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#26 - JRL 2009-69 - JRL Home
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2009 09:40:16 -0700
Subject: Zerkalo Nedeli
From: James Sherr <james.sherr@lincoln.ox.ac.uk>

NATO AT 60: the burdens of age
Zerkalo Nedeli, 11 April 2009
By James Sherr
[James Sherr is Head (rukovoditel’) of the Russia and Eurasia Programme of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.]

At fifty, NATO was an alliance in renewal. Its admission of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic testified to a widespread faith, in the words of Ukraine’s 1998 State Programme of Cooperation with NATO, that it was ‘the most effective structure of collective security in Europe’. It had a troubled partnership with Russia, not with itself. The principal European architect of the NATO-Russia partnership, Germany, was also the principal European architect of the first wave of enlargement. Apart from Slobodan Milosevic, NATO had no enemies and didn’t anticipate any. Its designated threats­ethnic and religious strife, proliferation of dangerous weapons, organised crime, failed states­were generic, abstract and, presumably, common to all. At fifty, NATO was also an alliance at war in the Balkans: a more problematic and divisive war than it cares to recall, longer than the four days that President Clinton originally predicted, but relatively brief for all that.

At sixty, NATO is overextended, overburdened and apprehensive. Two additional waves of enlargement have brought further benefits but also further divisions. For eight years, the United States embodied the ‘arrogance of power’ and none of its wisdom. During the same period, Russia acquired the means to contest NATO’s primacy de facto as well as de jure, and in the former USSR it has displaced ‘common security’ with hard Realpolitik, not to say [da i/ne govorya uzhe o] conflict. The events of 9/11 have not only taken NATO ‘out of area’ but onto the global arena and possibly out of its depth. At sixty, NATO is also an alliance at war in Afghanistan: a war that might last a further seven years beyond its initial seven; a war that, by misadventure, has become central to its purpose and its future.

Yet NATO is not in demise. Last summer’s events in Georgia and this winter’s energy crisis have reminded all members that security begins in Europe. These events have also replaced an outmoded consensus about Russia with vigorous argument, not only between member states, but within them, not least within Germany. If the post-Cold War NATO had become an Article 4 organisation, new problems are reviving interest in Article 5 and its adaptation to conditions and threats scarcely conceivable when the North Atlantic Treaty was written. The determination of the new American administration to rejuvenate multilateralism has every possibility of reviving ‘the West’ as a meaningful term and NATO with it. A dying organisation does not does not debate problems. It succumbs to them.

Today it is an open question whether today’s debates will produce policies that revive NATO’s standing or half measures that merely cushion its decline. The implications for Ukraine are equally uncertain. Yet not for the first time, they will depend very much on what Ukraine does and does not do for itself.

the language of summitry

Like Georgians, Ukrainians experience in acute form an anxiety that, in more measured degrees is felt by most of NATO’s newer member states: that the West in the name of ‘stability’ will strike a ‘grand bargain’ with Russia at their expense. Since the Russia-Georgia war, the anxiety has been deepened by the apparent shelving of the MAP process, the warm reception given to President Medvedev in Berlin and Evian (where he unveiled his initiative for a ‘new architecture of European security’) and the declaration by Vice President Biden at the Munich conference that the USA wished to ‘press the reset button’ in its relationship with Russia. The report of the Commission on US Policy Towards Russia, timed to coincide with Obama’s arrival in office­but written, it must be said, by individuals outside the administration­will not provide much comfort to those who harbour these worries.[1]

Given this context, two decisions, entirely explicable in their own terms, look like signals, rather than mistakes. The first, NATO’s decision not to invite partner countries to the Sixtieth Anniversary summit (and the related decision to convene the NATO-Ukraine Commission one month earlier), is narrowly explicable in view of the scale of the 2008 summit at Bucharest. Yet it is unwittingly symbolic that at this most ceremonial occasion, the Alliance chose to celebrate by itself. The second is the fact that President Obama will have met President Medvedev twice­first at the G20 and then in Moscow in July­before any likelihood of meeting Presidents Yushchenko or Saakashvili or setting foot on Ukrainian or Georgian soil. The constraints on Obama are easy to discern. A decision not to meet Medvedev at the G20 would have been inexplicable­like opening a door in order to slam it. And a decision to meet the Ukrainian and Georgian presidents would risk exacerbating rather than defusing the political crises in those countries. Yet a bolder course would be to accept the risk and defy it by demonstrating the importance the United States attaches to the countries rather than their leaders.

Whatever unintended signals were given, it is better to look at the signals intended: the substance of the NATO Summit Declaration and the G20 Medvedev-Obama communiqué. They show far greater steadfastness over principles and priorities than the latest round of worries would lead one to expect.

A New Security Architecture? It is generally understood that Russia’s new security initiative is vague in the extreme. Yet its underlying themes have been well elaborated: the ‘need’ for a new, overarching structure which, whilst not dissolving existing ones, would somehow subsume them; an architecture based on ‘individual nation states’ rather than ‘blocs’ (EU no less than NATO); and a ‘rebalancing’ of discussion towards hard (political and military) security, at the expense of soft (humanitarian and values-based) concerns which, in the words of Vladimir Putin, have transformed the OSCE into a ‘vulgar instrument’ of ‘interference in the affairs of other countries’. Far from giving these principles a cautious welcome, the Alliance has rebuffed them.

‘We underscore that the existing structures­NATO, EU, OSCE the Council of Europe­based on common values, continue to provide every opportunity for countries to engage substantially on Euro-Atlantic security….’ (paragraph 7).

Even in the Obama-Medvedev communiqué, the language is only slightly more conciliatory.

New Concessions? Not surprisingly, the summit declaration states that Russia is ‘of particular importance…as a partner and neighbour’. But the balance of comment is, by comparison with earlier declarations, sombre and occasionally blunt.

· ‘Our relations with Russia depend on trust and the fulfilment of commitments. Since our last Summit, dialogue and cooperation with Russia have suffered from profound disagreements on a number of issues.’ (para 33). Withdrawal from zones agreed in Georgia is ‘essential’; recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is ‘condemned’ (para 34). · No concessions are made on CFE (Dogovor ob obychnykh vooruzhykh silkah v Evrope). 'NATO's constructive and forward-looking proposals…address all of Russia's stated concerns' (para 57). Deliberations in the sphere of energy security are being intensified in the wake of the January 2009 gas crisis (para 59), attention is being paid to the 'high north' in the wake of Russia's claim to arctic seabed resources (para 60), and activity regarding cyber security is gaining momentum (Para 49)

No more enlargement? The text is firm about the principle of enlargement and, on the face of it, equally firm about the principles that must govern the process. But the principles also allow room for equivocation, and that is not a new story. Paragraph 21 reaffirms that Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty ‘opens the door to all European democracies which share the values of our Alliance, which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership and whose inclusion can contribute to common security and stability’. And if Russia’s militant hostility to Ukraine’s membership threatens ‘common security and stability’, then what is the Alliance to conclude? As we know, there will be an argument and a struggle.

But today there is no need for either because the principal obstacles to Ukraine’s membership are erected by Ukraine itself.

no retreat, no advance

It is customary to reiterate, whenever the opportunity arises, that Ukraine’s self-inflicted injuries render its Western partners exasperated and powerless to help. That has often been the case. In 2006, NATO was poised to invite Ukraine into the MAP process, but had to watch powerlessly as the dithering of President Yushchenko and the betrayal of Oleksandr Moroz destroyed that moment. Yet we are now at a different moment. The Alliance is fighting a war that neither the Cold War world nor the post-Cold War world taught it how to fight. After eight years of trans-Atlantic discord, there is a reasoned hope of reviving Euro-Atlanticism and rebuilding consensus. As the fruits of Russia’s victory in Georgia start to turn bitter­and as the Pyrrhic nature of its victory in the gas war with Ukraine becomes plain­there is also hope that it might be possible to restrain Russia without provoking her. NATO’s overarching task is consolidation, the rebuilding of its cohesion and strength. If it is to achieve that end, it cannot allow itself to retreat, and it dare not advance.

Against this backdrop, some of Ukraine’s staunchest friends are thinking the unthinkable: that Ukraine’s failure to advance, to meet NATO’s criteria, to put a case for membership worth considering, has become momentarily convenient. Obama the consensus builder need not launch a bitter argument with his allies, because there is no argument to make. He need not confront Russia over Ukraine or appease Russia over Ukraine, because there is no urgency to do either. Obama needs time, and the Alliance needs ‘time out’. The infirmities of Ukraine and the uncertainties of Russia­not to say the dampening effects of the financial crisis­might for the moment help.

But the moment needs to be exploited because, like all such historical pauses, it will not last. NATO needs to prepare the ground for a new Ukrainian president to walk upon (and it could have no better framework for doing so than that set out in the latest report of the Razumkov Centre and the NATO-Ukraine Partnership Network).[2] The EU needs to adopt a strategic approach to Ukraine, not to say its own security, and if we can judge from the EU-Ukraine energy framework agreement last month, at last it is doing so. By such means, the West might emerge from this moment wiser, stronger and, in good time, larger.

[1] The Right Direction for US Policy toward Russia: A Report of the US Commission on Policy toward Russia, published by the Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School and the Nixon Center, March 2009. The Commission, chaired by Senators Chuck Hagel and Gary Hart, directed by Dmitry Simes, which has no official standing, consists of 22 serving and former political figures, officials, diplomats and experts.

[2] Ukraine’s National Security in the XXI Century: Challenges and the Need for Collective Action: A Strategic Assessment by Ukrainian and External Experts through the NATO-Ukraine Partnership Network, Razumkov Centre, Kyiv, April 2009 (forthcoming).