Values for the Sake of Unification
No. 1 2010 January/March
Konstantin Kosachev

Head of the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo). He is also the Russian President’s Special Envoy for Relations with CIS Member-States and a Member of the Editorial Board of Russia in Global Affairs.

Russia’s initiative for the conclusion of a European Security Treaty can be safely described as a central theme of Russia’s foreign policy in the past year and at the beginning of this year.

Hardly anyone in Moscow expected immediate and decisive progress in promoting its initiative and its unanimous approval by major actors. But the creation of a unified collective security system in Europe is a key issue for Russia (and not only for it), not least because it is linked, in one way or another, with the majority (if not all) of the problems of recent time. Whatever problem you take up – NATO’s enlargement or the possible accession of Georgia and Ukraine to the alliance, local conflicts in the post-Soviet space or the problem of unrecognized states (just as the turning of the recognition issue into an independent political irritant), the deployment of elements of a U.S. missile defense system in Europe and the future of the CFE Treaty – all these issues have a direct relevance to the European security system or, rather, its absence. The essence of the problem is a very simple alternative: either such a system will exist and it will involve all countries, or it will not exist, and then there will inevitably be dividing lines, gaps in security, and an explosive difference of potentials.


Years ago, the author of the “European idea,” former French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, invented this project for a group of Western European countries divided by the results of World War II, uniting them in the face of the Communist threat from the East. In the late 1980s, Western European politicians used the collapse of the world socialist system only for a mechanical extension of the European Union’s and NATO’s zones of action to the “new neighbors.” There was no second Schuman in Europe at the time, and it was the concept of the Western European model’s extension to the East, rather than unification of Europe on a truly mutually acceptable basis, that took the upper hand. Most importantly, this new “unified” Europe has had no place for Russia, with its specific geography, population structure, and history. Therefore, Russia’s desire to change the situation is quite understandable. Its proposal to build a single insurance mechanism that would cover all countries, without exception, on the space “from Vancouver to Vladivostok” is dictated by objective reasons, rather than by some specific needs or claims of Russia.

It would be logical to assume that Russia’s potential partners to a new treaty in the West should have a similar desire: they cannot fail to see that the old patterns do not work. Meanwhile, the reaction of the West (NATO) to the Russian proposal has been restrained. It is ready to discuss non-binding, optional programs, but whenever it comes to obligations and equitable efforts to address common issues, it displays caution and a desire to forward the issue, for example, to the OSCE (although everyone understands that this organization has been engaged not so much in security issues in recent years, as in the supervision of elections in “non-Western” countries).

When Russia and NATO were working on their Founding Act in the mid-1990s, they identified all the challenges that they should address together. All these challenges persist to date. Yet there is no serious, really joint work between the parties – and for one reason: NATO is not ready to accept Russia as an equal partner and, particularly, establish an alliance-to-alliance cooperation with it. In addition, it will not recognize the very fact of the existence of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, let alone conclude an interaction agreement with it. A recognition would imply admitting that “there is life (i.e. security for individual states) outside NATO,” which would be at variance with the alliance’s claims to monopoly positions in various regions, including Eurasia.

NATO’s harsh reaction to Russia’s actions in August 2008 was largely because Moscow patently demonstrated the possibility of receiving protection outside NATO’s frameworks, which the latter holds “cannot be because it can never be.” It is one thing when one speaks of a purely voluntary accession to NATO in conditions when there are actually no alternatives in the sphere of security (or even risks in the event of non-accession; when it is safer to join the alliance than not to join). And it is quite another thing when there is a real choice and when, to survive, a nation does not necessarily need to agree with Brussels and accept its geopolitical (including economic, internal-political and other) terms – especially as Russia’s terms in reality (and not in propaganda interpretations) are often less burdensome for a country’s national sovereignty.

NATO seeks to instill in other countries the idea that the more states join it, the less security problems they will have: those who are out will simply not risk arguing – the more so fighting – with the alliance or its “prot?g?s.”

However, this logic is poor: Russia protected its peacekeepers and the people of South Ossetia not because Georgia was not a NATO member but because there are situations when it is impossible not to interfere. Even the most sober minds in NATO must have understood this, which first led to the success of the Medvedev-Sarkozy mission and then to the appearance of the Tagliavini Commission’s report. If Georgia had tried to solve its problems by force as a NATO member, that could have given a different scale to the conflict but would have hardly prevented it.

It is clear that no European security model will work without NATO or on the basis of NATO alone – even if all countries from Vancouver to Vladivostok are admitted to NATO, with the “small” exception of two nuclear powers – Russia and China, one of which occupies the larger part of Eurasia and the other has almost half of its population. These two countries will simply have to view a structure to which they are not admitted as a threat. The issue of Russia’s or China’s NATO membership is not on the agenda not least because each of them is an independent center of power. Should either of them enter the “Euro-Atlantic Club,” it would completely change not only the alliance itself but even the entire global configuration.

But if we speak about a collective security system in Europe and the signing of a European Security Treaty in practical terms, rather than at the level of declarations, then prospects here decisively depend on whether or not Russia and NATO can find a common language. For now, things are not very good in this respect, although they are not as bad as they were at the end of 2008. However, to achieve a radical breakthrough, such as the building of a common security mechanism that would involve both Russia and NATO, the parties need more than just interaction on individual practical issues.

The relations between Russia and NATO have two important components – an objective and a subjective one. The objective component is our disagreement with the alliance’s mistakes of the “post-bipolar” years (the use of force against Yugoslavia/Serbia; the demonstrative anti-Russian expansion to the East; and attempts to use the NATO shield to cover issues pertaining to energy security, the Arctic, etc.). The subjective component is the attitude of the Russian population to NATO as a Cold War rudiment. If the first wave of NATO’s enlargement had not been postponed until 1997 (although the decision on the enlargement had been made in 1994 at Bill Clinton’s meeting with the leaders of the Visegrad Group), there could have been a different president in Russia in 1996. This clearly shows what associations the acronym NATO brings up in Russians.

The West made a systemic mistake at the very beginning of the process of expanding its structures to the East: it should have started with Russia rather than its former allies. This does not mean that Russia should have been fully integrated into the West, as Poland or Lithuania were. But the parties could have jointly looked for some practical solutions and, most importantly, prospects, like those that Turkey still has, although civilizationally Turkey is much farther away from Europe than Russia is. However, the West left only two alternatives for Russia – “Either with us (i.e. under our thumb), or geopolitical solitude.” It either is unable or does not want to change anything in its approach, and is not even trying to look into the day after tomorrow.

The expansionist logic, as a development goal, stands in the way of the “resetting” of Russia-NATO relations and the revision of the very concept of NATO. Advocates of the expansion view it, in a way, as a “vaccination” against rapprochement with Russia. We oppose the expansion not because we ourselves have claims to some territories, but because the matter at issue is a military organization without our participation. It is difficult to say anything against the accession of Ukraine, Georgia or even Belarus to the EU (when the new leader of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovich, for example, speaks about EU membership as a priority of his presidency, his words do not cause protests from Russia).

But the point is not just that Russia, as a non-member of NATO, is doing its best so that there would be “less of NATO” both numerically and geographically. On the contrary, there are issues where it would be much easier for us to deal with NATO. I do not think that all NATO members were happy when the previous U.S. administration involved the alliance to achieve its goals and “unplugged” it when many Europeans in NATO objected to its reckless schemes. One can also recall the recent U.S. plans to deploy elements of the third position area of the U.S. strategic missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Issues pertaining to strategic security in Europe should not be resolved on a bilateral basis. However, this is what actually happens so often (or is presented in such a way): as soon as there arise complications in the security sphere, we are advised to contact either Washington or some European capital, as if NATO has nothing to do with it. But this situation is not normal in nature: since the alliance members have placed Brussels in charge of security matters, it is Brussels that must be contacted and must be the negotiating partner.

At the same time, Russia could take a look at the situation from a somewhat different angle, which would help solve the problem and reach practical agreements on a European Security Treaty.


The recently published new military doctrine of Russia has caused many discussions abroad. Among the main external military dangers, the doctrine first names the desire to impart global functions to NATO’s military organization, in violation of international law, and to advance the military infrastructure of NATO member countries closer to Russia’s borders, specifically by enlarging the bloc.

There are no doubts that this problem exists and that it directly affects Russia’s geopolitical interests. But many of our partners in the West ask why, for example, direct threats, such as the use of military force in territories adjacent to Russia, or the escalation of armed conflicts there, or the proliferation of international terrorism rank only 8th, 9th and 10th in Russia’s ranking of threats. President Dmitry Medvedev recently even had to specially explain this issue in an interview to the French magazine Paris Match: “It is not about NATO, and our military doctrine does not treat NATO as the main military threat.”

Incidentally, if we look at the approach of the West, the latter seeks to demonstrate its conspicuous peacefulness towards Moscow in words and in documents, despite the enlargements and deployments which evoke understandable concern in Russia. This is an interesting experience. Perhaps, it would really be more reasonable to give less cause for complaints about our words and documents and pay more attention to security in practice (developing new weapons, strengthening the Army’s infrastructure, achieving military and political agreements with other countries, etc.). No doubt, it would be much easier for us to have strong armaments and reliable military-political allied ties and insist that our actions are not directed against anyone (as NATO or the United States do) than demonstrate verbal activity, while having a weak military potential (what Iran or North Korea do sometimes).

NATO was established in the conditions of an incipient Cold War, to which Russia and the bloc it led were one of the parties. Naturally, we came to view NATO through the prism of that confrontation. There is nothing surprising in the fact that today, too, some people have a desire to see NATO only in the context of our own relations with the “North-Atlanticists,” sometimes reducing the very meaning and purpose of NATO to them. No operations in Afghanistan can shake the deep conviction of many Russians that the “aggressive bloc” still needs only Russia and that it persists and builds up its power solely to oppose it.

However, this is not so; similarly, it would be wrong to believe that NATO may be not interested in a state with the world’s second largest nuclear potential. Of course, there are many NATO members (especially among the latest ones) that sought NATO membership allegedly for protection from Russia but actually for confrontation with it. For them, this is really a kind of “id?e fixe.” For them, problems of their “elder brothers” in the alliance, such as the Iranian nuclear program or the mission in Afghanistan, are in fact (but certainly not for the record) less than secondary. At best, this is an opportunity to demonstrate one’s Atlantic loyalty – only to demand the same loyalty from the “big brothers” when one has to address one’s own problems, first of all with Russia.

Proponents of NATO’s expansion argued that it would bring stability to the borders of Russia and would appease its neighbors. However, neither has happened. NATO neophytes not only have not become appeased but, on the contrary, have demonstrated that they needed the alliance’s “roof” not for protection from Russia but to bolster their own complaints about it. They have created a tough anti-Russian lobby in NATO, which has highly negatively affected the alliance and its relations with Russia (the “injection of Russophobia” has not become a vaccination strengthening immunity but, on the contrary, has largely infected the entire body). Actually, NATO before its enlargement and NATO after it are two different organizations. Relations with NATO-15 could have developed quite differently, and Russia could even have become its member, or a single structure with two centers could have been established between them.

But it would be wrong to assume that anti-Russian sentiments and forces prevail in NATO. They do exist and in some moments (like in August 2008) they dominate. The question is, do we want to reduce our interaction with NATO (and, thus, the future of a European Security Treaty) entirely to our attitude to these forces and individuals? There are two lines, two approaches to Russia in NATO, in Europe and the U.S. (even in the Obama administration), and they differ significantly. If we notice only the negative attitude (which does exist) and fail to see a desire (which exists too) to radically change the situation for the better, we risk getting stuck in the Cold War era for long (exactly what we accuse today’s NATO of doing – not without grounds, though).

The Cold War specter appears now and again not only because the military bloc of the confrontation era has survived to this day. Part of the problem is that Russia does not participate in it, which recreates elements of conflict, because, as they saying goes, “it takes two to dance the tango.” Yet, it would be a primitive mistake to consider such a conflict with Russia to be an end in itself for NATO.

When we say (and rightly) that the present safety mechanisms in Europe do not work, we ignore (consciously or not) one nuance: these mechanisms do not work outside the Euro-Atlantic community but are quite effective inside. It is only logical that NATO members, regardless of their attitude towards Russia, do not hurry to swap something that works for something yet unknown. We are told that by proposing our initiative we want to impose certain weighty obligations on our partners, without becoming their ally and without sacrificing our sovereignty. Collective solutions of Europe are incompatible with Russia’s sovereign decisions yet, and this is one of the main difficulties on the way to harmonizing our positions.

NATO was created to fulfill three tasks that were equally interesting to all the parties:

  • counteracting the Soviet military threat (i.e. protection against external aggression);
  • ruling out the use of military force in relations inside the bloc;
  • ensuring military support for the newly built system of common values.

Importantly, this treble task of NATO, adjusted to the new conditions, is still relevant to its members. As for us, we make emphasis on task number one and view the alliance as our “personal” counterpart; therefore, we tend to believe that the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union made the alliance’s mission complete. But this is not so.

NATO’s willingness to interact with us, including on the issue of a European Security Treaty, will depend on how willing we are to interact with NATO on all issues: not only as regards the removal of external threats but also in preventing conflicts, including in our immediate vicinity, and in protecting our truly common values.

We often – and undeservedly – underestimate the values factor, reducing everything to a mechanical insurance against threats in the sphere of “hard security.” For NATO members, the solution of problems with such threats is based on agreement and mutual trust with regard to values. “Hard security” is not a problem between allies – it arises when it comes to protecting the community from foes.

The “values proviso” may be decisive for achieving the level of trust necessary for the creation of an effective collective security system in Europe. It is not accidental that all acute conflicts of today are geopolitical; for example, as regards prospects for the admission of Ukraine and Georgia to NATO, our opponents intentionally present our disagreement with them as a purely ideological confrontation and a conflict of values. They say that they have no plans to tear strategically important Ukraine away from Russia in order to leave Moscow in geopolitical solitude. They say that the problem is the reluctance of “authoritarian” Russia to “put up with the existence of young democracies at its borders.” They also insist that they make no attempts to artificially equate the Soviet system with Nazism but that contemporary Russia seeks to rehabilitate Stalinism.

We, on our part, believe (and for a good reason) that we have no conflict of values with the West; therefore we dismiss this issue as resolved and prefer to delve into the more “traditional” and seemingly more important problems of armaments. However, this approach is not entirely correct.

Problems with “hardware” cannot be solved without progress in “software.” If we do not reach a complete understanding on values and do not agree that there are no grounds for conflict here but, on the contrary, there is an ideological platform for a future pan-European collective security system and for a treaty underlying it, we, at best, would end up building “peaceful coexistence” models patterned after the 1970s “d?tente.” In the worst case, we will continue reproducing a “Cold War” in one format or another.

NATO already today operates beyond the geography inherent in its name. The nature of threats has objectively changed. The military alliance, created for a global confrontation with its antipode, now has to do quite different things. The need to reform it is dictated not by the wishes of individual politicians but by objective circumstances. But it would be a mistake if NATO reformed itself only in its own group interests, recreating its former format and relying on the idea of “military protectionism” (by analogy with protectionism in the economy and finance, which stands in the way of the solution of global economic problems). The result of such a “group therapy” would be a modified NATO with its former natural limiters in the form of the inevitable “Semi-Iron Curtain” in the East, the unsolved problem of collective security for the whole of Europe, the inability to prevent conflicts, and so on.

However, I would not say that Russia cannot participate in these Atlantic processes “by definition,” because any European security model without Russia is pure fiction. And we are hardly alone to think so. This means that we must listen to what is going on in the Euro-Atlantic structures and actively cooperate with the key figures that are pondering over the reform. But this must be a reform of not only NATO per se but of NATO viewed as part of a European collective security system, and a reform of the system as a whole.

It would make sense for Russia to support the reform of NATO – both in content and as regards its formal characteristics. We should not beg for concessions for ourselves but should outline prospects for a serious revision of our relations with a renovated structure of the West. Also, we should call for some kind of “redecoration” of NATO, up to changing its name in order to remove the subjective factor of the alliance’s perception not only in Russia but also in other countries, where NATO evokes negative associations. Theoretically, one could even imagine the alliance, in its present form, formally dissolved – at least for one day for its current members – so as to invite all those wishing to join the new organization, including Russia.

The world has really changed, and objective circumstances are setting new requirements for the format of security structures and even for their name (What is the Atlantic organization doing in Afghanistan?). Russia is ready for a working dialogue on collective security issues, and I do not think that the West stands to gain from completely cutting Russia off from the discussion of NATO’s future. Perhaps, this is the first time since the anti-Hitler coalition when we have a chance to find common ground – but on a fundamentally different basis, not forced by circumstances.

If Russia, which is one of the geopolitical centers of power in the contemporary world, proves that it is not claiming to be an ideological pole, it will elevate its interaction with the West to a basically new level, thus putting a final end to the Cold War and giving the final stroke to 20th-century politics.