political revue


Year XXXIX, 1997, Number 3, Page 185





Paris was the venue, on May 27th this year, for the of an agreement between the Russian government and NATO member countries based on a document denominated the “Founding Act” which was presented by the international press as a turning point in the framework of international security. This followed the American decision to enlarge NATO, allowing it to embrace several eastern European countries (the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, postponing the eventual admission of other countries to a future date), a project for a long time opposed but ultimately accepted by Russia in the framework of its new relations with the military alliance.
Looking at its main points, the agreement in Paris establishes that “NATO and Russia should not regard each other as the enemy”, and on the basis of this, that they “intend to develop a strong, stable and lasting relationship of collaboration... Taking as a starting point the principle that the security of all the states within the Euro-Atlantic is indivisible, NATO and Russia will work together to help to establish common and global security in Europe” on the basis of shared principles and aims, in other words a) democracy, pluralism, respect for human rights, market economy, b) renunciation of the use of force, c) mutual openness over defence policies and military doctrines, d) prevention of conflicts through peaceful means, in line with the principles of the UN and the OSCE, and e) support for peace-keeping operations authorised by the UN security council or conducted under the responsibility of the OSCE.
In order to put all this into practice, a NATO-Russia joint permanent council has been set up — defined by the Act as a body of consultation, cooperation and, as far as possible, of joint decisions, to improve security through a greater level of trust. But “the act makes clear that Russia has no veto over alliance decisions and NATO retains the right to act independently when it so chooses” (White House press release, 27th May, 1997). The council will also provide the setting for debates on arms control, nuclear security, and on prevention of the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. As a means of counterbalancing this enlargement of NATO, the agreement also includes an undertaking on the part of the alliance not to install nuclear arms on the of the new member states and not to increase conventional forces on soil (an undertaking also made by Russia) but rather, ensuring their integration and interoperability, to employ them to the best end.
The role to be played by each of the partners within this council is defined vaguely and interpreted differently by the two essential parties to this agreement (the USA and Russia). The only line that Yeltsin can take, faced at home with strong opposition to enlargement of NATO from nationalist and communist quarters, is to stress the active role that Russia is once again taking in European and in world affairs. “The document says” affirms Yeltsin ”that decisions [of the council] are only taken on the basis of consensus... If Russia opposes any decision, that decision will not be taken. This is of capital importance” (Le Monde, 16th May, 1997). Clinton on the other hand has, through a spokesman, declared that NATO has made no fundamental concession, pointing out that while Russia has acquired “a voice” within the organisation it “does not have the power of veto”.
All these declarations reflect in some way the normal tactical games characteristic of international relations in which each state, regardless of the degree of power it wields in the world, tends to focus on its national pride, stressing the importance of its own role. Going beyond this, however, in order to evaluate the significance and the limits of this agreement, we need to question whether it serves to weaken the logic of raison d’Etat, a logic which is fundamentally conservative and can only be superseded if, on the basis of substantial reciprocal interests, it is first imprisoned in a global plan of evolution.
The limits of the “Founding Act” can best be appreciated by drawing a comparison with the political climate and projects of the Gorbachev era. A superficial reading of the principles embraced in the Act reveals that they contain many of the words uttered and written by Gorbachev and Reagan at the time of the turning-point in relations between the two superpowers (democracy, collaboration, reciprocal openness, trust, and so on); at that time, however, the atmosphere in which a new world order was gradually taking shape was so vastly different from the current atmosphere that it even proved possible to lay aside, in part, what we earlier called tactical games. Against the “mad logic” generated by (and, at the same time, the consequence of) the nuclear deterrent strategy, a theory evolved which was both realistic and, to some degree, revolutionary as it was based on the recognition of world interdependence and of the need to adapt thinking and political projects to the new reality which had finally emerged. Many of the words spoken by the two statesmen seemed to belie Einstein’s agonised declaration that freeing the power of the atom had changed everything except our way of thinking, and that we had been set adrift towards a catastrophe the like of which had never been seen before.
Following the failure of Gorbachev’s policy and the collapse of the Soviet Union, many were quick to accuse Gorbachev of being over ambitious, naive and politically inept, when he had, in fact, shown himself to be an extremely far-sighted individual. While remaining attached to the conservative logic of “collaboration” between states, that phase of international relations was strongly characterised by the emphasis placed on the need to manage a transitional phase towards a new power situation, and it is precisely by considering the evolutionary trend of the power situation that the potentialities inherent in a given political framework can be assessed.
The projects of the Gorbachev and Reagan era were not to succeed, however, and the new world political framework, which has moved from bipolarism to “monopolarism” is now seen to be extremely difficult not only to manage (the USA alone cannot shoulder all the problems which exist: old and new, global and regional), but also to modify. The “evolutionary trend of the power situation” that we talked of earlier can, indeed, be activated only in the presence of effective poles of power, that is, states which are prepared to take on the responsibility for implementing a given policy, and which have sufficient strength to lend credibility to their statements of principle and to the projects they expound: either politics is all about the shouldering of responsibility, or it means the generation of chaos.
The logic of economic and technological development is leading to the creation of a global society that can no longer be managed by individual states. This is particularly true as regards the problem of security which can be addressed only through a programme of reform which targets the UN and renders it more democratic. If this proves not to be the direction taken, the role of a military alliance like NATO, very precisely defined during the cold war, will, as is already occurring, become less and less clearly defined. The organisation is indeed tending to extend beyond the realm of its military functions to take on a political role, the epicentre of this organisation being the sole survivor of the two superpowers. In the power vacuum created by the disappearance of the old world order which, although it had to be overcome, nevertheless provided a stable framework of reference, it comes as no surprise that, as regards the question of security, NATO has become the magnet which continues to attract new states looking for something to cling on to in their bid to escape the drift towards chaos. For different reasons, it is also no surprise to see Yeltsin seeking, also through the pact with NATO, to regain credibility as a political interlocutor, thereby using the façade of the role assigned to the country to disguise Russia’s weak and isolated position.
The need for stability induces states, quite rightly, to seek points of aggregation, but there is no order in the way this is done. This lack of order, or confusion, arises from the fact that, as they seek to tackle the issues upon which stability itself is founded (security, economic development, democracy), the states have as points of reference international bodies, reproduced at local and world level, which have no “political soul”, and which, starting with their specific roles and competencies, (in the economic and security spheres), tend to take on functions of “government” without, however, having the legitimacy or means to do so. In fact these bodies represent, in the final analysis, the framework not so much of a common management of these problems as of the definition, or redefinition of the role of individual states within the world; they reflect the balance of world power, or rather the game of raisons d’Etat and are thus slaves to a mechanism which they have been created to overcome. These considerations provide a starting point from which to analyse the processes of aggregation currently in progress and the question to be asked is whether or not these processes are moving in the direction of new state-based forms of power distribution, that is, whether or not they indicate an evolutionary change in the power situation in the world, a change which may, in the short term, make it possible to produce a multipolar order and, in the long term, create the conditions necessary, through a world federation, to bring about a real and effective world government.
From this point of view, besides failing to contribute to a modification of the world order, no prospects are offered to new members by the enlargement of NATO and the association of Russia. All that has happened is that the new member states have been given the right to come under the protective umbrella of the hegemonic power and Russia is given the dubious honour of still being accepted as an interlocutor.
The framework and outlook will be quite different if the process of European unification culminates in the formation of a federation: a new and responsible political subject will enter the picture and all those countries which form part of it, including eastern European countries, will no longer be down-trodden members of an alliance dominated by a superpower, but able, instead, to contribute democratically to the building of their own future and the future of the world.
Nicoletta Mosconi





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