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Cooperative Security: Waning Influence in the Eastern Neighbourhood

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 91-99)

8. Cooperative Security: Waning Influence in the

1999 Strategic Concept,1 where the concept did not assume any central position, arguably reflecting a reorientation of NATO’s influence-seeking strategies. The 2010 Concept emphasises cooperative security as one of the three so-called core tasks for the Alliance (§4), hence in principle giving equal importance to collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. The concept is further reiterated in relation to NATO’s enlargement policy (§27). The aim of cooperative security must therefore be taken seriously as a key task through which the Alliance tries to define itself and seeks to exert international influence beyond its borders. The importance of cooperative security is particularly reflected in the Strategic Concept in paragraphs 4 and 27:

“Cooperative security. The Alliance is affected by, and can effect, political and security developments beyond its borders. The Alliance will engage ac-tively to enhance international security, through partnerships with relevant countries and other international organisations […]; and by keeping the door to membership in the Alliance open to all European democracies that meet NATO’s standards”. 2

“NATO’s enlargement has contributed substantially to the security of Allies: the prospect of further enlargement and the spirit of cooperative security have advanced stability in Europe more broadly. Our goal of a Europe whole and free, and sharing common values, would be best served by the eventual integration of all European countries that so desire into Euro-Atlantic structures”.3

Cooperative security follows a long established tradition in the Alliance introduced with the Harmel Report in 1966. The concept has a clear ideological underpinning, which became increasingly visible after the end of the Cold War where common values and democracy promotion became intrinsically connected to enlargement and as means of establishing strategic partnerships through a ring of democratic friends and a growing ‘zone of democracy’. Arguably, this has been one of NATO’s most successful policies resulting in an elaborate institutional framework for managing a wide range of different relationships with third countries and result-ing in the enlargement of the Alliance to its present 28 member states. The 2010 Strategic Concept takes specific note of Ukraine and Georgia, reiterating the declaration of the 2008 Bucharest Summit that the two states, some time in the future, will become members of NATO.4 This is an interesting step in light of the obvious limitations that exist today with regard to any realistic integration of these two countries into NATO following the democratic backlashes and the political crises that have occurred in both countries. Moreover, in the cases of Belarus and

Moldova, the aim of affecting influence through cooperative security faces an even tougher challenge.

All four states represent ‘hard cases’ in the sense that they are increasingly immune to NATO’s self-declared intention of playing a role as a political and security actor and that they each present NATO with very specific challenges through differences in aspirations and domestic politics. A changed strategic balance in favour of Russia is part of the explanation for NATO’s declining influence. In all four cases serious doubts therefore exist about whether the ambitions expressed in the 2010 Strategic Concept are actually realistic.

Georgia and Ukraine

Both Georgia and Ukraine seemed on a fast track towards NATO membership in the mid-2000s after the initial positive experiences with the ‘colour’ revolutions against the old Soviet elites. A new pro-Western course coupled with democratic progress nourished high expectations for the integration of the two countries in Euro-Atlantic structures.

The Russo-Georgian War in 2008 occurred as a landmark event which revealed the real dangers of hasty enlargement plans to include geopolitically exposed countries.

In a scenario where Georgia would have been a full-fledged NATO member at the time of the outbreak of the war, the result could have been a situation where the Alliance would either face military confrontation with Russia or refuse to bring military assistance to Georgia – which in turn would expose the enlargement plans as a huge bluff with the risk of undermining the credibility of the Alliance’s collective defence clause. As later certified by independent investigations,5 Georgia had a main responsibility in initiating the actual actions of war against South Ossetia, thus further nourishing the doubts about enlargement and the wisdom of issuing security guaran-ties to unstable countries with internal conflicts where it is hard to determine ‘who fired the first shot’. NATO accession now represents a distant promise for Georgia, which however maintains membership as long-term strategic goal.

Georgia is an interesting case as NATO continues to upkeep strategic leverage in the country in spite of Russian recognition of and de facto control over both Abkhazia and South Ossetia – and not least despite Georgia’s distant membership prospects.

This is so primarily because of large amounts of, in particular American, assistance to the country6, which allows Georgia to still look to the West for foreign support.

Georgian aspirations for closer association with NATO, however, are complicated by the democratic standstill in the country. It is increasingly evident that the ‘rose’

revolution in 2003 did not bring about the grand democratic changes that many had hoped for. President Saakashvili has been exposed to criticism for his increasingly authoritarian methods, especially regarding freedom of the media and his violent crackdowns on demonstrators.7 In addition, Saakashvili bears a strong personal re-sponsibility for taking the first step towards the military invasion of South Ossetia in 2008, leading to the disastrous military defeat against Russia and the de facto loss of the two breakaway republics.

Ukraine’s political development bears many resemblances to Georgia’s. Ukraine’s

‘orange’ revolution in 2004–05 brought about important constitutional changes but quickly resulted in political rivalries between the coalition parties and their ability to deliver political results. This led to the return of Yanukovich from the ‘ancien régime’

already in the subsequent presidential elections in 2010, which was a significant blow in light of the widespread expectations of the ‘orange’ revolution as a spark of democratic change within the post Soviet sphere and as a means of anchoring Ukraine within the transatlantic security community. Contrary to his predecessor Yushchenko, who made NATO accession a foreign policy priority, Yanukovich has declared Ukraine non-aligned and has thus in practice ended Ukraine’s bid for NATO membership.

Moreover, Yanukovich has extended the agreement with Russia on her Black Sea fleet harbouring in Sevastopol for another 25 years, leading to significant improvements in the relationship with Russia.8 In addition, Ukraine has suffered particularly hard from the financial/economic crisis with a severe contraction of the economy and within the foreseeable future Ukraine is therefore likely to remain inwardly focused on economic recovery and stable energy provisions from Russia. While in Georgia NATO still seems to uphold leverage, the political development in Ukraine points first and foremost to close strategic partnership with Russia at the resulting expense of the kind of partnership that NATO aims at in the 2010 Strategic Concept.

Belarus and Moldova

Whereas Georgia and Ukraine have been examples in the eastern neighbourhood of rapid change and instability, Belarus has been characterised by marked political status quo ever since the country was set on the authoritarian path with the rise to power of Lukashenko in 1994. The gradual ‘disappearance’ of a viable political op-position and civil society in the country and the violent crackdowns on demonstrators

and arrests of leading opposition figures in spite of international condemnations in connection with the 2010 presidential elections are witness to the regime’s practical immunity to outside interference. The recent elections, which unsurprisingly secured Lukashenko another term in power, and the remarkable stability of the regime, seem to indicate that NATO’s (and the EU’s) ability to leverage influence in Belarus will remain depressingly limited. For example, the EU’s experiences with failing attempts to influence the Lukashenko regime with the use of both sticks and carrots (visa bans and trade incentives) is illustrative of the lack of influence of any Western power on Belarusian politics. The number one strategic partner for Belarus remains Russia – despite occasional political clashes, Belarus is highly dependent on the economic ties and energy supplies from the Russian neighbour. There seems to be little or noth-ing that NATO can offer to initiate any substantial partnership intended to affect Belarus’s foreign strategies or alter the incentives for domestic reforms.

The fourth ‘hard case’ for NATO’s ambitions of cooperative security is Moldova, which has also exhibited interesting political developments. Until recently Moldova was overwhelmingly dominated by the Communist party and seemed just as much outside the reach of Western influence as Belarus has always been. However, since the burning of the Moldovan parliament and the storming of the presidential build-ing by angry anti-Communist demonstrators in April 2009, the country has been marked by considerable political instability. Several re-elections have failed to solve the constitutional deadlock by gathering enough parliamentary mandates behind the election of a candidate for the presidency, which controls the country’s foreign and security policy.9 The country is headed by a coalition government, the ‘Alliance for European Integration’, which at least rhetorically advocates a ‘balanced’ foreign policy. The coalition, on the other hand, has opposed any move to join NATO.10 The events in Moldova are interesting as they show how seeming stability with post Soviet incumbents in power can come to an abrupt end offering possible windows of opportunity for reform. On the other hand, apart from ousting the Communists from office, the current government has so far been able to achieve little in terms of democratic progress.11 At the end of the day, Moldova is so economically integrated with the other CIS countries that political detachment from Russia is highly unlikely – Moldova is deeply dependent on Russia, both as an export market and as an en-ergy supplier. Most important is, however, the breakaway republic of Transnistria, whose de facto independence from Moldova today remains militarily guaranteed by Moscow with the presence of a major peacekeeping contingent in the separatist republic – an obvious parallel to Georgia’s pre-war situation. The Moldovan

govern-ment is therefore very unlikely to take any move that would upset Moscow. From NATO’s perspective, strategic partnership with Moldova that would live up to the ambitions of the Strategic Concept seems far-fetched for as long as Russia maintains the zero-sum logic that NATO influence gained is equal to lost Russian influence in her ‘near abroad’.

Partnerships for what?

The Russo–Georgian war in 2008 and the broken illusions of the ‘colour’ revolutions in both Georgia and Ukraine became the turning point in NATO’s relations with the eastern neighbourhood countries. Leaving the ‘hard’ geopolitics aside, Russia’s influence in the eastern neighbourhood is also based on a shared history, strong cul-tural ties and a significant amount of soft power such as access to the Russian labour market, visa-free regimes and the dominance of Russian media12 in comparison with which NATO and the West presently have little to offer.

At the same time institutions in themselves seem to have limited influence on NATO’s relations with third countries. All the ‘hard cases’ investigated in this chapter take part in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and all except Belarus take part in NATO’s Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), setting the frame for dialogue and coopera-tion between the parties. In addicoopera-tion, the specifically designed NATO–Georgia and NATO–Ukraine Commissions provide an additional institutional framework and supposedly closer relations and more opportunity for leveraging influence. However, in both cases little or no progress can be detected since their establishment, which certainly underlines the necessity for real political will on both sides as the primary driving force behind international change.

In practice it seems that realistic membership prospects remain NATO’s only effective tool to exert influence in the spirit of cooperative security. However, the only eastern neighbourhood country upholding this aspiration today is Georgia but as NATO is unlikely to initiate even the first steps towards membership (Membership Action Plan) within the foreseeable future, membership, and hence influence, seem rather distant. Distant membership for Georgia has always been advocated by NATO’s continental powers, notably France and Germany, and is now also supported by the Obama administration in a far more prudent approach to the question of NATO expansion eastwards. As a result the ambitions expressed in the 2010 Strategic Concept appear not to be directed towards NATO’s eastern neighbourhood, as these enlarge-ment plans seem to have been effectively shelved. This may leave states enthusiastic

for enlargement, notably Poland, disillusioned with NATO’s lack of ability to affect security development and spread democracy eastwards13 and it certainly raises seri-ous questions about the prospects for actually achieving cooperative security in the

‘hard cases’ in NATO’s eastern neighbourhood.

The implementation paradox

The ‘hard cases’ point to clear geographic limitations to NATO’s ability to establish effective partnerships that could leave the Alliance significant leverage as international actor. The above has sought to demonstrate a growing paradox between vision and reality vis-à-vis the eastern neighbourhood countries, where NATO’s influence has been significantly reduced after having been present for some time.

NATO seems aware of the problems and it may be that the planned overhaul of NATO’s partnership structure to be presented at the April 2011 Foreign Ministers meeting in Berlin14 will bring NATO’s ambitions and actual institutional structures for partnership more into line, if only for the reason that Georgia and Ukraine de facto no longer are prospective members. These ‘hard cases’ belong in the same category as other ‘hard cases’ – beginning with Moldova and Belarus – and not in the basket of willing NATO partners such as Sweden, Finland and Western Balkan countries.

What NATO must do now is to work with these categories of soft and hard – easy and difficult – partners and align political possibilities and ambition. NATO may not be able to formalise the distinction for political reasons but it should operationalise it nonetheless.

The security landscape in the eastern neighbourhood now is best described as a geo-political straitjacket made up of authoritarian geo-political traditions and regimes and cor-respondingly declining ambitions to join or cooperate with NATO. NATO’s principle of cooperative security writ large is therefore challenged on NATO’s doorstep. Given that cooperative security is listed as a core task, on a level with crisis management and the crucial collective defence principle, it leaves the Strategic Concept vulnerable on yet another ‘implementation’ front. A stronger geopolitical dimension in NATO’s partnership policies seems pertinent not only in the relationship to Russia but also vis-à-vis ‘emerging’ powers like India and China.


1 ‘The Alliance’s Strategic Concept’, Approved by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Washington D.C., 24 April 1999.

2 ‘Active Engagement, Modern Defence. Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’, Adopted by Heads of State and Government, Lisbon, 19 November 2010,


3 Ibid., § 27.

4 ‘Bucharest Summit Declaration’, Issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Bucharest, 3 April 2008.

5 ‘Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia’; http://www.ceiig.ch (accessed on 13 February 2011).

6 ‘Top 20 Benefiting Countries for Fiscal Year 2010’, USAID; http://www.usaid.gov/policy/budget/money/

(accessed on 13 February 2011): Georgia is ranked as number 11 among American top aid receivers which is remarkable given the small size of the Georgian population (4.3 million).

7 ‘Georgia’, David Aphrasidze, Nations in Transit, Freedom House, 2010.

8 ‘Ukraine drops NATO membership bid’, EUobserver, 4 June 2010.

9 ‘Farverevolution light’ (‘Colour Revolution Light’), Henrik Lindbo Larsen, Weekendavisen, 31 July 2009.

10 ‘Moldova Faces Continued Uncertainty’, The New York Times, 8 December 2009.

11 ‘Moldova’, Liliana Viţu, Nations in Transit, Freedom House, 2010.

12 ‘The Limits of Enlargement-Lite: European and Russian Power in the Troubled Neighbourhood’, Nico Popescu

& Andrew Wilson, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Report, 2009.

13 ‘‘Old’ versus ‘New’ Europe: the 2002–08 Straitjacket of European Geopolitics’, Hans Mouritzen, DIIS Working Paper 2010, n.10.

14 Lisbon Summit Declaration, § 27.

9. Three Questions for the Strategic Concept

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 91-99)