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Analysis & Opinion
08.07.08 Why No Response?
By Ulrich Weisser and Frank Elbe

After his inauguration, the new Russian President Vladimir Medvedev made a careful choice where and how to explain his political priorities to the Western world. He decided to choose Berlin as the place for his first visit to the West and to accept the combined invitation of the Federal Association of German Industry and the German Council on Foreign Relations to deliver a programmatic speech on June 5. This choice was based on the Russian view that Russia and Germany are two European countries that have traversed difficult times in history, but, step by step, have built up trust in each other and, in so doing, set a unique example for Europe. The two sides have also done much to install a climate of growing trust throughout the European continent. From the Russian point of view, the historic reconciliation between the two countries reflects that humanistic ideals and values that are shared by all of Europe are an integral part of both Russian and German culture. In so far, the relations between Russia and Germany have all the potential to serve as a model for the relations between Russia and Europe as a whole.

The Russian president’s speech was received with enthusiasm and a standing ovation by the audience. Media reports – usually determined by the well-known anti-Russian reflex – were somewhat sceptical and did not reflect this favorable reaction; they did not focus on the far reaching proposals concerning European and Atlantic security. For unknown reasons, until today, there has been no public political response. This non-reaction seems neither understandable nor tolerable.

This is particularly true if one looks at Medvedev’s core messages. He underlined the importance of the United Nations as an organisation in which countries can cooperate on an equal basis, and that there is no other such organisation in the world and the coming years are not likely to produce one. And he added that the UN does need to modernize in order to better respond to the realities of today’s multi-polar world because the future world order is directly linked to the future of Europe, the whole Euro-Atlantic region, and, therefore, the future of European civilization in its entirety.

It was in that context that Medvedev stated that the end of the cold war made it possible to build up genuinely equal cooperation between Russia, the European Union and North America as three branches of European civilization, and now is the time to talk about unity of the whole Euro-Atlantic area from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Being aware of the consequences of marginalizing and isolating countries, creating zones with differentiated levels of security, and abandoning the creation of general regional collective security systems, the Russian president came to the conclusion that NATO has failed so far to give a new purpose to its existence, but is trying to find its purpose today by globalizing its missions and expanding even further to the East – an approach that has all the potential to undermine the relations between NATO and Russia and to cause serious damage. The Russian president, therefore, suggested to take some time off in order to look at where we have come and what we now face, whether the issue be NATO expansion or missile defence.

Against this background, the Russian president made two important proposals. Firstly, he suggested developing the OSCE toward drafting and signing a legally binding treaty on European security, in which the organizations currently working in the Euro-Atlantic area could become parties. This treaty could be understood as a regional pact based on the principles of the UN Charter and clearly defining the importance of force as a factor in relations within the Euro-Atlantic community – aiming at a comprehensive resolution of the security and arms control issues in Europe. Secondly, he suggested holding a general European summit to start the process of drafting this agreement. In this view, absolutely all European countries should take part in this summit as individual countries, leaving aside any allegiances to blocs or other groups.

The sober Russian analysis about NATO’s failure to adapt sufficiently to the new realities and challenges is coming close to the fact that even members of the Alliance consider NATO today as being without vision and mission. Fundamental issues are subject to controversial debates. The future role of NATO will obviously be determined by diverging interests and by the need to sort out some very basic controversial issues, like extended partnership (Pacific/Asia) versus regional priorities (European periphery), confidence versus mistrust in the U.S., new constructive relationship with Russia versus the Polish idea to develop contingency planning in NATO against Russia, limits to enlargement versus rapid accession of Ukraine and Georgia, internal stability of NATO versus consequences of exaggerated accession, arms control initiatives versus present behavior.

As articulated by NATO bureaucrats, the real concern with regard to Russian proposals, however, seems to be based on the fear that Russia is trying to undermine the very essence of NATO as a defensive Alliance, namely to undermine collective defence and Article V of the Washington treaty. This article means nothing less than the commitment of all allies to collective defence whenever members or their forces become subject to a military attack.

This fear is baseless. The Russian proposal of an all-European security arrangement is aiming at the exclusion of military force and explicitly accepts NATO as partner. The concern about the impact on Article V may well be based on second thoughts, namely to be prepared against a Russian attack on Europe.

This kind of hidden mistrust against all experiences after the cold war is much in-line with the attitude of the outgoing George W. Bush Administration. A senior member of the National Security Council articulated this attitude at a conference in Berlin. The only reaction to the Medvedev speech was “wait and see.” At the same time, it was underlined that the Bush Administration in the remaining time will push NATO toward a rapid agreement on the MAP (Membership Action Plan) for Ukraine and Georgia and to get final agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic concerning the deployment of the U.S. missile shield, regardless of what the Russian reaction may be.

NATO’s political quarters have obviously forgotten that the Alliance was politically strong enough to overcome the cold war and the division of Europe without a single shot. The Alliance gained leverage from the ingenious concept of combining sufficient military strength with d?tente, cooperation, and arms control. And the Alliance was courageous enough to implement this concept at a time that was determined by an unprecedented arms race. After the fall of the Berlin wall, the Alliance has resolutely and without a moment’s hesitation reached out to the countries in the East, extending the hands for friendship to the adversaries of the cold war.

Although we have enjoyed almost two decades of peace and stability in Europe, and the potential for an ever closer relationship with Russia has grown year by year, the former potential for cooperation seems to have faded away. The West, in general, and the U.S., in particular, just do not care enough about Russia. This may be a result of a changing understanding of the U.S. role in global politics during the Bush administration – from second to none to global superiority. It would be dangerous for NATO if this approach would lead to an American attempt to obstruct the Alliance in finding a future-oriented cooperation with Russia. Nobody could responsibly afford such a policy with view to the still enormous nuclear potential on both sides.

Common security of the U.S. and Europe will only be possible with Russia and not against Russia. Indifference vis-?-vis Russia, or the mad illusion to neglect Russia and humiliating the country and her leadership, time and again leads to a dangerous consequence: Russia as a European power may well feel tempted to take advantage of the Asian options.

It seems as desirable as necessary to share political responsibilities between Europe, Russia and the U.S., without even touching on the protective function of NATO. But, this kind of responsibility sharing should also be an additional incentive for Europe to come to grips with a functioning “Common Foreign and Security Policy” and appropriate defence capabilities.

The perspective of long-term economic cooperation based on a security arrangement from Vancouver to Vladivostok and a new understanding of common security will be advantageous for all parties concerned.

NATO’s present kind of attitude is missing the fact that the national security of America, as well as the security of Europe, needs a new post-cold war definition. This kind of definition must have the potential to be more in tune with the current century and its realities than a policy that confuses not only most of the Americans, but also the Europeans and Russians alike. “Old politics, old parties and old policies are increasingly irrelevant to our lives, to our revolutionary times and to our future,” Garry Hart, the former senator of Colorado, has nicely put it recently in the New York Times.

We have nothing to fear by opening a serious dialogue with Russia on the highest political levels concerning the idea of an all-European security arrangement. We have nothing to lose by talking, but much to gain. But, this approach requires that we first come to grips with our own problems; and it needs political leadership.

Vice Admiral ret. Ulrich Weisser served as the Director for Plans and Policy and Chief of Political Advisory Group to the German Minister of Defence.

Frank Ebel is a former Chief of Policy Planning at the German Foreign Ministry and Ambassador to India, Japan and Poland.
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