The statement recently made in Vilnius, Lithuania, by nine countries of
Central and Eastern Europe, declaring their firm intention to join NATO,
should give us all food for serious thought.
One would have to be very naive to believe that a statement of this kind
could be an "independent initiative" by the nine: Romania, Bulgaria,
Slovenia, Slovakia, Macedonia, Albania, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
At the very least, it was preceded by consultations with the United
This gesture came as the West, and Europe in particular, are showing
signs of some self-criticism and realism in rethinking last year's
events in Kosovo and throughout Yugoslavia. At the Istanbul meeting of
the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last December,
the role of that body, which brings together all the European countries,
the United States and Canada, was re-emphasized. In Russia, those who
favor resuming dialogue with the West are beginning to regain ground in
the difficult debate on relations with NATO. The Duma has ratified the
START II treaty.
In the United States, authoritative voices have been heard in support of
a new approach to collective security in Europe, from the Atlantic to
Vladivostok. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser in the Bush
administration, has suggested that a council be created within the OSCE
to represent common European interests.
At the same time, the Europeans are considering whether to create their
own forces for preventing and responding to conflicts. They are thus
ready to assume part of the responsibility for European security, not
necessarily through NATO.
So, though the negative consequences of last year's war in Yugoslavia
are still being felt and there are signs that the crisis in the southern
Balkans could even deepen, the overall context seems more positive.
Against this background, the "initiative of the nine" looks like a
destabilizing operation and a slap in Russia's face.
It appears that Washington is anxious to prevent any revision of the
politico-military doctrine adopted at the NATO summit convened a year
ago at the very height of the war. The European allies are given to
understand that no amendments to that doctrine should be contemplated.
It also appears that no attention would be given to Russia's repeated
and strongly worded warnings against continued enlargement of NATO,
particularly if it were to include any Baltic states.
Conspicuously, the statement by the nine countries was made 10 days
before President Clinton's visit to Moscow, and followed by Russian
President Vladimir Putin's first official trip to Europe. The conclusion
seems inescapable that Clinton is trying to put pressure on Putin, to
influence both his European policies as well as Europe's policies toward
the new Russian leader. Surely it must be clear to all that NATO's
expansion on such a scale would drive Putin into a political corner.
There could also be another agenda behind this move. As the U.S.
presidential campaign heats up, Clinton and Vice President Al Gore seem
ready to give a go-ahead to the multibillion-dollar project of building
an anti-missile shield, an idea that Europe is reluctant to support. But
European objections would be easy to ignore if Clinton could obtain
Putin's agreement to the revision of the 1972 U.S.-Soviet
anti-ballistic-missile treaty. And to force him to agree, what could be
better than dangling an even more serious threat?
Under this hypothesis, the "initiative of the nine" is a kind of trial
balloon or bargaining chip to get Russia to go along with the new U.S.
missile defense system. If so, it would be a rather cynical use of the
fears that are being deliberately stoked in some parts of Europe. This
would also be a dangerous and irresponsible game that has nothing in
common with the interests of collective security in Europe.
This lopsided logic takes into account only U.S. interests. Instead of
facilitating political and economic integration in the European
continent, it creates new barriers there. Ten years after the fall of
the Berlin Wall, we have to recognize that we are far from the kind of
European-wide political cooperation and collective security envisioned
when the Charter of Paris was signed in 1990.
Much time has been lost, but it is not too late to rethink the
situation. There is a broad, natural opportunity for security
cooperation between Russia and the European Union, and with the United
States. After all, without the United States, there can be no security
anywhere, in Europe or in the rest of the world.
Developing a workable security arrangement requires honest cooperation
among all involved. I would expect Putin to say that to Clinton. I would
also expect European leaders, who are preparing to meet with Putin, to
give serious thought to the road ahead and to their role in relations
with Russia. Above all, they should avoid Washington's mistake of
forcing upon Russia, by hook or by crook, economic policies that turn
out to be disastrous.
Relations between the United States and Russia need a new agenda. It
should include security issues, but it should also reach out to find new
avenues of economic cooperation, trade and investment. It should include
joint efforts to fight international terrorism and consider important
issues of relations with the former Soviet republics, now members of the
Commonwealth of Independent States. A positive dialogue on all these
issues is long overdue.
June 4, 2000