Prepared for the IISS/CEPS European Security Forum, Brussels, July 8, 2002

Changes in European Security Landscape: A Russian View

Victor Kremenyuk, Russia

In the process of preparing for this meeting I studied some related publications. Among them, the Chaillot Paper 42 (September 2000) "European Defense: Making It Work." A group of well known and, very possibly, the best European experts headed by Francois Heisbourg has done it. And it was not so much the contents of this publication that impressed me: what was written there was good and more or less trivial. What made me pay special attention to the subject was the title: "Making it work." As if the authors writing about such important subject had doubts on will it work or not.

A seemingly simple question of defense. Evidently, nations and groups of nations must defend themselves as well as the principles according to which they live. But why should one "make it work"? For me it meant that something important and sophisticated was behind it, was understood but not said. And, while preparing a paper on what Russia can, will and should see in European security for itself, for the preservation of Europe as the source of the modern civilization, for the global balance, I continued to ask questions: what "European defense" means in the wake of the end of the Cold War and continuing existence of NATO? Does it mean only "there is no more relevant enemy" or it means "we should get prepared for totally different security challenges"?

And in both cases, what Russia should think about it since it lives next door to Europe, has China at its backdoor, Islamic world under the window and global USA somewhere around?

Two things are at least clear: first, to look at Russia-European perspective because so far it was not probed at the full length (and will not be probed for another decade before the whole paradigm of "Russia" and "Europe" cease to be what they have been for last 80 years) and, second, to try to put this dichotomy into a larger context of the current international system. And from there to get back to the Russia-ESDP issue.

Some Basic Facts

The whole period of the Cold War has strengthened the traditional Russian view of the Western Europe as the source of vital threat. Put together, the age-old memories of European forays into Russia (Polish, Swedish, French, German) and ideological idiosyncrasies as a result of the Marxist-Leninist view of Europe have produced an effect on both Russian thinking and Russian strategy, leading to deep mistrust, suspicion and hostility. Equally Russian forays into Europe, starting with early 18th century and on, have forged the European mistrust and suspicions towards Russia. Anti-Communism has also worked. Both sides seemed to be doomed for eternal confrontation.

So far, nothing has happened of the magnitude which would change this tradition completely. Russia and Europe continue to be two major neighbors on the continent (added by some US presence), both have developed security strategies and capabilities and both are capable of taking short-sighted decisions which may lead to resumption of their conflicts. Equally, they may take some decisions based on a larger term perspective but that would be contrary to their habits and nature. At the same time, it would be fair to say that a lot has changed which may break this traditional European setting.

On the one hand, Russia has ceased to be a super-power, an "evil empire" as it was perceived by many in the West during the Cold War. It is far from having become a "democratic state" as some observers believe but it is definitely not that absolutist monolith as it was under the Czars or Commissars. It is evolving into a regional power still strong enough to deal with any enemy but at the same time weak economically and incapable of securing its domestic stability through prosperity of its population. It vacillates between attempts to build a democracy following the standards and examples of developed nations and necessity to adhere to some sort of the police regime because of shaky grounds of its political and economic systems. But, what matters from the security point of view, it has ceased to be a powerful contester for Europe in fighting for space and influence.

Equally Europe has ceased to be a traditional arena of rivalries and competition. In the economic area, it still has giants which compete for markets. It has some strong cultural differences but not of the scope and type which may be rated as "conflict of civilizations". What matters greatly, is the fact that in the political area due both to the impact of USA and demands of technology, Europe has become a more homogeneous rather than a heterogeneous entity and moves quickly towards a union. This fact has also greatly contributed to the changes in the field of security and to the relations with Russia.

So, there are evident shifts in the security landscape in the relations between Russia and Europe and it would be useful to identify, at least, two groups of issues in this respect: where do these changes go in the foreseeable perspective (5-10 years) and what impact they may have for Europe both in the EU format and in a bigger geographical dimension, i.e. including Russia.

New Developments

Much has already been said about recent changes in Europe. All the evolution of European affairs in the 1990s has been studied many times and the conclusions seem sometimes suspiciously similar: first, Europe continues to move towards something which was labeled in the early 20th century as "the United States of Europe"; second, that its security agenda changes in the direction of the search of some new specifically European identity; third, that in this regard it runs into some structural problems with NATO which until recently was the pivot of the European defense and security; fourth, that Europe is approaching the point of bifurcation at which it will have to decide on its relations with USA, Russia, Islamic world, and China. While all these questions are in the heads of policy makers, the reality evolves around with almost no open crises or confrontations.

But, this fact and those suspiciously similar conclusions do not touch upon some really fundamental questions. Among them, the division of labor between NATO and European defense and security policy, relevance of existing security doctrines and structures.

To begin with, NATO besides solving the issue of confronting the Soviet Union and its allies, has also played a distinguished role in keeping old European rivalries, first of all German-French, under control. To a large extent, primarily by keeping Germany "down". This was the second, if to quote Lord Ismay, task which NATO has carried out. Security policies in Europe have not become "nationalized" which helped to avoid a possible race between individual European nations. Rather, security policy was an instrument of forging cohesion among the Europeans.

Now, with the changes in relations between East and West, to what extent these elements continue to play the role? Does it really matter under the conditions of "no more enemy" to continue the collectivist approach to security with all those huge bureaucratic structures? Policy of enlargement helps only not to answer this question but definitely is not the answer.

Second, by virtue of the deterrent capacity of the nuclear weapons open hostilities in Europe (if not to count periodical Soviet forays into the territories of its dissident allies) was a probability and never a reality. The whole security concept developed as a "possible scenario" though it has never been regarded as a subject for immediate action. Both sides – Soviet and Europeans – developed scenarios based not so much on their real doctrines but rather on the assessment of their mutual capabilities. Disregarding some impressive facts of the mutual desire to avoid hostilities (as during the Berlin wall crisis in 1961) they still pretended to believe that their official doctrines were relevant and, hence used them as basis for security planning. This has helped to the growth of a certain dichotomy in the Western security planning in the 1990s: on one side, continuation of a "search for strategy" (war in Yugoslavia, NATO enlargement); on the other side, attempts to make security policy more relevant and closer to real world issues (ESDI).

Equally, it may be detected in the Russian security doctrine: on one hand, statement of loyalty to the nuclear deterrence, on the other – search for relevant military tasks in the conventional area. And all this through hot debates among Russian military on the priorities and distribution of resources.

Third, Russia has ceased to be an enemy but has not become a friend. So far, there was no serious effort to evaluate this aspect. There were and are numerous propagandistic statements declaring Russia a "partner". There are meetings with Russian authorities both within NATO and EU at which sweet words are said. But in reality, as an identifiable fact Russia is kept at a distance: it is not (and will not be) invited to join NATO; it is not invited to join the EU (though may be there will be a change). Though it has developed economic ties with some European nations, Germany and Finland in the first row, it still has only a chance to become a full member of the WTO and of some other important institutions.

And this is not simply an explosion of a Russian ego. This is a fact to be understood for further planning: distance between Russia and Europe may become a crucial element of the future relationship. If, due to different reasons, it becomes less, there is a strong hope that Russia will turn into an integral part of Europe (at least in de Gaulle's understanding: "Europe from Brest to the Urals"). If it continues to be as it is, Russia will drift away looking for partners in the East and South. Then after some time a possibility of new confrontation will come again.

Two Strategies: Where to Go?

The real picture of Europe in the beginning of the 1990s was as follows. On the Western "front" no serious changes. The alliance survived the Cold War. Only few things hinted that there may have been a profound reappraisal of the existing order mainly the words that "there was no more enemy" which meant doubt whether the arrangement of NATO should have survived. On the Eastern "front" the changes flooded the terrain. Warsaw Treaty disappeared. The Soviet Union collapsed. Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a substitute to the USSR was raising more questions than giving answers.

The whole concept of security in Europe collapsed. First, it was no more block to block confrontation. Second, it was no more two hostile worlds facing each other. Third, instability and disintegration (USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia) have become the obsession of the policy makers. It was an extremely important period.

From the point of view of the Russian interest, the whole problem was revolving around a central question, what will be the role of Russia in the future European order. It ceased to be an enemy, it has demobilized its armies; it agreed to the freedom of both former Soviet allies and former Soviet republics. Now, what will be its future role in the continent where it had almost half of its legitimate interests: security, economic, cultural, social.

Abstractly, there could have been two answers to this question and two relevant strategies. One meant that Russia will be accepted by the Europeans as a full-size ally and member of the family. In essence, the situation was returned to the Genova Conference of 1922 where the issue of ties between Russia and Europe had to be discussed and ended in isolation of Russia (which in turn turned to Rapallo Agreement with Germany, which to a great extent devalued the Versailles diktat). Now, after almost 70 years of confrontation the issue again was returned to the initial point: will Europe open its company for dissident Russia and thus help it to overcome another hard period in its history or will it abstain, leaving the answer to the moment when Russia will overcome its problems by its own effort and will no more need European contribution.

The other meant that further European development will go along the way of incorporating all former Soviet allies and subjects, leaving Russia aside for some distant future. In the meantime the Central and Eastern Europe will be absorbed by Western Europe and the continent will re-unite as an anti-Russian or not-friendly-to-Russia entity. Something like traditional schemes of "Grande Armee" strategy: Europe versus Russia.

Both strategies and approaches have a right for existence. "Europe versus Russia" is more traditional, "Europe and Russia" is less traditional and more doubtful. And, as it seems, there are the questions which loom large in the air in the current situations to which NATO has almost no answers while the ESDP may have a profound and perspective approach.


It seems strange to make such statements in the wake of NATO-Russia agreement "At 20". Formally it may seem that this idea, once put into practice, may find a solution to two different sets of issues: first, Russian-US relationship on the basis of quasi-alliance (and thus help Mr. Putin to avoid forthcoming criticism of having "sold" Russia on ABM, Caucasus, and other important issues) and, second, to install a basis for Russia-European rapprochement on security and cooperation.

But in reality the solution is much more complex and multifaceted. The NATO-Russia agreement signed in Rome has outreached the scope of traditional NATO responsibility and overshadowed in that the area of "Petersberg tasks". NATO under the strong influence of Washington has decided to pursue two different sets of goals: on one hand, to continue the traditional NATO policy of enlargement and war preparations (in the Balkans and in the Persian Gulf) without any changes whatever the Russians say; on the other hand to borrow some ideas from the ESDP and turn them into the basis for NATO-Russia cooperation. The herald of this idea was British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

This move has permitted to try to kill two birds with one stone: to pacify Russia, to help Mr. Putin to hush his domestic critics, and to press the ESDP out from the fruitful field of security policies which it has identified as realistic, promising and capable of pulling together Europeans without necessarily alerting the Americans.

This is the area which in the Soviet times would be typically called "inter-imperialistic controversies". In our times it may be labeled as search for security identities without separation: USA has found it in unilateralism, Europe – in ESDP, in "Petersberg tasks" which, as it happened, coincided in time with the American search of a new global enemy (China) and thus helped to the Europeans to understand that they needed a distinct security policy which will not drag them into unnecessary conflicts. Both efforts, unilateralism and ESDP were directed towards Russia. What role it could play if it moves towards Europeans and absorbs their format? Evidently, there will be a highly promising entity where both Europe and Russia could largely help each other without asking assistance from Washington. Cooperation between the two "Petersberg subjects" will help to solve challenges to the European security and leave the USA to its own global tasks.

What would happen if Russia responds to the "At 20" idea and absorbs US embraces? Evidently, US would strengthen its inclination to deploy NMD, to act unilaterally in crisis zones (Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Central Asia, India-Pakistan) leaving thus Europe to its narrow margin. In a way the situation is unique and unforeseen. Both transatlantic allies have given to Russia the key to their relationship in security area. All three actors are in a sort of stalemate. Neither USA nor Europe wanted it. Russia did not expect it.

What could Russia do if it finally grasps the situation and tries to use it for its benefit?

First, it may think of some sort of "triangular" relationship putting all the three in the area where they can be indeed useful to each other and thus serve its great-power status in Europe, in CIS, in Asia, in relations with both India and China. Second, it may go further and try to sort out areas of cooperation which may help both to its own security and to its economic reform through new investment into the Russian defense and space industries. Third, it may even think if playing a certain role between the two strategic allies, lubricating or, on the contrary, exploiting their differences. Finally, fourth, it may think of a sort of "triumvirate" in other areas: Mediterranean and Balkans, Middle East and the Persian Gulf, the Indian subcontinent.

In any way the security landscape in Europe and in the neighboring areas changes. It is not that threatening, it has much less challenges to the all-European order. But it exists and may hit Europeans into their weakest points: terrorism, proliferation of weapon of mass destruction, other similar tasks. They will not be of the scope which will necessarily demand the US involvement but may still be an overburden for European security efforts if not accompanied by Russian participation.


European Defense: Making it Work by F. Heisbourg et al., (Chaillot Papers, 42), Paris: WEU-ISS, September 2000

Rossiya v Bolshoi Yevrope: strategiya beopasnosti [Russia in Big Europe: Strategy of Security] by D. A. Danilov, in: Sovremennaya Yevropa [Contemporary Europe], 2/2000

Yevropeyskaya oborona: ot mifa k realnosti [European Defense: From Myth to Reality] by V. V. Zhurkin,, in: Sovremennaya Yevropa [Contemporary Europe], 3/2001