America, a European Power

Richard Holbrooke. Foreign Affairs. Volume 74, Issue 2, March 1995.

President Clinton made four trips to Europe last year. This commitment of presidential time and attention underlines an inescapable but little-realized fact: the United States has become a European power in a sense that goes beyond traditional assertions of America’s “commitment” to Europe. In the 21st century, Europe will still need the active American involvement that has been a necessary component of the continental balance for half a century. Conversely, an unstable Europe would still threaten essential national security interests of the United States. This is as true after as it was during the Cold War.

I do not intend, of course, to suggest that nothing has changed. The end of the Cold War, which can best be dated to that symbolic moment at midnight on December 25, 1991, when the Soviet flag came down over the Kremlin for the last time, began an era of change of historic proportions. Local conflicts, internal political and economic instability, and the return of historical grievances have now replaced Soviet expansionism as the greatest threat to peace in Europe. Western Europe and America must jointly ensure that tolerant democracies become rooted throughout all of Europe and that the seething, angry, unresolved legacies of the past are contained and solved.

The Fourth Architectural Moment

Only three times since the French Revolution has Europe peacefully reshaped its basic security architecture. Today, the continent is in the middle of nothing less than the fourth such moment in the last two centuries. The first post-Napoleonic security architecture for Europe, designed in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, helped prevent all-out continental war for 99 years. The young United States, having fought two wars with England in only 40 years, successfully kept its distance, but for the last time.

In the second period of redesign, at Versailles in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson played a central role, but the United States withdrew almost immediately from the very structures it had helped create, thereby weakening them and thus virtually guaranteeing the tragic resumption of total war 20 years later. When the third opportunity arose in 1945, the great powers initially built a system based on Yalta, Potsdam, and the United Nations. But starting in 1947, when the leaders of the West realized that this system would not suffice to stem Soviet expansion, they created the most successful peacetime collective security system in history, centered around the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, NATO, Atlantic partnership—and American leadership.

This creative architecture reflected the underlying goals of America’s postwar engagement in Europe. Its post-Cold War engagement must focus again on structures, old and new. This time, the United States must lead in the creation of a security architecture that includes and thereby stabilizes all of Europe—the West, the former Soviet satellites of central Europe, and, most critically, Russia and the former republics of the Soviet Union.

All the key participants in the new security equation in Europe—the United States, the West and central European countries, and the other nations of the former Soviet Union—desire a peaceful, stable, and democratic Russia, integrated into the institutions of an undivided Europe. No more important political goal has existed in Europe since a newly democratic West Germany was successfully integrated into the European political and security structure after World War II. It is for this and other reasons that the crisis in Chechnya, discussed more fully below, has been so disturbing.

Fortunately, most of the great structures of the postwar period offer a usable foundation for building stability. The essential challenge is to maintain their coherence, project their influence, and adapt to new circumstances without diluting their basic functions.

Measured on the post-World War II calendar, the United States is now slightly past the point in the late spring of 1947 when Secretary of State George C. Marshall made his historic speech at Harvard University. The Marshall Plan he outlined that day was not charity. Rather, it was a program of assistance and credits designed to stimulate cooperation among the European states. And it is important to remember that Marshall offered the plan not only to Western Europe but to the Soviet Union, which turned it down for itself and its satellites and instead embarked on a 45-year epoch that condemned an entire region to political and economic ruin.

Today, as after World War II, early euphoria has yielded to a more sober appreciation of the problems, new and old. The tragedy of Bosnia does not diminish the responsibility to build a new comprehensive structure of relationships to form a new security architecture. On the contrary, Bosnia, the greatest collective security failure of the West since the 1930s, only underscores the urgency of that task.

In 1947, Americans learned that those with the ability to preserve the peace have a special responsibility to assist in building stable structures in newly democratic neighbors. Then only the United States was secure and prosperous enough to offer Western Europe the assistance it needed. Today an equally prosperous Western Europe (and Japan, which has a stake in and benefits from a stable Europe) will have to put up the bulk of the actual financial assistance, but the United States must continue to play a leading part. In the words of Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the central goal of the United States is “to help extend to all of Europe the benefits and obligations of the same liberal trading and collective security order that have been pillars of strength for the West.”

A final lesson of the Marshall Plan is equally important. Those receiving support must build their own futures. The new democracies must contribute to their own security through both responsible behavior toward neighbors and democracy-building from within. The United States understands, welcomes, and encourages the desire of new European democracies to join the West through membership in its key institutions. But NATO, the European Union (EU), and the other major institutions of the West are not clubs that one joins simply by filling out membership applications. Over time, each has evolved values and obligations that must be accepted by each new member.

The Challenge of Central Europe

Any blueprint for the new security architecture of Europe must focus first on central Europe, the seedbed of more turmoil and tragedy in this century than any other area on the continent. The two most destructive wars in human history began from events on its plains, and the Cold War played itself out in its ancient and storied cities, all within the last 80 years.

Other historic watersheds also have not treated this area well. First the treaties of Versailles and Trianon, then the agreements of Yalta and Potsdam, and finally the collapse of the Soviet empire—those three benchmark events left throughout central Europe a legacy of unresolved and often conflicting historical resentments, ambitions, and, most dangerous, territorial and ethnic disputes. Without democracy, stability, and free-market economies, these lands remain vulnerable to the same problems, often exacerbated by an obsession with righting historical wrongs, real or mythical. If any of these malignancies spread—as they have already in parts of the Balkans and Transcaucasus—general European stability is again at risk. And for Germany and Russia, the two large nations on the flanks of central Europe, insecurity has historically been a major contributor to aggressive behavior.

But if there are great problems there are also great possibilities. For the first time in history, the nations of this region have the chance simultaneously to enjoy stability, freedom, and independence based on another first: the adoption of Western democratic ideals as a common foundation for all of Europe. The emotional but also practical lure of the West can be the strongest unifying force Europe has seen in generations, but only if unnecessary delay does not squander the opportunity.

The West owes much of its success to the great institutions created in the 1940s and 1950s. They serve an important internal function for their members, and they also project a sense of stability and security to others. If those institutions were to remain closed to new members, they would become progressively more isolated from new challenges and less relevant to the problems of the post-Cold War world. It would be a tragedy if, through delay or indecision, the West helped create conditions that brought about the very problems it fears the most. The West must expand to central Europe as fast as possible in fact as well as in spirit, and the United States is ready to lead the way. Stability in central Europe is essential to general European security, and it is still far from assured.

The Building Blocks

The central security pillar of the new architecture is a venerable organization: NATO. To some, the 45-year-old Atlantic alliance may seem irrelevant or poorly designed for the challenges of the new Europe. To others, NATO’s extraordinary record of success may suggest that nothing needs to be changed. Both views are equally wrong. Expansion of NATO is a logical and essential consequence of the disappearance of the Iron Curtain and the need to widen European unity based on shared democratic values. But even before NATO expands, its strength and know-how are already playing an important role in building a new sense of security throughout Europe.

Designed decades ago to counter a single, clearly defined threat, NATO is only just beginning a historic transformation. NATO’s core purpose of collective defense remains, but new goals and programs have been added. Collective crisis management, out-of-area force projection, and the encouragement of stability to the east through the Partnership for Peace (PFP) and other programs have been undertaken. Command structures have been streamlined. Static forces formerly concentrated to meet a possible Soviet attack across central Europe have been turned into more lightly armed, mobile, and flexible multinational corps designed to respond to a different, less stable world.

Two new structures—the North Atlantic Cooperation Council and the PFP—are specifically designed to reach out to countries that are not NATO members. They deserve closer attention, especially the creative new concept so appropriately named the Partnership for Peace. In just one year, this innovative idea has become an integral part of the European security scene, but it remains somewhat misunderstood and underestimated. Contrary to a fairly widespread impression, PFP is not a single organization; rather, it is a series of individual agreements between NATO and, at last count, 24 other countries ranging from Poland to Armenia, including Russia. Each “partner” country creates an individual program to meet its own needs.

PFP is an invaluable tool that encourages NATO and individual partners to work together. It helps newly democratic states restructure and establish democratic control of their military forces and learn new forms of military doctrine, environmental control and disaster relief. In the future, it will provide a framework in which NATO and individual partners can cooperate in crisis management or out-of-area peacekeeping.

PFP proved its value immediately. In its first year of existence, allies and partners held joint military exercises in Poland, the Netherlands, and the north Atlantic. Ten partners have already established liaison offices with the NATO military command. Sixteen partners have begun joint activities with NATO, and others will follow. A defense planning and review process has been established within the partnership to advance compatibility and transparency between allies and partners. PFP is also a vehicle for partners to learn about NATO procedures and standards, thus helping each partner make an informed decision as to whether it wishes to be considered for membership in the alliance.

From the alliance perspective, PFP will provide a valuable framework for judging the ability of each partner to assume the obligations and commitments of NATO membership—a testing ground for their capabilities. And for those partners that do not become NATO members the PFP will provide a structure for increasingly close cooperation with NATO—in itself an important building block for European security. If U.S. hopes are realized, and the first year gives every reason to be optimistic, the PFP will be a permanent part of the European security scene even as NATO expands to take in some, but not all, PFP members.

Expanding NATO

No issue has been more important, controversial, or misunderstood than whether NATO should remain an alliance of its 16 current members or expand, and if it expands, why, where, when, and how. At the beginning of an important year on this issue, it is useful to clarify where the United States stands, and where it is going.

In essence, 1994 was the year in which, led by the United States, NATO decided it would eventually expand. This decision was reached during the January NATO summit in Brussels and reaffirmed by President Clinton during his return to Europe last June, when he stated that the question was no longer whether NATO would expand but how and when.

Last December, the NATO foreign ministers met again in Brussels, and, again led by the United States, they committed themselves to a two-phase program for 1995. During the first part of this year, NATO will determine through an internal discussion that is already under way the rationale and process for expanding the new, post-Cold War NATO. Then, in the months prior to the December 1995 ministerial meeting, NATO’s views on these two issues—”why” and “how”—will be presented individually to PFP members who have expressed an interest in such discussions. This critical step will mark the first time detailed discussions on this subject have taken place outside the alliance. Then the ministers will meet again in Brussels in December and review the results of the discussions with the partners before deciding how to proceed.

This process, which at every stage requires the agreement of all 16 NATO members, is still in its initial stages. It is not yet widely understood. Given the importance of NATO, it is not surprising that some outside observers wish to accelerate the process while others do not want it to commence at all. The Clinton administration and its NATO allies, after some initial disagreements, have chosen a gradual and deliberate middle course—and have begun the process.

Several key points should be stressed:

* First, the goal remains the defense of the alliance’s vital interests and the promotion of European stability. NATO expansion must strengthen security in the entire region, including nations that are not members. The goal is to promote security in central Europe by integrating countries that qualify into the stabilizing framework of NATO.

* Second the rationale and process for NATO’s expansion, once decided, will be transparent, not secret. Both Warsaw and Moscow, for example, will have the opportunity to hear exactly the same presentation from NATO later this year, and both should have access to all aspects of the alliance’s thinking in order to understand that NATO should no longer be considered an anti-Russian alliance. As former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, an advocate of rapid expansion, wrote in the January/February 1995 issue of Foreign Affairs, “Neither the alliance nor its prospective new members are facing any imminent threat. Talk of a ‘new Yalta’ or of a Russian military threat is not justified, either by actual circumstances or even by worst-case scenarios for the near future. The expansion of NATO should, therefore, not be driven by whipping up anti-Russian hysteria that could eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

* Third, there is no timetable or list of nations that will be invited to 301n NATO. The answers to the critical questions of who and when will emerge after completion of this phase of the process.

* Fourth, each nation will be considered individually, not as part of some grouping.

* Fifth, the decisions as to who joins NATO and when will be made exclusively by the alliance. No outside nation will exercise a veto.

* Sixth, although criteria for membership have not been determined, certain fundamental precepts reflected in the original Washington treaty remain as valid as they were in 1949: new members must be democratic, have market economies, be committed to responsible security policies, and be able to contribute to the alliance. As President Clinton has stated, “Countries with repressive political systems, countries with designs on their neighbors, countries with militaries unchecked by civilian control or with closed economic systems need not apply.”

* Lastly, it should be remembered that each new NATO member constitutes for the United States the most solemn of all commitments: a bilateral defense treaty that extends the U.S. security umbrella to a new nation. This requires ratification by two-thirds of the U.S. Senate, a point that advocates of immediate expansion often overlook.

A Broad Concept of Security

NATO expansion cannot occur in a vacuum. If it did, it would encourage the very imbalances and instabilities it was seeking to avoid. In addition to NATO, a variety of organizations and institutions must contribute to the new structure of peace. The new architecture should involve both such institutions as NATO and the EU, which strive for true integration among members, and others such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which provide a wide, inclusive framework for looser forms of cooperation.

Although the EU is primarily a political and economic entity, it also makes an important contribution to European security. The integration of West European nations has virtually transcended the territorial disputes, irredentist claims, social cleavages, and ethnic grievances that tore apart European societies in earlier eras.

The extension of the EU eastward (and southward, if Cyprus and Malta join) will therefore be immensely important. It will integrate and stabilize the two halves of Europe. This process began with the entry of Austria, Finland, and Sweden at the beginning of this year. Europe agreements committed the EU and six central European nations to industrial free trade on January 1, 1995, except in steel and textiles, which will follow in 1996 and 1998. Slovenia and the Baltic states are expected to sign similar agreements soon. In December, the EU heads of state and government agreed on a “pre-accession” strategy for eventual entry, presumably sometime early in the next century, of the central European states, Cyprus, and Malta. For Germany, which, in Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s powerful phrase, “cannot remain indefinitely Europe’s eastern boundary,” the extension of the EU is especially important, which is why Germany led this move during its term in the EU presidency.

Expansion of NATO and the EU will not proceed at exactly the same pace. Their memberships will never be identical. But the two organizations are clearly mutually supportive. Although the relationship between NATO and the EU is complex, particularly as the EU seeks to define its relationship with the WEU to create a European defense identity, It is clearly mutually supportive; the expansion of both are equally necessary for an undivided and stable Europe.

It would be self-defeating for the WEU to create military structures to duplicate the successful European integration already achieved in NATO. But a stronger European pillar of the alliance can be an important contribution to European stability and transatlantic burden-sharing, provided it does not dilute NATO. The WEU establishes a new premise of collective defense: the United States should not be the only NATO member that can protect vital common interests outside Europe.

Strengthening the OSCE

Neither NATO nor the EU can be everything to everyone, and the other organizations above are focused on narrower issues. There is, therefore, a need in the new European architectural concept for a larger, looser region-wide security organization—smaller, of course, than the United Nations—that offers a framework for dealing with a variety of challenges that neither NATO nor the EU is designed to address, one that includes both NATO members and other countries on an equal basis.

Fortunately, the core for such a structure has existed for some years—the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Its 53-nation structure of human rights commitments, consultations, and efforts at cooperative or preventive diplomacy was intended to fill a niche in the new Europe. Born out of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, the CSCE unexpectedly provided, through its famous Basket III, a lever on human rights and democratic values that played a major role in undermining communism. But it was clear by the middle of last year that the CSCE, while offering intriguing possibilities, had neither the internal coherence nor the political mandate to meet the challenges facing it.

Moscow and the major NATO allies shared this view. By the fall of last year, all had agreed that as NATO began to look at expansion, the CSCE should be strengthened and upgraded. A significant evolution of this organization, including a name change, began in December 1994 at the Budapest summit attended by President Clinton and Secretary Christopher. The result was a series of steps toward a clearer political and operational mandate, a strengthened consultative apparatus, and a new status. The old “conference” became a full-fledged “organization,” and the OSCE was born.

The role of the new OSCE must now be more clearly established. Rather than enforcing behavior through legal or military action, it seeks to improve security by building new forms of cooperation based on consensus. With a membership that literally spans all 24 time zones and a huge array of cultures and nations, OSCE members will often disagree on how its standards are to be implemented. Taking such disagreement as a given, the OSCE must be more aggressive in the search for common ground.

Today security in Europe requires addressing potential conflicts earlier. The OSCE must prove its worth in this area, as the CSCE did in spreading democratic values and legitimizing human rights. The organization has pioneered efforts, however limited, at conflict prevention and crisis management through innovations such as establishing a high commissioner for national minorities and sending resident missions to conflict areas. More must be done.

The United States has taken the lead in pursuing innovations within the OSCE. In the future, the United States will make more vigorous use of the OSCE’s consultative and conflict prevention mechanisms. The goal is to establish the OSCE as an integral element of the new security architecture. In a time of great burdens for the United Nations, the OSCE, as a regional organization under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, can perform many functions normally expected from the United Nations. The participation of U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in the OSCE Budapest summit underlined the importance of such cooperation.

Under no circumstances can the OSCE be a substitute for NATO or the EU. The OSCE can in no way be superior to NATO; the functions of the two organizations are and shall remain entirely different. Conversely, expansion of the role of the OSCE does not conflict with the responsibilities of NATO. Its methods occupy a totally different dimension than those of NATO.

A recent example of this function was the agreement reached at Budapest between Russia and the OSCE to merge negotiating efforts on the difficult issue of Nagorno-Karabakh and provide peacekeeping troops once a political agreement is reached—important steps on the OSCE’s path to becoming a more meaningful organization. More recently, the Russians agreed to an OSCE fact-finding mission on Chechnya. The very fact that Moscow accepted OSCE involvement is significant, but this involvement came far too late and is too limited.

Without question Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation. At the same time, the United States has maintained from the outset that the Russian government should adhere to international standards, enshrined in OSCE resolutions and elsewhere, of respect for human rights. Tragically and unnecessarily, the Russian government prosecuted its military campaign against the city of Grozny in ways certain to cause large numbers of civilian casualties and hinder humanitarian assistance.

The West’s overall objective in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union remains integration—bringing emerging democracies into the fold of Western political, economic, and security institutions. From the beginning of the battle for Grozny, Chechnya worked in exactly the opposite direction for Russia. Chechnya also has proved a deeply divisive element in Russian political life and has become a serious setback or the cause of reform, democratization, and the evolution of the Russian Federation as a stable, democratic, multiethnic state. The Chechnya conflict, terrible though it is, has not changed the nature of U.S. interests. President Clinton stated in January that, as Russia undergoes a historic transformation, reacting reflexively to each of the ups and downs that it is bound to experience, perhaps for decades to come, would be a terrible mistake. If the forces of reform are embattled, the United States must reinforce, not retreat from, its support for them.

The U.S. objective remains a healthy Russia—a democratic Russia pursuing reform and respecting the rights of its citizens, not fragmenting into ethnic conflict and civil war. America’s ability to pursue and develop its partnership with Russia depends on a common pursuit of these values and objectives. The reason Russia has qualified as a friend and partner of the United States is that its people and government have embarked on a path of democratization, development of an open civil society, and respect for basic human rights. That is what the United States continues to support in Russia.

Russia and Ukraine

To repeat: if the West is to create an enduring and stable security framework for Europe, it must solve the most enduring strategic problem of Europe and integrate the nations of the former Soviet Union, especially Russia, into a stable European security system. Russia is already involved in most aspects of the emerging architecture. It participates actively in the OSCE and worked closely with the United States in upgrading that organization. Russia has signed an ambitious partnership agreement with the EU. It has joined the Partnership for Peace with NATO. It is a candidate for membership in the Council of Europe. The United States supports deeper Russian participation in the Group of Seven industrialized nations and is sponsoring Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization, successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. For the first time since 1945, Russia is participating, as a member of the Contact Group on Bosnia, in a multinational negotiating team presenting a unified position on a difficult security issue.

Enhancement of stability in central Europe is a mutual interest of Russia and the United States. NATO, which poses no threat to Russian security, seeks a direct and open relationship with Russia that both recognizes Russia’s special position and stature and reinforces the integrity of the other newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. There have been proposals, including one by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in late 1993, for a special arrangement between NATO and Russia, which could take a number of forms. In urging rapid expansion of NATO, Brzezinski proposed in his Foreign Affairs article a “formal treaty of global security cooperation between NATO and the Russian Federation,” in conjunction with an upgrade of the OSCE.

Any negotiations between NATO and Russia on this or any other arrangement would be quite complex. They would need to take into account a wide range of factors, including the pace of NATO expansion, the state of other Russian-NATO ties such as the Partnership for Peace, the degree to which the OSCE has been turned into a more useful organization, and the implications of events such as the fighting in Chechnya. Notwithstanding this array of issues, the U.S. government as well as its major allies have supported development of this important new track in the European security framework. Informal discussions of this possibility, while in a highly preliminary phase, began in January when Secretary Christopher met in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev.

Any such arrangement must consider the special case of Ukraine. Its geostrategic position makes its independence and integrity a critical element of European security. In Budapest last December, President Clinton and the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine exchanged documents of ratification for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, formally bringing START I into force. At the same time, Ukraine also deposited its instrument of accession to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom provided security assurances to Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

The basic goals of those seeking to take advantage of this moment in history are the expansion of democracy and prosperity, the integration of political and security institutions, and a unity that has always eluded Europe, even with American involvement. Leaders will have to lead to break through the layers of ambivalence, confusion, complacence, and history that inhibit reforms. As the great architect of European unity, Jean Monnet, observed, “Nothing is possible without men, but nothing is lasting without institutions.” The efforts of Monnet, Marshall, and others produced unparalleled peace and prosperity for half a century—but for only half a continent. The task ahead is as daunting as its necessity is evident. To turn away from the challenge would only mean paying a higher price later.