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Russia Profile
December 14, 2009
Conversational Gambit
The European Security Initiative May Kick Off a Long Overdue Debate, but Action Could Be Years Away
By Graham Stack

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s initiative for a new Euro-Atlantic Security Treaty, published November 29, has received moral support from an influential former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn and a recently launched Carnegie Endowment international commission, the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative (EASI). But Western governments are reluctant to embrace any proposal that might undermine NATO.

Speaking at a video and Internet conference to mark the launch of EASI on December 10, Nunn and other co-chairs of EASI added their voices to Medvedev’s call for a new security mechanism, “an initiative overdue by several years,” in Nunn’s words.

Analogous to Medvedev’s call to view security as a collective good that can be impaired by individual countries’ unilateral actions, Nunn said that “the historical zero-sum approach cannot be the approach in the future.” According to Nunn, “there can be no coherent effective security structure that doesn’t take into account Russia, its strengths and weaknesses, its aims and ambitions. So it is remarkable, and to my mind dangerous, that Russia, the United States and Europe have not developed an answer to one of the most fundamental security questions: what is the long-term role for Russia in the Euro-Atlantic security arc?”

“Russia is really beginning to speak out on this,” Nunn said. “President Medvedev has laid out his suggestions and this is something we all ought to take seriously and examine carefully. Clearly the present institutions are not working. I know one thing, if you put it in the Russians’ mind that everyone is entitled to be part of the security approach except Russia, obviously Russia is going to view itself as isolated.”

Nunn’s statements were echoed by his fellow co-chair of EASI, Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the United States and the current chairman of the Munich Security Conference, the forum where then Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his famous critique of U.S. foreign policy in 2007.

Ischinger reiterated Nunn’s disaffection with the existing institutions. “I would agree with those who argue that our current institutions have not done a good job. Especially in the case of the NATO-Russia council, hopes have not materialized,” he said. Nunn, for his part, recalled that “at a time when we needed to maximize communications, during the Russia-Georgia confrontation, the NATO-Russia council decided not to meet, a decision that I find bizarre.”

Former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, the third co-chair of EASI, insisted that despite this critique there is no intention to dismantle any existing institution, and the first step is to evaluate existing threats and challenges. However, he added, “If it is possible to erect new structures, why not? If this was done in the framework of the Helsinki process at the height of the Cold War, then it must be possible now.”

Nunn may look back on a long and illustrious career, but he is definitely no has-been. He is one of the “gang of four” ­ together with former top U.S. foreign and defense policy officials William Perry, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz ­ who in 2007 founded the Nuclear Security Initiative, calling for a world free from nuclear weapons. This goal was quickly adopted and pursued by U.S. President Barack Obama. As a direct result, the September 24 session of the UN Security Council this year unanimously passed resolution 1887, affirming the commitment to complete nuclear disarmament in the long-term. Obama personally invited Nunn and his colleagues to attend the historic Security Council session.

Resolution 1887 was the main justification for Obama being awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. But at his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo on December 10, the exact same day as Nunn and colleagues launched EASI, the U.S. president did not even mention the prospect of a new Euro-Atlantic security framework. Analysts say it is unlikely that Medvedev’s initiative will be taken up by Western governments in the short run.

“Medvedev's proposal unfortunately overloads the Western security agenda. For the West it is much more important now to work on a new NATO strategy and exit strategy from Afghanistan,” said Alexander Rahr, chief Russia specialist at Germany’s leading foreign policy think-tank, the German Council on Foreign Policy. “The West in general is happy with the present European order. The West wants to cooperate with Russia, but more on Western rather than Russian terms.”

Andrei Tsygankov, professor of international relations at San Francisco State University, agreed. “The U.S. continues to view NATO as the center of security institutions in Europe and outside and will therefore resist efforts to undermine the centrality of NATO. A part of this is the hegemonic mentality, and the other part is a reality - even within NATO few are interested in doing the difficult job of securing Afghanistan, for example.”

Tsygankov, however, believes that Medvedev hopes simply to kick off a process of dialogue and debate about European security. “[The treaty’s] idea is to involve European partners in a conversation about common security. It is therefore not yet developed enough (perhaps intentionally so) to see if there can be agreement on big points before getting to details.” “The draft is a bare-bones proposal that leaves many details unspecified,” said Nicolai Petro, professor of comparative politics at Rhode Island University.

The hope might be that the mechanisms, networks and consensus created to discuss the issue could themselves become an embryonic architecture to manage security. The EASI commission, for instance, is a star-studded cast of 21 current and former top officials from state and economy in Europe, Russia and the United States. “The most important thing to come out of EASI could be the process itself,” confirmed Nunn. “This will be a two-year long process, and all the way we will be in touch with senior officials in major governments.”[]

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