The Unfinished Cold War

by Sergei Karaganov Sergei Karaganov is Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and Dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs of the State University – Higher School of Economics. 07.08.2009

MOSCOW - 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, it never really finished.

When the Soviet Union withdrew from Central and Eastern Europe, we Russians believed that NATO would not be extended to the countries and territories from which we had withdrawn. Our hope was for unification with Europe, a "common European home," and the creation of a Europe "united and free." Our 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.

The West's logic for enlargement was geopolitical: to bring the former Soviet republics and socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe into the Western sphere of political and economic influence. At first, NATO's new members were declared to have met both democratic and military criteria. Later, these criteria were abandoned when NATO began to invite even the most backward and corrupt states to join.

NATO, moreover, not only enlarged its membership, but also 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. Even though the ideological and military confrontation of those times is far behind us, it is being replaced with a new stand-off - between Russia, on one hand, and the US and some of the "New Europeans" on the other.

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 having not 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.

For the time being, the situation remains open. The US failed to unleash some new form of Cold War after the South Ossetian episode, not least because of the global financial and economic crisis.

It is 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 draw 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.

With the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in mind, we must seek to prevent the further fragmentation of states, and also their forcible reunification. Kosovo, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia must be the last of the states that break away through force. The "Pandora's box" of self-determination must be closed.

Once the legacy of confrontation inherited from the twentieth century has been overcome, perhaps deep cuts in the Russia and US nuclear arsenals may become possible, together with coordination of military-strategic policies. In this scenario, Russian-US cooperation in crisis situations like Afghanistan, or in countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, would become much more profound.

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.

Emphasis should also be placed on establishing a new system for governing the global economy and finance, whose creation will be even more difficult if the confrontations of the Cold War are not resolved.

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.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.

Rate this article

Click the stars to rate

Recent articles