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The CEPS European Neighbourhood Watch, Issue No. 55


Editorial by Michael Emerson

We reproduced in our last issue the text of the draft European Security Treaty published on the Kremlin’s website of 1 December. The text is dressed up in smart legal language. The legal department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs clearly had instructions to make it look like an operational treaty text.

The political motivations may have been deeply founded, but the content is not a plausible basis for negotiation. Remember first the beginnings in July 2008, when President Medvedev sketched the idea before the August war in Georgia. It was in part presumably an attempt by the new president to make a mark on the international stage, but was also an expression of Russia’s grievances towards the West over strategic security matters. These start with the 20 year old complaint that assurances given to Gorbachev that German reunification would not be accompanied by NATO expansion to the East. Recent documents show that US Secretary of State Baker and Chancellor Kohl both gave such assurances verbally. The veracity of the complaint was only confirmed by an official US remark that there was no written and legally binding agreement; i.e. only a verbal and moral one — so much for “my word is my bond” as we say in the West. On this Russia has a point.

The more immediate complaints were the Bucharest NATO summit of November 2007 which declared in particularly ill-chosen language that Georgia and Ukraine “will become members of NATO” when neither were plausible candidates, and the US plans to deploy anti-missile defence facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. In fact both of these factors have now been erased: Georgia and Ukraine’s NATO accession is no longer on anyone’s agenda, and the missile defence facilities are now to be re-located somewhere to the South in Turkey or on warships in the Mediterranean.

As Russia’s Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, is heard saying in Brussels these days that the draft Treaty proposes a very simple idea, that all of us from Vancouver to Vladivostok should join in a single system of legally binding security obligations .... to do what? There are only two provisions. The first is to agree to consultations over any security measure that could be perceived to threaten the security interests of another party; and the second would be to set up a collective security mechanism reminiscent of NATO’s article V whereby an attack on any one party will be considered as an attack on all.

There are at least four problems with this. The first consultative mechanism is extraordinarily vague, and could cover almost anything. Any improvement in defence forces might be construed to be a threat by one party. But this is a highly subjective matter depending on supposed intentions, which can be open to all manner of suspicions or indeed paranoias. The second collective security mechanism is indeed the stuff of NATO, of deep, trusting alliances. If this is what Russia would like to see, then let it take up the big NATO question, whether it would like to prepare to become a candidate for NATO membership in the long run, in which case it could do this with Ukraine and Georgia as well. Russia knows well that NATO will not transfer itself into some new other security organization, and the draft Treaty does not propose a new organisation, or even that the OSCE should do it. Thirdly, for Russia to propose this one year after invading Georgia is not credible, and falls into in the same category as its remarks about OSCE being inadequate because it did not prevent the war over Georgia. Fourthly and finally, the draft drops any reference to all other aspects of the strategic security agenda, which were present in Medvedev’s original speeches, although Russia knows very well that the US and EU regard all pillars of the Helsinki Final Act and OSCE agenda to be vital and an integrated set, including democratic and human rights norms as well as hard security provisions.

The conclusion seems to be that Russia puts out this formal proposal because the Medvedev speeches could not be left just hanging in the air. The proposal is indeed a short and simple one because it is not for real. The EU and US engage with Russia in diplomatic conversations under OSCE auspices in a so-called the Corfu Process (see the Ministerial Declaration reproduced below) that are vaguely relating to the Russian proposal, looking maybe for some way to channel the initiative into something useful, which would have to be something very different. The EU uses the term Helsinki+, which sounds like improving the OSCE. In which case the post-Lisbon EU, with its new international legal personality and foreign minister, should start with one simple move, to make the EU itself a full member of the OSCE, rather than stay as observer below all the 56 member states. It could go on to propose ways to modernize the OSCE’s unwieldy and obsolete working structure with its plenary organs resembling a UN General Assembly without a mini-UN Security Council. A way to do this could be to have some core group structure, drawing on the models of the UNSC and/or the IMF board consisting of major players with rotating places for smaller states, maybe in constituencies. These institutional steps would not of course directly resolve substantive issues, but provide a more plausible framework for addressing them.