Implications of the Ukraine Crisis for European Security

In the view of Francis Fukuyama and other neoliberal institutionalists, the termination of the global ideological contest for influence which had driven the cold War opened up possibilities for a global extension of democratic liberalism and a ‘democratic peace’. By contrast, leading US realist scholars such as Robert Kagan, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, Robert Kaplan and Andrew Bacevich have argued that the new world order will continue to resemble the great power struggles, wars and conflicts of the past (Bacevich 2002: 114-116; Kagan 2003; Kalb 2016: 9).

Realpolitik calculations certainly underpinned Washington’s shaping of the security architecture of post-Cold War Europe. For the USA, eastward enlargement of NATO met three requirements. First, NATO would serve as a geopolitical instrument to maintain America’s management of European security which it had secured in the Cold War, and block any attempts the EU might make to serve as the primary security actor in Europe. Second, it would serve as a neo-containment hedge to check any efforts by a ‘re-imperializing’ Russia to re-establish its sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space and become a regional hegemon in Europe. Third, NATO enlargement would block security competition between Germany and Russia and reassure Germany’s neighbours by preventing any re-emergence of Germany as a possible hegemon in Europe. As the leaked contents of the confidential US Defence Planning Guidance of 1992 (subsequently disowned) made clear: ‘It is of fundamental importance to preserve NATO as the primary instrument of Western defense and security as well as the channel for US influence and participation in European security affairs. While the United States supports the goal of European integration, we must seek to prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements which would undermine NATO’ (New York Times 1992. See also Kay 1998: Chapter 5; Layne 2006: Chapter 5).

With NATO as the established institutional actor in the post-Cold War European security order, the multilateral partnerships and consultative forums of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) and the Partnership for Peace (PFP), together with the establishment of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council (PJC) in 1997 and its upgrade to the NRC in 2002, provided Russia with channels for only limited consultation (Kay 1998: 59-74). Moscow’s proposals for security governance of a ‘Greater Europe’, based on the non-bloc panEuropean and Euro-Atlantic structure of the CSCE/OSCE, in which Russia would play a full part as an equal partner, were therefore easily dismissed in Washington and Brussels. As Derek Averre observes, ‘the institutional settlement following the end of the Cold War was predisposed to a Euro-Atlantic understanding of order and Russia, mired in domestic problems and much less influential than during the Soviet period, was unwilling or unable to challenge this order’ (Averre 2016: 702).

Whilst recognizing the erratic and chaotic character of Russian policymaking in the Yeltsin years, it has been argued that the West’s condescending and triumphalist treatment of Russia as a defeated adversary at the end of the Cold War represented something of missed opportunity. Unlike the peaceful reincorporation of France into the Great Power Concert of Europe in the post-1815 decade, or the successful reintegration of Germany and Japan into the international community in the post- 1945 decade, repeating the mistake of the 1919 post-World War I settlement which isolated Weimar, Germany, Russia was consigned to an isolated and peripheral position in post-Cold War Europe (Deudney and Ikenberry 2009/2010: 42-44; Kanet 2010: 154-155, 160-166; Cohen 2011: Chapter 7; Rynning 2015: 541-543).

Russia’s dissatisfaction with the Euro-Atlantic European security framework underpinned President Medvedev’s 2008-2009 abortive proposals for a legally binding European Security Treaty (EST). Open to all the states of the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian space from Vancouver to Vladivostok, as well as the international organizations of NATO, the EU, the OSCE, the CSTO and the CIS, Medvedev’s proposals were seen to be a device to undermine NATO and consolidate Russia’s ‘spheres of privileged interest’ and were therefore shunted into the deadlocked OSCE ‘Corfu process’. Subsequently, it has been recognized that another opportunity may have been missed to establish a European security framework in which the Russian Federation could play a larger and more responsible role (Monaghan 2010; Mankoff 2010; Lomagin 2011; Berryman 2011; Yost 2014: 225-227, 266; Lo 2015). And following the Ukraine crisis it has again been suggested that, ‘In the longer run, a new conference on European security must be called to formally end the post-Cold War era and establish a security system with Russia and Ukraine as key players’ (Tsygankov 2015: 2. See also; Bahr and Neuneck 2015: 132).

In reality, prospects for serious discussions between Russian and Western officials on new institutional security architecture in Europe are remote and there can be no expectation that the deliberations of the NRC, which resumed its work in April 2016 after a two-year absence, will pave the way for some sort of reconciliation between Russia and the West (IISS 2016a: 58-60; Monaghan 2016). Indeed, the suspension by NATO of the operations of the NRC in both the Georgian crisis and the Ukraine crisis, precisely when it was most needed, underlined its marginal role (Kortunov 2016: 3). However, an overhaul of the military to military work of the NRC could make a contribution to a confidence-building process (Legvold 2016: 147). Similarly, although the role of the OSCE has received a welcome boost, thanks to the work of its Special Military Mission (SMM) in Ukraine, ‘ideas about a new grand bargain between Russia and the West, involving a fundamental redesign of the security architecture in which the OSCE might assume a central place, lack plausibility’ (Lehne 2015).

Rather, as the military conflict in Ukraine escalated in the summer of 2014, following their meeting to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy in World War II, the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine met as the ‘Normandy format’ to take responsibility for the political management of the Ukraine crisis. The impasse over Ukraine has therefore shifted the focus away from a neoliberal institutionalist search for a new security architecture to the establishment of a modest Concert-style framework within which a resolution of the conflict in Ukraine can be pursued through the joint diplomatic efforts of nation states (Trenin 2014; Rynning 2015; Grygiel 2016).

While US pre-eminence within NATO is unlikely to be challenged in the near term, owing to the predominance of US military capabilities and the absence of any plausible alternative leadership, it seems likely that over time the US military presence in Europe will reduce as a consequence of the progressive US ‘pivot’ to East Asia (Yost 2014: 353). Nonetheless, it remains clear that a combination of American military power and the contribution of other regional powers will be necessary to prevent the emergence of a Eurasian hegemon - the central aim of US grand strategy. With respect to the containment of Russia, ‘Keeping NATO in good shape is therefore both a cost-effective and strategically smart way for the United States to achieve its main goal’ (Melby 2014: 45-49). Those calling for a withdrawal of American forces from Europe and an abandonment of NATO therefore remain, for the moment, minority voices (Cottey 2013: 73; Kay 2013; Bacevich 2016). However, there are clear indications that in many western and southern European NATO member states public support for the maintenance of sanctions and the use of force to defend NATO allies against an emboldened Russia has been declining (Lucas 2016). In these circumstances, a Trump presidency in 2017 may generate some unexpected outcomes. In Moscow, meanwhile, the maintenance of sanctions is seen as evidence of western intentions to precipitate regime change in Russia, possibly in the run-up to the 2018 presidential elections (Legvold 2016: 118-119. See also; Berryman 2014). The future of European security therefore remains uncertain.

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