will (and should) be split into two separate parts – with the eastern or Crimean half belonging to the Russian sphere of influence and the western half falling in line with the EU.

    The implications of this are huge, but I would like to focus on a few. Firstly, the Ukrainians I have spoken to say that if you look at the political division of the country, it more or less makes the border that they see appropriate. If the people of Ukraine are in agreement on this and their self-determination leads to this outcome, I think the EU and US should respect it. However, I find this hard for the EU to swallow considering the splits they are currently dealing with (Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders etc.) and the historical significance of the split between East and West Germany.

    Secondly, what would be the implications for Belarus? Always on the fence between Russia and Europe, it seems recently that they have been more associated with Russia. Given the outcome of a Ukrainian split, Belarus would be surrounded on the North, West, and South by EU-associated countries (we assume the western half of Ukraine would be part of this) and yet the East and small parts of the South and North would be touching Russia-associated lands. If the EU neighborhood policy truly wishes to include Belarus into their sphere of influence, they need to lead a successful transition for the new Ukraine and show Belarus the unequivocal advantages to European membership.

    Which leads me to my last point: can the EU step up to this crisis? Many times in the past – most notably the Balkan Wars of the 1990s – the EU had a moment to seize its regional hegemony and establish itself as the authority on its own continent. Yet, through poor military mechanisms in the EU, lack of political motivation or possibly even reliance on NATO, the European Union was unable to step up to the challenge and required US assistance. This puts the United States between a rock and a hard place because any assistance from the Americans will be interpreted as an aggressive and overzealous campaign from many in Europe. But to do nothing would prolong the violence, suffering and human rights abuses which Europe proudly defends as “fundamental rights.”

    In short, the Ukraine revolution will be the European Union’s (final?) opportunity to claim authority in its region. But can the EU handle it as it is still recovering from the economic crisis of 2007, seeing a rise in right-wing extremism, and confronting citizen apathy of the EU as a whole?

  • Rob Houck

    Where are Russian troops in this analysis? Where are EU troops? Russia offers mountains of aid and low gas prices. Berlin offers austerity.

  • K Bledowski

    Reluctantly I agree with Jack Janes about the central role of Germany in brokering peace.

    The weekend deal (that then untraveled) had been cobbled by German and Polish emissaries. But why not by Cathy Ashton? She should have been the true “shuttle diplomat” all along. Either the Ukrainian opposition had more faith in Poland and Germany than in the EU as honest intermediaries or Ashton had not enough faith coming from her EU colleagues. This is a sad truth either way.

    Germany is central because seen from Moscow, Berlin matters more to Russia than Brussels. Will Brussels find a way to have in German intermediaries a full-fledged seat at the table?

  • Rob Houck

    So Republican Senators are calling for trade sanctions. Right. Germans will stop buying Russian gas. Good luck, Corker.