03.06.2009. The Magic Numbers of 2009

How to Finish 20th-Century History

When analyzing the powerful and unprecedented rapid changes in the global economy and politics a year or two ago, one could say with confidence that the political 20th century – which actually began in August 1914, not according to the calendar – had ended. Not yet.
I have already written about the coming of a “New Epoch” in various periodicals, including in this journal (see, for example: Sergei Karaganov. “A New Epoch of Confrontation.” Russia in Global Affairs, No. 4/2007). This New Epoch is characterized by increased tensions between Russia and the traditional (in Cold War terms) West, caused by objective changes in the alignment of forces and by Moscow’s tough and even arrogant policy of revising the model of relations with the West, which had taken shape in the years of chaos and destruction in Russia.
The growing tensions expanded into a direct confrontation when Georgia attacked South Ossetia and was defeated. This conflict has shown that, despite assurances from all parties, the Cold War has never ended. Gone are its two main causes – the threat of Communism and a systemic military confrontation – but the roots have not been pulled up and they have begun to sprout.
This year of 2009 is a good time for raising the issue about the completion of this unfinished war.
This year will mark 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall – an event that symbolized its end. This is the main anniversary in an almost magical series of anniversaries of events that have shaped the political order – or disorder – we live in today.
In 1919, the unfair Treaty of Versailles was signed, which turned Germany into a revisionist and later a revanchist state.
In 1929, a grave crisis broke out, which sharply deteriorated into inter-state rivalry.
In 1939, World War II was unleashed, which came as a logical result of the previous two events.
In 1949, NATO was founded, which caused systematic confrontation in Europe. Below, I will cite some little-known facts about the origin of this confrontation.
In that same year, the establishment of the People’s Republic of China was declared. This event was taken by the West as another sign of the growing Communist threat. Half a century later, it became clear that that was the beginning of the restoration of the Middle Kingdom, a great state and one of the world leaders in the past and the future.
The year 1959 began with the seizure of Havana by Cuban guerrillas led by Fidel Castro. It was a portent of a large-scale expansion of the zone of ideological confrontation. In addition, it testified to a sharp increase in national consciousness in the Third World, which brought about the emergence of dozens of newly independent states in the world in the next few years. Not all of them proved to be viable, and this is another cause for many of the problems of today.
The year 1969 saw a brief, yet fierce, armed conflict between the Soviet Union and China over the island of Damansky. The conflict per se would have hardly been of international significance if it had not been shortly followed by a historic reconciliation between Beijing and Washington. Two years later, China received a seat on the UN Security Council and finally became an important independent factor in international politics.
In 1979, Iran was swept by an Islamic revolution, which was of momentous importance for the region and the entire Muslim world. Also, in the same year, the Soviet Union launched its fateful invasion of Afghanistan (for more information about the events in Afghanistan see Alexander Ignatenko’s article in this issue – Ed.).
The year 1989 was marked by the collapse of Communism in Europe: the coming to power of the opposition Solidarity movement in Poland; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia; and the bloody finale of the Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu. In the same year, addressing a meeting marking the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic presented a nationalist program which, as it was implemented, brought about upheavals in the next decade.
Finally, in 1999, the United States and European nations, euphoric with feelings of victory in the Cold War and of their rightfulness and impunity, attacked Yugoslavia. Russia’s attitude towards the West underwent an important psychological change. Moscow imagined itself repeating the fate of Belgrade bombed by NATO and a process began that led to a profound estrangement between Russia and NATO.
It was the first time since World War II that one country or a group of countries in Europe attacked another European state. There had been many shameful episodes during the Cold War. For example, in the mid-1940s, a British expeditionary corps crushed the Communist guerrilla movement in Greece. In 1953, the East German authorities ordered the opening of fire at a demonstration of workers. In 1956, Soviet tanks suppressed an uprising in Budapest. In 1961, the East German authorities, acting on approval from Moscow, built the Berlin Wall. In 1968, troops from the Soviet Union and its allies invaded Czechoslovakia to put an end to the Prague Spring. Yet towns and cities had not been the targets of air strikes since World War II.

Now let me return to the unfinished war, the countdown to which was started by the crowds of exultant Berliners who broke through the hated wall.
The positive results of that event included, above all, the victory of personal freedom over non-freedom. Communism – the only European utopia where there was an attempt to translate it into life – sank into nothingness. That attempt had brought about a stifling Soviet “real socialism,” which resulted in huge losses to Russians and other peoples of the Soviet Union and many other countries. An artificial economic system that did not meet human nature and needs died. The experiment was over and there was a return to a market economy.
The rapid and extensive – by two billion people – expansion of the sphere of capitalism, resulting from the collapse of the Communist model, coupled with the revolution in communications and the liberalization of world trade, brought about an unprecedented economic boom and a huge increase in people’s wellbeing. Hundreds of millions of people were lifted out of permanent hunger and the global middle class increased in number.
It seemed that liberal democracy, U.S.-European style, had finally won. But the experience of the past years has shown that this type of political and economic system has only taken root in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. They have received huge economic aid – in exchange for part of their sovereignty.
In all probability, the new Russian elite were ready to follow the same path. In the early 1990s, much hope in Russia was pinned on close rapprochement with the West, which sounds na?ve today. Russian leaders even spoke about their desire to join NATO (statements to this effect were made by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Vice President Alexander Rutskoy) and the European Union (by Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin). It is difficult to say how seriously the West discussed such scenarios, but it decided against this idea. Apparently, the EU concluded that integration with Russia, which was too large and potentially independent, would be too expensive for it. In defiance of Moscow’s opinion, NATO began to expand. A historical crossroads was passed.
Germany has gained the most from the end of the Cold War, as it has achieved national unity. It has deliberately ceded part of its sovereignty to the United Europe and has become a symbol of what is best in the new European culture. Despite the growing economic might of Germany, no one is afraid of its revanchism any longer.
The integration project helped Western Europe to overcome its bloody past. It seemed that the fall of the Berlin Wall brought Immanuel Kant’s “eternal peace” to the whole of Europe and calm and prosperity to the world. The end of the Cold War resulted in reconciliation between historical enemies – Germans and the French – and between Russians and Germans, despite their worst record of enmity in the 20th century.
However, it has turned out at the end of these crucial two decades that Europe has failed to break with its past. 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. Confrontation and division are re-emerging in a different form, while the removal of the military threat and systemic military confrontation – the main achievement of the 1990s – may prove to be temporary.
I repeat: the reason for this is that the Cold War in Europe, even though declared over, has actually never ended.
The Soviet Union voluntarily withdrew from Central and Eastern Europe. Despite calls from many European capitals (especially Paris and London), Moscow gave the green light to and even assisted in the reunification of Germany. It is embarrassing to admit, but the Russian political class of that time initiated the breakup of the Soviet Union and lost some historical Russian territories. This was done not only because of thoughtlessness, or because the Soviet people had lost the sense of a motherland, or because new elites wanted to come to power. The main reason was a desire to get rid of the hated Soviet Communism as soon as possible.
When giving up the empire (and even part of it which they viewed as the historical territory of their own country), the Russians hoped for the coming of a new era of a “common European home” and the creation of a “united and free Europe” (as put by George H.W. Bush). That was not only starry-eyed self-deception, as everyone predicted at the time that Europe would look like that. This is why the Kremlin believed that written guarantees of the non-expansion of Western institutions, above all NATO, were not necessary and that verbal promises from the leaders of the U.S. and Germany would suffice.
The Russians not only had borne the brunt of the Communist dictatorship, but had also done more than any other nation to put an end to it. This is why they came out of the Cold War without feeling defeated and expected an honorable peace. However, after hesitating in the first few years, the West began to behave like a winner and to view the territories from which the Soviet Union withdrew not as being abandoned voluntarily, but as occupied and freed. NATO expansion began in 1994 and 1995. The first and the second waves of NATO enlargement had no ideological footing, but there was a desire to consolidate the booty, taking avail of the weakness and chaos in Russia.

Attempts were made after the end of the Cold War to place the burden of universal military-political responsibility on the North Atlantic Alliance, which it was simply unable to carry. NATO was established in 1949 as an instrument to combat the Communist threat, primarily within Western countries. Initially, the alliance did not have a military vector, as no one could threaten Europe at the time.
I am not going to blame the present North Atlantic Treaty Organization for seeking to suppress internal dissent in its member countries. But it happened, and one should not forget about the suffocating atmosphere of the Cold War.
U.S. President Harry Truman sent a special message to Congress on July 25, 1949 about the need for a military aid program for Western Europe, in which he explicitly wrote that Western European nations should be equipped “in the shortest possible time, with compact and effectively trained forces capable of maintaining internal order.” In other words, they should be capable of suppressing dissent.
The U.S. was ready to use its own Armed Forces not only in case left-wing forces came to power in Western European countries, but even if there was a threat of such developments. For example, the National Security Council’s Directive 5440/1 of December 1954 stated that if there were a threat of Communists coming to power in a Western European country of if they had already done so, the U.S. must carry out political, economic and clandestine operations to stop that threat and even take military actions if the situation required.
Naturally Soviet archives, still not fully declassified, contained similar instructions, as well. The Soviet system, which was much tougher politically and much less effective economically, repeatedly used military force to suppress dissent and demands for more freedom.
Originally, the North Atlantic bloc was not a military-political organization but only a political alliance with very vague security guarantees. Isolationists in the U.S. Congress took care of that 60 years ago, as they did not wish to tie up U.S. hands. The famous Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty provides no automatic guarantees. It states: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense […] will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary […].” The wording is more than vague.
The alliance began to focus on military deterrence only a year or two after its establishment. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin can rightfully be called the “godfather” of NATO’s militarization and the formation of its military wing. Either due to his frequent geostrategic thoughtlessness, or his desire to divert an alleged Western military threat away from the Soviet Union, the Soviet leader gave the green light to Kim Il Sung’s attack against South Korea in the summer of 1950. The West was seized with panic, while advocates of NATO’s militarization were exultant. The readiness of the United States and its allies to increase defense spending rose steeply, and Turkey and Greece expressed their desire to join the alliance. An agreement was reached on the establishment of united armed forces and the position of an Allied Supreme Commander with broad powers and a headquarters consisting of representatives of all member countries.
Alfred Gruenther, who served as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1953-1956, recalled at secret hearings that NATO had existed only on paper for more than a year and no one had lifted a finger to do anything about it. Member countries kept reducing their defense spending. So, he went on, the Soviets saved us from all of that.
The alliance found itself in a similar situation 20 years ago, when the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union deprived NATO not only of ideological and political, but also of military logic. It was impossible to portray the new Russia as a threat, while dissolving the alliance, which had demonstrated its usefulness and which had gained strong intellectual and bureaucratic momentum, was the last thing the West wanted to do. In addition, there was a great triumphalist charge. At first, a reasonable goal was found: “Get out of the area [of responsibility] or die,” meaning make NATO into an instrument for countering new threats in cooperation with Russia and other countries.
However, another approach prevailed: “Expand or die.” Washington and its allies decided to consolidate their geopolitical acquisitions in Europe by laying down the markers for a zone of their economic and political influence.
It seems that a historical bifurcation point was missed in the mid-1990s, the time when the decision was made not to get out of the area of responsibility but to expand. If the West had taken the first path, there might have been no threat of a new division of Europe, and Russia and NATO member states could have been able to jointly avert rapidly accumulating challenges. And the past 15 years would not have been lost for strengthening international security.
At first, NATO admitted new members if they met certain criteria. Later, even well-beseeming covers were given up. On the eve of the NATO 60th Anniversary Summit, held in April 2009, Albania, perhaps the most backward country in Europe but advantageously located, was admitted into the ranks of “advanced democracies.”
The division of Europe during the Cold War years was largely based on ideological and military confrontation. The geopolitical division of the continent was almost never mentioned. However, when ideology and the military threat were gone, the old geopolitics, which had been hiding behind them, came to the forefront.
The idea of admitting Russia into NATO was never taken seriously – Moscow was not considered ready for that, or because its admittance would have changed NATO beyond recognition. The latter argument is well-grounded. If Russia had joined NATO, U.S. hegemony over the organization would have been weakened, while the alliance would have become an organization of pan-European security, rather than a military geopolitical bloc of the West.
Russian protests against NATO enlargement were ignored. A weakened Moscow made a mistake by signing the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security with NATO in 1997. This document 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. For example, elements of the missile defense system, which Washington plans to build in Poland and the Czech Republic, belong to strategic forces, which is a flagrant violation of the Founding Act’s spirit.
The commitment not to deploy nuclear forces on the territory of new NATO members was merely a pleasant comforter and nothing more. No one ever planned to deploy them. As for commitments not to deploy substantial conventional forces in those countries, they are simply not being met. There are plans to deploy large military bases and some are already there. On the other hand, the Founding Act does not specify the size of “substantial” forces.

In the years during the first waves of the enlargement, I repeatedly asked Western experts: “Do you not understand that the large country with a great history will revive and will never agree to NATO expansion to its historical territories?” 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 degraded from the anti-Communist defensive alliance of the Cold War years into an offensive union. The alliance unleashed three major wars over the last decade. NATO committed aggression against Yugoslavia and annexed Kosovo from it. 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 is 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, and even an “Arctic” dimension.
NATO expansion towards Russian 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, have increased anti-Russian sentiments in the alliance. Since the number of such countries is increasing, there is growing pressure for returning the alliance to its classical task of containing Moscow.
Despite efforts to improve its image, NATO is now viewed by Russians as a much more hostile organization than it was in the previous two decades. I do not believe that NATO threatens or can threaten Russia. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization could not fight even in the past, not to mention the present, as has been graphically shown by its campaign in Afghanistan.
Politically, NATO’s enlargement has become the main threat to European security. Because of this enlargement, the former 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” on the other. “Old” Europe is a hostage 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. 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.
In the mid-2000s, the part of the American establishment that is not interested in the final stabilization and consolidation of Europe again began to push for NATO expansion, this time to Ukraine. To add more fuel to the division of the Old World, a decision was made to deploy elements of a missile defense system in Central Europe. Russia put up fierce resistance – above all, because it realized the vital need to stop the mechanism of resuming confrontation in Europe on new frontiers.
I do hope that Tbilisi’s attack on South Ossetia and Russia’s response to it will prove to be a fruitful episode in the historical perspective. The sacrifice – the Ossetians, Russians and Georgians who died in that war – may not be in vain. Russian troops gave a strong military rebuff 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.
If the U.S. and Western Europe try to continue expanding NATO eastward, Russia will 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 on the other party. One would have to forget about cooperation in addressing global problems then.
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 conditions of uncertainty and the risk of resumed confrontation, but this would be done only to get rid of obsolete and unwanted systems and to enhance the effectiveness of the entire nuclear potential.)
I do not think that Russia will soften its approach when its muscles, enhanced by oil hormones, deflate somewhat. On the contrary, its readiness for tough counteraction could increase – especially as there will be a pretext to explain away domestic problems by an external threat. Russia will have to forget about its political and economic modernization. So, a new confrontation would be a drama for Europe, one more problem for the world and a tragedy for the Russian people.
The U.S. and its clients failed to unleash a new, albeit a caricature, Cold War after the South Ossetian episode. The continental “Old” Europeans interfered. The global economic crisis has emphasized the acuteness of the new challenges and has made squabbles and old thinking inherited from the past simply farcical.

Greater Europe, which includes Russia and the U.S., badly needs 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, which started 70 years ago – again the magic numbers of 2009. Actually, the Yalta and Potsdam Accords did not turn out to be treaties that established 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 – was actually such a treaty. Russia and the West have never concluded such a document.
The unfinished nature of the Cold War and World War II is creating a dangerous vacuum. If attempts to enlarge NATO persist, Russia may turn 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 and greed, already made a similar mistake after World War I, when they imposed the unfair Treaty of Versailles on Germany. We must not allow such a tragic mistake to be repeated.
Russia has proposed overcoming the present situation by signing a new treaty on pan-European security. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev first expressed this idea last summer. The proposed treaty, or rather a system of accords, must finally draw a line under the horrible 20th century 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, brought about by the “New Epoch” and the exacerbation of the global economic crisis, it is not easy to speak about ideal constructs. Yet we must think about 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 would be adequate to 21st-century challenges.
We need a new pan-European treaty on collective European security, signed either by individual countries, or by NATO, the EU, Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. All countries that are not included in the current security systems would be able to join in the treaty and receive multilateral guarantees. NATO enlargement would be frozen de facto.
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, while it would not have Cold War genes. The future treaty must reiterate the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act on the inviolability of the borders in order to 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 shut, 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 a common economic space, a common energy sector with cross-owned companies producing, transporting and distributing energy, a common visa-free zone, and coordinated Russian and EU policies in the international arena.
Of course, there is a geopolitical factor in relations between the European Union and Russia, and the element of competition and even occasional rivalry in them is still strong. But unlike NATO, the EU was not created for confrontation. The main goals behind the European integration project were overcoming the legacy of wars and state nationalism and strengthening the economic efficiency and welfare of Europe. The absence of a genetic code of confrontation explains why Russian-EU relations have a powerful potential for cooperation and rapprochement.
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. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization should be enlarged, involving in its work the U.S. and the EU, at least as observers.
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.
One can invent many other options.
They may seem to be starry-eyed dreams. But if we do not set strategic goals for ourselves, at least intellectually, we will be doomed to follow behind events, which will likely be increasingly tragic. To move forward, we must finish the “unfinished war.” And then, perhaps, in 2014 or at least in 2019, when we will mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I or the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, we will finally bid farewell to the horrible history of the 20th century.

// Russia in Global Affairs #2, 2009

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