After the events in the Caucasus it is the right moment to evaluate future relations between Russia and the West. If we accept the axiom that European security can be built with or without Russia, but never against Russia, we should compare the strategic interests of the US, the EU, and the Russian Federation, as well as their perception of the emergent threats in the global world, in order to evaluate if a common security space could be established, paraphrasing Charles de Gaulle, from the Atlantic to the Urals.
The Western perceptions of the emerging threats were summarized in the respective security strategies (the American and the European) and in the NATO strategic concepts, and they include WMD proliferation, ballistic missiles, failing states, interruption of the flow of vital supplies, and terrorism. Even considering that the Russian focus is more regional, there would be fields of common interest and possible cooperation, including the global struggle against terrorism, cooperation in emergency situations, and peace support operations. Such collaboration would focus more on the new challenges for security than on classical military cooperation.
Progress in those areas of cooperation demands a change in the current security policies of the three main actors of the Euro-Atlantic space. Starting with Russia: even if we recognize that its resentment against the West has solid and justified foundations, very frequently its hard postures are not justified. NATO expansion (which favors Russian interests, as it weakens the Alliance's cohesion), the anti-ballistic missiles shield (that in no way limits the Russian deterrence capability), or democracy promotion policies (Yuschenko's Ukraine is, in practical terms, a better neighbor for Russia than the "friendly" Lukashenko's Belarus), don't threaten the Federation's security.
Last June the document "The Foreign Policy concept of the Russian Federation" was issued, significant in foreseeing how relations with the West can evolve in the years to come. In it the Kremlin proposed a strategic partnership with the US, aimed at overcoming the barriers raised by ideological principles of the past, in order to cope with real threats based on mutual respect. Additionally, Russia considers that American actions in the world should be based on international law, starting with the UN Charter.
But the most relevant initiative of the document is the proposal of a new model of Euro-Atlantic security. According to the document, the main objective of Russian policy in Europe is to create an open and democratic system of collective security and cooperation that assures the unity of the region, from Vancouver a Vladivostok, so the fragmentation that still exists in Europe due to organizations created during the Cold War (that is, NATO) could be avoided.
But for that goal the EU and the US also have to re-evaluate some aspects of their policies towards Russia. In the case of the EU, it would need to act as a single entity, giving top priority to the strategic partnership claimed by Russia, and fully developing the European Security and Defense Policy, so the Union could match its political and economic potential in the security and defense realm.
The US case is, by far, more difficult. American pragmatism in the execution of the "long war" has made the US adopt postures frequently opposed to Russia, whose cooperation in that fight has not been adequately valued. In the case of NATO, the Bush administration has continued trying to expand it to the East, without considering that the previous expansion in 2004 did little to improve the way it works, and without considering seriously the "reason to be" of the organization in the current strategic environment.
So the US should assume that a powerful Russia is back in the international arena and that in terms of national power (including economy, military and diplomacy) Russia is already one of the most powerful nations in the world, so its national interests cannot be systematically ignored, as happened during the nineties. In short, if the US adopted the same prudent policy toward Russia that it uses to balance pressure on regimes which are far less democratic (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan) due to their useful role in the short term for conducting the Global War on Terror, bilateral relations would dramatically improve, and a new global security agreement among the US, the EU, and Russia could be reached, overcoming the current stalemate.
Francisco J. Ruiz works for the Spanish Center for National Defense Studies, concentrating on US, EU, and Russian security and defense policies.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Ralf Fueks: Georgia: The Right Conflict, the Right Time?
- Daniel Korski: Transatlantic Tension Will Remain
- Colette Mazzucelli: The Georgian Flaw in Transatlantic Security