Let me share some of the thinking that lies behind the Russian idea of the necessity of a new European security architecture. I cannot not claim authorship of the idea — that belongs rightly to President Dmitri Medvedev — but I have been a proponent of the concept for many years.
During the last decade and a half, Russia has been drifting back to its traditional historical role — that of a relatively backward, but powerful country, seeking to join a European civilization to which it largely belongs, but fearing that if it fully joins it could lose its sovereignty and also lose out in competition with more advanced societies.
That eternal Russian question has recently been complicated by the emergence of an alternative to the European orientation. Previously, Russian Slavophiles or Euro-Asianists did not have a convincing case in the real world. Their calls for a retreat from Europe amounted to advocating a retreat from prosperity and modernity. Now, for the first time in seven hundred years (since Prince Alexander Nevsky used Mongols against the Teutonic knights) Russia seems to have an alternative. Another great civilization – China — has rebounded and is developing much more rapidly and effectively than the tired European one.
Fifteen years ago, Russia and Europe reached a historic crossroads. In 1991, the newly victorious anti-communist Russian elite were ready to join Europe. Moscow would even have settled for a role as a respected apprentice.
But that opportunity was lost. NATO’s eastward expansion, which began in 1994-1995 and proceeded without Russia’s participation and against its will, put an end to hopes of building a Europe without dividing lines. At the same time it dealt a blow to Russia’s trust in the United States and its allies. Russia’s elite, who saw themselves as the winners in the struggle against totalitarian Communism, have never considered their country defeated in the Cold War. The West, however, treated Russia — in Germany as elsewhere, almost unconsciously — de-facto as a defeated country, whose weak protests could be disregarded.
The Cold War was proclaimed finished and, indeed, the ideological and military confrontation was gone. But the old geopolitical rivalry, which was always waiting in the wings, has again come to the fore.
But Russia has learned its lesson. It is no longer ready to join Europe as a respected apprentice. Now it wants to join as a powerful ally, or not at all.
The problem of the new European architecture lies not only with the fact that Russia, by far the most powerful nation on the continent, is not satisfied with its place in it.
In addition, Russians feel that the existing organizations for international and collective security in Europe have not solved the main problem – the issue of war and peace. Their impotence manifested itself in the spring of 1999, when NATO attacked Yugoslavia, and again in August 2008, when the conflict in the Caucasus erupted. In both cases, the tragic events were caused by the inability of the existing European security institutions to prevent the international and the intra-state conflicts that escalated after the end of the Cold War.»
Concurrently, the existing mechanisms and institutions for multilateral interaction on security matters (OSCE, NATO, EU or Russia-NATO Council) deny greater Europe the ability to respond jointly and effectively to new challenges and threats and to be a key player in international conflict resolution. There exists no efficient institutional and legal framework in Europe or the Euro-Atlantic area for the cooperation of all states in such matters as countering drug trafficking, combating terrorism and cyber crime, ensuring biosecurity, taking collective preventive action, reacting in concert to emergencies and humanitarian crises, guaranteeing environmental protection and meeting the challenge of global climate change.
The unfinished character of the Cold War, the continuation of the obsolete geopolitical rivalry between NATO and Russia clearly impedes effective cooperation between Russia and the United States on many strategic issues, including the nuclearization of Iran and other countries.
Moreover, and we must be unequivocal about this very unpleasant truth, the possibility of further NATO expansion to Ukraine, which Russia views as a vital threat to its security, has the potential to revive the long-forgotten specter of a large-scale war in Europe, which could escalate unpredictably.
The unfinished nature of the Cold War constantly reanimates open or hidden suspicions, as well as a confrontational mentality and rhetoric in Russia and many other European countries. The old geopolitical thinking and the psychology of rivalry are again rearing their heads in Europe. “Energy security” is a classic example. Non-Russian Europe should thank God for the presence of energy-rich Russia at its borders, while Russia should be thankful for such a wealthy customer. But natural, albeit hidden differences in the interests of energy consumers and energy producers, which could be easily overcome in open negotiations, almost unconsciously take on a political hue. Thus, energy supply becomes an issue of “security” and even acquires a military slant — witness the discussion about an “Energy NATO”. Another example, which is almost too absurd to be true, is the farcical military-political rivalry over 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered energy resources that allegedly are located in Russia’s economic zone in the Arctic.
Faced with the impossibility of mutually advantageous and equitable accession to the Euro-Atlantic sphere, Russia now seems to be inclined to give priority to cooperation with China – as a “younger brother” admittedly, although a respected one. A partial economic reorientation toward an ascendent Asia, and Greater China in particular, is necessary and beneficial for Russia. But Moscow’s alienation from Europe – the cradle of Russian civilization and modernization – threatens Russia’s identity and may pose geostrategic risks in the not too distant future.
This estrangement has already played a significant role in Russia’s partial retreat from European values like democracy or the rule of law. What was seen as a betrayal by the West gravely undermined those in Russia who preached rapprochement with Europe – in some cases it even caused them to rethink their position.
The disaffection between Russia and Europe continues to grow. If they fail to unite on the basis of their cultural proximity and the complementarity of their economies, they will be consigning themselves to the status of second, or even third-rank players in the future world order. Europe will then become a sort of larger Venice, a rich but declining continent and a monument to its former greatness, while Russia assumes the role of an agrarian and raw material supplying appendage of Greater China and other developed economies. Realistically, neither Russia nor Europe appears to have the ability to revitalize and transform themselves into independent centers of power that could counterbalance and supplement the two main players of the future – the United States and China.
It is necessary to clearly identify the problem: Does the West want to continue its geopolitical expansion, extending its institutions, above all NATO, to countries bordering on Russia? Or is it ready to put an end to this shortsighted policy?
Would it not be wiser for the West to end its hypocritical talk about Russia renouncing its zones of special interest, used to cover up NATO's expansion of its own influence into Russia's most sensitive military-political sphere? For this is what NATO has been doing.
It would have been better to avoid such “zones of special interests,” at least in Europe. The alternative would be to give up NATO expansion in favor of joint development, renouncing rivalry in favor of cooperation. Talk about the desire of some elites in post-Soviet countries to join NATO to confirm their “European choice” must be replaced by shared responsibility for security in Europe. This does not mean that Russia can or should impede the social and economic convergence of all of Europe around its most efficient center – the European Union. Rather, it should join in this consolidation.
But for that to begin to happen, Euro-Atlantic leaders need to draw a final line under the Cold War, either by concluding a new Pan-European security treaty or by inviting Russia to join NATO. Otherwise we will all be doomed to continue the history of rivalry and decline, and to growing obsolescence in a world of new powers and new challenges.
//Published in The Security Times