Europe's Challenge: A 'Twilight Zone' in Russia's Shadow, or a 'World of Rules?'

Anti-Russian protesters hold banners at a rally during the G-20 in Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. The proteste
Anti-Russian protesters hold banners at a rally during the G-20 in Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. The protesters staged the rally against the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17 this year. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

This comment is excerpted from a speech at Harvard's Center for European Studies late last week. In Harvard Yard, on 5 June 1947, on the steps of Memorial Church, momentous words were said.

It is logical that the United States should do what it can to assist the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.

U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall set in motion the most profitable financial investment in human history: the reconstruction of Western Europe: The Marshall Plan was part of a wider Western ambition after World War II. To create a World of Rules. New global institutions were set up, led by U.S. leadership and generosity. The United Nations. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The International Court of Justice. Despite harsh Cold War ideological differences, these institutions took root. They grew and flourished. Why? Because the world -- or at least a part of the world -- had agreed that explicit international military aggression had to stop. Differences between peoples and nations should be settled by peaceful negotiation. The first principle of this World of Rules was self-restraint: by cooperating, not fighting, we build a shared interest in success. Self-restraint -- ruling out the war option -- creates stability. Stability encourages investment. This creates innovation and new wealth.

The European Economic Community was only one of many institutions which flourished under this regime. It grew and grew to become today's European Union, precisely because it was based on this principle of national political self-restraint. Success bred success. The second principle was that this World of Rules was worth defending from those who didn't accept it.

During the Cold War, this required a comprehensive Western approach, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at the heart.

There were programs to share intelligence, especially among the English speaking nations of the West; joint military exercises; exchanges of weapons and military technology.

Institutions such as Radio Free Europe and the BBC pushed back against communist lies and propaganda. So successful were these economic and security institutions and so attractive to those who didn't enjoy them, that when the Warsaw Pact finally fell apart after 1989, the nations of central Europe made it a national policy imperative to work closely with them, or even apply to join them.


The events in Crimea and eastern Ukraine are dramatic and dangerous.

They threaten Ukraine's stability. And they pose a new kind of test for the transatlantic alliance set up to protect the West and its rules. Let me demolish an assertion heard quite often both in Moscow and in Western capitals: that the Ukraine crisis has been "provoked" by Western governments in general, and by NATO in particular. As few now seem to remember, when the Cold War ended, the transatlantic team of North America and Western Europe welcomed central and eastern European countries into modern democratic society. But the impetus for NATO enlargement did not come from a triumphalist Washington. On the contrary, the U.S. initially resisted even the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Since 1990 12 European states have asked to join NATO. They all chose for themselves to belong to this cooperative military alliance. NATO membership was a key part of "locking in" their turbulent democratic reforms.

NATO programs helped modernize our armed forces, and bring them fully under civilian control. NATO played a vital role in helping all these countries make a clear break from secret communist-era military intelligence machinations, right at the heart of a supposedly independent state. While this slow, cautious and -- as I remember well -- in some ways reluctant enlargement did eventually take place, constant efforts were made to reassure Russia.

Russia was welcomed to the Council of Europe, World Trade Organization and given closer relations with the European Union.

No NATO bases were ever placed in the new member states.

Until 2013, no NATO military exercises were ever conducted in Poland, the Baltic states or anywhere else on the eastern flank.

"No NATO bases were ever placed in the new member states."

No nuclear installations have been moved to the territory of new member states, even though Russia has them less than 100 kilometers from our border.

A NATO-Russia Council was set up and Russia was promised that as long as it respected borders in Europe, no substantial combat forces would be moved east.

Largely in response to Russian objections, Ukraine and Georgia were in fact denied NATO membership plans in 2008.

In pressing the reset button with Moscow toward Russia, President Obama changed the configuration of the proposed missile defense installation in Poland, then suspended its Phase 4 which Russia disliked.

In short, the assertion that Russia was "humiliated" during this period is ridiculous.

Russia took charge of all the former Soviet nuclear weapons, some transferred from Ukraine in 1994 when Russia recognized Ukraine's borders, including Crimea. Ukraine's territorial integrity was guaranteed in the Budapest Memorandum by Russia, [the] U.S., [the] U.K. and France.

Presidents Clinton and Bush treated their Russian counterparts as fellow "great power" leaders and invited them to join the G-8, even though Russia did not qualify to join this group at that time, either as a large economy or as a stable democracy.

The U.S. spent billions of dollars working with Russia to reduce Cold War nuclear and chemical weapons stocks, and to achieve new, better arms control agreements.

All sorts of smaller but practical projects have been set up with Russia. The NATO-Russia Cooperative Airspace Initiative aims to prevent aircraft hijackings. We have agreed to help destroy dangerous ammunitions stocks in the Kaliningrad exclave.

Russia has benefited from all these programs, and many more.

Freed from decades of self-inflicted communism, it has joined the global economy as a normal country.

It's seen the benefits. Its GDP was a feeble $570 billion in 1990. By 2013 it has grown to $ 2.1 trillion.

So, in the years following the end of the Cold War, did NATO and EU governments show unwavering hostility towards Russia?

Did we cynically "take advantage of Russia's weakness?"

Have we been "humiliating" Russia?

I answer those three questions in three words. No. No. And no.

The record since the Berlin Wall came down shows NATO and the European Union and their individual member states all working hard, and in good faith, to build normal, purposeful relations with Russia.

And it shows that Russia itself benefiting hugely from this support.


So where has it gone wrong?

The basic problem is that the current leadership in Moscow depends on corrupt business structures and media manipulation to keep power.

"The basic problem is that the current leadership in Moscow depends on corrupt business structures and media manipulation to keep power."

The Russian elite is dominated by former KGB officers who, starting in the late 1980s, used Russian state money, sometimes laundered through Western offshore banks, to purchase land, natural resources and property on a vast scale.

To protect this wealth, they must prevent the outbreak of a democratic revolution of the kind that shook central Europe in 1989, or an anti-corruption revolution as took place on Kiev's Maidan square early this year.

Using military invasions of Georgia and now Ukraine, or strong-arm tactics as in Armenia, or corrupt political proxies in Moldova, they seek to stop nations of the former Soviet Union from daring to join the successful institutions of the West -- and from setting an example that Russians might want to follow.

They are playing games with our public opinion through propaganda tricks. Paid Internet "trolls" pollute our newspaper comment pages, and Twitter, Facebook and other sites. They roll out fake "experts" with fake authority.

They try to legitimize extreme political forces of all kinds, paying for far-left anti-American rhetoric on their English-language Russia Today channel, while simultaneously supporting far-right anti-European politicians in Europe.


Not content with all that, they are testing our very military resolve.

Russian planes buzz American, Swedish, Danish, even Canadian planes.

Russian troops have captured an Estonian security officer working on the Estonian side of the border. The Russian navy captured a Lithuanian fishing boat and held it for ransom.

All these obnoxious ploys are intended to nibble away at Western resolve, and our own and wider faith in NATO Article 5. To test the value of our mutual security guarantees. But also, as events this year in Ukraine have shown, to challenge head-on the most basic rule of international law and the World of Rules: that international borders cannot be changed by force.


The international response to Russia's policies has been restrained. It has been designed to raise the cost to Russia of undermining Western institutions. The policy is working, up to a point.

Russia's president has admitted that the price his country is paying is high. In the decade from 2002-2012, Russia's economy grew on average 5 percent per year. Russia, like Poland, was integrating with the global economy, and seeing positive results. If Russia grows at that same rate from now until 2025, its GDP will be $ 3.7 billion -- from today's $2.1 billion.

If instead Russia grows at only 1 percent over the next decade because of sanctions and global mistrust of its intentions, its GDP in 2025 will be far less -- $2.3 billion. Cumulatively over the decade, Russia will have lost the staggering sum of over $81 billion! Its leaders have decided to gamble with their own citizens' lives and hopes, by looking to the past, not the future. Some of Russia's citizens are wondering whether this enormous price is worth paying -- and what Russia is getting for it.


Maybe Russia's leaders too are starting to conclude that this price is not worth paying. I truly hope they do. But we need to be prepared if they don't, at least in the short term. We need to think hard about the health of those institutions we set up a half a century ago. First and foremost, we need to face a grim reality. Hard, sharp security questions are being posed to us in Europe once again.

The NATO that we have now is not the NATO we need to deal with them.

If we were starting from scratch now, nobody would put NATO troops and equipment where they are now. NATO should shut down unnecessary commands and legacy bases, and get back to its primary mission: deterrence.

NATO is a defensive alliance. But for deterrence to work, our military capability has to look -- and be -- serious. Second, follow the money.

Have we been complacently turning a blind eye to an uncomfortable truth: that our own tangled, over-complex banking systems have been exploited by international semi-criminal networks, not only from Russia but all over the world? Simply by firmly enforcing existing money laundering laws and asking hard questions about murky money, we will help ourselves and help others who are trying, against high odds, to join the World of Rules. Peoples around the world would be empowered and kleptocrats would be restrained if only we implemented existing laws! Third, we need to think hard about how Europe and the U.S. work together in Ukraine and other countries wanting our help. It's demoralizing for them that so much Western money is wasted through duplication and institutional jostling for position.

Swedish technical assistance agencies and Dutch or American technical assistance agencies shouldn't be duplicating or contradicting one another's programs.

Technical expert "advice" works best when supported by pragmatic peer-to-peer consultations. Ukrainian ministers turn to their Polish counterparts to ask what we think: "You Poles have been through this. What makes sense?"

We do our best to tell them.


Back in 1947 Ukraine, like Poland, was blocked by Stalin from taking part in the generous Marshall Fund programs offered by the U.S.. Let's help Ukraine now, when at last it is free to ask for, and ready to receive, our help. The principled way out of this crisis is based on all sides returning to the principles that George Marshall articulated at Harvard in 1947.

Teamwork. Cooperation. Russia's return to the World of Rules.

If this happens, sanctions can be lifted. Russia can again participate normally in international financial markets and institutions. All Russia's grievances concerning Ukraine or anywhere else can be tackled sensibly and fairly through the UN or OSCE or Council of Europe, or other fora created for precisely such problems. Moscow itself asked to join all these organizations when it wasn't a founder partner when they were set up.

Moscow itself has pledged to respect their rules. Let's be clear.

The alternative to working through these issues normally and peacefully in a spirit of successful partnership is a new dividing line across the European continent. It won't be made of iron but it'll be real enough.

"Moscow itself has pledged to respect their rules."

On one side of the line are countries and peoples free to choose their own democratic destiny. On the other side are countries in a decaying Twilight Zone. A blighted, unhappy and unstable place outside the World of Rules.

If we get this wrong, our shared Western decades-long strategic ambition to create a Europe whole and free will falter.

Ukraine Votes