An Assessment of the Threat Posed by Increased Nationalist Movements in Europe
Major Jeremy Lawhorn is an active duty U.S. Army Psychological Operations Officer with over a decade in Special Operations. He has served in the United States Army for over 19 years in a variety of leadership and staff officer positions, both domestically and internationally. His academic interest is primarily in military strategy, specifically the competition phase. His current research focuses on understanding resistance movements. He currently holds a Master’s Degree from Norwich University, Duke University, and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is currently working on his Doctorate at Vanderbilt University. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States Army or any other government agency.
Title: An Assessment of the Threat Posed by Increased Nationalist Movements in Europe
Date Originally Written: March 18, 2019.
Date Originally Published: April 15, 2019.
Summary: If left unchecked, the current nationalist movements on the rise throughout Europe threaten the integrity of the European Union (EU), the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Alliance, and the overall security of Europe. Leveraging nationalist sentiments, Russia is waging a hybrid warfare campaign to support nationalist opposition parties and far-right extremist groups to create disengagement among EU and NATO members.
Text: In recent years there has been a groundswell of nationalism and far-right extremism across Europe, allowing far-right political parties to gain power in several countries as well as representation in the European Parliament. Today there are more than 59 nationalist parties, 15 regionalist parties, more than 60 active nationalist-separatist movements, and a growing radical right-wing extremist movements throughout the EU. Collectively, far-right nationalist groups occupy 153 of 751 seats in the European Parliament representing 21 of the 28 EU member states. This rise in nationalist sentiment is the result of growing Euroscepticism that has been driven in part by the Eurozone debt crisis, increased opposition to mass immigration, fear of cultural liberalization, and the perceived surrender of national sovereignty to external organizations. These nationalist movements threaten the integrity of the EU, the future of the NATO Alliance, and the overall security and stability of Europe. Leveraging nationalist sentiments, Russia is waging a hybrid warfare campaign to achieve their own political objectives by supporting nationalist opposition parties and far-right extremist groups to increase Euroscepticism and ultimately create disengagement among EU and NATO members.
Today’s nationalist movements are gaining strength in part because they are creating large networks of support across Europe. These movements have created transnational alliances to support each other to oppose the EU. The Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD or EFD2), and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) are nationalist Eurosceptic groups made up of members from several EU members states that collectively have significant representation in the European parliament. These group’s stated purpose is to work for freedom and co-operation among peoples of different States to return power back to the people of sovereign states, to focus on respect for Europe’s history, traditions and cultural values with the belief that peoples and Nations of Europe have the right to protect their borders and strengthen their own historical, traditional, religious and cultural values. These groups are also committed to sovereignty, democracy, freedom and ending mass immigration so that members may advance their own interests at the domestic level. The collective strength of these groups empower local nationalist movements, enabling them to gain influence and power that might not otherwise be possible. As each individual nationalist movement gains power, the larger alliance gains power to support other movements.
The rise of nationalist sentiments is also emboldening right-wing extremism groups. While not all nationalist parties are affiliated with right-wing extremism, the similarity in ideologies creates sympathetic leanings that are destructive for society. In recent years, right-wing political movements have brought together coalitions of Neo-Nazis with mainstream free-market conservatives, normalizing political ideologies. These relationships can be used to serve mutually supportive positions while leaving room for plausible deniability. These violent far-right groups have not only embraced similar populist language of the nationalist political movements, they also espouse openly racist epithets and employ violence to pursue their goals of reestablishing ethnically homogenous states. Not unlike the Nazi party of the past and consistent with nationalist rhetoric, these groups portray immigrants and ethnic minorities as the cause for economic troubles and demonize as threats to the broader national identity. In essence, nationalist parties benefit from national fervor generated by these right-wing extremist without having to openly support their violent activities.
European nationalist parties are not the only ones benefitting from the growth in nationalist sentiments. Russia is also a key beneficiary and benefactor of European nationalist movements. Russia generally views the West with contempt as they see the expansion of NATO and the influence of the EU as an encroachment on their sphere of influence. Anything that challenges the cohesion of NATO and the EU is seen as a benefit for Russia. While Russia may not be responsible for creating these movements, they have supported a variety of nationalist opposition and far-right extremist groups throughout Europe to achieve their own political aims. Russia is playing a vital role to empower these groups with offers of cooperation, loans, political cover and propaganda. The Kremlin is cultivating relationships with these far-right parties, by establishing ‘‘cooperation agreements’’ between the dominant United Russia party and parties like Austria’s Freedom Party, Hungary’s Jobbik, Italy’s Northern League, France’s National Front, and Germany’s AfD (Alternative for Germany). Kremlin-linked banks are also providing financial support for nationalist parties like France’s National Front party to support their anti-EU platform. Kremlin-linked oligarchs are also supporting European extremist groups like Germany’s neo-Nazi NPD party, Bulgaria’s far-right Ataka party, Greece’s KKK party, and the pro-Kremlin Latvian Russian Union party.
Russian propaganda is also playing a major role in destabilizing the EU and fueling the growth of nationalist and anti-EU sentiment. According to a resolution adopted by the European Parliament in November 2016, Russian strategic communication is part of a larger subversive campaign to weaken EU cooperation and the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of the Union and its Member States. Russia’s goal is to distort truths, provoke doubt, divide EU Member states, and ultimately undermine the European narrative. In one example, Russian attempted to create division by manipulating the Brexit referendum. Researchers at Swansea University in Wales and the University of California at Berkeley found that more than 150,000 Russian-sponsored Twitter accounts that tweeted about Brexit in order to sow discord. In the 48 hours leading up to referendum, Russian-sponsored accounts posted more than 45,000 divisive messages meant to influence the outcomes. Another example of Russian interference was during the Catalan crisis in 2017. Pro-Kremlin Twitter accounts amplified the Catalan crisis by 2,000% in an effort to support the Catalan Independence Referendum and cause further friction within Europe. On October 1, 2017, 92 percent of the population voted in favor of independence and on October 27 the Parliament of Catalan declared independence from Spain sparking unrest in Spain.
This rise in nationalism presents a challenge not only to the future integrity of the EU, but also the security and stability of the region. Continuing to capitalize on the growing nationalist sentiments, Russia is achieving its interests by supporting nationalist political parties and far-right extremist groups that are increasing fractures within and between European states. These actions present an existential threat to European security and the future viability of the EU and NATO.
This article appeared originally at Divergent Options.
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