Tuesday, 18 January 2022
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By Brigadier (Ret) Patrick NOPENS

In June 2008 the Russian president Medvedev made a first proposal in Berlin for a new European security architecture in the form of a legally binding treaty.

After the war in Georgia, Russia began promoting a new approach in security more actively. In October 2008, in Evian, Medvedev proposed an international conference to discuss security questions in Europe.

Although Russian diplomacy in the meantime referred several times to these proposals and Medvedev repeated them in April 2009 in Helsinki, they remained extremely vague until Russia presented a comprehensive and coherent proposal on the subject at the OSCE Annual Review Conference in Vienna (23 – 24 June 2009).

Why does Russia want to change the existing security architecture in Europe?

Russia considers that the era unipolarity is giving way to a "polycentric international system" with new centres of economic growth and political influence.

The war in Georgia and the financial crisis have demonstrated that sufficient critical mass has been achieved to transform the international system.

The major conflicts during the last years, from the Balkans to the Caucasus, were systemic breakdowns of the existing security architecture. The existing system suffers from several serious shortcomings. Firstly, the West still has a "bloc approach" to security in Europe; the CFE controversy is the most illustrative example of this attitude. Furthermore, Russia cannot accept that a single group of countries – NATO, under American leadership – has exclusive rights to shape European security. Secondly, the West continues to approach security ideologically. Russia does not accept the western moral approach to international politics; it uses the concept of sovereign democracy to underline its independence from and moral parity with the West. And finally, a plethora of security organisations and arrangements have sprung up over the last decennia so that some restructuring is overdue.

The main systemic shortcoming is the infringement on a basic principle of the 1999 Charter for European Security and of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), viz the principle of indivisibility of security – the commitment not to strengthen one's security at the expense of the security of other States.
In the nineties Russia had hoped for the dissolution of NATO following the disbandment of the Warsaw Pact. The OSCE would have become a full-fledged regional collective security organization within the terms of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Instead NATO expanded, first absorbing the former Soviet satellites, and then encroaching upon parts of the former Soviet Union. This not only divides societies but also encouraged some countries to embark on military adventures.

Russia also observes a collision between pan-European and intra-bloc approaches. Within the framework of the OSCE the West professes the indivisibility of security from Vancouver to Vladivostok. However, in NATO this becomes from Vancouver to Brest-Litovsk on the Belarusian border. Furthermore, whereas in the OSCE the principle of indivisibility of security is a political commitment, in NATO it has legal force. Therefore, pan-European commitments should also acquire legal force through a legally binding treaty, involving not only individual states but also relevant international organizations within the Euro-Atlantic area.

Another systemic drawback of the present security system is the global character of emerging threats and the narrow group approach to their solutions. These threats stem from lack of trust, national and religious grounds, and non-state actors.

Furthermore, there is overlap and duplication, and even competition between the many sub-regional organizations active in the OSCE space. Coordination is needed. A framework of cooperation exists already in the Platform for Cooperative Security adopted at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul in 1999, but its potential remains unused.

Another problem is the inconstancy of priorities, not defined on the basis of international obligations but of political expediency. For instance, before the West considered the CFE Treaty the cornerstone of European Security. Once the reduction of heavy weapon holdings of the Warsaw Pact had been carried out, ratification of the Adapted Treaty was postponed indefinitely. Another example is The Vienna Document of the Negotiations on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures that has not been updated the last ten years and whose provisions are moribund. And finally, the West wields double standards with regard to conflict settlement; Kosovo has been recognized by most Western countries whereas Abkhazia and South Ossetia haven't.

Russia's proposals at the OSCE Annual Review Conference 23-24 June 2009

Russia proposes a European Security Treaty restricted to the field of hard security. The Russian proposal at the OSCE Annual Review Conference in Vienna in June 2009 reiterates the need to create a reliable collective security system in the Euro-Atlantic Area based on the principles of polycentrism, rule of international law, the central role of the UN, the unity and indivisibility of security of all states, the inadmissibility of isolation of any state or creation of zones of different levels of security.

A first block would confirm the basic principles of relations between states. Central to the agreement would be that no state should ensure its own security at the expense of others. Unilateral security at the cost of third parties is unacceptable; actions that undermine common security – i.e. military alliances - must be removed; and expansion of existing military alliances is unacceptable if this goes contrary to the interests of another party. Each country could call upon this principle of indivisibility of security even if a sovereign country wishes to become a member of a security or defence organisation. The treaty should reaffirm that no single state or international organization could have exclusive rights of maintaining peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. This is clearly aimed at the U.S. and NATO. For Russia the U.S. and NATO are the main obstacle to a return to the status of major power in Europe.

A second block would address arms control, confidence building, restraint and reasonable sufficiency in military doctrine.

A third block would deal with conflict settlement and provide principles to be applied uniformly to all crisis situations. It emphasizes the development of mechanisms of collective coordination for conflict prevention and settlement. In order to avoid double standards and to prevent conflicts getting out of hand, the use of force is inadmissible, parties should come to an agreement themselves and settlement of conflict should be gradual.

And finally, a fourth block would be dedicated to countering new threats, including proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, drug trafficking and transborder organized crime.

The treaty would explicitly limit its scope to hard security issues because Russia "believes a critical number of irritants have accumulated precisely in the field of hard security" and "the last two baskets did not suffer from erosion of the fundamental principles".

Finally negotiations on a European Security Treaty should be launched by a meeting of heads of state and heads of intergovernmental organisations operating in the field of the Euro-Atlantic security, i.e. OSCE, NATO, EU, CIS and CSTO. This could take place in the framework of the Platform for Cooperative Security. The Treaty should focus on politico-military security.

At the Informal Meeting of OSCE Foreign Ministers on the Future of European Security at Corfu on the 27th and 28th of June 2009 the Corfu Process was launched. Ways for a more structured dialogue will be explored. The participating states see no alternative to the restoration of the concept of indivisible, co-operative and comprehensive security. On the other hand they reaffirmed the validity of the whole set of commitments in all three OSCE dimensions and agreed on the necessity to fully implement these commitments.


Russia will remain an independent international player. It considers that NATO and EU enlargements have practically reached their limits. Some countries will remain for a foreseeable future outside the framework of the EU and NATO. Therefore, a treaty is necessary for these non-EU and non-NATO states that need a reliable, legally-binding security architecture.

Russia is asking the members of the OSCE to fix de jure the political commitments undertaken within the OSCE and the NRC. Russia wants a legally binding document, a European Security Treaty.

Central to the Treaty would be the issue of indivisibility of security and the principle of restraining one's own security at the expense of the security of other states. Russia insists that its proposal is not aimed at undermining NATO. On the contrary, it is meant to enhance the coordination and synergies among the existing international organizations.

Brigadier Patrick Nopens retired from the Belgian army in December 2008. He worked at the WEU, NATO headquarters and SHAPE. He served from 2000 to 2004 and from 2007 to 2008 as defence attaché in Moscow.

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