US, EU and Russia: A new order?

US, EU and Russia: A new order?

Bulletin article
01 October 2001

In the aftermath of September 11th's horrific events, the world has focused on America's diplomatic and military response. Some of the security issues that commentators were worrying about before the terrorist attacks - such as missile defence, the Balkans and the future of NATO - have left the headlines. However, they will soon be back on the agenda, although seen in a different light.

The coming months are likely to see a rapprochement between the US and Russia. They have a common interest in combating the terrorist networks of Islamic fundamentalists. Russia can give the US a great deal of help by sharing intelligence on terrorist groups. It could also prod its allies in Central Asia to give logistical help to US-led military actions. And Russia could try to persuade China - which has its own reasons for disliking Islamic fundamentalists - to support the US in the United Nations.

A warmer US relationship with Russia, and perhaps China, would take the sting out of disputes on missile defence and NATO enlargement. Despite the fact that missile defence systems would not have helped against the kinds of attack just suffered by the US, the current climate of vulnerability means that there is little opposition to President Bush's plans for missile defence.

However, before September 11th the administration was split on this issue: one camp was determined to scrap the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (which binds the US and Russia to limit their missile defences), whatever the Russian or European objections, and to build sophisticated systems that would include space-based interceptors; the other favoured less expensive systems and hoped to persuade the Russians to accept a new set of rules on missile defence. In the long run, the latter camp may have the edge, especially since the Democrat-controlled Senate, which oversees the defence budget, may argue that other forms of homeland defence deserve billions of extra dollars.

On NATO enlargement, too, Bush will have every reason to tread cautiously. His advisors may well continue to push for the alliance to take in all three Baltic states, however much the Russians object. However, if the administration is busy leading a military coalition, the expansion of NATO into the Baltic must become a lesser priority. And if President Putin is giving significant help to that coalition, he will ask not only for greater understanding of Russian actions in Central Asia, but also for the US to moderate its plans on missile defence or NATO enlargement.

Putin may also push for a much closer relationship with NATO. If Russia's political system remains broadly democratic, and if it joins the struggle against fundamentalist terrorism - and neither is implausible - it will be very difficult for NATO to keep Russia at arm's length. At the very least, NATO might declare Russia to be a suitable candidate for membership at some point in the future, as the EU has done with Turkey. And that would make it easier for Russia to accept the Baltics states in NATO.

In the months ahead, the US is likely to leave more European issues to the Europeans. In a global war against terrorism, places that do not harbour dangerous fundamentalists will matter less to the US. Even before the terrorist attacks, the Bush administration was less interested in the embryonic European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) than in missile defence, NATO enlargement or America's forthcoming Defence Review.

The administration will not oppose the concept of European defence, but will leave it to the Europeans. So if the EU asks the US to lean on Turkey, to make it sign the accords which would give the EU assured access to NATO planning facilities - which Turkey is refusing to sign - it will probably find that the US has higher priorities. The EU will have to find its own ways round that institutional problem, for example by drawing on national planning staffs.

Nor should the EU countries expect the US to hang around in the Balkans. Even before September 11th, some US officials were more enthusiastic about the prospect of an EU force replacing the NATO peacekeepers in Macedonia than were the European governments. Next year, when NATO reviews its force in Bosnia, the US may well decide that this is the kind of trouble-spot that the Europeans should sort out themselves.

While the Americans will not care a great deal about the institutions of the ESDP, they will put more pressure on governments to increase defence spending and boost their military capabilities. Those which have cut and cut again, or postponed much-needed military reforms - and the Germans are guilty on both counts - can expect some severe arm-twisting from Washington. The US wants its allies to have well-equipped professional forces that are capable of rapid deployment over a large swathe of the globe.

Writing two weeks after the terrorist attacks, it is too early to judge their long-term impact on EU-US relations. Much depends on how the US responds to the atrocity. It may disregard the views of its allies and launch - on its own - massive military attacks that lead to huge civilian casualties. The EU governments would have sharp disagreements on how to react, and NATO would be left divided.

But it is perfectly possible that the US will seek to build a broad diplomatic and military coalition, consult its allies and ask them to assist in military operations. And the civilian casualties may be minimal. That would leave an EU united in its support of the US, and a strengthened NATO.

This more optimistic scenario is perhaps the more likely. For even if US military actions are mainly unilateral, Bush may well see the benefits of building and holding together an extensive anti-terrorist alliance, involving many Islamic states, the Europeans, the Russians and perhaps the Chinese. The "new world order" promised by the elder Bush evaporated. His son has the opportunity to shape a more solid geopolitical realignment.

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