The Euro-Atlantic area can become a zone of stable peace. At present, however, security in the region is not assured. The 2008 Georgia war should serve as a warning for the future. The issues that led to that war, and nearly led to the collision between Russia and the United States, are less acute today, but are not resolved. Under a different set of circumstances they can make a comeback, with dire consequences.
There are two sets of issues which lie at the heart of Euro-Atlantic security. One is Russia’s uncertainty about the ends of U.S. power. This underlies concerns about NATO’s eastern enlargement, worries about U.S. missile defense program, and suspicions about U.S. policies in the new independent states. The other one is similar concerns, worries and suspicions felt by some Central and Eastern European countries regarding the nature and ambitions of reconstituted Russian power.
To deal with the first set of issues, one needs to work to transform the strategic relationship between the United States and the Russian Federation, which is still fundamentally based on Cold War deterrence through mutual assured destruction. This represents, in reality, institutionalized adversity. No amount of arms control can remove that adversity. Moreover, the smaller the numbers, the bigger is the effect of a break-out, and the stronger are the suspicions. The U.S. and the RF need to move from attenuating adversity, whose potential is close to being exhausted, to transforming the very nature of their strategic relationship.
One way of doing this is through collaboration on missile defenses. Should the U.S./NATO and Russia develop a formula of cooperation/coordination/interaction in that field, they will start moving away, materially, from their Cold War strategic postures. If the momentum is sustained and strengthened, this can lead to a new – non-adversarial – quality of the U.S.-Russian and, by extension, NATO-RF strategic relations.
The way to deal with the second set of issues is through achieving an historic reconciliation and rapprochement between the Russian Federation and some of its neighbors in Europe. Recently, a breakthrough has been achieved between Russia and Poland. This needs to be expanded and deepened, following the model successfully used between Germany and France, Germany and Poland, or indeed between Russia and Germany. For a strong and peaceful relationship between the RF and the countries of the EU, Russo-Polish reconciliation and amity is a must.
Similarly, Russia’s relations with the Baltic States require a positive overhaul. The task is to turn the perceived liabilities: geographical proximity, ethnic Russian presence, and the like into assets for mutually satisfying relationships. As the Polish-Russian case demonstrates, efforts are required from both sides. Other countries in the Baltic Sea region can act as facilitators. Besides Poland and the Baltic States, several other countries in CEE would benefit from improved economic and political relations with the Russian Federation.
A transformed U.S./NATO-RF strategic relationship and a reconciliation in Central and Eastern Europe are the two principal building blocks of what can become, over time, a Euro-Atlantic Security Community. To eschew military force and the threat of using it as policy instruments across the entire Euro-Atlantic area, one needs to find ways to put to rest a number of frozen conflicts in Moldova, the Caucasus, Cyprus and the Balkans. This will certainly be easier in the general context of non-adversity between the former Cold War foes, and of fully normalized relations between the former imperial hegemon and its erstwhile satellites/provinces.