Alexander Golts, writing in the Moscow Times:
With the United States canceling its plans to deploy elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and with the imminent signing of a new nuclear arms control agreement between Moscow and Washington, Russia’s foreign policy is facing something of a dilemma. If U.S.-Russian relations get too warm, the Kremlin might have trouble reconciling its “reset” with the traditional belief that the West is out to get Russia.
The problem is that the main pillar of Russian foreign policy has always been to place the blame for its problems on somebody else. Take, for example, the European Security Treaty, President Dmitry Medvedev’s pet project. The West has been highly indifferent to his proposal, and for Medvedev this is additional evidence of how the West ignores Moscow’s peaceful intentions.
In 2007, then-President Vladimir Putin suspended Russia’s participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, or CFE. In its place, Medvedev proposed a fundamentally new agreement that would guarantee the security of the entire European continent. The reaction from other member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe varied from being outright negative — “Russia is the only country in Europe that is dissatisfied with the security situation, so let it deal with its own problems” — to condescendingly apologetic — “Since such a large nuclear state is worried about its own security, we need to reassure it somehow.”
Everyone was waiting to see what would happen next. Then, several days before the Dec. 4 session of the NATO-Russia Council, a draft of the 14-point treaty appeared on the presidential web site. The document focuses on the concept of “indivisible security” from a number of angles. Article 1 states: “Any security measures taken by a party to the treaty individually or together with other parties, including in the framework of any international organization, military alliance or coalition, shall be implemented with due regard to the security interests of all other parties.”
It also spells out the mechanisms that a state can employ if it feels that its security has been compromised by the actions of other states. That state “may request consultations on the issue with the party or parties that, in its opinion, might be interested in such consultations.”
There is also a provision on how to deal with situations when two parties to the treaty disagree over a major issue: “Any participant to consultations … shall be entitled, after having held the consultations, to … convene the conference of the parties to consider the issue that was the subject of the consultations.”
In fact, Medvedev’s proposal smacks of a trap that is thinly veiled in flowery, diplomatic language. The text of the treaty suggests that any party can interpret any action taken by a second party as a threat to its security. At the same time, the treaty does not offer any criteria for defining such a threat. Were NATO to sign the treaty, it would surely mean endless disputes with Russia over every strategic decision within NATO. Moscow would essentially gain veto power over NATO. This is the Kremlin’s most-coveted dream to remove its worst sore spot — NATO expansion. Article 2 of the treaty states this clearly, requiring parties that are members of military alliances to assume the responsibility beforehand that “decisions taken in the framework of such alliances, coalitions or organizations do not significantly affect the security of any party or parties to the treaty.”
Even more amusing is the innovative attempt that it makes to create a symbiosis between two fundamentally different types of security treaties. The first type is a treaty between a group of states banding together to defend themselves against a common threat. NATO was founded on this principle. The second type is a treaty between states that view each other as potential threats — for example, the CFE. The security aspect of this kind of agreement takes on an entirely different structure that includes, for example, limitations on weapons and delivery vehicles and provisions for establishing mutual trust.
Medvedev’s security initiative is an absurd attempt to combine the two approaches and create a broad structure for collective security “from Vancouver to Vladivostok.” The treaty gives signatory states the opportunity to come to the aid of other member states victimized by aggression — but only if they want to help. At the same time, it proposes the following measure for taking action against an aggressor state: “The party that has been attacked or threatened with an armed attack shall bring that to the attention of the depositary that shall immediately convene an extraordinary conference of the parties to decide on necessary collective measures.” But four-fifths of the treaty signatories must attend the conference, and any decision must have unanimous support. If the aggression in question was committed by a member state, that state is excluded from the voting.
The only problem, of course, with all of this seemingly logical reasoning is that member states would have to agree on what constitutes “aggression” and who is the “aggressor”— an unrealistic task to say the least. Recall the Russia-Georgia war of 2008: Russia insisted that Georgia was the aggressor, while Georgia insisted that a whole series of Russian “provocations” forced Tbilisi to take preventative military measures. To this day, the jury is still out on the verdict of who was the aggressor in this conflict. Although a European Union-commissioned report concluded that Georgia initiated the war, there was plenty of blame that it divvied out to both sides.
Russia is trying to spin the new security treaty at various foreign policy road shows, but the West understands that it is mostly a trap to engage the West in years of pointless negotiations over a security structure that is a priori unrealistic. One recent example of the Kremlin’s strategy: Several days prior to the NATO-Russia Council meeting on Dec. 4, Moscow gave an ultimatum that the proposal be included in the agenda. Canada voted to prevent the treaty from being discussed but in the end stepped down. This concession was like a father who buys his rambunctious son candy so that he finally stops screaming. Now, the Kremlin can to boast that its grandiose European security initiative is being discussed in major international organizations.