A New Security Architecture for Europe: Ukraine’s 2010 Opportunity

December 3, 2009

There is reason for cautious optimism that accession of a new president in Kiev next year will signal the end of the foolish and counterproductive notion of the incumbent administration that all of Ukraine’s problems can be solved by “Euro-Atlantic” integration, meaning not only membership in the European Union but in NATO as well. The new government’s top foreign policy priority will be to abandon the dead end of the past five years and to work with other states to create a stable, balanced and long-term replacement for the bipolar European security system that collapsed with the Berlin Wall, leaving Ukraine’s security status in limbo.

Acknowledging the Failure of “Euro-Atlanticism” . . .

Beginning with the first round of NATO expansion under President Bill Clinton in 1998 (followed by NATO’s aggression in Kosovo in 1999), then accelerating in 2004 with President George W. Bush’s second round of expansion, Washington’s proposed “prescription” for Ukraine’s security was the same, one-size-fits-all answer to all questions: NATO expansion. The Yushchenko government—itself the product of Washington’s meddling—wholeheartedly signed onto the ill-starred project, despite never having sought or received popular consent to do so.

Now, five years later, we can see the results for Ukraine's citizens of basing a national policy on considerations having nothing to do with the country’s actual development needs. While other countries have been hit by the global economic downturn—a state of affairs brought on in large measure by US financial and economic polices designed to aid and abet American power projection on a global scale while undermining the prosperity of American citizens—Ukraine has suffered disproportionately: GDP is down 17.8%, exports are down 49.4%, real wages are down 53.8%, a total debt amounting to 80% of GDP. The only “success” Mr. Yushchenko can point to has been his ability to bilk the International Monetary Fund out of a $16 billion loan (admittedly, it did stabilize the gryvnia and avert a panic), plus two additional credit tranches—despite multiple violations of the loan conditions. The electorate’s verdict on such a record of “success” looms in just a few weeks.

. . . and Looking for Alternatives

As it happens, Ukrainian politicians are increasingly apt to say sensible things about geopolitics. This is because certain objective factors have coalesced to render President Yushchenko’s foreign and national security policies patently irrelevant: the Ukrainian economy is on life support, France and Germany are adamant in their refusal to allow Ukraine to enter either NATO or the European Union, and Washington—bankrupt and overextended— is eager to “reset” relations with Moscow. In addition, the U.S. has its hands full in preventing the emergence of a nuclear-armed Islamic caliphate in South Asia.

Whereas the outgoing Yushchenko government was intent on participating in the encirclement of Russia, the two candidates likely to get the most votes on January 17th—prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych—seem determined to work constructively with Moscow, with the latter opposing NATO membership and the former urging that it be put off into the distant future.

Even the candidate who has positioned himself as heir to the westernizing “Orange Revolution”—former foreign minister and speaker of the Supreme Rada Arseniy Yatseniuk—has taken to calling for a revived “Kievan Rus.” This would entail a customs union embracing seven former Soviet republics, including Russia and Ukraine, with its headquarters in Kiev. You can quibble with the practicality of the proposal, but it certainly demonstrates a willingness to work with Moscow.

Happily, the Ukrainian political class seems to grasp this urgent necessity as never before. Consider the views of presidential candidate and former National Bank chairman Sergei Tigipko. In a lengthy think piece published last September in the Ukrainian edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda, Mr. Tigipko issued a ringing call for a foreign policy rooted in the national interest. He says Kiev’s policy for the past five years has been to “participate in a cordon sanitaire” around Russia, a policy which, he says, has done “enormous economic damage” to Ukraine, weakened Ukraine’s position in the post-Soviet realm, and turned Moscow into a “powerful opponent of Ukrainian interests.”

He might have added that the chimera of Euro-Atlantic integration has served to blind Ukraine to its real foreign policy interests—i.e., the need to work out a modus vivendi with Moscow, and improve relations with Berlin and Paris.

Mr. Tigipko criticizes Mr. Yushchenko for having put all of Ukraine’s eggs in the American basket, and asserts that the rise of Obama has revealed this policy to be a “complete anachronism.” “Not even Washington,” he says, finds Mr. Yushchenko’s foreign policy “interesting”—a clear reference to the U.S. administration’s desire to reset relations with Moscow. Instead Ukraine needs a “multi-vector policy”—one that seeks productive relations with the European Union, Russia and the United States, as well as with such important near neighbors as Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.

A Program for the Future

In view of all this, what should Ukrainian foreign and national security policy look like under the next government to be formed in early 2010?

President Yushchenko’s successor must focus on getting Ukraine’s economic house in order and this will entail the development of export markets in which the nation can compete, above all in metallurgy, chemicals and machinery. That, in turn, will require a transformed political landscape in Ukraine, and an unprecedented degree of cooperation between the political parties. And this will necessitate an end to the perpetual political crises, which Mr. Yushchenko only exacerbated as he sought to bully the country into a foreign politico-military alliance strongly opposed by most Ukrainians. The government’s policy in this area has diverted Ukraine from the critically important task of internal economic development, and perpetuated the political stalemate rooted in the country’s profound regional differences. As such, it has only invited foreign powers to see Ukraine as a playing field on which to vie for political and geo-strategic influence.

Non-Alignment and Broad Cooperation

Instead, Ukraine should seek permanent non-aligned status in the context of a new European security system, for which the new government should become a staunch advocate. That means ending NATO’s role as the dominant security entity in Europe. While NATO is not going away anytime soon, the new European security order should be based on the following elements:

  • An understanding among NATO, the European Union (in the form of the European Security and Defense Policy) and the Moscow-based Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). This should be formalized by organizational ties among the three organizations, including creation of a NATO-EU/ESDP-CSTO Coordination Commission under the authority of the U.N. Security Council.
  • In view of concerns over global jihad terrorism emanating, in particular, from South Asia (especially Afghanistan and Pakistan), Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Balkans, any new system of pan-European security cooperation should be open to participation by the Shanghai Security Organization (SCO). (NOTE: The Moscow-based Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Security Organization signed a cooperative agreement in October 2007 in Dushanbe, but NATO is not a signatory to the agreement.)
  • Creation of a Central European Security Council chaired by Germany and Russia, with membership comprising Central and East European states countries located between their borders, including NATO and CSTO members and non-aligned states. This should be coupled with a permanent halt on admission of any new members to any alliance within that zone. Just as the permanency of peace in Western Europe rests on the bedrock of political rapprochement and economic partnership between France and Germany beginning in the 1950s, the growing symbiosis between Germany and Russia, notably on energy, points the way to a similar, long overdue, stabilization in the East.
  • Ukrainian withdrawal from the so-called “GUAM” (Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova) grouping, an enterprise intended by its sponsors—essentially Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Saaskashvili—as a deliberate provocation of Russia. Withdrawing Ukraine from this irresponsible grouping should be one of the first acts of the next Ukrainian president.
  • Ukraine’s adoption of permanent nonaligned status outside of any and all political alliances: The next president must make Ukraine’s “No” decision on NATO membership firm and irrevocable. While maintaining membership in NATO’s “Partnership-for-Peace” program and the NATO-Ukraine Commission, Kiev should also establishing parallel affiliations with CSTO.
  • Kiev’s formal abandonment of “Euro-Atlantic” integration as a policy principle, along with the term “Euro-Atlantic” – which for all of its overuse in both official and nonofficial documents has yet to receive a precise definition beyond the implication that Washington’s voice is of paramount importance.
  • In a seemingly unrelated gesture: to establish Russian as an official language along with Ukrainian. The “Euro-Atlantic” course on which Ukraine has been wasting its time has been powerfully reflected in internal divisions – regional, linguistic, religious – that translate in essence into: “West equals good. East equals bad.” To move forward, Ukraine needs to overcome the notion that one region of the country with its unique historical consciousness has the moral right to lecture and, eventually, transform other regions. Politically, economically, and internationally, Ukraine’s course must reflect a consensus of all its diverse regions. Language equality is an important place to start.
  • Appointment by the new president of a Special Envoy for a new European Security Treaty, based on the Russian proposal (see below).

A New Security Treaty

On November 29, 2008, the government of the Russian Federation unveiled the text of a draft treaty on European security. So far, western governments have been silent on what, if anything, they intend to do with the Russian proposal, though official Moscow – notably President Dmitry Medvedev – has been promoting its underlying principles since the summer of 2008.

The draft treaty is entirely consistent with the points proposed above. While not in any respect anti-NATO it would place NATO into a continental structure where it would be limited to its original, legitimate defensive role. Among the features that should be noted:

The role of the U.N. Security Council: When Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to chair a session of the UNSC in person, it perhaps indicated a welcome willingness to treat that body with a deference that was so sadly – and dangerously – lacking during the tenures of his immediate predecessors. The Russian draft treaty includes two specific references to the primary responsibility of the UNSC for maintaining international peace and security. Just as the Concert of Powers helped prevent a general war in Europe between the Congress of Vienna and the outbreak of the First World War, the UNSC can play the vital role of ensuring no major power’s interests are disregarded in resolving disputes.

An “Article Five”-type provision: The key feature of NATO’s basic document, the North Atlantic Treaty, is Article Five, which obligates NATO states to come to one another’s assistance in case of attack, and to render assistance pursuant to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

Article Five is the key defensive element of NATO, one that has been invoked on just a single occasion: the 9-11 attacks on the U.S. and NATO’s consequent role in Afghanistan. The Russian draft includes a very similar provision but with the key difference that each party is entitled – but not obligated – to consider an attack on one as an attack on itself:

Without prejudice to the provisions of Article 8 of the Treaty, every Party shall be entitled to consider an armed attack against any other Party an armed attack against itself. In exercising its right of self-defense under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, it shall be entitled to render the attacked Party, subject to its consent, the necessary assistance, including the military one, until the UN Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Information on measures taken by Parties to the Treaty in exercise of their right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the UN Security Council.

The differences between the treaties—especially the Russian draft treaty’s optional invocation of collective defense and NATO’s (in principle) mandatory invocation of the same, including its extension to the whole of Eurasia and North America—should be the topic of serious discussion.

Binding action to address aggression: Article 8 of the Russian draft treaty creates the unique feature of a binding decision by member states to decide upon a response to an armed attack. In principle, this is a stronger mandate for armed defensive action than what is contained in the North Atlantic Treaty.

Ukraine’s Opportunity

As European governments (and, however reluctantly, Washington) begin to consider the Russian treaty proposal, Ukraine has a rare opportunity to shape and influence the emergence of a much-needed revision to Europe’s existing security architecture.

The new pragmatism evident in Ukrainian politics is just what Ukraine needs if it is to serve as a bridge between East and West, rather than a bone of contention. There is no future for Ukraine in allowing the U.S. to spread a nuclear tripwire along its border with Russia, and nothing for the U.S. in blithely handing out defense guarantees it cannot possibly honor. Washington would be well advised to grasp the potential of a unified pan-European Northern Hemisphere—the once and future Christendom, if you will—in effectively staving off the jihadist challenge. And so would Kiev. The advent of a new president early next year awakens hope for a new beginning for Ukraine consistent with the country’s interests and its European vocation.