NATO enlargement and Russian democracy

Witold J. Lukaszewski

The future of NATO has become the most contentious issue in the United States-Russian relations. While the immediate problem is the planned enlargement of the alliance to the east, the real stakes are much higher. At stake are the survival of NATO itself and the shape of European security in the twenty-first century. It is not surprising, therefore, that both sides seem to refuse to budge from their positions. The West is committed to going ahead with the admission of the Central European states but, at the same time, is very solicitous of Kremlin's feelings and eager to reassure the Russian elites that the projected enlargement of NATO is not meant to and will not threaten Russia.

The solicitude for Russian views shown by both Western and Central European leaders is understandable in terms of both historical experience and contemporary realities. The contrast between the post-World War I and post-World War II peace settlements clearly demonstrates that ostracism of the defeated enemy states by the victors tends to prejudice future stability and peace in the region. A more generous and accepting treatment of the vanquished by the victors, on the other hand, is likely to establish a more partner-like relationship between them.

The acknowledgment of Russia's importance to European security has given the Kremlin leaders added political leverage, which they have exploited not only in voicing their objections to NATO's enlargement but also in vigorously promoting their own vision of a future European security structure. With determination, at times manifesting itself in the form of threats and at others as reasonableness, the Russians have argued back that the enlargement of NATO would destabilize Europe and result in a cold peace. They warn that the proposed inclusion of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and possibly others in NATO will draw new dividing lines in Europe, will threaten Russia, and will undermine democratic forces in their country. In arguing their case against NATO enlargement, the Russian political, academic, and opinion-making elites have demonstrated a remarkable unity.

The conclusion of the NATO-Russian Founding Act in Spring 1997 has not solved the problem. Immediately after the signing, the Russian leaders announced that they have not withdrawn their opposition to NATO's enlargement. A couple of days later, Kremlin press spokesman, Sergei Yastrzembsky, declared that the signing of the agreement is not the end, but beginning of its life: it begins the struggle over its interpretation (Associated Press, May 20, 1997).

The Western and Russian positions on NATO's enlargement seem irreconcilable. This acknowledgment however does not tell us much about the implications the Western and Russian security proposals would have on relations among European states in the twenty-first century.

Integration v. balance of power
Two fundamental processes have been struggling for ascendancy in Europe since 1989. One is the process of integration, which started in Western Europe in the 1950s and has been moving eastward since the end of the Cold War. The other is the traditional, balance-of-power (sometimes called statist) game, which persists in southeastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and contains the seeds of a widespread conflict on the old continent.

Events since 1989 show that Russia is at a different level of political development than the countries in Central or Western Europe.

Each of the two processes is representative of a model of political behavior clearly observable in Europe today. The first, rooted in the natural process of integrating kindred societies, places a premium on cooperation, toleration, compromise, and the sharing of certain fundamental values, such as democracy, human rights, market economy, and the rule of law. The second chooses politics over economics, domination rather than cooperation, spheres of influence rather than integration, and extremism instead of compromise (Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Destination: Strasbourg or Sarajevo?" Encounter, July-August 1990).

The new economic and security structure of Europe as a whole will be influenced by the direction of the domestic development of each society. If Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and others, become members of the expanding Western European core, NATO and EU, it will be because they have successfully assimilated the essential elements of the integration model. The choice and successful implementation of the integration model must be the governing condition for the entry of new members into Western security and economic institutions.

Seen from this perspective, Russia represents a troublesome fit in the post-Cold War integration of Europe. It is a significant actor in European politics, but it seems unable to relate to the western part of Europe either in terms of the nature of its domestic politics or in the area of its foreign and security policy concepts and practices. Russians sometimes blame their estrangement from Europe on their government officials, e.g., on the inability of Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev's diplomacy to ensure Russia's integration into the Western community as an equal participant (Sergei Rogov in Nezavisimaia Gazeta, December 31, 1994). There has been no visible effort on the part of the Russian elites, however, to understand that integration cannot be achieved by an act of governmental will or by a diplomatic fiat but must come from a complex social process of becoming alike, of fitting in with the object of integration.

Alain Besançon explains this lack of fit between the Western and Russian approaches by pointing out that the two originate in very different historical models of the state. The Western model had its origins in a well-ordered, multi-level social hierarchy with the ruler (the sovereign) at the top. The second, eastern and Russian, functioned without a hierarchically differentiated social base. Apart from the person of the ruler, there existed equality in subservience. As a consequence of the challenges to the position of the sovereign from the upper and later lower social strata, the Western state model could and did evolve into democracy. The second model, composed of anomnipotent ruler and undifferentiated subservient masses, remained in its authoritarian mold and, when placed under stress, periodically underwent revolutionary spasms. Russia has been unable to overcome the legacy of the second model (Polska w Europie [Warsaw], Vol. 18, September-December 1995, 90-93).

To state the obvious, democracy cannot be achieved through large scale violence or through a wholesale disregard of due process of law. In this sense, democratic revolution is an oxymoron. Unlike communism, which had been imposed upon an intimidated population, democracy evolves gradually, and its political culture has to be willingly internalized by the citizenry. As recent history shows, the political, social, and economic conditions in contemporary Russia make such a gradual and peaceful transition very difficult. Since the beginning of the process in 1987, military force has been used on two occasions in attempts to solve domestic political problems.

Consequently, Russia is unlikely to achieve a Western-style democracy in the near future, and the stages through which it will have to pass before it reaches a working democratic system are difficult to predict. Events since 1989 show that Russia is at a different level of political development than the countries in Central or Western Europe. For both these reasons, the integrative fit between the current Russian system and the societies in the central and western parts of Europe will not exist in the foreseeable future.

The new line of division in today's Europe, therefore, runs along the developmental divide. As such, it does not have to remain permanently fixed. In fact, when liberal democracy and market economies are implemented in Russia and other post-Soviet states, this line of division will shift eastward. For that to happen, however, Russian democrats will have to concentrate on the internal development of their country. By repeating the nationalist and neo-imperialist arguments about a restoration of the former Soviet Union and its empire, they undercut their own credibility as democrats and thereby bolster the political standing of the hardliners.

Russia's troublesome fit with Western systems in the domestic sphere is paralleled in the arena of foreign relations. Moscow's proposals concerning the future European security structure reveal its failure to develop strategic concepts and policies which transcend the traditional balance-of-power and spheres-of-interest approach. Despite their frequent assurances about partnerships, devotion to democratic values, and even commitment to a common European home, Russian elites have been using strategic imagery reminiscent of nineteenth-century Europe. In a revealing interview with a Polish correspondent in Moscow, Sergei Karaganov, President Yeltsin's foreign policy advisor, pointed out that Russia favored a security system based on the principle of a concert of nations corresponding to the interests of a majority of European great powers (Sawomir Popowski, "Dokad siega Rosja," Rzeczpospolita, December 4-5, 1993). The unity of Russian elites in their opposition to NATO's enlargement is based not so much on their unanimous perception of a threat emanating from the expanding alliance as on their unanimous conclusion that a fragmented Europe would open up before Russia significant opportunities to profit from a variety of contradictions among the Western states (Andrei Zagorsky, "NATO expansion does not conflict with Russia's fundamental interests," Prism, III/2, Jamestown Foundation, February 1997).

Russia's assertions that expansion of NATO into Central Europe would pose a serious security threat to Russia reflect the strategic framework within which Russian elites perceive Europe west of their borders. Their preoccupation with the traditional political-military and territorial aspects of security and their persistent advocacy of the nineteenth century concert-of-powers type of security system in Europe forces them to compete for spheres of interest to the detriment of the more urgent domestic economic and political reforms. That, in turn, further distances Russia from the rest of Europe.

Russian arguments against the enlargement of NATO
The West is told by a variety of Russian spokesmen that if NATO expands to the east, it can split Europe asunder, it will violate the idea of an indivisible, all-European security system that includes Russia, and it will revive the cordon sanitaire surrounding Russia in the past.

Despite assurances of partnership, devotion to democratic values and the like, Russian elites have been proffering strategic imagery reminiscent of nineteenth-century European power arrangements.

While the idea of a unified Europe with an undivided security structure sounds reasonable, Europe's history as well as today's political realities reveal that Europe has been divided for one reason or another ever since the old monarchical order was challenged by the French revolutionaries. Whether it was the revolutionary idea of popular sovereignty v. the ancien régime, or one nationalism against another, or the pre-World War I alliance systems, or the interwar ideological-systemic divisions (communism v. nazism v. democracy), or the Cold War confrontation between the Western democratic alliance and the communist bloc, Europe's divisions have been a consequence of the successive stages of its development.

Today, parts of Europe are still divided along the old statist-political lines. The most obvious political divisions include the integrating West (NATO and the EU countries), Central and Eastern Europe (a diverse group of medium and small-sized states with very uneven levels of reform achievements and degrees of internal stability), and Russia (ambitious to retain its great power status). In the light of these realities, calls for a united Europe, an indivisible, all-European security, are at best rhetorical. With NATO present already, how can one argue that an enlarged NATO will draw a dividing line? To be consistent, one would have to insist that NATO has to be disbanded. Advocacy by Russian elites of a unified European security structure, with simultaneous acceptance of the unenlarged NATO, seems like a euphemism for let's divide Europe again along the familiar Yalta line. The variant of undivided European security, which assumes a disbanding of NATO or its subordination to the OSCE, would lead to a security system imposed and dictated by great powers grouped in a European security council, modeled either on the short lived nineteenth century concert of powers or on the United Nations' Security Council. In either case, as Sergei Kortunov, President Yeltsin's foreign policy advisor, put it, what is important here is the right of the great of this world to decide the fate of the medium and small states, and above their heads to boot (Rzeczpospolita, 5 January 1996).

The reintroduction into Europe of a concert of powers system, a century and a half after its progenitor's demise, would reimpose on Europe the lines of division that led to conflict in the past. The reimposition of the statist, balance-of-power model on all of Europe would re-nationalize defense policies, diminish significantly the role of the United States in matters of European security, and elevate the influence of Russia on the European continent. In the revived concert of powers system, Russia would have as much to say about the fate of Belgium or Luxemburg as about that of Chechenya or Lithuania. The diminution of America's role in Europe would be a realization of a goal long sought by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and now by Russia.

Both these security systems, the Yalta-like division or a concert of powers system, would obviously have a far reaching impact on European security. Taking another risk on either of them today, in the hope that this time the results would be better, would require us to disregard all the lessons of history.

NATO: a threat to Russia?
The enlarged NATO, according to numerous pronouncements of the Russian leaders, would also subject Russia to a variety of external threats. These can be grouped into four categories: strategic (NATO enlargement would be against Russian foreign and security interests [A. Arbatov] and would put Russia into a worse geopolitical and military position [Primakov]); regional (NATO would cut off the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad if Poland and Lithuania joined it [Krasnaya Zvezda], eliminate Russia from the important political decision-making mechanism and generally from the all-European security system [A. Arbatov]); economic (Russia would lose her arms market in Central Europe because NATO's expansion signifies economic conquest of Central Europe by Western business); and paranoic (enlarged NATO would eliminate Russia as a challenger to the United States [Gorbachev], force us to our knees [Makarevsky], deindustrialize and demilitarize Russia and make her defenseless [Gorbachev, Arbatov], and reinforce Western world hegemony [Yeltsin]).

The strategic threat category is the most significant and at the same time the vaguest. Its vagueness stems from the fact that the Russian leaders realize that NATO does not threaten Russia as such but that it represents an approach to European security which is not one which Russia would prefer and one in which she could maximize her influence. The Russian press is replete with statements about the Kremlin's commitments to struggle against a unipolar world as well as against attempts to make that alliance the axis of a new European system.

Russia's expectation had been that after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism, it would fully join Europe and become one of the principal participants and decision-makers in the post-Cold War European security system. Speaking about Gorbachev's common European home, for example, Sergei Kortunov recalled that Russia was to be its integral part. No one, not even in a most nightmarish dream, could then imagine that the Russian state would find itself outside of that system. Instead, Russia is faced by a growing NATO-sponsored security system which, unlike the Warsaw Pact, is expanding. The miscalculation was by the Russians. NATO is a military alliance, a fact which they rarely fail to point out but, even more importantly, it is also a security system whose members have sharply de-emphasized or completely eliminated the statist elements in their mutual relations. The European members of the alliance form a security community which has attained significant progress along the road toward a full integration of its member nations.

The regional category of threats from the expanded NATO relates to the former Eastern European satellites of the Soviet Union. The region, as Alexei Pushkov and other Moscow analysts often point out, is of great importance to Russia, with Poland playing a central role in Eastern Europe (Moskovskie Novosti, July 30-August 6, 1995). Russia regards Poland as the gateway to Europe, a fact which Russian politicians have acknowledged in their complaints that, with the loss of its satellites after 1989, the Soviet Union (later Russia) was pushed out of Europe by being moved several hundred kilometers to the east. Joseph Conrad made a similar observation at the turn of the century when he wrote, 'Not until the partition of Poland did Russia begin to play a significant role in Europe (Joseph Conrad, 'The Crime of Partitions,' Biale Plamy, Warsaw 1989, p. 12).

The goal to become one of Europe's governing great powers, as the Russian leaders conceive of it, is a deliberately fashioned policy, not an objective security requirement for Russia. In this sense, the planned enlargement of NATO does not constitute a threat to Russia itself. However, NATO as such does stand in the way of the Russian leaders' concept of Europe's post-Cold War security structure.

The elitist nature of Russia's policy toward NATO's enlargement is borne out by the opinion polls conducted recently in Russia. According to the New York Times (February 16, 1996), in the last presidential election in Russia, the Russian public focused exclusively on the domestic issues: delayed wages and pensions, corruption and the war in Chechenya. According to The Washington Post editorial (February 5, 1997), Iurii Davidov, an expert in the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow, pointed out that the eastern expansion of NATO will generate interest in less than 20% of the Russian population, while Alexander Oslon, a leading Russian poll-taker, suggested that the question of NATO expansion is dwarfed by worries about day-to-day survival (The Washington Post, February 7, 1997).

Retrenchment on Russian democracy
Russian and foreign opponents of NATO's enlargement have been warning that the planned broadening of the alliance will provoke Russian nationalists and seriously endanger the country's pro-democracy forces. According to Polska w Europie, Valdimir Lukin put it thus: 'There are two ways of preventing the Zhirinovsky variant. One is based on our working together so that he would not attain power. The second is to stimulate somehow his coming to power in order to unite so as to oppose him... the second way is synonymous with a betrayal of Russian democracy by the West' (Polska w Europie, No. 18, September-December 1995, 74). Should nationalists thus come to power, we have been warned by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Russia's Ambassador to Sweden, Oleg Grinevsky, tanks will roll again from the assembly lines in Russia and the danger of nuclear war will reappear on the horizon. In any case, a return to a cold peace will inevitably follow.

The argument that this or that move by the West will inevitably lead to certain domestic outcome in Russia is unprovable. It is, however, a useful tool for playing on human fears. In fact, the post-World War II history demonstrates that the United States prevailed in the Cold War not because of twists or turns of its policies relative to the changing Soviet domestic situation but because it pursued steady, long-range policies based on fundamental advantages, such as the democratic system and a market economy.

Secondly, not everyone in Russia fears NATO or expects a nationalist backlash to occur following its enlargement. Andrei Kozyrev, Russia's former foreign minister, advised his countrymen, 'It is wrong to create the image of NATO as the enemy. It plays into the hands of the opposition.' James Hoagland suggested that the nationalist card using the NATO issue is in fact being played in the internal politics of the Russian elites. 'NATO expansion is an issue for the elite.... Uniting the communists, the nationalists and the government would make it easier to unite against Lebed (The Washington Post, February 9, 1997).

The future of Russian democracy will be decided principally by the domestic factors in Russia. Will Russian leaders be able to avoid violence in domestic affairs such as the use of tanks against the Duma in October 1993, and the war in Chechenya? According to Aleksei Pushkov, it was the latter which caused a serious break between Yeltsin and all democratic parties and strengthened conservative trends and elements in the government ('NATO Expansion: A Russian Perspective,' 1995 NATO Symposium at the National Defense University, Ft. McNair, Washington, D.C., April 24-25, 1995). Nationalism, including its aggressive variety, is an end result of a complex process and not a consequence of a single event.

In addition to the war in Chechenya, Russia's clandestine military interventions in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, in Georgia, and in Moldova are likely to have a negative cumulative effect on Russia's progress toward democracy. The extent to which Russia supports undemocratic practices in neighboring countries, such as in Belarus, will influence the credibility of its own democratic processes. Leaders whose political interests lead them to support dictators in neighboring states cannot expect to be taken seriously when they profess fear for the fate of democracy in their own country.

Russia's proposals for European security, including the opposition to NATO's expansion, have not been of much help to her democratic aspirations. As has been pointed out above, Russian vision of a future European security structure conforms to the statist, balance-of-power model. The statist politics on the international arena emphasize the state, its strength, national defense, a strong dose of nationalism, and maximum independence and self sufficiency. This is not a congenial environment in which democracy can develop, especially if its foundations are weak to begin with, as in the case of Russia.

In contrast, the integration model, such as has been evolved in the western part of Europe, rests on a universal acceptance of democratic values, promotes mutual acceptance and respect of all member nations, strong and weak alike, requires fundamental compatibility of members' economic and legal systems, downgrades the role of the military in relations among the member countries, and exerts a moderating influence on nationalism.

All this suggests that a credible program for promotion of Russian democracy would first and foremost focus the country's attention on domestic development of its democratic institutions and market economy. She has much to offer as a trade partner, but much to threaten with as an unreformed empire. In this context, Russian leaders' vocal opposition to the enlargement of NATO is a wasteful distraction from an important domestic program.

Primacy of the domestic sphere
The debate about the security system in Europe and Russia's place in it has largely ignored the relevance of the domestic factors which will shape future European order. The questions of whether Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic should be admitted to NATO, become a buffer zone, or be consigned to the Russian sphere of influence have been addressed, particularly by the Russian side, in isolation from the implications of the internal political and economic processes underway in those countries. Similarly, the question of whether Russia will or will not join Europe is treated by most Russian leaders, regardless of their political orientation, as if the answer depended on military power or the will of the state alone. Attempts by the Russian leaders to bargain with the West over these issues demonstrate their lack of understanding of the implications of the internal changes which are taking place in most of contemporary Europe.

Russian leaders seriously misunderstand the cultural, economic, social, and political realities when they strive to become an integral part of Europe solely on the basis of their governmental decisions. Their demands for inclusion in Europe simply because they abandoned communism or have a large nuclear arsenal, or a huge territory, or untold natural resources will certainly mean that Europe will not be able to ignore Russia. Western Europe also could not ignore the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, which based its status as a significant European actor only on military-political power, was a Eurasian state geographically speaking, but it was not a cultural, economic, or social part of Europe.

The Kremlin leaders refuse to recognize the nature and the implications of the integration process underway in Western and Central Europe. It is incorrect to claim, as Kozyrev has, that the abolition of the communist system placed Russia on the same level as the United States and other Western countries. The defeat of communism was only the first step; the second is the indispensable rejection of the statist model of politics, with all its military-political, neo-imperialistic concepts and predispositions.

The insistence by the West that the integration of Europe will proceed and that it will do so on the basis of its liberal-democratic criteria does not constitute a betrayal of pro-democratic forces in Russia, nor does it threaten Russia itself. The European integrative process has its own internal logic which, if the process is to survive and become inclusive, has to be obeyed.

Witold J. Lukaszewski is Professor of Political Science at Sam Houston State University. This paper was read at the Southwest Slavic Conference, Rice University, February 21-2 1997.

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