Moscow’s Euro-Atlantic strategy
Sergei Lavrov’s Munich speech as a program for Russian diplomacy
The 48th Munich Security Conference has not resonated in the media. The discord surrounding Syria and the upcoming presidential elections in Russia pushed news from Munich into the background. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov presented in his Munich speech a program for Russian diplomacy for the near term. One priority is signing a "peace pact" for Europe.
A European code of intergovernmental cooperation is not a new idea. Back in 1969 the USSR, with Finland’s backing, proposed holding a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). In 1990 Soviet diplomacy initiated the signing of the Paris Charter, which expressed the intention of CSCE members to construct a Europe without political and military blocks. In 1994 President Boris Yeltsin proposed "concentric security in Europe" at the Budapest Summit – an agreement between NATO, EU, OSCE and CIS. In the mid-1990s Russian diplomacy backed such an option as an alternative to NATO’s eastward expansion.
Now Moscow is reviving these previous projects. In 2009 the Russian Foreign Ministry presented a draft European Security Treaty (EST). The document provided for the indivisibility of security in the Euro-Atlantic region, the non-use of force and the establishment of crisis management in the OSCE format. In the winter of 2010 the NATO countries (first of all, Britain and Poland) froze negotiations on the document. But Sergey Lavrov in his Munich speech said that Russia does not consider the idea of a "European code of conduct" closed.
Moscow has two projects in its reserve. The first involves raising the status of informal Euro-Atlantic security initiatives. The second involves developing initiatives announced at the OSCE summit in Astana (December 2010). The members of this meeting formulated the task of creating a Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security community, free of dividing lines, conflicts, and zones with differing levels of security. This approach leaves freedom in the preparation of documents on mutual obligations of all members in European security system.
Such a strategy has traditionally been met with a cautious attitude from the United States. Washington since the mid-1960s feared that Moscow is using such an agreement to undermine the U.S. security guarantee to Western Europe and, ultimately, the entire mechanism of NATO. Therefore, Russia's offer to enter into such an agreement has traditionally led to an overly emotional reaction by American diplomats.
U.S. concerns are not groundless. Russia's approach has traditionally been met with understanding in continental Europe. The Western European countries (including France) accept U.S. leadership. But they also seek to limit Washington's freedom of action through mutual agreements. In Paris, Berlin and Rome this strategy is called Euro-Atlantism.
In this sense, Russia's foreign policy strategy can also be called Euro-Atlantism. Russia recognizes the leadership of the United States in Europe, too. But Moscow is seeking to constrain Washington (and NATO countries in general) by a structure of stabilizing arrangements. These agreements could reduce the United States freedom to use force, establish a mechanism for joint NATO-Russia discussions of European security, and create a system of mutual obligations between Russia and NATO in the event of conflict with a third country. Such proposals have met with understanding in France, Germany, Italy and a number of smaller countries.
The problem is that the political situation in the early 2010s is less favorable than it was ten years ago due to the declining popularity of Euro-Atlantism in Europe and turn of the EU countries to Washington.
First, France under President Nikolas Sarokzi abandoned the concept of Gaullism as the foundation of its foreign policy. France’s return to NATO's military organization and the signing of a Franco-British treaty proved that Paris is defining a new role for himself – the role of junior partner to the United States and Britain.
Second, there is the weakness of the "European defense identity" project. In 2011 the Western European Union was formally dissolved. It should be replaced by the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) proclaimed in 1999. However, the EU failed to agree on the deployment European peacekeeping forces.
Third, the balance of power in the European Union has changed. The leading role went to the Franco-British tandem, which is more tied to Washington than the draft ESDP. Germany feels left out of the new tandem and it trying to expand contacts with Washington, including by joining the U.S. missile defense systems in Europe. The EU is becoming more "Atlantic" than it was in the early 2000s.
Implementing Russia’s Euro-Atlantic strategy in these conditions may be difficult. But the potential for cooperation between Russia and the EU remains. Can Moscow reverse the growing "Atlantic" bias in the policy of its European partners?
Alexei Fenenko is Leading Research Fellow, Institute of International Security Studies of RAS, Russian Academy of Sciences.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.