The Magic Numbers of 2009
No. 2 2009 April/June
Sergei A. Karaganov

Professor Emeritus
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Academic Supervisor;
Council on Foreign and Defense Policy
Honorary Chairman of the Presidium


SPIN RSCI: 6020-9539
ORCID: 0000-0003-1473-6249
ResearcherID: K-6426-2015
Scopus AuthorID: 26025142400


Email: [email protected]
Address: Office 103, 17, Bldg.1 Malaya Ordynka Str., Moscow 119017, Russia

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

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 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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.