The article was originally published in Russian in Rossiiskaya Gazeta (federal issue), No. 5583, September 16, 2011. It was also simultaneously published in Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza and Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeiting.
No one seems interested in the fate of one Europe anymore.
A severe debt crisis has rocked the European Union, affecting several countries in the eurozone. Hotbeds of tensions on the EU’s eastern borders, from Transdniestria to Nagorno-Karabakh, have been subdued for now. It looks like Russia will be largely preoccupied with its own problems and presidential elections next year. The U.S. is increasingly focusing on the Asian-Pacific track and its own problems. The environmental disaster at Japan’s Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant, and the related issue concerning the future of nuclear energy, are still in the spotlight. Daily reports on dramatic developments in North Africa and the Middle East – in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan – keep the world community in suspense. Political players – including Europeans, Russians and Americans – have not taken decisive action, although they should and could have done so.
There is no doubt that it is the government’s responsibility to set domestic and foreign policy priorities. Yet is it not all that obvious that when they do act, almost all European governments prioritize their own momentary domestic policy goals in a search to win over the electorate in the upcoming elections. These foreign policies conspicuously lack clear strategic objectives.
TWO DECADES OF A “NEW EUROPE”
Germany underwent a drastic transformation twenty years ago. A unified, and thus much more powerful, Germany assumed a greater responsibility in international affairs in a non-divided Europe. The Soviet Union had collapsed into 15 sovereign states. Europeans had to work out – in a joint peaceful effort – a new model for a United Europe. Furthermore, the end of global confrontation along the West-East axis and the bipolar system raised the question of what the new world order should look like.
We Europeans had an opportunity of which the previous generation could only dream. When 35 heads of state and government convened at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Paris in November 1990, it seemed they had a profound understanding of the emerging opportunity to build a new Europe. It was then that the idea of One Europe took shape. The forum participants signed the final joint document – the Charter of Paris for a New Europe. It was a means to launch a new era of democracy, peace and unity. The document stated that confrontation and division had come to an end in Europe, and that from now on relations would be based on mutual respect and cooperation. The participants worked out common principles for building a new Europe. They planned to develop a mechanism to prevent a recurrence of confrontation, overcome crises, and settle conflicts peacefully.
They also set the goal of establishing a pan-European system of peace and security from Vancouver to Vladivostok, and of building a common European home, which would offer equal security guarantees to each country. Only a system like this could guarantee lasting peace, freedom, security and welfare to a European continent ravaged by countless wars and soaked with the blood of millions.
Yet today, twenty-one years later, the results are disheartening. The euphoria over the Paris Charter is gone and a sober judgment has reasserted itself. There are concise reasons for this. Negative factors included the breakup of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the painful transformations of former communist countries, the collapse of Yugoslavia and the subsequent Balkan wars, and conflicts on the eastern borders of the European Union and in southern Russia.
Simultaneously, NATO and the European Union have expanded to the borders of the former Soviet Union, spreading their zone of influence to regions that used to be the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. Russia viewed and continues to view NATO’s eastward expansion as a threat to its security. The disputes about the future of Kosovo and the war with Georgia have undermined mutual trust. Both conflicts have shown that existing European security organizations have been unable to prevent conflict, either between countries or internal strife within countries. As previously, the sides tend to mistrust each other. Russia’s apprehensions with respect to NATO and the U.S., prompted by national security considerations, might look far-fetched and puzzling, but they must be taken seriously. In the same way, Russia has to be serious with respect to the historically justified concerns of the Baltic States and former Warsaw Pact countries.
Insufficient Western attempts to develop and reconfigure relations with Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asian countries have proven to be too indecisive, one-sided, and overly superficial. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as the successor to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, lost its influence and came under criticism, above all from Russia, for being used as an instrument of interference in the affairs of its member-states. U.S. President Bill Clinton’s Partnership for Peace initiative, proclaimed in 1994, has dissipated into separate measures and has had no serious impact.
That same year, Russia and the European Union concluded a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which expired in 2007. However, it will remain in force until the parties have drafted and signed a new document. The parties have mapped out objectives for cooperation in four common areas: (1) the economy, (2) freedom, security and justice, (3) external security and (4) research, education and culture. But the results of the 13-year cooperation have proven to be unsatisfactory for both sides. A proposal by European Commission Chairman Romano Prodi to Vladimir Putin to set up a European free trade zone and introduce visa-free travel with Russia found no support in the European Union.
Both the EU and Germany talk about “cooperation with Russia in security,” but they have been empty words so far. In 1997, Russia and NATO signed a Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, and established the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council, reorganized as the Russia-NATO Council in May 2002. When the Georgian conflict broke out in 2008, the Russia-NATO Council did not convene even once, and thus showed its insolvency.
A look back at two decades of relations is disappointing. Although the Cold War has ended, one is tempted to say that it has given way to the “Cold Peace.” It seems many in the West and in the East, content with “business as usual,” have become used to this kind of situation. Economic relations continue to develop, and bilateral political meetings have been more or less regular and quite friendly. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has been a participant in or a guest at multi-party top level meetings, such as G8 or G20 forums devoted to economic issues, the tripartite meeting in Deauville, or NATO’s summit in Lisbon in November 2010. However, relations have not really changed very much. A crucial element is missing, namely a strategic vision of the prospects for these relations.
This is particularly regrettable in light of efforts made in the past two years to facilitate more flexibility on both sides. The starting point was U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to begin developing U.S.-Russian relations from zero. The first visible success in efforts to improve these relations was when Medvedev and Obama signed a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in April 2010, which envisioned further cuts in deployed nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles. The sides agreed to cooperate in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and with respect to Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea. More than 17 bilateral working groups were set up within the framework of the U.S.-Russian presidential commission. All these accords have lent a new impetus to the development of U.S-Russian relations.
Moreover, the U.S. and NATO showed readiness to work towards developing a common missile defense system together with Russia as an equal partner. If the project is implemented, Europe and, perhaps, the entire world might see the beginning of a new era of security. Developing joint missile defense systems provides for intensive cooperation, stronger contacts, and greater transparency in relations between all member-states, as well as their consent to allow checks into the veracity of the information they supply. Simultaneously, long-overdue disarmament and arms control talks could begin, and further concrete moves could be coordinated.
Another significant breakthrough, which should not be underestimated, is an obvious improvement in Russian-Polish relations. Reconciliation gestures by Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk in April 2010, together with the deep sympathy Russians showed Poles after the Smolensk plane crash, in which the Polish president and many high-ranking members of the government died, signaled a start for the normalization of relations and offered an opportunity to establish truly good relations. These relations may work as a key to the peaceful development of all of Europe, and to creating a European security system.
Regrettably, other major European partners seem to be frozen in inaction. Germany is seemingly obsessed in addressing its own problems. Italy and Spain are focused on domestic problems. The European Commission has been negotiating with Russia in 30 working groups over the new Russia-EU partnership and cooperation agreement for some four years. Yet the public is not involved in the discussion, and nobody knows the objectives or content of the talks. Nor do we have any idea of the initiatives certain EU members might put forth at the talks. Apparently, the negotiators lack a common strategic vision.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?
Russia’s full-fledged membership in the European Union cannot be an objective at these talks, and both sides are aware of this. During his presidency, Vladimir Putin noted: “Russia sees itself as a natural integral part of the European family, both in spirit and its historical and cultural tradition… When I think about our relations from a long-term perspective, I do not see the fields that would be closed for equitable strategic partnership, based on common aspirations and values.”
The parties should negotiate a special status for Russia, a kind of privileged partnership, or a strategic associated membership, i.e. a status like the one enjoyed by Switzerland or Norway. These countries influence European politics and benefit from legal, political and economic decisions made by EU member-states. It would be Moscow’s sovereign decision on just how far it could go in bringing its national legislation closer to European legislation or even embracing it. This would imply a strategy towards gaining a capability for integration without integration as such. Russia would have new opportunities for modernization, while the EU would acquire an important partner in Europe. At the same time, both NATO and Russia would be able to defend their common interests with greater efficiency in the changing world, in cooperation and competition with new centers of power.
Russia and the EU might begin working towards the next objective, namely a joint European free trade zone, or “a harmonious economic community from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” as Vladimir Putin proposed in November 2010. This implies full freedom of movement of not only goods and services, but also people. A proposal to create a European energy community based on clear rules and joint ownership and management would be an additional important factor.
These moves would help build confidence. Mutual confidence remains the key factor for intensifying relations between all European states. Bitter enemies made peace in Western Europe after World War II and in Central Europe after the peaceful revolutions of 1989-1990, and Eastern Europe should be involved as well. Political declarations are insufficient for this. One has to take practical steps using confidence-building measures, and gradually a new reality will take shape. Forming a new European security system should begin with small moves. Rivalry and even strife can be successfully overcome with cooperation and integration. To this end, we should create a comprehensive strategic development model, and set an objective, whether it is a Common European Home, a One and Free Europe, or a Union of Europe.
Security is a primary concern. In principle, a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Russia and the EU should include external security. The parties might reach important accords in this field. Making headway in settling “frozen conflicts” could be particularly useful in strengthening confidence. It would allow for a quick settlement of the Transdniestria conflict. The first steps in this direction have already been made. Similarly, the parties might resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The conflicts in Georgia and Kosovo can probably be settled only within the framework of a new all-European security system.
Thus, we have come to the crucial point in our reflections: What kind of conception and key objective of a new European security system from Vancouver to Vladivostok, as formulated by the Charter of Paris for a New Europe in 1990, should we have? There was a failed attempt by 56 member-states to revive the OSCE process at a summit in Astana in December 2010, the first in the past 11 years. The summit revealed that there is no objective, no will and no courage to live, not just for today, but to do anything at all.
So what can be done? There are three options. The current talks over a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Russia and the EU can and must result in security accords and outline opportunities for cooperation in this field, too. Since both sides have long been talking about a “strategic partnership,” it has to be fleshed out.
The second way, which is parallel to the first one, is to further intensify cooperation between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In its recent new strategic concept, NATO says that the alliance, despite all the differences between its member-states over certain issues, is confident that the security interests of Russia and NATO are closely linked. NATO is not a threat to Russia, and Russia does not pose any threat to NATO members. Russia-NATO cooperation is strategic, as it contributes to the formation of a common space of peace, stability and security.
As German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly proposed, the Russia-NATO Council should continue to evolve. A long-term goal would be Russia’s phased accession to the alliance. Like France, Russia could first become a member of NATO’s political body. Back in the early 1990s, U.S. President Bill Clinton suggested to Russian President Boris Yeltsin – in both written and verbal form – that Russia gain NATO membership. However, this offer proved to be premature for both sides. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorksi has not ruled out Russian membership in NATO. This idea should not be taken off the agenda.
The third way is to conclude a legally binding treaty on a comprehensive European security system from Vancouver to Vladivostok. President Medvedev reiterated this proposal in June 2008, making it a topic of political discussion. Since then, Russia has specified that proposal. The OSCE could still be an acceptable floor for reaching this objective. This organization already includes all the states that are to become part of this process. Russia regards the OSCE as an obsolete agency, but new life could be breathed into it, and its political prestige increased, provided all the participants wish it. However, they lack the political will and a creative approach to the issue. All they voice are apprehensions, such as “NATO might weaken or be replaced by another organization,” which will erode the feeling of collective responsibility in the alliance. They also fear the appearance of numerous organizations without clear-cut objectives. Of course, contradictions between imaginary developments and reality can only be resolved through effective political institutions, but this must not be used as an excuse for inaction.
Russia offers a new treaty on establishing a Union of Europe, which would include not only EU countries and Russia, but also Turkey and Ukraine. In this event, these countries could decide on their future strategic guidelines and overcome their current geopolitical uncertainties.
Two issues remain open in Russia-EU relations. First, there are social and political differences between Western and Eastern partners, which are an obstacle to close and trustworthy cooperation. Developing democracy, the rule-of-law, and a market economy was part of the accord reached by the participants in the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Paris in 1990. We understand the difficulties faced by countries that have embarked down the road of such reforms. Lecturing them often results in the opposite effect, since such approaches are rejected and viewed as interference in internal affairs. A rapprochement can be successful only when Russian society and its elite have real motivation, if they are confident that they will be partners in a new Europe with common values, and become an integral part of the pan-European security architecture in close relationship with the EU. Poland’s example shows that adopting the European integration model along EU lines accelerates the transformation and modernization of a former communist country. A rapprochement between the EU and Russia could not only enhance Russia’s chances to speed up modernization and overcome a lack of democracy, but Russia could also strengthen its international role and enhance its attractiveness as a political and economic partner.
But the EU member-states also have to perform their moral duty. They should voice their resolve once again and begin to interact towards bringing together all European nations. This will undercut politicians who doubt pan-European prospects and who bet on individualization, rivalry and conflicts. The European project is incomplete without Russia and Eastern Europe, as the continent will remain politically divided and economically defective.
The second issue is who will act as the motivation force of the process. What governments will assume the role of leaders?
The process obviously lacks a driving force. In October 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed in Deauville to cooperate in economic and security issues. They considered inviting Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski or Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and include Russia in the Weimar Triangle.
Germany and Poland have different views of Russia. If these two countries work together, they will be able to convince other European partners. The better German-Polish relations are, the less tension there is in Russian-Polish relations. For Germany and Poland, relations with Russia and Eastern Europe should be a priority. These countries, together with France, must mobilize the EU in order to give a green light to the initiatives this article mentions. Of course, they have to cooperate with Russia, Eastern European partners, and the U.S. at the same time. It is these three states that should motivate the process, without turning the job over to the European Commission, or hoping that the U.S. will lead the process.
We should not wait until the next crisis to make all the states it will affect in North America, the European Union and the rest of Europe realize that everybody is interested in close and friendly cooperation from Vancouver to Vladivostok. That is the only way to guarantee lasting peace, security, freedom and welfare for everyone. A decision was made a long time ago to go down this road, therefore responsible politicians should embark upon it. The new European security architecture from Vancouver to Vladivostok might not only become a unique historical achievement, but it could be the cornerstone in maintaining global peace.