In international relations, there are sometimes rare moments of opportunity that need to be grasped.
This particular sequence of mid-July 2018 is one. A NATO summit is held on 11 and 12 July in Brussels. On July 16, another summit, also largely devoted to security in Europe, will be held in Helsinki between the United States and Russia. Why not prepare during the first summit a plan to be proposed during the second?
The expected scenario of the NATO summit is known: its Secretary General will paint an alarmist picture of potential threats from the Russian Bear; the American president will express his weariness in paying for the defence of his rich European allies; and the latter will promise to make more budgetary efforts for their armed forces.
With the “si vis pacem, para bellum” having proved its worth throughout history, this classic approach is not unjustified.
But France could use its special position in the Atlantic Alliance, marked by its tradition of independence, to act creatively at this NATO summit. She could put forward to her allies the idea that security is not only about armaments, it is also about treaties.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), the world was not far from a nuclear apocalypse. Then came the second phase of the Cold War, where the great nuclear powers put in place arrangements (like the red telephone between Moscow and Washington) and built treaties, to avoid the possibility of sliding into confrontation, to reduce the intensity of the arms race, and to guarantee the security of the European continent.
Most of these treaties are now obsolete. France would therefore be well advised to propose to its NATO partners the principle of a new major conference on European security. This would address all the crucial issues: intermediate range missiles nuclear that are, in theory, banned (but the Russians have deployed Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad); NATO anti-missile ‘shields’ (whose launch pads can also be used for intermediate-range missiles); imbalance of conventional forces between different countries; military exercises; cyberwarfare, etc.
The November 1990 Treaty of Paris for the reduction of conventional forces was first suspended by Russia, then by the member countries of NATO. It is no longer relevant because it was conceived well before NATO enlargement to include the former Warsaw Pact countries and then the Baltic States. It needs to be redone from top to bottom.
The 1972 Moscow Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty limited to two, then one, the number of missile sites authorized for each of the two superpowers. It was abandoned by George W. Bush at the beginning of 2002. It deserves to be reactivated.
Cyberwarfare is a new type of conflict – very fashionable. As expressed by Clausewitz, it is the “continuation of politics by other means”. Without much noise, cyberwarfare it allows one to warn, intimidate and disrupt an adversary who has been secretly targeted.
The Russians practiced it against the Baltic States and, more recently, against Ukraine. Starting with Russia, the States Parties to this new conference could adopt a code of conduct where they would give up attacking each other’s computer networks.
But would it not be absurd to hold such a security conference in Europe when the 2014 Ukrainian crisis is still unresolved?
The hostility between Kiev and Moscow will not be solved overnight because blood has flowed in Donbass and the Ukrainian army has been humiliated twice. But we must at all costs prevent that crisis from catalyzing others.
The persistence of the war in Donbass militates precisely for the usefulness of such a Conference. The absurdity is that a form of cold war has returned to Eastern Europe. In the face of China’s rise to power, Western interests lie in bringing Russia back into their fold.
Trump is weakened because his Secretary of State has been ridiculed by North Korea. It is therefore time for the Europeans to reach out to help him achieve diplomatic success. NATO must show its unity, so that Trump arrives in Helsinki in a strong position to face Putin.
But once strengthened, the US president must also offer an opening to his Russian counterpart. Faced with a Russia that needs to reduce its military budget, what better than the prospect of a new security treaty?
The leaders of Great Britain and Germany are too weak at home to take such an initiative. The ball is in Macron’s court.
This article was first published in Le Figaro
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