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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Securing Peace in Europe

So, Russian troops have left Germany and this step has created both a political and a material guarantee that there will be no armed conflict in Europe between the world's major military groups. However, it would be a grave mistake to suppose the mere withdrawal of Russian forces will solve the problem of European security. At most, it will only solve yesterday's problems. Today, Europe faces other challenges and threats that were long dormant under the pressure of the East-West conflict.

Most important among these problems are ethnic and social conflicts such as we are seeing in the Balkans. There are now no guarantees that these conflicts will not lead to relapses in other regions of the continent where ethnic and territorial disputes are simmering. One of the most dangerous of these, perhaps, is between Greece and Turkey. No one will hazard a guess as to what the situation in Europe will be like after the "bloc mentality" -- which continues to act as a sort of reflex mechanism -- finally ceases to be a restraining factor.

That is why the withdrawal of Russian troops has made the question of creating a European security system particularly urgent. No, I did not misspeak. I realize of course that such a system was created nearly twenty years ago within the framework of the Council for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or CSCE. I also know that in recent years there have been energetic efforts to have NATO, under the aegis of the CSCE, take on responsibility for security across the continent. However, converting these institutions to the present circumstances in Europe will no doubt turn out to be just as difficult as converting the enterprises of the military-industrial complexes.

It is certainly not by chance that NATO and the CSCE have proven to be virtually helpless in regulating the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, to say nothing of those raging in various regions of the CIS. Both organizations were specifically created in order to forestall a military conflict in Europe between the East and the West. Now that problem has been superceded, and the basic principles of NATO and the CSCE have undergone serious erosion.

The problems Europe faces today are the consequences of regional conflicts: refugees, terrorism and illicit trade in weapons, drugs and nuclear materials. It is simply senseless to try to defend oneself from such threats by relying purely on military might. But, as NATO's rather clumsy handling of the situation in the former Yugoslavia shows, other solutions have not yet been found.

NATO's Partnership for Peace program is not going to provide an answer. While the program is certainly valuable as a means of increasing confidence between old adversaries, it seems unlikely that the various states that will be brought together under the program will be able to find quick, mutually satisfactory solutions to new threats. It is hard not to agree with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who recently asked how countries as diverse as Spain and Uzbekistan can be expected to find common ground.

Neither can we expect to find the solution by, as many suggest, expanding NATO to include former Eastern-bloc countries. This would merely move the old dividing line in Europe toward the east, which would -- sooner or later -- simply resurrect the old East-West opposition.

Apparently, that is why Russia has focused its efforts on transforming the CSCE, even though that organization is also undergoing a severe crisis. The principle that lies at the heart of the CSCE is the idea that existing international boundaries are inviolable. This principle has also been eroded as old states disappear and new ones are formed. With the disappearance of this basic principle, this organization (operating on the basis of consensus) has shown itself to be incapable of making the vital decisions demanded of it.

Today Moscow is trying to overcome this institutional crisis by proposing a program that would make the CSCE more effective. This program will be officially presented at the Budapest summit in December. The most important feature of the proposal is a serious attempt to strengthen the executive functions of the CSCE, with the goal of making that body the main guarantor of security and stability on the continent.

The CSCE's charter must be rewritten in the form of a legally binding agreement. Russia is also proposing that the Budapest summit accept a code of conduct that will spell out the military and political norms that states will follow in settling questions of security, democratic control over military structures and disputes concerning the rights of individuals or ethnic minorities.

This then would form the legal basis for creating a body like the United Nation's Security Council within the CSCE. Most likely, such a body would take the form of an executive committee of about 10 permanent and rotating members. We are already seeing a tendency for those states that are in a position to secure stability in Europe to take measures into their own hands anyway. Like it or not, the contact group on the former Yugoslavia is, in terms of its composition, basically a model for a CSCE executive committee such as Russia is proposing.

The danger remains that these plans will remain simply plans, unable to overcome the opposition of states who are unwilling to relinquish any of their autonomy to others. Likewise, other states may be unwilling to formally take on increased responsibility for stability in Europe. At the very least though, we must all recognize that the threats facing Europe today are real, and that the old security system cannot save us from them.

Alexander Golz is a political observer for Krasnaya Zvezda. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.