Whoever wins the election, Russia will remain an unpredictable neighbour for the west. Nato must expand eastwards but should encourage some states to become partners, not membersby Douglas Hurd / June 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Our greatest tribute to modern India is that we take its elections for granted. By contrast, a Russian election is still an amazing event on which all eyes will be fixed in June-amazing because it happens at all, because of the colourful personality of President Yeltsin and because we feel in an undefined way that our own future is caught up with the result.
The west has an evident interest in reform in Russia and reform for the last 11 years has been identified with a personality, first Mikhail Gorbachev, now Boris Yeltsin. So it is natural that in Moscow the west has given one candidate an encouraging shove, in a way it would not dream of doing in Delhi. The Chinese have done the same; that should give us pause. Certainly we need to move as fast as we can to a position in which western policy towards Russia does not depend on the result of a particular election, any more than policy towards Poland or Hungary depended on the result of the recent elections there. At the moment of writing, Yeltsin’s chances fluctuate day by day. If we were faced with a communist or nationalist president of Russia, media-led opinion in the west might panic, as if the clock were whirring back to the 1970s. Whoever the president of Russia, the relationship between Russia and the Atlantic alliance is the greatest single diplomatic and security problem for both, so this is a good time to re-view the prospects.
Progress towards political and economic freedom in Russia has probably reached the point of no return. Many Russians must look with envy at the Chinese system of economic liberalism combined with political authoritarianism. But the Chinese system cannot continue indefinitely in its present form. In any case the Chinese option is no longer open to a Russian president. It is one thing to control your press and imprison dissidents if neither has known anything else. But in Russia-whatever the grumbles-it is hard to imagine a return to political repression or a command economy. Yet the idea that Russia will progress smoothly to a liberal democracy with a market economy and a policy of co-operation with the west has also foundered. Instead, Russia is likely to enter a prolonged period of uncertainty, with patchy progress on the economic side and occasional convulsions which will seem to us in the west brutal or even threatening. Forging a relationship with such a giant will be difficult.
What is the parallel prospect for the Atlantic alliance? For about five years after the fall of the Berlin wall Nato went through a natural period of self-questioning. Because it had been devised as a means of averting a supposed threat from the Soviet Union and because that threat had dissolved, many argued that there was no longer a need for Nato. They assumed that the threat to Nato came from one source only. We have now passed that point in the debate. No one believes that the Soviet threat will return in anything like its old form. But we also know that the world will remain uncertain and that it would be foolish to throw away the secure defence Nato has provided. In short, we have rounded a tricky intellectual corner.
This is particularly evident in Europe. During the early part of my time as foreign secretary there were still voices echoing the old Gaullist theme that the US would leave Europe one day, that this was not necessarily a bad thing and that whatever our feelings about American withdrawal, we needed to prepare a purely European system of security. These voices are now silent. The need for effective arrangements in Bosnia this year provided President Chirac with the occasion, which he would probably have found anyway, to make a move towards full French participation in Nato. This in turn has brought within grasp an agreement on the concept of “combined joint task forces.” This allows European members of Nato-operating under the Western European Union-to borrow Nato assets while dealing with crises affecting their citizens, with the acquiescence, though not participation, of the US and Canada. If consummated, this agreement will wrap up the endless argument about a European defence identity.
There is one very obvious cause of friction between the Russia and the Nato I have just sketched. The existing members of Nato have no adequate grounds for denying membership to Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and possibly Slovenia. These countries share our democratic values. Their turbulent history proves to them the need for a better system of security than the huge and formless OSCE. They are as anxious to join Nato as they are to join the EU. They see both as successful proofs of a new kind of European history in which they are determined to take part. Nato is now examining the who and the when of enlargement. These four countries have shown solid adherence to the principles which underline Nato. To reject them would be unjust for them and dangerous for us.
We have to explain to our peoples that entry of new countries into Nato is not just a handshake. Extending the defence guarantee has serious security consequences for all alliance members. Ratification cannot be taken for granted, particularly in the US. The military decisions about the deployment of troops and weapons will be almost as significant as the political decision to welcome new members.
Of course my list of countries is a bit arbitrary. To the southeast and northeast of these is a further range of countries, equally anxious to join Nato: most of the Balkans, Slovakia and the Baltic states. Some of them are not established democracies. The question of full membership of Nato will not arise for them for some years yet. But it would be idle to deny that there is another obstacle to Nato enlargement. Sometimes Russian leaders denounce the enlargement of Nato in forthright terms, sometimes they equivocate. Their distaste, however expressed, is certain-regardless of who wins the presidential election. The west’s response to their objections should be clear and united.
What the Russians most dislike about western decision-making is surprise and obscurity. The most difficult visit I paid to Moscow was in February 1994 with John Major, immediately after a decision by Nato to take a more forward line in Bosnia. We found not so much that the Russians opposed this decision but that they bitterly resented that they had not been informed of it in advance. They felt that this put them in an impossible position before their own parliamentary and public opinion. We must reduce these surprises to a minimum. The Russians have no right to veto the membership of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic or others in Nato. The aim of enlargement is purely defensive. We have no desire to imitate Napoleon or Hitler. We are not fashioning a dagger to threaten Moscow. On the contrary, the effect of Nato membership on the stability of the countries concerned could help Russia. But it is reasonable that they should be kept fully informed. The slogan which Kozyrev and I put to Yeltsin, and by which he was momentarily persuaded was, “no veto, no surprises.” This slogan still has useful life in it.
After clarity, unity. Here the finger points to western Europe. Happily, work is going ahead within the council of ministers of the EU on an agreed policy on Russia. This work should be concluded and proclaimed, so that we Europeans can act as valid partners with the US. It is idle to suppose that there could be a successful British policy towards Russia which Germany or France opposed, or a successful German policy towards Russia which France or Britain opposed. My worry is that in 1996-97 the foreign ministers will spend too much time wrangling about majority voting in foreign policy and too little time on the substance-agreeing a policy towards the east of our own continent.
If we are to persuade the Russians that they need not take offence at the enlargement of Nato, we will have to put together an imaginative partnership. There is already the Partnership for Peace link between the Russian armed forces and Nato. There is the admirable co-operation between American and Russian troops in Bosnia. There is the Association Agreement between Russia and the EU. There is the network of arms control agreements between the US and Russia. But none of these arrangements meets the Russian fear that Nato will move steadily eastward and become steadily more threatening. The myths of 50 years are not easily dispersed.
The Baltic states might be a point of reassurance for the Russians. They are now free and aligning themselves with the west as fast as they can. I hope that they will be members of the EU before long. It does not follow that we should in almost the same breath extend the Nato military guarantee. A look at the map shows how difficult that guarantee would be to fulfil. Is it really credible that the US or Britain would undertake to defend Estonia if this could be done only with nuclear weapons? But Nato membership is not the only successful experiment in postwar security. Because Nato existed, Finland and Sweden have been able to live free and independent during the cold war. We should be able to construct some form of Baltic security system to which these two countries and the three Baltic states would belong. They would have direct collective dealings with both Nato and Russia.
Similar considerations apply to the Ukraine and perhaps to Moldova and Belarus. They are entitled to independence and full political and economic co-operation with the west. They need Nato to exist, but not necessarily to be members of it. One model for their security is the type of state treaty which kept Austria secure, even during the worst days of the cold war. It would be an irony, but not an impossible one, if these countries of the ex-Soviet Union acquired an Austrian status just as Austria is moving on.
When I have mooted these ideas in private, the response has been somewhat sceptical. The Swedes and the Finns are not anxious to assume the role I have sketched for them. But the problem will not go away. Finding an answer is one of the keys to a decent relationship between Russia and the west.