Unfinished Cold War

What is needed is a new pan-European treaty on collective security, freezing NATO enlargement

News | Sergei Karaganov | September 2009

This November will mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the end of confrontation in Europe may be proving only temporary. One year after last summer’s war in Georgia, old divisions seem to be re-emerging in a different form. Although the Cold War in Europe was declared over, the truth is that it never really finished.

When the Soviet Union withdrew from Central and Eastern Europe, Russians believed that NATO would not be extended to the countries and territories from which it had withdrawn. Hope was for unification with Europe, a "common European home," and the creation of a Europe "united and free." These hopes were not starry-eyed self-deception. After all, the leaders of the United States and Germany had promised Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand eastward.

At first, after they had vanquished communism, Russians regarded themselves as victors. But, after a few euphoric years, the West began acting more and more like the Cold War’s winners. Once the potential "military threat" posed by the Soviet Union had vanished into thin air, successive waves of NATO enlargement served neither a military nor an ideological purpose.

NATO transformed itself from an anti-Communist defensive alliance into an offensive grouping (with operations in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan). NATO’s expansion towards Russia’s own borders, and the membership of countries whose elites have historical complexes in regard to Russia, increased anti-Russian sentiment inside the alliance. For all its efforts to improve its image, many Russians now view NATO as a much more hostile organization than they did in the 1990’s, or even before then.

Moreover, NATO enlargement has meant that Europe itself has still not emerged from the Cold War. No peace treaty ended the Cold War, so it remains unfinished.

My hope is that, when historians look back at Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia of last summer, the Ossetians, Russians, and Georgians killed in that war will be seen as not having died in vain. Russian troops crushed Georgia’s army on the ground, but they also delivered a strong blow against the logic of further NATO expansion, which, if not stopped, would have inevitably incited a major war in the heart of Europe.

It is also my hope that the global economic crisis and Barack Obama’s presidency will put the farcical idea of a new Cold War into proper perspective. Greater Europe, in which I include not only Russia, but also the US, needs a new peace treaty, or rather system of accords, that draws a line under Europe’s horrible twentieth century and thus prevent a historical relapse.

What is needed is a new pan-European treaty on collective security, signed either by individual countries or by NATO and the EU, as well as by Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Countries not included in any of the current security systems would be able to join in the treaty and receive multilateral guarantees. NATO enlargement would de facto be frozen.

In Europe proper, a union between Russia and the EU should be founded, based on a common economic space, a common energy space – with cross-ownership of companies that produce, transport, and distribute energy – and a common human space that would be visa-free and include coordinated Russian and EU international policies.

Europe, Russia, and the US must finish the "unfinished war." Then, perhaps in 2019, the year that will mark the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles, we may finally bid farewell to the twentieth century.


Sergei Karaganov is Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and Dean of the School of Int. Economics

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.


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