13 February 2009 - Brussels - Russia, the West and the Future of Euro-Atlantic Security
1. On Friday 13 February 2009, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) held a joint seminar on “Russia, the West and the Future of Euro-Atlantic Security”. Bringing together Russian, US and European officials and experts, the seminar discussed past and present relations between Russia and the West, and examined scenarios for the future and their implications for Euro-Atlantic security. Some 100 high-level participants attended the seminar, including 12 national parliamentarians.
2. Bones of contention between Russia and the West have accumulated over the past year, particularly in connection with the promise of NATO enlargement to Georgia and Ukraine, with Kosovo, with energy issues, and with missile defence. The war in Georgia in August 2008 opened a new phase of tensions and prompted calls for a re-assessment of the relationship between Russia and the West.
3. In recent months, there have already been signs of the beginnings of a rapprochement – notably the “reset” speech by US Vice-President Biden at the Munich Security Conference -, but how far this process will go and on what basis the relationship should be rebuilt remains to be decided. Some have suggested that Russia and the West need to focus on the numerous areas of mutual interest, where co-operation in its various forms, would make sense. Others have proposed a more radical approach. Notably, Russian President Medvedev has called for an in-depth reorganization of the security architecture in Europe.
4. The seminar rested on several premises: that co-operation between Russia and the West is in everyone’s interest; that what is generally referred to as “relations between Russia and the West” actually includes a complex set of bilateral and multilateral interactions; and that, in looking to the future, valuable lessons can be learned from the history of the partnership established between Russia and the West following the fall of the Berlin Wall. A review of the achievements and challenges of this partnership helps better understand the origins and the significance of the recent crisis, and assess possible ways forward.
5. The NATO-Russia Founding Act signed in 1997 aimed to provide the basis for a new partnership between NATO and Russia. It included a static part, consisting of a number of negative commitments, such as what is generally referred to as the “three NOs” - NATO Allies “have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members” -, as well as a commitment not to deploy “substantial” combat forces. This was complemented by a dynamic part, which identified several areas of practical co-operation.
6. The Founding Act was complemented in 2002 by the Rome Declaration, which also established the NATO-Russia Council (NRC). This body was designed to replace the bilateral format of the Permanent Joint Council – Allies plus Russia – with a multilateral forum, in which Russia and the Allies would sit as equals.
8. However, speakers noted that a survey of the history of NATO-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War shows that, despite important achievements, co-operation has suffered due to misunderstandings, missed opportunities and misperceptions.
9. Speakers mentioned, in particular, the controversy surrounding the supposed assurance given at the end of the Cold War that NATO would not enlarge, which Russian officials repeatedly refer to, but fail to substantiate, and NATO officials consistently refute. In Moscow, enlargement continues to be seen not only as a threat to Russian security, but also the means by which Russia is excluded from an effective role in European security.
10. In Moscow’s view, the West, convinced that Russia had lost the Cold War, has conducted a continued marginalization of Russia and deprived it of a decision-making role in European security affairs. Instead, the West has established what Moscow considers a NATO-centric European security order, relying on the processes of NATO and EU enlargement, and undermining traditional rules of international law with new principles, such as that of humanitarian intervention. Russia also perceives “NATO transformation” as a metaphor for the globalization of NATO’s area of responsibility, including through intervention in what Moscow considers as its own sphere of responsibility.
11. These views are widely disputed in the West, where emphasis is put instead on the extensive assistance given to Russia at the end of the Cold War and on efforts made to create cooperative frameworks. From NATO’s perspective, enlargement was to contribute to EuroAtlantic security – not create new tensions -, and was always seen as complementary to the deepening of the NATO-Russia and the NATO-Ukraine partnerships. While making every effort to stress the benign and constructive nature of enlargement, NATO Allies have consistently emphasised the right of countries to choose their own destinies and challenged the assertion of privileged areas of influence.
12. The perception in the West is also that, if the NATO-Russia co-operation has not reached its full potential, it is also because Russia appears more interested in the static part rather than in the dynamic part of the partnership, and may be itself reluctant to inject substance into the relationship. In this regard, one Russian speaker argued that relations with NATO are not central to Russia’s security interests as such, i.e. in general, Russia does not meet its security challenges through relations with NATO. Russia’s core security agenda over the past few years has focused mostly on the CIS space, and the creation of a collective security system based on the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). In recent years, political-military integration in the CSTO framework has been deepened, and the organisation’s structures built up, most recently with the creation of a crisis response force of 15,000 troops. Thus, according to this view, for Moscow, the NATO-Russia agenda is mainly political, and there is only limited room for practical security co-operation.
13. The NATO-Russia relationship has reached several low points over the years. Thus, NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999 was followed by a period of strained relations. However, it was suggested that Russia’s initial opposition to NATO’s operation there had more to do with Russia’s place at the negotiating table regarding security matters in Europe, than with NATO-Russia relations as such. In fact, Russia adopted a pragmatic approach, later deciding to join the UNmandated peacekeeping force.
14. Two years later, after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States, NATO and Russia then missed an opportunity to strengthen their partnership on the basis of their common interest in addressing the threat posed by international terrorism.
16. Speakers noted that the Kosovo and Georgia crises illustrate how, regrettably, the NATORussia partnership is sometimes used as a dispensable framework to punish the other party in the event of a serious disagreement. They also suggested that current tensions are evidence that the NRC has not fully achieved its objective of providing a genuine forum for political dialogue “at 27”.
17. In Moscow’s view, broader lessons should be drawn from the Georgian crisis. For Moscow, this crisis demonstrates the failure of the current European security order, bringing to light several worrying trends: a crisis of international law, particularly of the principle of territorial integrity; a crisis in disarmament and arms control; the risk of an arms race in Europe in connection with plans for the deployment of missile defence systems; and the failure of existing international conflict resolution and peacekeeping arrangements.
18. It is in this context that Russian President Medvedev has proposed a broader reorganization of the European security architecture. Although this initiative preceded the war in Georgia, in Moscow’s view, the Georgian crisis has given new relevance and urgency to President Medvedev’s proposals, by showing how the current European security order can lead to a confrontation with Russia.
19. Speakers suggested that President Medvedev’s initiative has both a short-term and a longterm objective. In the short term, it aims to “press the pause button”, i.e. halt NATO enlargement and US plans for the deployment of missile defences in Europe, while resuming the dialogue initiated at the end of the Cold War on the European security order and Russia’s role. In the long term, the proposal aims to “press the reset button”, i.e. move away from the current NATO-centric European security order towards a new architecture, which, in Moscow’s view, would recognize Russia’s full place and role in Europe’s security.
20. The proposal remains deliberately vague for the moment, but some elements are already known. One important aspect is a reaffirmation of rules and conventional norms of international law. President Medvedev has already suggested five main groups of rules relating to the respect for territorial integrity, state sovereignty, political independence of states, and other principles recognized in the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter; to the use of force and mechanisms for conflict resolution; to the principle of equal security for all, which states that one side should not enhance its own security at the expense of the other side – a reference in particular to NATO enlargement; to the principle that no state or organization has exclusive responsibility for security in Europe; and to a new agreement on arms control and disarmament.
21. The proposal does not include the creation of new institutions. Instead, it suggests the establishment of an umbrella forum for discussion among strong regional organizations on the division of responsibilities on security matters in Europe. This would essentially re-create the bipolar East-West model of the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), but on a co-operative rather than confrontational mode.
22. While speakers suggested that the proposal’s short-term goal may have been temporarily achieved, they generally considered that the long-term goal is largely unrealistic. In fact, it was noted that, in the Georgian war, Russia itself violated some of the principles, which it claims should be at the foundation of the new security order. How this proposal would fit with a transformed and revitalised NATO was also never addressed. Nevertheless, some participants suggested that there may be a value in initiating a dialogue between Russia and the West on these issues as a way of rebuilding trust after the recent period of tensions.
23. There was a consensus that the relationship between Russia and the West needs a fresh start, more than just a return to business as usual. However, speakers and participants generally called for a realistic approach, focusing on substance, on shared long-term interests and challenges, rather than on broad principles. They mentioned a number of areas, where practical steps could be taken to enhance co-operation and rebuild trust. Significant in their own right, these steps could also create the basis of confidence needed in order to tackle the more intransigent issues.
24. One speaker mentioned joint crisis response and conflict resolution as a possible area of enhanced practical co-operation. This could build on NATO and the EU’s existing rapid reaction mechanisms and on the recently established CSTO crisis response force. It was suggested in particular to establish a more structured relationship between NATO and the CSTO, on the model of the “Berlin Plus” agreement between NATO and the European Union.
25. Speakers also noted that there is scope for renewed dialogue on arms control: resuming talks on a revised START treaty, initiating discussions on an arms control regime for shorter range missiles, or more generally, giving new impetus to disarmament negotiations. Agreement on the issue of missile defence may be more difficult, as, despite US assurances, suspicions in Russia remain strong. It was suggested that future negotiations should focus on transparency, conditionality – i.e. the system would only be activated when a threat materializes -, and jointness. The latter should be pursued as a matter of principle, regardless of technological difficulties or imperfections.
26. Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism were also mentioned as possible areas for enhanced security co-operation. More creative solutions could also be found in the field of energy. One idea that was mentioned in this regard is the creation of a tripartite consortium to oversee Ukrainian gas pipelines; this consortium would bring together Gazprom, Naftogaz and a group of European companies, with a guarantee provided by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
27. In terms of structures and institutions, a number of new ideas were mentioned, such as the creation of a European Security Council on the model of the UN Security Council. Alternatively, existing frameworks and structures – e.g. the G8, the OSCE or the NRC – could be revived and built upon. It was emphasized, in particular, that the NRC, although it may not have been used to its full potential, is a decision-making body and not just a forum for dialogue. More could be made of this framework, though maybe in a slightly different form. It was suggested for instance, that the NRC could be almost separated from the NATO structure as such, as it is not based on the Washington Treaty, but on the NATO-Russia Founding Act.
28. Elements of the current international environment – the global financial and economic crisis, a new US Administration, the new structure of power in Russia, NATO’s strong focus on operations in Afghanistan – may already provide an environment that is more conducive to dialogue and compromise on these various issues. However, the question of enlargement and its potential consequences remains as a major stumbling block.