NATO Russia Summit: Europe contemplates the world organising itself without her

Article published on Nov. 22, 2002
community published
Article published on Nov. 22, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The NATORussia summit was a clever diplomatic manoeuvre on the part of Moscow and Washington. Bush obtains a free hand in Afghanistan and Russia is acknowledged as a regional power. Alas, Europe is once again excluded from the negotiations and remains confined to her subordinate role.

Seen from a more general perspective, the NATO-Russia summit of the 28th May 2002 was an additional development in the rapprochement between the US and Russia. It would certainly be wrong to speak of a new world order, this summit never aimed to create one, but it is possible to see in this manoeuvring confirmation of the new geopolitical realities following the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the attacks of September 11th 2001. The collapse of the Soviet empire marked the end of the bipolar system inherited from the Cold War; the attacks of September 11th introduced a new era of international relations in which the US occupies a largely dominant position. So why did the NATO-Russia summit take place? Firstly, it is necessary to point out that this rapprochement is not the result of common values held by the US and Russia, but rather the consequence of a convergence of interests between the two states in specific areas. In this situation one thing is clear: if both the US and Russia share the same interest, albeit to a differing degree, in the outcome of rapprochement, Europe is noticeably absent from these negotiations, a symptom of her inability to affirm herself on the international scene.

A new Russo-American harmony

The meeting of the 28th May 2002 established a NATORussian Council that replaces the previous permanent joint Council created in 1997 and abandoned by Russia following the American campaign in Kosovo in March 1999. This new council makes possibile the taking of communal decisions in areas as varied as the fight against terrorism, the management of crises, the control of armaments or military cooperation between the major occidental and Russian states. On the one hand it means the establishment of a partnership and increased consultation between NATO and Moscow over military and strategic questions, but above all this has been the chance for the US and Russia to lay the foundations for a new understanding. In effect, this rapprochement is the fruit of both an American diplomacy attempting to gain Russias support in its fight against terrorism and the Axis of evil, and Vladimir Putins desire to make Russia a key factor in the management of international affairs. This agreement is a skilful diplomatic manoeuvre for the Americans: the Bush administration, by its rapprochement with Putin, normalises its relationship with Russia which still bears the scars of a reciprocal mistrust. Most importantly, Washington can go into central Asia, previously the backyard of the USSR, without any hang-ups and even benefiting from Moscows benevolence. Due to their present power, the tactic used by the Americans seems perfectly normal, but Russias position has really evolved. Farewell dreams of power, the hour has come to make room for realism.

Russia, a Eurasiatic regional power

Since last Mays summit, Russia has recognised that its opposition on principle to NATO as an instrument of American hegemony was futile. Its participation in the NATO-Russia council and acceptation of the possibility of communal action shows that Russia no longer considers NATO an alliance led against her. Thus far, this has been the constraint to a moderation of its opposition to the integration of the central and oriental European countries (PECO) in an Atlantic alliance. Most importantly, Russia has been forced to recognise that she does not have the means to prevent any future expansion of NATO. In any case, enlargement will occur with or without Russia. Here Moscow is paying a symbolically high price, Russia is now no longer anything but a regional power, but the best way for Russia to prevent itself from being excluded from the evolution of NATO is to continue to participate within it. And it is exactly here that Putin achieves his objectives. He has obtained what is in effect the right to oversee the affairs of NATO and fulfil the Russian dream of having a foot in the door of the Atlantic Alliance. Most importantly, he has become even closer with the rich western world, in particular the United States, thus guaranteeing the support of the international community and, most importantly, access to financial resources which Russia desperately needs. The US has accorded Moscow the stature of a regional, and potentially powerful, force in Eurasia. In rallying himself with the concept of the struggle against terrorism Putin has managed to make the Bush administration turn a blind eye to Russian repression in Chechnya, as well as recognise her sovereignty and freedom of action in her territory In brief, Putin has a free hand at home and Bush can move without fear into the backyard of Russia!

Europe, the eternal subordinate

And where is Europe in all this? She is notably absent from these negotiations, well-aware that the world is organising itself around her but unable to make the blindest bit of difference. She does nothing except ratify American decisions, bogged down as she is by the political disagreements created by the European negotiations on questions surrounding a daily hell. Central Asia, the war on terrorism, but above all the expansion of NATO to PECO, are the subjects which interest Europe. It is paradoxical that on questions concerning security, the European Union doesnt have a say. Despite the end of the Cold War and the confrontation between East and West which justified the presence of the US in Europe to assure its security and to struggle against the old enemy, the US still affirms itself more as the European power in matters of security and defence. It is they who take the decisions and they who bear the cost. Europe feels the effects of these decisions passively, without having the right to be involved. The recognition of Russia as an interlocutor by the US is at the expense of Europe for whom the position not of partner but of subordinate is reserved.

The NATO-Russia summit is yet another symptom of the powerlessness of Europe and her exclusion from the international scene. Europe is a part of the Alliance but in reality possesses less power than Russia on the continent. In the same manner, Europe is participating in the actions in Afghanistan, but her opinion matters less than that of Moscow. It is here that the irony of history, which has made Europe an economic giant but now a political dwarf, is clear.