The crisis in Georgia last August turned out to be a test for the security system in Europe. And now we have to admit that it failed; the system was unable to fulfil its core task of ensuring common security for the continent as a whole. So we now have to get ready to re-examine the current arrangements, to analyse what happened and take our analysis into account when together we re-load the matrix of European security.
This conclusion was plain enough even before the events in Georgia. Russia already saw a need to revisit the mechanisms of European security, including its international and regional institutions and their functions. We had suggested this would provide a basis to work out a new legally-binding treaty on the system of mutual security guarantees in Europe. In so doing, we would ensure equal security for all the countries on the continent.
The idea found favour with many of our partners. The European Union believes that the Russian initiative is well grounded and has shown interest in launching such a project. There are leaders in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) willing to take part in this work. NATO, however, has stood silently aside. I was supposed to put forward Russian proposals on the new security concept to the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) last September. But the alliance refused to hold the scheduled meeting and thus distanced itself as a participant in the discussion of issues crucial to Euro-Atlantic security.
This NATO decision also revealed weaknesses in the NRC. When the NATO-Russia Council was created in 2002, it was devised as a mechanism for dialogue, cooperation and joint decision-making on issues of mutual interest. These included non-proliferation and arms control, the fight against terrorism, civil emergency planning and military-to-military cooperation. The NRC was also supposed to act in crisis situations, primarily as a forum for “holding prompt consultations.” It was also meant to prevent such crises from happening at all by “early identification of emerging problems.” All this is stated in the Council’s founding documents. The strategic task of the NRC is to serve as the major structure for developing cooperation between Russia and NATO.
But the NRC failed last year to fulfil all these tasks. The Georgian crisis exposed a sore truth – that Russia’s dialogue with NATO was less substantial than it should have been. The thread of cooperation was too thin, too vulnerable; just a sprinkle of Georgian “rain” was enough to tear it apart. The problem mostly concerns our political dialogue, which has always been hard to conduct. Too often our partners stick cotton wool in their ears and won’t listen to a word we say; too often they give us no feedback and our ideas are met with deafening silence. Yet Russian cooperation with NATO is of the outmost importance to global security. We need NATO and NATO needs us in order to stand up to the threats and challenges we all face. On the other hand, Russia is not going cap in hand to NATO. We want to develop cooperation only as far as the alliance wants it to develop as well. We are uninterested in the illusion of partnership: nice photo-opportunities and media coverage. We need a real partnership where we work together to solve the multitude of modern security problems.
So what does the future hold for NATO-Russia relations in, say, five or 10 years time? It’s very difficult to predict; international relations are becoming increasingly intricate and the security environment is more and more volatile, so it’s hard to judge what the world will look like even in the fairly short-term. But we do want people around the globe to get rid of their Cold War mentality and begin to recognise the new realities. We want to see our partnership and engagement with the West develop. Sure, there may be setbacks along the way. But this is Russia’s foremost foreign policy goal – strategic partnership with the West.
As for NATO, we expect we will be able to develop real cooperation in future. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m certain that several years from now we should be able to look back at the Georgian crisis as a turning point, an event that finally made everyone open their eyes to the new reality. August 2008 – and not November 1989 or September 2001 – will be known as the beginning of a new era in international relations! Today’s “ugly duckling” – lop-sided and stuck in a Cold War mindset – will finally turn into a great “swan.” There will be equal security for all, and trust and respect for each other’s interests; the expected trials and tribulations along the way will be just part of the growing-up process.
Already we can name three “growth factors” that will help the new security system to mature – the development of the European Security and Defence Policy and Europe’s global role, the transformation of NATO and (last but not least) the return of Russia to its rightful position on the world stage. Russia is not becoming assertive, aggressive or imperial as the more short-sighted media maintain; not at all. We are only claiming what is rightfully ours – a place in the front row of international relations, not a seat at the back. The world will have to get used to the fact that Russia is not a feeble country any more. Is it so incomprehensible that we have strategic interests and national security concerns? We are protecting our national interests, just like any state is entitled to do.
Russia has tried for years to get away from Cold War thinking and to persuade our partners to drop their stereotypes. After the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, Russia quickly extended a helping hand to the Americans. It was done, inter alia, to bridge the Cold War gap at last. But events proved the West did not appreciate this Russian gesture. Military bases have been impetuously established along the perimeter of Russia. The third positioning area for the US global missile defence system is being created in the Czech Republic and Poland. The Warsaw Pact Organisation ceased to exist 20 years ago but still NATO proceeds eastward, adding new member states for reasons other than enhancing security and democracy.
Russia is in no way interested in confrontation; we want to focus on our own development, prosperity and stability for our own people. But successful development is only possible in the context of transparent and equal international relations, plus stability and security in our nearest neighbourhood. Thus we are interested in a strong and independent Europe. And the development of EU military capacities and EU security policy is an important factor in European and global security. It is time for Europe to stop acting like an occupied continent and start displaying its own political will. The action taken by the EU in the course of the Georgian crisis proved that Europeans do have such an aspiration and are willing to fulfil their role as an independent and powerful global player. Europe will surely play their part more and more in the coming years.
What about NATO itself? Some people say it will eventually collapse, but this is not a serious expectation. After all, the alliance created, as General Lord Ismay, NATO’s first Secretary General once put it, “to keep the Americans in, the Germans down and the Russians out” survived the demise of the Cold War. We in Russia think NATO should adapt and transform itself to suit the new environment; that is what the alliance leadership has been saying for years. During this transformation, NATO must keep in mind that the prime responsibility for global peace and security lies with the UN. For the moment though, the alliance and its leaders have no clear answer to the question: where do we go from here? The strategic concept of the alliance is outdated, yet NATO cannot even agree when to start preparing a new one. Its forces are overstretched in Afghanistan, and its members have different goals within the organisation and are using NATO membership for their own advantage. The alliance is at a crossroads.
And here is where Russia can come in. A real, working inter-action between NATO and Russia could provide the alliance with solutions to the problems it cannot tackle on its own. It would also give new impetus to the European security system. This is what we want to see in the future – and it’s a future that is not possible without Russia. The West has to understand that there are really important issues at stake. As Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution has rightly noted, the US “makes a mistake by needlessly picking fights over secondary things if that harms our ability to cooperate with Russia on truly crucial matters.” If you want to get a handle on that concept, just compare the importance of combating international terrorism with the value of nurturing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s personal ambitions; things soon fall into place.
We need to build an integrated and solid system of comprehensive security in Europe where the security of all will be indivisible. We are not saying we should abolish everything and start from scratch; on the contrary. We need to build on existing institutions: use their hardware but update the software. Russia’s initiative for a pan-European security treaty would be the main programme of this new software.