Berlin, 15.05.2012

Together Instead of Against Each Other: The Euro-Atlantic Security Order Must Incorporate Russia

The longer the West and Russia go without developing a common vision for the Euro-Atlantic security order - and the legitimate place of each other within it - the longer relations between the two actors will remain strained, argue the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik‘s (SWP) Margarete Klein and Solveig Richter.

The ongoing political unrest in Syria dominated February’s Munich Security Conference to such an extent that another fundamental issue remained unaddressed - what is Russia’s appropriate role and place in the Euro-Atlantic security order? It is an important question because NATO and the European Union (EU) need Russia’s cooperation in regulating ethnic conflicts in Kosovo or Transnistria, for example, as well as stabilizing Afghanistan, enhancing energy security and arms control and nuclear non-proliferation. The fact that Russia has tremendous spoiler potential due to its veto right as a permanent member of the UN Security Council adds to the importance of cooperation with Moscow. Indeed without Russia’s support, it will be difficult for the West to build up sufficient deterrence vis-à-vis Iran or to find a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict..

“Reset” Without Significant Results

Following the low point in relations in the aftermath of the conflict with Georgia (2008), there were hopes that US President Barack Obama’s attempts to ‘reset’ ties with Moscow would result in improved dialogue between Russia and the West. Yet aside from the low hanging frutits – for example the agreement on the new START disarmament treaty and intensified cooperation in Afghanistan, this reset has not yet heralded any major breakthroughs.

Nevertheless, there have been suggestions made on how Russia could perhaps be better integrated into the Euro-Atlantic security order. In June 2008, for example, Russia’s outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev recommended a legally binding international treaty from “Vancouver to Vladivostok”. According to this treaty, none of the signatories could embark on actions that would “significantly” affect the security of any of the other treaty partners. The majority of Western states turned down Medvedev’s proposals. The one-sided security benefits for Moscow would have been too obvious, as it would have enabled blockage of virtually every NATO action due to the vague formulation of the Treaty – whether this happened to be a new round of enlargement or the establishment of the planned missile defense system.

In addition to Medvedev’s proposed Treaty, the possibility of Russian membership of NATO continues to be raised despite a genuine lack of political will on both sides. Apart from that, Russia still does not fulfill the criteria for full NATO membership at this point in time. This does not mean, however, that any efforts towards intensifying security policy cooperation are predestined to fail. In order to establish a productive framework for more cooperative security with Russia, three steps are required.

Three steps to integrate Russia

The first step is to reduce the mistrust that exists on both sides. There remain forces within NATO and Russian politics that continue to perceive the other side as a threat. Even though a military conflict has become increasingly unlikely since the end of the Cold War, elements of a security dilemma remain between Russia and the West. Over the short to medium-term it is, therefore, extremely important to maintain military restraint and improve transparency within the area of “hard security”. Of particular concern here are conventional arms control regimes. These should be at the heart of confidence-building measures between Moscow and the West. Yet because these regimes face the prospect of outright breakdown, any further attempts at reaching an agreement with Moscow in the area of tactical nuclear weapons will prove hopeless.

The second building block should focus on strengthening the established pillars of institutionalized cooperation between Moscow and the West. Some of the existing arrangements continue to be compromised by either a lack of effectiveness or inclusiveness. The Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), for example, has member states that span Medvedev’s vision of a treaty from ‘Vancouver to Vladivostok’ – including Russia. Yet it has proved incapable of mastering a range of security challenges such as the ethnic conflicts in the Balkans or the Caucasus. It is perhaps the only organization with sophisticated enough mechanisms to regulate conflicts relating to questions of autonomy and territory. But much more meaningful political support than in the past years will be necessary for the OSCE to be able to use these mechanisms in more meaningful ways.

On the other hand, NATO has grown up opposite the OSCE as the most effective player within the Euro-Atlantic region. This adds all the more importance to establishing a strategic partnership between NATO and Russia – as agreed at the summit in Lisbon in November 2010. Therefore, cooperation in strategically important areas such as missile defense is needed. In addition, the common forum, the NATO-Russia Council, should be made more resilient to crises, for example through the development of a consultation mechanism. When it comes to intensifying cooperation with Russia, the EU also plays an increasingly important role. Above all, potential for more cooperation between Moscow and the EU exists in external crisis management – that is, missions like the EU’s involvement in Chad – and energy security.

Finally, NATO and EU member-states must continue to seek the integration of Russia into the Western community of values. While different political systems do not stand in the way of pragmatic security cooperation, such cooperation only gains reliability when both sides share norms like democracy, rule of law and human rights. Western states should emphasize this point more strongly – also at the cost of short-term economic benefits.

These steps require a considerable degree of political will and leadership on both sides. As neither Moscow nor Washington can currently be relied upon to initiate a reshaping process, it is all the more important that Germany and its European allies take the lead. The goal of Russia becoming an integral part of the Euro-Atlantic security order one day should be worth it.

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