_ Rein Müllerson, research Professor at Tallinn University, Estonia. March 1st 2016.
There is another American nightmare. This is the prospect of the emergence of Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok, or using the vision of General de Gaulle, from the Atlantic to the Urals.
A recent Valdai paper by two Americans – Mathew Burrows and Robert A. Manning – aptly entitled Kissinger’s Nightmare: How an Inverted US-China-Russia May Be Game-Changer (Valdai Paper N. 33, 2015) – expressed serious concerns about Washington’s double containment policy vis-à-vis both China in Asia and Russia in Europe thereby driving these two powerful actors into an anti-American alliance. This is what Henry Kissinger, while in his high office, had tried almost at any cost to avoid and rather successfully. Today, having an aim to weaken and surround Russia by its military allies, Washington at the same time is also intensifying the anti-Chinese component of its pivot to Asia. As a result, it would indeed be strange if Moscow and Beijing have not come closer on many important issues that would not be of Washington’s liking. However, there is another American nightmare that may even cancel out the real concern of the United States about the realisation of Kissinger’s nightmare. This is the prospect of the emergence of Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok, or using the vision of General de Gaulle, from the Atlantic to the Urals. This was what Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin spoke about and this was also the policy of President Putin until it became clear, especially due to the continuation of the expansion of NATO closer and closer to Moscow, that in the post-Chirac-Schröeder Europe foreign policies had become subordinated to the American interests and its image of the world. However, in Europe and especially in France, De Gaulle’s dream is still alive; it is a vision of the world, or at least of the continent, where cooperation and compromises dominate over confrontation, where there is no place for sanctions and mutual threats and where the current russophobic propaganda war, which even exceeds the Cold War period’s primitivism and simply offends human intelligence, could not poison the minds. And this dream is not at all anti-American. If I may be allowed to behave a bit like an American and tell other nations what is good for them and what is bad, I would say that Washington is in dire need of allies who would behave as Jacques Chirac’s Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin did when in February 2003 in the UN Security Council warned the United States against illegal and presumptuous invasion of Iraq. And he was even more prescient than he could have thought then, thirteen years ago.
I am at the moment reading a book just published by Gaël-Georges Moullec Pour une Europe de l’Atlantique à l’Ural (For a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals), which analyses French foreign policy under President De Gaulle. As the author observes, ‘the politics that General De Gaulle had vis-à-vis the Soviet Union was based on the complex interplay of two aspirations: his desire to have independent and strong France and his perception of Russia [NB, Russia not the USSR] as the timeless Saint Russia’. Also, at the beginning of 2016 twenty French high-level diplomats, including former foreign ministers Hervé de Charette, Roland Dumas and Hubert Védrene, as well as prominent intellectuals (e.g., Régis Debray, Renaud Girard etc.), forming a so-called Club des Vingt (The Club of Twenty), wrote that ‘by becoming the best student in the Atlantic classroom and rivalling there even the servile Great Britain … France has lost its independence’. And they conclude: ‘European continent without the new Russia would not be complete; a strong Franco-Russian relationship is a must for the sake of the European balance. An axe Paris-Berlin-Moscow would be an ideal guarantee of peace in Europe and even beyond in order to avoid a risk of the emergence of the bi-polar (Sino-American) world’. Similarly, the French economist Hervé Juvin has recently observed that the main purpose of NATO enlargement is ‘to separate the European Union from Russia and make impossible the unification of Eurasia, what would be the Anglo-American nightmare’.
It is not easy to deny that during the Cold War NATO played a counter-balancing and crucial role in guaranteeing the security of Washington’s European allies, vis-à-vis Moscow’s missionary strive. However, in the post-Cold War world, NATO has become not only an anti-Russian but also an anti-European organization in the sense that by means of the Atlantic Alliance Washington has deprived Europe of any independent decision-making power, particularly on matters of international security. Moreover, as the military might and political levelheadedness are quite often opposites rather than in alignment with each other and what may be good from the point of view of Uncle Sam may not necessarily satisfy Marianne or Germania, such outsourcing of European security may be rather dangerous for the Old Continent.
Let’s take, for example, today’s Middle East. One of the causes aggravating the situation in this region and making the resolution of the conflicts in Syria even more difficult than it would have otherwise been is that one of the main spoilers of any progress is a NATO member. Turkey’s relationship with the West as its ally also reminds the above-mentioned clash of the two American nightmares – either to let Europe and Russia cooperate and thereby making them both stronger and more independent or to push Russia towards Asia, into the fold of China thereby threatening Washington’s dominance, especially in Asia and in the Far East. In the case of Turkey, Washington’s choice is between the support of its NATO ally whatever it does, because it is an important asset in the policy of containment of Russia, or to force Ankara to stop its almost genocidal behaviour vis-à-vis the Kurds, both in Turkey and in Syria, and Erdogan’s support of Islamist jihadists. So, on February 19, Washington and its NATO allies in the UN Security Council rejected a draft resolution demanding the halt of the cross-border shelling from Turkey of the Kurds in Syria – draft proposed by Russia, though President Obama over a phone call with Erdogan had earlier called Turkey to ‘show reciprocal restraint’. And these are the Kurds who have been fighting against the so-called Islamic State, and who, moreover, have even been trained by American instructors. It would be hard to imagine a more illogical situation. However, so far as Washington believes that the containment and roll-back of Russia is its primary foreign policy aim (in parallel with or next to the containment of China), it cannot have a principled policy on Syria or anywhere else.
It has to be noted, however, that Americans generally are less amenable to the anti-Russian propaganda than the political elite of the country who, in a kind of collective psychosis, have started to believe in what they preach. So, less than a week before one of the most terrible terror attacks carried out in Paris by ISIS (13 November 2015), the US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter declared at the Reagan National Defence Forum in California: ’Terror elements like ISIL, of course, stand entirely opposed to our values. But other challenges are more complicated, and given their size and capabilities, potentially more damaging’. And he singled out two overwhelming challenges: ’Russia’s provocations and China’s rise’. However, the most recent Gallup poll shows, that most Americans believe that it is international terrorism that is the greatest threat to their country and the Russian military power is only on the twelfth place after the spread of infectious deceases, military power of North Korea, global warming and other threats. Such a situation is not, of course, limited to the United States and deserves a special study. Why people in general are more reasonable than political elites and many experts affiliated to these elites?
NATO’s post-Cold War inappropriateness and untimeliness is even more visible in Europe. The continuation of one of the major Cold War institutions, whose very raison d’être had been the containment of the enemy who had disappeared, could be considered, slightly paraphrasing President Putin, as the greatest geopolitical nonsense of the twenty first century. The latest RAND corporation report ‘Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank’ opens with a categorical statement: ‘Russia’s recent aggression against Ukraine has disrupted nearly a generation of relative peace and stability between Moscow and its Western neighbours and raised concerns about its larger intentions’. Let’s leave aside the authors’ absolute certainty that Russia had committed an act of aggression against Ukraine. Like practically any unqualified opinion on complicated issues and sophisticated juridical concepts (e.g., the definition of aggression, interference in internal affairs, the right of peoples to self-determination), it is conditioned not by any concern about the facts and knowledge of law but by almost religious belief formed by aggressive brainwashing. The Report may indeed be correct in its calculation that it would take ‘Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga’ in 60 hours, though in my laymen’s assessment it may take even less time. Therefore, the Report recommends, notwithstanding that it will cost dearly, to add to the existing NATO forces in the region ‘seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades – adequately supported by airpower, land based fires, and other enablers on the ground’ to avoid the rapid overrun of the Baltic states. Maybe it is not the job of the RAND corporation or NATO to think in non-confrontational and non-military terms but for me as an Estonian, and having an audacity to say – a thinking and critically minded Estonian (moreover, as John Lennon used to sing, ‘I am not the only one), such one-dimensional mindset, the inability to think ‘beyond the box’ is frightening. Even if a NATO-Russia military conflict as played out by scenarios of the RAND, could be contained at early stages and Washington and Moscow spared, my country – Estonia – would be destroyed. Therefore, instead of concentrating on raising tension and propaganda war both sides would do better if they were to engage more in cooperative thinking. At least, one should start with the question formulated in the title of Doug Bandow’s recent article inThe National Interest ‘Why on Earth Would Russia Attack the Baltics?’ Why indeed? And are there any signs that would signal Russia’s intention of expansion in the Baltics or elsewhere?
Russia has indeed used military force against two former Soviet republics – in 2008 against Georgia when the regime of Saakashvili had invaded Georgia’s break-away republic of South Ossetia, as well as in 2014 when its troops in the Crimea threatened to use force in case Ukrainian military were to prevent by force the population of the peninsula from expressing its desire to join Russia (the outcome of the referendum was foreseeable taking into account the ethnic composition of the population and its previous views, including those expressed at the 20 January 1991 referendum). Yes, this was interference in internal affairs Ukraine but not an act of aggression, and the fact that the United States and other NATO countries had earlier blatantly interfered in the affairs of Ukraine could even serve as a mitigating circumstance. Since then, Russia has given assistance, including military, to the insurgents in Eastern Ukraine who rebelled against the government (or regime, if one prefers) that had come to power as a result of the coup d’êtat. One of , if not the main, explanations of these two uses of Russian military in Europe are that they are defensive responses to NATO’s expansion. One may, of course, argue that though NATO may have invaded Kosovo in 1999 and Libya in 2011 (the last intervention, though being mandated by Security Council’s resolution 1973, was also illegal since NATO considerably exceeded the mandate) and has used and is using military force contrary to international law, it has not nevertheless annexed any territories in Europe or elsewhere. In this context, it is of interest to note that Moscow did not annex either South Ossetia or Abkhazia; instead it used what could be called NATO’s model of expansion. The Crimean case is exceptional and Russia’s behaviour vis-à-vis Eastern Ukraine shows rather that the Kremlin has no intention of annexing any parts of Eastern Ukraine or even helping the rebels to the extent that they could be able to create their own statehood. Russia had no choice but to give a military response to Georgia’s invasion, but in my opinion, the Kremlin was wrong in recognizing independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Not only was such a recognition contrary to international law (as was Kosovo’s recognition that may have served as a precedent for Russia), but it was also a politically short-sighted, hasty and politically counterproductive step. A friendly Georgia would have been a much more important security guarantee for Russia than these two small break-away territories. In today’s world, states’ expansion through annexation of territories is an outdated mode of behaviour. Although not a new method but having recently become a favourite means of territorial expansion is through the extension of military alliances that take place after foreign assisted regime changes. Both forms of expansion are dangerous and illegal in the light of international law.
International law, especially in its most sensitive and politically loaded areas, doesn’t work well in a world with unipolar tendencies, since in such a world international law (a result of barging and compromises) and its interpretation is dictated from a unipolar centre, which is contrary to the very nature of international law based on compromises and bargaining. Until the beginning of the 1990s, international law had evolved as a balance of power normative system, though the bipolar system was not international law’s best environment. The Cold War balance of power was almost exclusively a competitive balance where both poles not only constantly tried to outplay each other strategically, but also believed in the world – wide triumph of their respective social, economic and political systems. The détente period in their relations was also marked with bi-lateral and multilateral agreements, especially in the field of disarmament as well as with informal rules of the game and political understandings. Although such a balancing system with only two dominant actors (who, moreover, believed in and strove for absolute dominance and world – wide expansion of their respective societal models) was not the most stable system, this relative power equality, constraining each other’s arrogance, had nevertheless a pacifying impact. However, even in such circumstances, far from ideal for the development of international law, it progressed in many areas and played a role that should not be underestimated. And although such central principles of international law as non-interference in internal affairs of states and non-use of force were often breached, the balancing system played a positive role in the development and observance of international law. When today some liberal imperialists claim that the UN-authorized intervention in Libya in 2011 has not led to expected results because it was carried out in a wrong way (in their view not because it went beyond the Security Council’s authorization but because not enough force was used) and lament that intervention in Syria was prevented by the veto power of Russia and China, they show complete ignorance of the real world. Any intervention in Syria, taking account of its location, size, ethnic and religious patterns and the interests of regional and global players, is a significantly more explosive matter than the destruction of Libya.
The post-Cold War unipolar moment led also to attempts to transform the existing law into a unipolar normative system controlled from the single centre, where there should not be any room for counter-balancing. For a while, it seemed that international law might indeed evolve in that direction. However, starting from the beginning of the twenty first century not only ‘the usual suspects’ —China and Russia—but other emerging powers started counter-balancing and multipolar elements in the system began to take shape. However, such an emerging trend was not to the liking of Washington, which through its containment and roll-back policies, either unilaterally or using NATO and even the EU, targeted first of all Russia and China in an attempt to perpetuate the unilateral moment of the 1990s. The normative effect of these developments has been that while in most sensitive areas the existing norms have become undermined, new ones have not been able to crystallize. Consequently, today we live in an atmosphere of increased normative uncertainty.
More effective international law, at least in the world as it is today and not in utopian imaginations, can be based on three interrelated phenomena: multipolarity, balance of power and concert of powers. If the first two may emerge naturally due to an uneven development of societies over relatively extended periods, their relative (or sometimes absolute) rise and decline, the third phenomenon needs to be built by way of cooperative efforts and has to be accepted by participants as legitimate. Using language familiar to international lawyers, there should be opinio juris sive necessitates of the balance of power and not only a de facto existing situation of balance. Hugh White, an Australian author, writing on the need of Washington to accommodate the rising China in Asia (neither confronting China nor withdrawing from Asia) observes: ‘Balance of power is what emerges naturally. […] By contrast, a concert is an agreement to minimize the risk of war that is inherent in the balance of power system. A concert of power does not happen naturally. It has to be carefully built and maintained, and this is not easy’. Henry Kissinger observes in the same vein: ‘The challenge in Asia is the opposite of Europe’s. Westphalian balance-of-power principles prevail unrelated to an agreed concept of legitimacy”.
What is needed, in his opinion, for South and South-East Asia is a regional concert based on the balance of power of main actors. Moreover, such a system is urgently needed also at the global level, and today we do not have (first of all, due to NATO expansion) such an agreed-upon balance, even in Europe.
As a realist, I would not advocate for the dissolution of NATO, yet the world should come to the conclusion that any system of permanent military alliances is a threat to peace. The alliance mentality has to be broken. Alliances are always against somebody, starting from the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta) against the Delian League (led by Athens) at the time of the Peloponnesian War, to the Catholic League and the Protestant Union in the Thirty Years War, to the NATO against the Warsaw Pact in the period of the Cold War. Alliances or coalitions may be justified to meet concrete threats or when facing aggression, like Operation Desert Storm of 1991, to force Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and restore peace and security in the region, which was lawful both as an exercise of the right to self-defense (collective) and a measure of collective security authorized by the UN Security Council. The continuation of the existence of NATO, as a military alliance, when its opponent—the Warsaw Pact—had disappeared and even its leading actor—the Soviet Union—had collapsed, to say nothing of its enlargement, is the biggest mistake of the turn of the Twenty First century. Already in 1998 George Kennan, the father of the containment policy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, warned against moving NATO to the Russian borders: “I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.” The talk that the post-Cold War NATO is not against anybody, as it was done during all phases of its expansion, is childish prattle. Military alliances, in contradistinction to collective security systems, are always meant to face concrete enemies, whether real or imagined. Some timid and prudish attempts to find a new role for NATO were subsumed by the extension of the Alliance to the retracted frontiers of its erstwhile enemy in the making of a new enemy.