Washington, 12 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - In its continuing effort to forestall NATO's eastward expansion, the Russian government reportedly is getting ready to propose an entirely new security regime for Europe later this year.
So far, Russian officials have provided few details about just what such an arrangement might be beyond their earlier suggestions that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should have an expanded role in the continent's security.
But in a press conference last Thursday, Polish Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati implied that Russian thinking on this subject may now have moved forward and crystallized into a specific program.
Rosati said that Russia will propose "a certain alternative" to NATO at the December OSCE summit in Lisbon. His comments were clearly intended to be a preemptive strike. His country very much wants to join the Western alliance and believes that it will be invited as one of the first new members.
And consequently, his argument that "there is no physical possibility another organization with a similar character could arise parallel to NATO" is unlikely to attract much attention.
But the possibility that Moscow may now be finalizing such a proposal deserves the greatest possible consideration.
Over the past several years, Russian diplomats and officials repeatedly have suggested that NATO is a remnant of the Cold War and that like the Warsaw Pact it should be consigned to history. In its place, they have suggested that the OSCE could help guarantee stability and peace in Europe.
Both current NATO members and many of those now seeking admission to the Western alliance have objected to this proposal for three reasons.
First, the OSCE has no ability to enforce its will.
Second, its structures are cumbersome for rapid decision making.
And third, its current voting arrangements would give each of its more than 50 members an effective veto over any action, a procedure that would likely paralyze the OSCE in a crisis.
At the same time, there are significant groups in virtually all these countries who believe that NATO itself must be transformed to deal with the post-Cold War situation in Europe and who would welcome an expanded role for the OSCE.
Russian officials have clearly decided to play on these feelings. And Rosati's statement is only the most recent indication that Moscow is continuing to search for an effective weapon to use in its campaign against NATO expansion.
That Moscow has returned to this idea of using the OSCE against NATO raises two interesting questions: What might the Russian proposals in Lisbon in fact look like? And how successful are they likely to be for Moscow?
With regard to the first, it seems certain that any Russian proposal would call for both the modification of the OSCE and leaving it as the only security body in Europe.
One idea that Russian officials have floated in the past would call for the creation of an executive committee within the OSCE modeled on the Security Council of the United Nations. Such a body would be able to act more quickly than the OSCE now can.
Another idea circulating in Moscow calls for the establishment of some kind of supernational force subordinate to this body.
These Russian suggestions have drawn Western criticism in the past, but they have also attracted a certain amount of support.
Consequently, with respect to the second question, it seems likely that Moscow's proposal is a ploy designed to slow down NATO expansion even if many in the Russian capital have accepted the idea that they can't stop it.
That is because its suggestions that there are alternatives to the alliance will undoubtedly lead to the mobilization of some groups in some NATO countries. And the Russian government knows that it can block the expansion of the alliance even if only one country votes against including new members.
From that flow three conclusions: The Polish foreign minister is almost certainly correct in his analysis. The Russians will make such a proposal. And they will count it a success if it leads ever more Europeans to question the wisdom of expanding NATO -- even if no one proves willing to accept the Russian substitute.