reflections

Dec 1, 2009 | 11:42 GMT

5 mins read

Russia Drafts New European Security Treaty

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SERGEI LAVROV departed Monday for a European tour that will include attending a session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Council of Foreign Ministers in Athens on Tuesday and Wednesday, and a ministerial meeting of the Russia-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Council in Brussels on Friday. The tour is largely seen as a way to plug the recently proposed draft of a new European-Atlantic security treaty. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev suggested the treaty was necessary following Russia's military intervention in Georgia in August 2008. The suggestion remained vague until the official Kremlin website released a draft treaty on Sunday — which brings into question its timing as much as its purpose. Russian-Proposed European Security Treaty(STRATFOR is not responsible for content from other Web sites.) The details of the draft treaty still remain largely ambiguous and open for debate, intentionally so from the perspective of Moscow. Russia hopes to use the proposal to stimulate debate on how to "finally do away with the legacy of the Cold War," as the official Kremlin statement accompanying the proposed draft announced. However, from the perspective of the Central and Eastern European states on Russia's periphery — namely Poland, the Baltic States and Georgia — the legacy of the Cold War is not something that should be "done away with," especially the NATO security guarantees. The proposed treaty has little chance of being accepted by anyone in Europe. It would largely disembowel NATO by forcing signatory countries to cede ultimate authority for security to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This would make NATO's ability to respond to perceived security threats — such as the 1999 air war against Yugoslavia — impossible without express authorization from the UNSC, undercutting the very reason for NATO's existence. The treaty also proposes a sort of Concert of Powers mechanism on security decision-making in Europe where conferences between treaty signatories would be held to address topics of concern as they happen, giving Russia a seat at the table of every crisis. While the specifics of the treaty illustrate how desperately Russia wants to be taken into account when the West makes unilateral decisions about European security matters, the real intention behind Moscow's proposal is far less dramatic. The Kremlin understands that this treaty has very little chance of going through, so it is using it to sow discord among NATO allies. The treaty has already received some positive feedback from France, Italy and Greece — which is the current chair of the OSCE — and Russia has emphasized the extent to which Moscow and Berlin cooperated on the initial draft. Even if they are not seriously considering the treaty, the fact that key NATO member states are talking about it will further the chasm between western and central Europe on security matters and relations with Russia. Russia has carefully timed the release of the draft to create maximum impact. Russia has carefully timed the release of the draft to create maximum impact. The United States and its main European ally the United Kingdom are immensely distracted. The United States is trying to shift its focus and forces from Iraq — where hard-won gains of political accommodation are proving fragile and fleeting — to Afghanistan — where the prospects for similar gains are even less promising. The British government is on the ropes domestically due to the economic crisis and Prime Minister Gordon Brown's slumping popularity. The United States and the U.K. are therefore unable to respond with authority and are unable to reassure NATO member states on Russia's periphery. Meanwhile, Central European states already feel unsettled by the United States due to the way the change in ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans was handled by the Obama administration. Finally, Russia hopes to play up the treaty as part and parcel of its improving relations with Western Europe, namely Germany and France. The incoming EU Commission, which is EU's executive arm, is replacing an anti-Russian Latvian Energy Commissioner with a much more accommodating German Energy Commissioner. This is a big deal for Moscow since it means that Europe is about to get far friendlier on energy matters when talking to Russia, and will take Central Europe's worries about Russia less into consideration. Taken together, the treaty is part of Russia's multi-pronged strategy to illustrate two things to its former Soviet vassal states in Central Europe: that Russia is building firm political and economic links with continental Western Europeans and that they are isolated from their allies in London and Washington. The overarching fear of these states — reinforced by NATO's impotence during the Russian-Georgian conflict — is that the West will not risk everything to defend them against Russia. Moscow's treaty proposal will further this fear.

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