Rethinking Europe

Rethinking Europe

Mini Teaser: Bring Russia into NATO; leave the rest to the Europeans.

by Author(s): Charles A. Kupchan

The Atlantic security order is on shaky ground. Bringing peace to the Balkans has proved costly and elusive, and the failure of NATO's air campaign to protect Kosovo from the regime in Belgrade has seriously tarnished the alliance. Even more worrisome, however, is the fact that its members have failed to offer a compelling strategic vision for the future. The end of protracted East-West rivalry requires that analysts and policymakers rethink the purpose of NATO and, more broadly, the logic of America's heavy-handed strategic role in Europe.

This rethinking entails addressing two sets of questions. First, where is NATO enlargement headed? Should the membership of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic be followed by successive waves of enlargement? Where does Russia fit into an Atlantic community defined, for now, by NATO's eastern frontier? Second, what should be the relationship between Europe's own process of integration and the evolution of the Atlantic security order? Can and should the United States remain "Europe's pacifier" indefinitely, or is the time approaching for Europe to begin putting into place its own security order?

Setting the Atlantic relationship on the right course entails proceeding with NATO enlargement. Rather than continuing to focus on adding members from Central Europe, however, NATO must make Russia's membership a top priority. For if NATO is to be the centerpiece of a new Atlantic security order, it must ultimately embrace all of Europe's major powers. At the same time, Europe must gradually assume much more of the burden of managing its own security. More self-reliance, whether or not the Europeans themselves want it, will become a necessity as the next century progresses, for American resources and leadership will be in much shorter supply than today. While it has the luxury of doing so, Europe needs to wean itself of its strategic dependence on the United States.

Russia in NATO

NATO should never have embarked on enlargement into Central Europe; the costs plainly outweigh the benefits. But now that enlargement has begun, sound strategic logic requires its continuation. Committing to enlargement is to commit to establishing NATO as the central vehicle for building a stable Europe. To halt its expansion at Poland's eastern border therefore makes no strategic sense. Instead, NATO must set its sights on drawing Russia itself into the alliance.

NATO should follow this course for three reasons. First, Russian inclusion is a condition for a durable peace. A central determinant of European stability in coming decades, perhaps the central determinant, will be whether Russia exercises its power in a benign or malign manner. During the critical period in Russia's transition from its present disorder to reassuming natural weight, the West should be doing all it can to support democratic reform and to expose Russians to the norms and attitudes that underpin the responsible conduct of foreign policy - tasks best accomplished with Russia inside, rather than excluded from, the NATO tent.

Second, integrating Russia into NATO will prevent the emergence of a new gray zone in the heart of Europe. Those states that lie between an enlarged NATO and Russia - the Baltics, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine - remain Europe's most fragile and vulnerable members. To halt NATO enlargement after the first wave would only exacerbate their security predicament. To the extent that any sort of strategic vision now exists among NATO members, it calls for the elimination of this gray zone through successive waves of NATO enlargement. But admitting these states into NATO sequentially from west to east would surely have the dangerous end result of isolating Russia. However much it is reassured about NATO'S benign intentions, Russia should not and would not stand by idly as every country on its western flank joins an opposing military bloc.

Third, Russia's entry into NATO would give the Atlantic community more influence over developments in Europe's east, where the key challenges of the coming decades will arise. At stake are the security of Russia's nuclear weapons and technology, Russia's relationship with China, the stability of Ukraine, and access to Caspian oil - interests that warrant deep Western engagement. Russia's relationship with its smaller neighbors, too, would be subject to the restraining effects of NATO's cooperative rules, helping to eliminate the residue of imperial ambition. In contrast, halting NATO enlargement at the frontier between Poland and Belarus would restrict the alliance from engaging in those parts of Europe where its peace-causing effects are most needed.

The Clinton administration, at least to judge by its rhetoric, has not ruled out Russia's eventual membership in NATO. In the President's words, "NATO's doors will remain open to all those willing to shoulder the responsibilities of membership." In reality, though, most officials do not take seriously the notion of Russian membership. At best, the minority willing to entertain the idea puts Russia at the end of a long queue, behind all the countries to its west.

Russia should be moved close to the front of the queue. To buy time for Russian democracy to deepen and for its economy to recover and mature, a small second wave of enlargement, one not likely to provoke Russia (Slovenia, Austria and Romania are prime candidates), should begin immediately. But the third wave should include Russia - so long as its economic and political circumstances improve - perhaps even accompanied by its three Baltic neighbors. Barring the collapse of the reform process, 2010 would seem a reasonable target date for Russia's entry into NATO.1

The proposal to integrate Russia into NATO faces three main objections: that Russia is not interested in NATO membership; that Russia is headed toward collapse; and that Russia's entry into NATO would fundamentally alter the character of the alliance.

As to the first objection, Moscow remains uninterested in joining NATO in large part because it continues to see the alliance as an anti-Russian organization. This perception stems from NATO'S persistence as a traditional military alliance and its purposeful aggregation of capability against - who else? - Russia. Were NATO to redefine its core mission and make clear its intention to include Russia, Russian perceptions of the alliance would evolve accordingly.

While the claim that Russian reform has veered off track has substance, it is far too soon to write Russia off. On the contrary, there are three potent reasons to remain cautiously optimistic about Russia's future and hence to entertain seriously the notion that it will be ready to join NATO within a decade.

First, Russia is not coming apart at the seams. Although the country's regions are growing more powerful at the expense of the central government, devolution, on balance, contributes to the stability and integrity of the country. The strengthening of regional governors has brought a definitive end to the authoritarian state. In certain regions, democratic accountability, interest group formation, pluralist debate, entrepreneurship and market development are faring much better than at the national level. Indeed, these wealthier and more progressive regions may well emerge as the anchors of a decentralized Russian state.

Although the central government has lost its power more by default than by design, devolution will not soon become fragmentation. Moscow retains control of the military. It also remains the country's financial center, to which regional governments and firms turn for subsidies and capital. And if residents in the regions want more autonomy, most do not wish for independence. Ethnic Russians, who comprise roughly 82 percent of the population, remain firmly committed to an integral state.

Second, democracy and civil society, although still primitive, have begun to take root throughout Russia. Elections are today a matter of course. Voters choose from numerous candidates whose views range across the political spectrum. The media are relatively free and open debate the norm. Needless to say, Russia is not yet a liberal democracy. But there are good reasons to believe that the liberalizing forces that have swept from Europe's west to its east will with time take firmer hold.

Third, Russia is no longer an adversary of the West. It poses no military threat whatsoever to Central or Western Europe. Even ardent nationalists recognize that Central Europe has departed the Russian sphere. Although Russia has at times exercised its influence in the near abroad through coercive means, it has by no means attempted to reconstitute an imperial zone of domination. And to the extent that it barks at all, Russia's bark is much worse than its bite. Russia and China decry American hegemony, but do next to nothing to impede it. Despite confrontational rhetoric over NATO expansion, Iraq and the Balkans, Moscow has for the most part acceded to Western policy. Even while it condemned NATO's intervention in Yugoslavia and deployed a symbolic naval vessel to the Mediterranean, Russia continued to honor the arms embargo against Yugoslavia and kept its troops in NATO'S peacekeeping operation in Bosnia. Far from being an intractable adversary, Russia is at worst a prickly bystander - and at times a reluctant but, as the Kosovo crisis shows, a very useful partner.

It is true, of course, that Russian membership in NATO would dilute the alliance and alter its character. But in the absence of an external threat, NATO must transform itself if it is to remain relevant. Its focus on defending the territory of members needs to give way to an emphasis on peacekeeping and on deepening cooperation among former adversaries. Automatic and binding defense guarantees should be replaced by more informal commitments to protect common interests through common action. If NATO is to be a vehicle for building security across Europe, it should cease drawing new lines and focus instead on integrating all of Europe's democracies into a cooperative security community.

Such a broader but looser NATO would have the advantage of being in harmony with domestic political trends in current NATO countries - especially in the United States. The ratification of enlargement by the U.S. Senate should by no means be interpreted as a resounding confirmation of American internationalism. Most Americans paid very little attention to the issue, largely because the new commitments exist only on paper. Indeed, after four years of impressive efforts by the Clinton administration to sell enlargement to the electorate, only 10 percent of the public was able to name even one of the three countries just admitted to NATO.2

Nor does congressional reluctance to send U.S. troops to Bosnia and Kosovo augur well for its willingness to stand behind the military commitments of Article V just extended to new NATO members. Hungary, after all, is just to Serbia's north. It is troubling, to say the least, that most senators and representatives are so ready to grant nuclear guarantees to Hungary, but so reluctant to have U.S. soldiers in the Balkans. Over the long term, the United States is far more likely to stay put in Europe if it is able to choose its fights than if it finds itself with iron-clad treaty commitments to countries that most Americans could not find on a map. Europe Without Its American Pacifier?

The success of Russia's reform efforts and its integration into Western institutions would complete one of the most important transformations of the modern era: the democratization and pacification of all of Europe's great powers. But the emergence of such a democratic and stable Europe would put at risk one of the key sources of European peace: America's presence as an extra-regional balancer. The wider and deeper Europe's peace becomes, the more likely it is that the United States will focus its attention and resources elsewhere.

The prospect of a diminishing American role in managing European security is already causing concern in Europe. The central issue is not who will balance against Russia, however, but how the European project will fare if it can no longer rely on the United States as its strategic guarantor. In his 1984 article in Foreign Policy, "Europe's American Pacifier", Josef Joffe wrote that America's presence is central to preventing the return of national rivalries to Europe. Many contemporary scholars believe that his analysis still obtains, and that the continued viability of European integration depends on America's Continental commitment. But Europe cannot rely indefinitely on America's protective umbrella. The progressive pacification of Russia is only one of several factors that will induce the United States to lighten its load in Europe. The global diffusion of power, the end of unipolarity, the rise of China and a more inward-looking domestic politics in the United States all point to the redistribution or retraction of American power in coming years.

A world of multiple centers of power is looming ahead. Economic output in the United States has fallen from one-half to one-quarter of global product over the last five decades, and secular processes of diffusion will continue to redistribute economic and military might in the years ahead.3 A rising China and a Europe united by a single market and a single currency are emerging counterweights to American power. Assuming the European Union succeeds in deepening its level of integration and expanding its membership, it will wield influence on matters of finance and trade equal to America's. A more balanced strategic relationship should logically follow. Then, too, there are signs that the American polity may embrace a more sparing internationalism in coming years. As younger generations rise to positions of influence and constitute a larger share of the electorate, the formative experiences that have shaped today's internationalism - World War II and the Cold War - are receding into the past.

Europe is in fact further along in developing a self-sustaining regional order than is commonly recognized in the United States. While American power and purpose unquestionably made possible European integration and American guarantees enabled West Europeans to be comfortable with German recovery and rearmament, Europe is now to a significant extent running on its own steam.

The success of the European project stems from the fact that the Continent integrated itself internally at the same time that it was integrated into the Atlantic community of capitalist democracies. Germany dealt with its past and made peace with its neighbors, paving the way for a collective process of integration that has produced a dramatic result: the European Union. The degree of viability that the European polity has achieved stems in large part from the geopolitical transformation that accompanied integration. The Franco-German coalition has established itself as Europe's benign power center, with smaller states arraying themselves in concentric circles around this core, thereby replacing the destructive jockeying that plagued Europe during its long decades of multipolarity. In addition, through a host of institutions and practices - a European parliament, a common market, a single currency - EU members have gradually pooled their sovereignty, enabling the nation-state to exist comfortably alongside a supra-national union. That most of Europe's new democracies are now waiting impatiently for entry into the EU makes clear the appeal of this construction. And the prospect of entry in turn provides impetus for the resolution of disputes in Central and Eastern Europe.

Nor is Europe oblivious to the fact that it must begin to shoulder more responsibility on security matters. EU members have for years agreed on the need for a common foreign and defense policy - but have failed to follow up with concrete steps. The tide appears to be turning. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made a top priority the creation of a more robust European defense capability, able to act without the assistance of U.S. forces. Long a brake on integration, Britain now appears to be casting its lot with a more unified and influential Europe. The EU is also pursuing a host of measures on the defense front, including establishing a policy planning unit and appointing a high representative to oversee security policy. The main impetus behind these initiatives is not to undermine American influence in Europe. Rather, Europeans are becoming increasingly aware that their strategic dependence on the United States is unsustainable. As Tony Blair put it, "We Europeans should not expect the United States to have to play a part in every disorder in our own back yard."4 Better to prepare now than be left in the lurch when the United States decides to pass on some future crisis in Europe.

Despite good reasons for being optimistic about the European project, much remains to be done. Formidable obstacles stand in the way of a coherent European foreign and defense policy. Only a few years ago, Europe failed miserably when it tried to stop the fighting in Bosnia. On the economic front, structural rigidities and an overextended state sector continue to produce low growth and high unemployment, while both Germany and France lack the political will needed to carry out structural reform. Economic stagnation and political stalemate, if they continue, will damage the EU's coherence. So too does generational change pose a potential obstacle. For younger generations who lived through neither the horrors of World War II nor the formidable task of rebuilding Europe, escaping the past will no longer serve as a rationale for the European project. Elites will have to generate new arguments to ensure the integrity of the broader European polity.

At the same time that the United States takes the lead in expanding NATO and embracing Russia, it must also do what it can to strengthen the EU as an independent and durable center of power. Even if it comes at the expense of U.S. influence in Europe or trade across the Atlantic, a stronger and self-sustaining European polity is in America's long-term interests. Washington can further these interests by dealing with Germany and France collectively. (Britain should be included if Blair continues to move it closer to Europe.) The United States should encourage, rather than view suspiciously, efforts to strengthen Europe's own defense capabilities and initiatives such as the joint visit of Helmut Kohl and Jacques Chirac to Moscow last year. And rather than press European forces to join their U.S. counterparts in battling common threats wherever they emerge, Washington should encourage Europe to shoulder more of the burden in its own neighborhood. Subsidiarity is after all a principle of the new Europe and one that should be applied as much to security matters as to other issues. Europeans must consolidate peace on the Continent before they can afford to focus their attention elsewhere.

It is primarily up to the Europeans themselves to prepare for a more balanced Atlantic relationship. Reallocating defense spending is the top priority. Europe spends far too much on troops, and far too little on capability. (Europe's collective defense spending is about 60 percent of America's, but EU countries actually maintain more forces under arms.) The EU needs to reduce the size of its standing army, consolidate its defense industry, and build forces capable of operating independently of the U.S. military.

U.S.-European Rivalry?

The evolution of a stronger and more independent Europe is both desirable and inevitable. It is desirable because Europe's current level of strategic dependence on the United States cannot be sustained. It is inevitable because as Europe becomes a more formidable economic entity, it will aspire to a level of influence commensurate with its economic power.

The critical question for the future, then, is not whether Europe will rise as an independent power center, but what effect a self-possessed Europe will have on the character of relations across the Atlantic. History suggests that a more equal distribution of power between Europe and the United States will bring with it renewed geopolitical competition. The emergence of rivalry among poles of power is, after all, one of the few recurring truths of international politics.

Whether relative parity will indeed trigger rivalry between Europe and the United States depends in large part on what it is that keeps the current Atlantic relationship in such good shape. If, on the one hand, it is American preponderance that now holds competition in abeyance, then the rise of Europe promises to trigger geopolitical rivalry. When the power asymmetry comes to an end, so will European acquiescence. If, on the other hand, a shared commitment to democratic values and a common vision of an open, multilateral order are the foundation of the transatlantic community, then the West should easily weather a more equal distribution of power across the Atlantic. From this perspective, democratic norms and multilateral institutions will overwhelm the incentives on both sides of the Atlantic to engage in power balancing.5

My own assessment is that power asymmetry and shared norms and institutions are working together to produce the cohesiveness of the transatlantic community. Europe has been following America's lead in part because of U.S. preponderance, but also because it welcomes the particular brand of international order that the United States has crafted. As Europe matures and its aspirations broaden, more competition with the United States will follow. But this competition is likely to be muted and restricted largely to the economic realm. Optimism on this count stems from the following considerations.

The Atlantic democracies are far more than allies of convenience. They have succeeded in carving out a unique political space in which the rules of anarchic competition no longer apply. These states enjoy unprecedented levels of trust and reciprocity. It is hard to imagine that their interests would diverge sufficiently to trigger strategic rivalry. Indeed, armed conflict among the Atlantic democracies has become virtually unthinkable. These attributes of the Atlantic community are deeply rooted in the democratic character of its members and in the thick network of institutions they have erected to regulate their relations. The benign quality of the relationship between North America and Europe is thus unlikely to be threatened even by a quantitative shift in the balance of power.

The character of the emerging European polity also minimizes the potential for security competition between Europe and the United States. The European Union is primarily an instrument for managing the power of its member states, not for projecting it. Furthermore, even as integration proceeds, cultural and linguistic barriers are likely to prevent Europe from amalgamating into a single power. The decentralized nature of the emerging Europe wall further limit its willingness and ability to project power externally, thereby diminishing the risk of geopolitical competition with the United States.

Despite the low probability that Europe's rise will lead to estrangement with the United States, prudence dictates preventive measures. Any American effort to resist Europe's ascent as a power center, for example, would alienate Europeans and increase the chances of geopolitical rivalry. The United States and its European partners, then, should rely more heavily on multilateral practices and institutions. When Washington is no longer able to call the shots, it will have no choice but to turn to consensual governance and multilateral institutions to manage international order.

The current scope of America's preponderance - and the reliance of virtually every quarter of the globe on that preponderance - will not endure. While they have the luxury of doing so, the United States and its main regional partners should begin to imagine life after Pax Americana.

This perspective necessitates both a short-term and a long-term strategy for the Atlantic community. In the short term, the United States should continue to guide NATO's enlargement and its internal reform, ensuring Russia's eventual inclusion. Until Europe has the wherewithal to act on its own, the United States should also take the lead in NATO military operations. Over the long term, the United States and its NATO allies should take steps to facilitate the gradual devolution of responsibility to the European Union. A more balanced relationship between the United States and Europe, and a European security order that is more European and less Atlantic, hold out the best hope for preserving a cohesive transatlantic community. As the twenty-first century progresses, America must become Europe's partner, no longer its pacifier.

1 For further discussion of Russia's integration into NATO, see James Goodby, Europe Undivided (Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1998).

2 Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, "Public Opinion Leaders Favor Enlargement", October 7, 1997.

3 See Jeffrey Frankel, Regional Trading Blocs in the World Economic System (Washington, DC: Institute for International Economics, 1997), p. 6. Even if the U.S. economy grows at a healthy rate, America's share of world product will continue to decline as other large countries develop.

4 Speech at the Royal United Services Institute, March 8, 1999.

5 See John Ikenberry, "Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Persistence of American Postwar Order", International Security (Winter 1998/99).

Charles A. Kupchan is associate professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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