03.07.2009. How to draw a line under the Cold War

Faced with the daunting new challenges of the global economic crisis, the time has come for the West to re-think its relations with Russia, says Sergei Karaganov. He sets out his plan for an ambitious new collective security agreement
This year offers a seemingly magical combination of anniversaries of events that shaped the world we live in. The main one, of course, is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, whose consequence was the death of “real socialism”, and the amazing historical phenomenon of complete reconciliation between Russians and Germans. Yet it may be that the end of confrontation in Europe will prove only temporary. The old divisions may be re-emerging, even though in a different form, even though the Cold War in Europe was declared to be over, the truth is that it actually never finished.

When the Soviet Union voluntarily withdrew from Central and Eastern Europe, and gave a green light to the reunification of Germany, we Russians believed that the NATO alliance would not be extended to those countries and territories from which we had withdrawn. Our hope was for unification with Europe in a “common European home” and the creation of a “united and free Europe”. And our hopes were not just based on starry-eyed self-deception; the leaders of the U.S. and of Germany had promised Gorbachev the non-enlargement of NATO.

Those Russians who had borne the brunt of the Communist dictatorship and who had also done more than any other nation to put an end to it, came out of the Cold War without any feeling of defeat. On the contrary, they felt victorious because they had vanquished Communism; in geopolitical terms, they withdrew with their banners unfurled, expecting an honourable peace.

But after the first few euphoric years, the West’s behaviour became more triumphant. It acted more and more like the Cold war’s victor. And the successive waves of NATO enlargement had neither military nor ideological logic, once the potential “military threat” posed by the Soviet Union to the West had vanished into thin air.

There remained only a geopolitical logic for the West, its desire to bring the former Soviet republics and the erstwhile socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe into the Western sphere of political and economic influence. At first, NATO’s new members were declared to have met both democratic and military criteria, although later these were abandoned when NATO began to invite even the most backward and corrupt states to join.

Europe’s division during the Cold War years was widely believed to have been based on an ideological and military confrontation, but it quickly turned out that once these threats were gone, the old geopolitics came to the fore, at least so far as the U.S. and “old” Europe were concerned. NATO not only enlarged its membership but also transformed itself from an anti-Communist defensive alliance into an offensive one. NATO committed aggression against Yugoslavia and annexed Kosovo away from it. The United States, with some of its NATO allies, attacked Iraq, and through NATO is now waging an offensive war in Afghanistan, far from the alliance’s original area of responsibility. And, it must be admitted, it is doing so with Russia’s consent. Nevertheless, NATO’s expansion towards Russia’s own borders and the membership of countries whose elites have historical complexes regarding Russia because of setbacks in centuries past, has inevitably increased anti-Russian sentiment inside the alliance.

I do not myself believe that NATO threatens Russia or can do so in the future. It was not only its doctrine that made NATO a defensive alliance. I feel confident when saying that even in Soviet times NATO was not a serious military threat. Yet for all its efforts to improve its image, NATO is now viewed by many Russians as a much more hostile organisation than in the 1990s, or even before.

Politically, NATO enlargement has become the main threat to European security. Thanks to it, Europe has still not emerged from the Cold War, even though the ideological and military confrontation of those times is far behind us. It is being replaced with a new stand-off – between Russia on the one hand and the U.S. and some of the “New Europeans” on the other. Old Europe is keeping somewhat aloof, but the countries of Western Europe are hostages and cannot easily distance themselves. It is a new confrontation that is taking shape against the backdrop of an increasingly unstable and dangerous world.

The Cold War thus remains unfinished in the minds of the political classes, including Russia’s, and nor has it been concluded institutionally and organisationally. This is perhaps the most important point of all; institutions like NATO and even the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that were initially established to serve the Cold War have again been used to recreate confrontation. No peace treaty ended the Cold War, so it remains unfinished, and now is pulling the world back into the past.

My hope is that, when historians look back at contemporary events, Tbilisi’s attack on South Ossetia will prove to have been a fruitful episode, and that the victims – the Ossetians, Russians and Georgians killed in that war – did not die in vain. Russian troops crushed the Georgian army on the ground, and but politically they delivered a strong blow against the logic of further NATO expansion, which if not stopped would have inevitably brought about a major war in the heart of Europe.

For the time being the situation remains open. The U.S. and its client states failed to unleash some new form of Cold War after the South Ossetian episode, not least because “old” Europe would not permit it. Any attempts to start a new Cold War were also overshadowed by the global financial and economic crisis which has made old and squabbles attitudes like more than comical because it has emphasised the new challenges that confront us all.

It is very much to be hoped that the global economic crisis and the coming to power of Barack Obama will put the whole farcical idea of a new Cold War in its proper perspective. But its institutional roots will remain, and risk poisoning life and obstructing strategic cooperation between Russia and the West. Greater Europe, in which I would include not only Russia but also the U.S., needs a new peace treaty and a new architecture to draw a line under not just the Cold War but also under World War II. The Yalta and Potsdam treaties turned out to be only provisional agreements on the division of Europe, and.  Russia recently proposed overcoming the present situation with a new treaty on pan-European security. This treaty, or rather system of accords, could finally draw a line under Europe’s truly horrible 20th century. For unless this page is definitively turned, history may once again catch up with us and bring about a relapse into our past. We therefore need a new round of creative diplomacy that completes the construction of a European Security system and clears away all vestiges of the past.

There are various options for a “new European architecture”, but let me offer the one I find the most attractive. We need a new pan-European treaty on collective European security, signed on the one hand either by individual countries or by NATO and the EU, and on the other by Russia and the Organisation for Collective Security Treaty. Countries not included in any of the current security systems would be able to join in the treaty and receive multilateral guarantees, and any further NATO enlargement would de facto be frozen.

The OSCE would be transformed into the Organisation for Collective Security and Cooperation in Europe. It would be a good idea if the future treaty were to reiterate the Helsinki Final Act’s provisions on the inviolability of borders. With the break up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia very much in mind, we must seek to prevent the further fragmentation of states, and also their reunification through the use of force. Kosovo, South Ossetia and Abkhazia must be the last of the states that broke away through force, which means that the “Pandora’s box” of self-determination must be closed, in Europe at least.

Once the legacy of confrontation inherited from the 20th century has been overcome, perhaps 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. Their cooperation in crisis situations like Afghanistan, or in countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, would thus become much more profound.

This is the Euro-Atlantic part of my proposed system, and one that must necessarily include the U.S. In Europe proper, a collective security treaty should eventually be supplemented with a treaty establishing a Union of Europe – a union between Russia and the EU on the basis of their common economic space, a common energy space with cross-ownership of companies producing, transporting and distributing energy, a common human space that would be visa-free and coordinated Russian and EU policies in the international arena.

Deepening and enlarging the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, increasing its membership and involving in its work the U.S. and the EU as observers to fill the multiple security vacuums around the Persian Gulf, would supplement the proposed cooperation architecture. Special note should also be given to a new system for governing the global economy and finance, whose creation will be even more difficult if the confrontation problems of the Cold War and its successor are not solved.

My proposed system can of course be accused of starry-eyed idealism. But its main idea is to move forward by resolving the problems that are still a hangover from the Cold War and even from World War II. We have to finish the “unfinished war”, and then, perhaps in the year 2019 that will mark the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles, we may finally bid farewell to the 20th century.

// Europe's World #12 Summer 2009

The page is printed from the official site of S.A. Karaganov: