By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
In a recent essay published in the July/ August edition of “Russia in Global Affairs” by Russian security expert Dr. Sergej Karaganov under the title “Missiles in Europe – Back to the future”, the author draws parallels between the Euro-Missile crisis of the 1970ies and ’80ies and today’s crisis between Russia and NATO. By making a general review of what happened in the past, he proposes that in the search for new solutions, East and West should not fall into “old models”, but try to look for new forms of security, economic and cultural cooperation.
It is probably useful to take into account this specific Russian viewpoint, even if Karaganov’s perception tends at some point to draw a black and white picture and contrasts in certain aspects the view which several pragmatic observers in the Western security community have expressed, taking from their point of view into account the deficiencies on the Russian side.
Karaganov heads the “Council on Foreign and defense Policies” in Russia. He is also dean for the faculty of World economics and International affairs at the Moscow Higher School of economics and is a leading member of the influential East –West discussion Forum “Valdai discussion club”. Aside this, he was member of the Board of Trustees of the Alfred Herrhausen Society for International Dialogue (a Deutsche Bank Forum) as well as guest speaker at Bosch seminars.
The Euro Missile crisis which Karaganov refers to, broke out in the 1970ies, accompanied by the early 1979 oil crisis and followed by the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan (end of december, 1979). It was a period when the Soviets had decided to deploy the SS-20 theater ballistic missile in Eastern Europe. And NATO responded to this, with the double track decision in early december 1979, pushed by the U.S. Carter administration: NATO would negotiate to remove SS 20; should the Soviets refuse to withdraw them, the allies would deploy an equivalent system. In mid 1983, NATO confirmed it would deploy US Cruise missiles to Britain and Italy, and Pershing 2 ballistic missiles to Germany: a move which was followed by mass protests in Germany and all over Europe. Finally, under Russian President Gorbachev the Soviet Empire began to crumble, starting with the fall of the Berlin wall 1989 and the ensuing collapse of S.U.
In his essay, Karaganov speaks about a “déjà vu” effect. This is indicated by the way in which today some Western partners of Russia try to replay the scenario of the late 1970ies and early 1980ies when the “(…) deployment of the Soviet SS-20 medium range missiles and American Pershing and land-based Cruise Missile in Europe triggered a long military political crisis. As a result, détente was halted or even reversed for many years.” Karaganov locates the Euro Missile crisis in its historical context. At that time, the US having lost the Vietnam war (1955-1975) had suffered a strong military and political defeat that was condemned by the Europeans. The energy crisis of the 70ies (1979 oil crisis) drove the allies further apart. The taking of American hostages in Iran and the new outbreak of Arab-Israeli hostilities distracted Washington’s attention from the Old World. The general impression was that the US was drifting away. In the early 1970ies there was Soviet-American Detente, Karaganov states, which spurred cooperative efforts in Europe and gave a chance to overcome the Cold War. Western Europe relied on the American umbrella and troops in Europe were expected to ensure strategic linkage with US nuclear arsenal. “In exchange for military protection, Americans got loyalty of their allies and the feeling of moral satisfaction.” However, detente made Europeans less inclined to listen to Washington’s instructions.
“The Soviet Union which was deeply involved in the arms race and even went ahead at some point, started to deploy what the West dubbed SS-20 missiles and although there was no strategic necessity, the Soviet Union began to produce and deploy them in Europe which had put its mind at peace.” Fearing to lose US strategic guarantees, Europeans got scared even more, while the Americans got the long-sought pretext for producing and deploying new missiles Cruise ballistic missile and Pershing II ballistic missiles.
Parallels to the present situation
Approximately ten years ago, according to Karaganov, Europeans started to discuss, not quite publically, but earnestly, “the prospect of creating a common space with Russia and potentially with the enormous Chinese market. This alarmed the elites which had become closely intertwined with the old Atlantic policy structure and did not want it to be reformatted.”
Since some in the elites didn’t want to build the common space from Vancouver to Vladivostok proposed by Russia as an alternative to the old bloc system, “confrontation has been revived gradually” and steps were made to “renew military political confrontation.” This included attempts to deploy U.S. anti-missiles in Poland and Czech Republic and a campaign to convince the world that the new NATO members in Eastern Europe were vulnerable even if they had been pulled into the alliance to eliminate vulnerability.
“By 2013 the anti-Russian campaign was in full swing. The West was again considering expanding its zone of influence through an association between Ukraine and the European Union.” There were some indications that the West was also preparing a new round of NATO’s enlargement to Ukraine. The coup in Kiev provoked Moscow to counterstrike. Crimea and Donbass stopped the expansion of the Western alliance that jeopardized Russia’s vital interests. According to Karaganov: “Russia’s action in the Ukraine was entirely defensive, to prevent further expansion of the West which could have triggered a big war if allowed to continue”. Hypocrisy was gone, however when the US openly discussed to repeat the experience of the 1980ies “Star wars” effort which had drawn the S.U. into Afghanistan invasion and maneuvers in Poland. Yet he also critically remarks, that instead of applying to the stagnating Soviet economy the long overdue reforms, Moscow threw itself eagerly into a new confrontation and arms race on the imposed terms, at that time.
Some American strategists wanted to repeat the scenario with Afghanistan and Poland which would be replaced by Ukraine and this was connected with the hope of a Russian large scale invasion. However: “Moscow did not take the bait, and the allies of Washington blocked the supply of lethal weapons to Kiev probably to provoke an invasion”. This also went together with increasingly frequent military exercises near and nearer to the Russian borders, permanent deployment of weapons and rotational of troop and information warfare. And the idea to draw rigid dividing lines across Europe, east of its present border.
“I regret to say, but forward deployment of weapons and missile defense systems and the stationing of troops (rotational for the time being) in Europe is almost overtly provocative… Core NATO members will also become more worried when they understand that the new weapons and troops increase the risk of war in Europe.” (…) The deployment of missile defense systems in Poland and Romania looks particularly odd. It is obviously prompted by the strong desire of a large segment of the American elite and society to have an illusion of strategic invulnerability, weaken the opponent along the ways and make their own defense industry happy.”
He warns that as result “these systems (missile defense) and the inevitable countermeasures they provoke will increase military risks for the host countries, undermine strategic stability in Europe and the world and provoke greater nervousness and mistrust.”
In order to counter the worrisome moves which once again have been recently decided at the NATO summit, Karaganov proposes the following strategic measures: The first being that “old recipes” which are used again to provoke Russia into confrontation and arms race in Europe, will only lead to a renewal of military confrontations in Europe and increase the risk of conflict. It makes no sense to resume relations with NATO in the old format. In respect to the Russia-NATO Council (which since the Ukraine crisis has only met twice on an ambassadors’ level), Karaganov advises instead to have discussions conducted at “the General Staff level and NATO’s military Committee, by military specialists. Simultaneously a broader dialogue, bilateral and multilateral among experts as well, is needed to discuss the future of European security and ways to prevent its destabilization and degradation.” He further warns that Russia should not respond hastily to new missiles and other challenges, nor secede from the INF treaty: he expresses his unease about Russia’s announcement to deploy three divisions in the West of the country as countermeasure and asks whether “we really need them there, since it may draw Russia into a new arms race”.
According to him, there is a need for a security dialogue broader than the one within the old European framework: “We probably should embark on a Eurasian cooperation, development and security dialogue especially since the world has changed, including around Russia and Europe. The previous European-centric model looks almost like an anachronism, even for Europe which needs cooperation horizons for development. China, Russia and other Eastern and Central Eurasian countries can provide such opportunities.”
Aside making full use of the OSCE that can be instrumental in settling crises similar to that in Ukraine, “fostering joint responses to new security challenges like refugees, terrorism, migration and cybercrimes”, he suggests that “Russia should probably think about a broader dialogue between the Eurasian economic Union and the EU on the way to a comprehensive trade and economic partnership in Eurasia.” At the same time he urges that in Russia reforms must be made since it is not sufficient just to rely on core values such as “sovereignty and security” and the need to have an external enemy.
“In the long run no one will benefit from confrontation, even less so Russia, which is not as strong and rich as the West even if it can hold out and continue to win tactical victories.”
Russia should fight for peace and security: “A common space for cooperation, joint development and security should no longer be considered within the old framework, which never fully materialized but through a new, broader one, stretching from Singapore and Shanghai to Lisbon or Dublin.”
Wiesbaden July 2016