Piggy In The Middle: Eastern Europe Between Nato, Moscow And The ESDP

Article published on March 24, 2003
community published
Article published on March 24, 2003

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

The triumph of the capitalist ‘free world’ over Soviet Communism in the late 20th Century marked the beginning of a new stage in the construction of a European identity. Would the Old Continent once again stretch from the Atlantic to the Urals?

Institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, along with financial and technical assistance from the USA helped bring the planned economies of the former Soviet Bloc into line with those of the neo-liberal world.

But although the fall of Communism was applauded in the former Eastern bloc, the subsequent rapprochement between Eastern and Western Europe has not met with unconditional approval. While it is true that the prospect of entry into the European Union has received widespread and enthusiastic popular support in those CEE countries that hope to join in the near or not-so-distant future, there is a fear that closer political links with an increasingly assertive Europe could not only alienate the US but also create further tensions vis-à-vis Moscow, which continues to view European integration with ambivalence.

The debate is particularly heated on the subject of security and defence. A topic which has caused much controversy in Europe since the scrapping of the EDC back in 1954, the idea of an integrated European defence mechanism has raised fears that it represents a surrender of national sovereignty and could prevent member countries from defending their own interests if these conflicted with European priorities.

Despite these concerns, the ratification of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as part of the Treaty on European Union (1992) was largely welcomed. The subsequent elaboration of a Common European Security and Defence Policy (CESDP) as an integral part of CFSP has been a defining feature of the recent integration process.

But how will this new policy affect the Central and Eastern European (CEE) applicants? Will a strengthened European defence community lead to the much-apprehended fragmentation of NATO? And how will it affect the region’s relations with Russia, ex-policeman of the Eastern bloc?


The planned enlargement for 2004 will see the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia join the Union, with Bulgaria and Romania hoping to join in 2007. The notion of ‘acquis communautaire’, which prevents new member states from calling into question existing EU policies means that each of these countries will have to adapt to the constraints of CESDP without demur. This is by no means straightforward in those countries where loyalty to NATO remains strong and inspires a certain distrust of the institutions of the EU. Although the CESDP is intended as a complement to (and not as a substitute for) NATO, it is inevitable that the progressive development and integration of European military capabilities will lead to a change in the dynamics of the Euro-Atlantic relationship.

For a long time, American military planners looked upon the European attempts at collective security as quite unnecessary. Indeed, in the early 1990s, there was an assumption that the Europeans should and would develop a ‘European Security and Defence Identity’ (ESDI) within NATO. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe, unable to share in the benefits of European union, were not averse to NATO maintaining and furthering its dominance in the sphere of security. Enlargement of the North Atlantic Alliance to include countries of the former Soviet bloc was greeted with great excitement and there was a widely-held belief that collaboration with NATO (and implicitly the US) was more straightforward and potentially more beneficial than cooperation with the EU.

To Russia with love?

Turning eastwards, we come to the Russian Federation. Naturally, its policies regarding the states of Central and Eastern Europe have evolved somewhat since the days of the USSR. It has given the CESDP its cautious approval, mainly because of the latter’s potential to undermine NATO but also because the CESDP calls for Russian participation in the collective security effort. The European Union’s ‘Common Strategy’ on Russia creates a formal base for strategic cooperation between Russia and the European Union and alludes to the future establishment of a free trade area between the two.

However, whatever the official line might be Moscow remains suspicious of the European security community and has been accused of conducting campaigns of “disinformation” across Eastern Europe in order to undermine Western European policies. Additionally, Euroscepticism and pro-Moscow sentiment continue to run high in the countries of Eastern Europe, posing a contained but potentially damaging threat to Western integration in any form.

One very significant consequence of the 2004 enlargement is that it will bring the ‘powder keg’ of the Western Balkans into the European fold, if not as official members, then as close neighbours to the new border states of the Union. The ESDP is sure to have a certain spillover effect in these regions, if only psychological. Existing initiatives such as the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM), set up to keep an eye on political and security developments in the Balkans, can only gain greater legitimacy from more extensive cooperation within the EU. And as Slovenia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dimitri Rupel, has been keen to point out, the new Slavic members of the Union (Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland) will provide a useful bridge with the (potentially more volatile) Slavic regions in South Eastern Europe.

The weaknesses of the CESDP are many and diverse. Most problematically, it suffers from a chronic lack of funding due to the various member states’ reluctance to increase military spending. This poses a serious challenge to the Union’s presence on the international stage, as illustrated during the conflict in Bosnia Herzegovina and the Kosovo crisis. CESDP also threatens to weaken the American commitment to Europe and fuel Russian concerns that its sphere of influence is shrinking.

But these are not intractable problems and the CESDP will be vital for the future development of the European Union, not just as an international actor but also in the minds of her inhabitants, present and prospective. As the head of Polish diplomacy, Wadysaw Bartoszewski puts it: the CESDP will help “make the EU more credible for its citizens”.