Does Europe need a new security architecture?
The starting point at the end of the Cold War was - at least rhetorically - fairly inclusive: Building a “Common European Home“ on the one side and a ”Pan-European Peace Order” on the other were the catchwords of the day. Though different expressions both conveyed a common message, namely that the security of all European states should be inextricably linked.
In reality, however, two basic developments occurred, both pointing into quite a different direction. The OSCE – in a formal sense the one and only pan-European organisation of collective security - proved defunct from the outset, because the West emasculated baskets I (security provisions) and II (economic cooperation) and Russia has been at pains to do the same with basket III (once called the humanitarian dimension). The West has never accepted to grant the OSCE substantial basket I and II competences with regard to the whole of Europe. Russia, on the other side, increasingly complained that the OSCE was too much focused on the trouble spots in the East (see its missions in the Caucasus) and too intrusive with regard to the provisions of the Paris Charter (election observations in particular).
At the same time it was NATO that turned into the only truly relevant pan-European security organisation. This happened gradually and not necessarily by design but defied historical lessons that military alliances were bound to dissolve once the erstwhile enemy got lost. This logic had an impact insofar as NATO lost some of its original coherence in the process, converting from an “alliance in being” into a “coalition in waiting”, the relevance of which being a direct function of the US propensity to unilateralism. But nevertheless it remained a serious pole of attraction and point of reference in all security-related issues on the European continent and beyond.
These developments created two major problems. Firstly, it is obvious that Russia remains - and will remain - ante portas. The reasons on the part of NATO are to be found in the inherent conflict between those members who favour collective defence (against Russia) and those who favour collective security (in conjunction with Russia) that is far from being settled any time soon. To some extent this conflict also affected the compensatory measures of NATO expansion which in essence meant that every widening of NATO should be accompanied by a deepening of cooperation with Russia. Thus widening commitments were not met, such as the controversial stationing of so-called “substantial combat forces” in new member states, or they remained meagre, such as the lacking substance of joint institutions where NATO merely conceded Russia a voice but not a vote. Russia, on the other hand, has neither been ready nor willing to join any organisation in which it has to follow the lead of someone else. In addition, suspicion mounted since NATO has not observed its commitments and was perceived as exploiting Russia’s weakness: resolution and strength as the only means to counter successive marginalisation.
Secondly, a grey zone of those countries emerged which were squeezed in-between, becoming ever more pronounced with the shrinking number - and the approach to the Russian border. From the logic of the two attracting poles such a grey zone is synonymous with a security vacuum, to be filled by either side. From the logic of the “Europe in between” these countries have to cope with zero-sum decisions, i.e., choosing one side at the expense of the other. Georgia and Belarus represent the two opposite ends of the spectrum und Ukraine is somehow lingering in-between (meaning that Ukraine, in a sense, has become the NATO-Russia battleground, whereas Georgia and Belarus, each in its own way, tend to test the respective reassurances).
These developments have led to mutually exclusive perceptions on both sides where two elements stand out. Russia claims that the current situation does not harbour equal security for all European countries nor does it allow for equal participation in decision-making on crucial security issues that are bound to affect all. This is certainly true but admittedly the prime concern of just one European country that at the same time finds itself in the privileged position of disposing of sufficient means to maintain its own security (and, moreover, increasingly sufficient means – and readiness - to project its concept of security beyond its borders, as in the case of the August 2008 war).
The West conversely sticks to the principle of the right to self-determination (portrayed as an inherent right of sovereign states) as opposed to spheres of influence (portrayed as the remnants of the defunct age of empires). These perceptions are the more irreconcilable as from the Russian perspective NATO expansion amounts to nothing but the expansion of the Western sphere of influence.
There is no clear-cut either-or-decision - and thus no need (and no chance) for refurbished grand designs. The conceptual preconditions have fundamentally changed since the end of the Cold War. However, the message of that time, namely that the security of all European states is inextricably linked, is still relevant. And moreover, in terms of the changing balance of power, there is clearly a need to accommodate a strong and resurgent Russia.
In light of this there is a need to organize a process of mutual rapprochement and confidence-building. This includes: first and foremost reversing the centrifugal dynamic in security policy (e.g., by means of cooperative arms control which until recently was spoiled by successive US administrations). Secondly, institutional adaptation which entails: (a) reinvigorate the OSCE as a pan-European security organisation which does not replace NATO (or the EU) but defines the rules of engagement. (b) The EU and its soft power should take precedence over NATO expansion (which would reverse the current sequence). The “Eastern Partnership” could be such an opening (yet only if “structurally open” for Russian participation and if conceived in the sense mentioned above. And thirdly: no NATO expansion which, however, cannot be ruled out on principal grounds. Yet any further move should be conditional on the democratic credentials of the prospective members, their contribution to enhancing security of the alliance members and, moreover, to the common European cause and security.
Hans-Joachim Spanger is Head of Research Group and member of the Executive Board of the Peace Research Institute, Frankfurt