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01.04.2009. The Unfinished War, or the Magic Numbers of 2009

The year 2009 is a year of a seemingly magic combination of the anniversaries of many events that have shaped the world we live in. But the main anniversary in 2009 is 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Today we can sum up the results – both glad and sad – of the period that has passed since then.
The positive results include the victory of personal liberty over non-liberty. Communism has sunk into historical nothingness. It was the only European utopia that was attempted to be translated into life and that brought about the stifling Soviet socialism, which inflicted huge losses on Russians and other peoples of the Soviet Union and many other countries.
But the most important consequence of the chain of events launched by the fall of the Berlin Wall was the death of the artificial economic system – “real socialism” – which does not meet man’s nature and needs. The experiment is over and mankind has returned to the market economy.
The sharply extensive – by two billion people – expansion of the sphere of capitalism, coupled with the revolution in communications and the liberalization of world trade, has brought about an unprecedented global economic boom, the enormous enrichment of tens of thousands of people, and a huge increase in the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of other people. The “golden billion” has become wider.
Germany has gained the most from the end of the Cold War among European countries. It has achieved national unity and has become stronger. It has deliberately ceded part of its sovereignty to the United Europe and has become a symbol of what is the best in the new European political culture. No one is afraid of “German revanchism” any longer.
The end of the Cold War resulted not only in the completion of the national reconciliation of historical enemies – the Germans and the French – but also in an amazing historical phenomenon – an almost complete reconciliation between Russians and Germans, despite the worst record of enmity in Europe in the 20th century.
It seemed that the Cold War in Europe and in the whole world gave way to a period of calm and prosperity and to “eternal peace,” the daydream of thinkers in all countries and in all times. In the present situation of increasing instability and decreasing governability, the talk of “eternal peace” only evokes a sad smile. Instead of “the end of history,” we are witnessing the return of the old geopolitics, coupled with new and ever increasing challenges, which are not met and therefore are only piling up.
By the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it has turned out that Europe has not got what it could, either, and that this gain – the removal of the military threat and the military confrontation between two systems – may prove to be temporary. Confrontation and division may re-emerge again, even though in a different form, and this danger seems to be increasingly real.
The reason for this is that the Cold War in Europe, even though declared over, has actually never been finished.
The Soviet Union voluntarily withdrew from Central and Eastern Europe. Despite calls from the majority of European capitals, Moscow gave the green light to and even assisted the reunification of Germany. It is embarrassing to admit but Russia was the initiator of the Soviet Union’s breakup and the loss of part of its historical territories. This was done not only because of thoughtlessness, or because Soviet people lost the sense of motherland, or because new elites wanted to come to power, replacing the old ones associated with Mikhail Gorbachev. The main reason for the sacrifice was a desire to get rid of the hated Soviet Communism as soon as possible.
When giving up the empire and even parts of their country, the Russians believed that other alliances, above all NATO, would not be extended to countries and territories from which we withdrew. On the contrary, we hoped for unification with Europe in a “common European home” and for creation of a “united and free Europe” (as put by George H.W. Bush). That was not only starry-eyed self-deception. Everyone predicted such a Europe then. The leaders of the U.S. and Germany promised NATO’s non-enlargement to Gorbachev. He believed their words and did not insist that they commit their promise to paper.
The Russians, who not only had borne the brunt of the Communist dictatorship but who had also done more than any other nation to put an end to it, came out of the Cold War without feeling defeated.
On the contrary, they felt victorious over Communism, while geopolitically they withdrew with their banners unfurled, expecting honorable peace.
However, after the first few euphoric years, the West began to behave like a winner and to view the territories, from which the Soviet Union withdrew, not as voluntarily abandoned but as occupied. Availing itself of the revolution in Russia and its weakness and chaos, the West started consolidating its booty. From 1994 – 1995 the beginning of NATO’s enlargement started. Its first and the second waves had no ideological footing. Meanwhile, in 1949, that is 60 years ago (again, the magic of anniversary years), NATO was established primarily as an instrument for combating Communism. The alliance did not have a military vector then, as no one in Europe could or wanted to fight. NATO acquired a military dimension and became a military-political alliance aimed at containing possible military threats later around 1953, after North Korea attacked South Korea.
The waves of NATO’s enlargement had no military logic, either. After the breakup of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the centralized Communist system, the potential “military threat” to the West vanished into thin air.
There remained only one, geopolitical, logic – the desire to secure the former Socialist states and then the former Soviet republics in the sphere of Western political and economic influence. New NATO members were declared as meeting some alleged political (democratic) and military criteria. Later, even well-beseeming covers were given up, and NATO began to invite to join it even the most backward and corrupt states. Things even acquired the dimensions of a historical anecdote – Albania, perhaps the most backward country in Europe but advantageously located, was admitted into the ranks of “advanced democracies.”
It was believed that the division of Europe during the Cold War years was largely based on ideological and military confrontation. Geopolitical control was almost never mentioned. It turned out, however, that there was much of geopolitics. And when ideology and the military threat were gone, the old geopolitics came into the fore, at least in the actions of the U.S. and Old Europe.
The idea of admitting Russia to NATO was immediately rejected – allegedly because Russia was not ready for that, or because that would change NATO beyond recognition. The latter argument was, perhaps, well-grounded. If Russia had joined NATO, the U.S. hegemony in it would have weakened. But on the other hand, the alliance would have become an organization of pan-European security, rather than a military geopolitical union of the West.
Russia protested against NATO’s enlargement, but its protests were politely and disdainfully ignored.
Weakened Moscow made a mistake by signing the “second Treaty of Brest-Litovsk” [the treaty Bolshevik Russia signed with Germany on humiliating terms in March 1918 – S.K.] – the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security with NATO, which politically legitimized the bloc’s further enlargement. In exchange, Russia received the still useless Russia-NATO Council and a handful of meaningless or already broken promises. When the second wave of NATO enlargement began, which involved the Baltic States, Russia decided to bite the bullet and not to notice it for a while.
Now let me share my personal reminiscences. In the years of the first waves of the enlargement, I repeatedly asked major experts and policymakers in the West: Do you not understand that the large country with a great history will revive and will never agree to NATO’s expansion to its historical territories? And that the enlargement must be stopped, or a coup de grâce must be performed to end Russia’s suffering? My interlocutors quietly agreed or looked away in the vain hope that the “moment of truth” would never come and that the great country would never think of its vital interests again.
Meanwhile, NATO not only enlarged. From the anti-Communist defensive alliance of the Cold War years, it degraded into an offensive union.
NATO committed an aggression against Yugoslavia and annexed Kosovo from it. This year will see ten years since that shameful event – again the magic numbers of 2009. The NATO leader, with a group of its allies, attacked Iraq. NATO is actually waging an offensive war far from its original area of responsibility, in Afghanistan – with Russia’s consent, it must be admitted. NATO’s appetite has since been increasing. In a bid to prove its usefulness, the alliance’s bureaucracy is trying to add an “energy” dimension to it, so that it could use military-political methods to ensure access to resources in other countries’ territories, or even an “Arctic” dimension to promote claims – it is not yet clear whose – to territories around the North Pole.
NATO’s expansion towards Russia’s borders and the inclusion in NATO of countries, whose elites had historical complexes with regard to Russia because of their setbacks and defeats in previous centuries, increased anti-Russian sentiments in the alliance.
I am miles from believing that NATO threatens or can threaten Russia. It was a defensive alliance not only according to its doctrine. I am confident that NATO could not fight even in Soviet times, not to mention the present time, as has been graphically shown by its campaign in Afghanistan.
Due to all these changes and despite efforts to improve its image, NATO is now viewed by Russians as a much more hostile organization than it was in the 1990s and even a decade before.
Politically, NATO’s enlargement has become the main threat to European security. I would dare say that, thanks to this enlargement, Europe has never come out of the Cold War, even though it has ended ideological and military confrontation. The former confrontation is being replaced with a new, military-geopolitical confrontation. The forgotten confrontation between the “Old East” – the Soviet Union and its satellites – and the “Old West” is being replaced with a new one – between Russia, on the one hand, and the U.S. and some of the “New Europeans.” The “Old” ones are keeping somewhat aloof, but they are hostages and cannot move farther away. This new confrontation is emerging against the backdrop of a truly new and increasingly unstable and dangerous world.
The Cold War, unfinished in the minds of the political classes, including the Russian political class, has not been finished institutionally and organizationally, either. And this is the most important thing. Cold War institutions, above all NATO and even the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), initially established to serve the Cold War, have been recreating confrontation again and again, although the original causes of the Cold War are gone.
The Cold War did not end with concluding a peace treaty; so it has remained unfinished and is pulling the world back into the past.
There is an element of geopolitical competition in relations between the EU and Russia, as well. But the EU was not created for confrontation. This is one of the reasons why there is a strong potential for cooperation and rapprochement in these relations.
In the mid-2000s, Russia began to change the rules of the game imposed on it in the years of its weakness and revolutionary chaos. Vladimir Putin’s Munich speech made this policy difficult not to notice. However, the West disregarded it, describing it as a Cold War relapse.
Part of the American policy-forming class that is not interested in the final stabilization and consolidation of Europe – both in the west and the east – again began to push through NATO’s enlargement, this time to Ukraine. To add more fuel to the division, they decided to deploy a militarily senseless and ineffective missile defense system in Central Europe.
Russia put up fierce resistance – above all, because it realized the vital need for stopping the mechanism of resuming confrontation in Europe on new frontiers.
I do hope that Tbilisi’s attack on South Ossetia will prove to be a fruitful episode in historical perspective. The victims – the Ossetians, Russians and Georgians who died in that war – may not be in vain. Russian troops crushed the Georgian army on the ground. But politically, they delivered a strong military blow to the logic of NATO’s infinite expansion which, if not stopped, would inevitably bring about a big war – not in Georgia but around Ukraine, almost in the heart of Europe.
Now the U.S. and the Old West are facing a dilemma. If they try to continue expanding NATO to Ukraine, it would mean a decision to “finish off” Russia. Then Russia would have no choice but to seek shelter behind a fence of nuclear missiles placed on high alert and to prepare for the worst, trying to inflict maximum damage to the other (I would hate to call it opposing) party. One would have to forget about cooperation in addressing new problems. Any major reductions in the level of nuclear confrontation would also be impossible. (Of course, some reductions in nuclear weapons are possible and desirable even now, in the conditions of uncertainty and the risk of resumed confrontation, but this would be done only to get rid of obsolete and unwanted systems intended to enhance the effectiveness of the entire nuclear potential, and to improve the atmosphere of Russian-U.S. relations.)
I do not think that Russia will soften when its muscles, puffed up by oil, somewhat deflate. On the contrary, its readiness for tough counteraction will rather increase – especially as there will be a pretext to explain away the internal problems by an external threat. Russia will have to forget about the modernization of its economy and political system. So, a new confrontation would not only be a drama for Europe, a disaster for Ukraine and one more problem for the world, but it would also be a tragedy for the Russian people.
For the time being, however, the situation remains open. The U.S. and its clients failed to unleash a new, even though a caricature, Cold War after the South Ossetian episode. The continental Old Europeans interfered. Then, attempts to start a new Cold War were overshadowed by the crisis, which has made squabbles and old thinking inherited from the past times simply farcical and which has emphasized the acuteness of the new challenges.
Hopefully, the economic crisis and the coming of Barack Obama to power, from whom one can expect a fresh look at how to address problems, will scale down the issue of a new, even though farcical, Cold War. But its institutional roots will remain and will poison life and obstruct the establishment of imperative strategic cooperation between Russia and the Old West.
The Greater Europe, which includes Russia, and the U.S. badly need a new peace treaty and a new architecture that would draw a line not only under the Cold War but also under World War II. It started 70 years ago – again the magic numbers of 2009. Actually, the Yalta and Potsdam Accords turned out to be not treaties establishing peace but provisional agreements on the division of Europe.
In the larger part of Europe, World War II ended in a peace treaty. The Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community – the prototype of the European Union, the united Western Europe – and which made former enemies its members, was actually such a treaty. Russia and the West have never concluded a peace treaty.
The unfinished nature of the Cold War and World War II is creating a dangerous vacuum which, if attempts to enlarge NATO persist, may turn Russia from a revisionist state changing the disadvantageous rules of the game imposed on it in the 1990s into a revanchist state. The Europeans, due to their vindictiveness, greed and stupidity, already made a similar mistake after World War I, when they imposed on Germany the unfair Treaty of Versailles, which predetermined Germany’s transformation into a revanchist state. The Treaty of Versailles will turn 90 this year – again, the magic numbers of 2009. Such a tragic mistake must not be allowed to be repeated.
Russia has recently proposed overcoming the present situation by signing a new treaty on pan-European security. Dmitry Medvedev expressed this idea last summer. The war in Georgia has made it look still more relevant even for its initial opponents.
The proposed treaty, or rather a system of accords, must finally draw a line under the horrible 20th century in Europe, with its world and cold wars. Unless this page is turned, history may relapse, while joint and effective efforts to counter new threats and challenges will remain unrealistic.
Today, in the period of acute mistrust and the development of a global economic crisis, it is not easy to speak about ideal constructs. Yet we must think about finishing the construction of an optimal structure of relations in the Euro-Atlantic region. Otherwise, it is no use planning the creation of a new system for governing the global economy and international relations, which would involve new global actors and which would be adequate to 21st-century challenges, and looking for answers to ever new global challenges.
The current crisis is complex. It includes a crisis of mentality; a crisis of old economic models, international law, and principles of governance; and the loss of many moral principles that underlay policies.
We need a new round of creation, in which we must complete the construction of the European system and clear it of the vestiges of the past.
There are many options for building a “new European architecture.” Let me offer one of them, which I find the most attractive.
We need a new pan-European treaty on collective European security, signed either by individual countries, or by NATO and the EU, on the one hand, and Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, on the other. All countries that are not included in the current security systems would be able to join in the treaty and receive multilateral guarantees. NATO’s enlargement would be de facto frozen.
The OSCE would be transformed into an Organization for Collective Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSCE) and would acquire new functions, including military-political ones. It would not be bad if the future treaty reiterated the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act on the inviolability of the borders. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia broke up. We must prevent the further fragmentation of states, or their reunification with the use of force. Kosovo, South Ossetia and Abkhazia must become the last states that broke away through force. This “Pandora’s box” must be closed, at least in Europe.
If things go as far as the actual overcoming of the confrontation inherited from the 20th century, then one could speak about deep cuts in the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States and even about the coordination of their policies in the military-strategic area. Also, their cooperation in crisis situations, like that in Afghanistan, or in countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction would become much more profound.
This is the Euro-Atlantic part of the proposed system, which must necessarily include the U.S.
In Europe proper, a collective security treaty must be supplemented with a treaty establishing a Union of Europe – a union between Russia and the EU on the basis of common economic space, common energy space with cross-owned companies producing, transporting and distributing energy, common visa-free space, and coordinated Russian and EU policies in the international arena.
Such a pan-European architecture could be complemented with “tripartite” interaction between China, Russia and the United States, proposed by influential Chinese theorists (instead of the former confrontational “triangular” interaction), in addressing the world’s greatest problems and at international organizations. Deepening and enlarging the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, increasing its membership and involving in its work the U.S. and the EU, at least as observers, to fill multiple security vacuums in the Middle East, would logically supplement the proposed variant of the cooperation architecture. Special note must be given to a new system for governing the global economy and finance, whose creation would be even more difficult if the problems surviving from the former confrontation are not solved.
Naturally, the proposed system can and should be accused of speculativeness, if not starry-eyed idealism.
One can invent many other variants. But if we do not set strategic goals to ourselves, at least intellectually, we will be doomed to trail behind the events.
Let me emphasize the main idea of this article. To move forward, we must solve the problems remaining from the Cold War and from World War II and finish the “unfinished war.”
And then, perhaps, in the year 2019, marking the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles, we will finally bid farewell to the horrible history of the 20th century.

 

// Originally published in Russian in Rossiiskaya Gazeta (Federal Issue) No N4867 of March 13, 2009