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Europe: Analysis From Washington--Squaring The Circle On European Security

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 22 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Discussions this week concerning the future of the European Union, the expansion of NATO, and the modification of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe treaty highlight the difficulties of constructing a post-Cold War security architecture in Europe.

But these simultaneous conversations also called attention to three features of that architecture that many of its builders have been relatively unwilling to acknowledge:

First, European security will depend on the close coordination of actions by three groups of states whose memberships overlap but are not identical.

Second, progress toward agreement in any one of the three areas may undercut progress in one or both of the other two.

And third, the nature of these interrelationships virtually guarantees that a country interested in revising the current power relationships on the continent will have both the incentive and the ability to block moves toward a security architecture desired by virtually all other states.

One of these three meetings took place in Brussels. While it received relatively little attention in the media compared to the other two, this gathering may ultimately prove to be the most important for the future.

At a session that included representatives of both the European Union and NATO, the European Union's External Relations Commissioner Hans van den Broek explicitly said that those countries in Eastern Europe not included in the first round of NATO expansion "cannot expect" the EU to help NATO out by taking them in.

This declaration is a direct challenge to the United States and several other NATO countries which had urged that the EU admit some of the East European countries not included in the Western defense alliance during the first round.

Among the countries most often mentioned as candidates for EU but not NATO membership in the near term were the Baltic states and especially Estonia.

And to the extent that van den Broek's words represent the position of the European Union -- and there are numerous indications that they do -- they make impossible one of the compromises that some in the West had hoped would provide some security for the countries involved without exacerbating Russian concerns.

The second meeting, a marathon session Monday near Moscow between NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, has attracted a great deal of attention but apparently made little progress.

Solana arrived in Moscow with a mandate from NATO countries to work toward some kind of an accord with Moscow to assuage Russian concerns about the expansion of the Western alliance. But the joint statement following the meeting suggested that he achieved little so far.

As before, Moscow remains opposed to any expansion of the alliance that it does not have a direct voice in. And reports in the Russian press suggest that Moscow's demands for a binding accord with NATO would have the effect of undermining the alliance.

Among Moscow's reported demands are a binding commitment by NATO not to station nuclear weapons or foreign troops on the territory of any new alliance member and a treaty commitment by NATO countries not to expand the alliance beyond Central Europe to include the Baltic countries or any former Soviet republic.

While NATO governments have said that they have no plans to do the first or the second under current circumstances and while there is little enthusiasm for expanding the alliance onto the territory of the former Soviet Union, there are important reasons why the West and Solana cannot agree to a charter on this point without undermining the stated goals of the alliance.

On the one hand, NATO is a defense alliance, but it is also one that must be flexible enough to respond to changes in the security environment. Were it to commit itself in advance never to put nuclear weapons or foreign troops on the territory of new member states, it would limit both its options in the future and the value of its security guarantees to new members.

And on the other, NATO has pledged itself both to a process of enlargement and to avoiding the establishment of new lines in Europe. If it agreed in advance never to include the Baltic countries or the former Soviet republics as members, it would subvert the first of these goals and define with more precision than many would like precisely where the lines in Europe now are.

The third meeting, the opening session of a review conference on the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty in Vienna, also complicates the European security scene.

Called at Russian insistence to revise the 1990 zonal limits on the deployment armaments -- limits Moscow says must be modified to take into account the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union -- this meeting too seems likely to highlight disagreements rather than accord.

Russia has said that it wants the limits on armaments to be defined by countries rather than by zones. While superficially reasonable and while enjoying at least partial backing by the United States, such a revision in the treaty would allow Moscow to move forces around the periphery of its enormous country at will.

And such shifts in Russian arms would inevitably appear threatening to Russia's neighbors, whatever Moscow's declared intent.

Despite all these problems, these three meetings on Tuesday may collectively serve a useful purpose if they focus attention on the complexities involved in the construction of a new security order in Europe.