The Unfinished Cold War

This November will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the end of confrontation in Europe may be proving only temporary. One year after the 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Eastern Europe, Russians believed that NATO would not be extended to the countries and territories from which we had withdrawn.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 a case of starry-eyed self-deception. After all, the leaders of the United States and Germany had promised Soviet leader 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 grounded in geopolitical terms — to bring the former Soviet republics and socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe into the Western sphere of political and economic influence. Initially, 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 after it conducted military operations in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan. NATO’s expansion toward Russia’s borders, including countries whose elites have historical complexes with regard to Russia, has increased anti-Russian sentiment inside the alliance. For all of NATO’s efforts to improve its image, many Russians now view it as a much more hostile organization than they did in the 1990s — or even before then.

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Moreover, NATO enlargement has meant that Europe itself has still not emerged from the Cold War. Since no peace treaty ended the Cold War, it remains unfinished. Even though the ideological and military confrontation of those times is far behind us, it is being replaced with a new standoff — between Russia, on one hand, and the United States and some of the “New Europeans” on the other.

My hope is that when historians look back at Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia 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 United States failed to unleash a 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 U.S. President Barack Obama’s more enlightened foreign policy approach 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 United States, needs a new peace treaty — or rather system of accords — that draw a line under Europe’s horrible 20th 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 the treaty and receive multilateral guarantees. NATO enlargement would de facto be frozen.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in mind, we must seek to prevent the further fragmentation of states, as well as 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 20th century has been overcome, perhaps deep cuts in the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals may become possible, together with coordination of military-strategic policies. In this scenario, Russian-U.S. 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 United States must finish the “unfinished war.” Then, perhaps in 2019 — the year that will mark the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I — we may finally bid farewell to the 20th century.

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 Higher School of Economics. © Project Syndicate