Recently, there has been much talk of a ‘reset’ in the West’s relations with Russia. It was started by President Obama but has been taken up by President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel and, in the last week, by the Secretary General of NATO. But rather little has been elaborated about what this ‘reset’ might mean or how Western countries might respond to the proposal by president Dmitri Medvedev for a new European security architecture, first put forward in June 2008. Medvedev also published a draft European security treaty in November 2009. In a paper presented in Moscow today, we will be arguing that the EU should seize the opportunity offered by Medvedev’s initiative and the new interest in revising and rethinking relations with Russia to propose a human security architecture for Europe.
Medvedev’s initiative focused on what is known as ‘hard security’ – the security of borders and the role of military forces. It arose out of what Russians perceive as NATO’s disregard for the principles of the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which confirmed the territorial status quo in Europe and prohibited the unilateral use of military force. The enlargement of NATO, the war over Kosovo in 1999, and the recognition of Kosovo in 2009 were all interpreted as threatening behaviour, whatever the reality. In similar mirror thinking, Western governments have pointed to the war in Georgia in 2008 as evidence that Russia has expansionary military goals. The EU should respond to the proposal but stress the importance of going beyond traditional conceptions of security and open up a debate about the possibility of a human security architecture for Europe.
"Instead of focussing on future military attacks, a human security approach would put much more emphasis on so-called non-traditional threats such as the spread of drugs, organised crime, terrorism, or natural and man made disasters"
The concept of human security could be said to have been invented in the Helsinki Accords of 1975, even though the actual term came later. The Helsinki Accords were composed of three baskets. The first basket was about a rule-governed as opposed to war-based security – this is what Medvedev is proposing in his treaty. The second basket was about economic, scientific, technological and cultural co-operation. This means that insecurity is not only about physical threats, it is about material deprivation as well. And the third basket was about human rights; it was about the security of individuals and the communities in which they live and not just the security of states and borders.
After the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union, some hoped that a new security organisation would supplant NATO and the Warsaw Pact. But instead there has been a proliferation and fragmentation of security organisations, with different geographical memberships and different tasks – NATO, the EU, the OSCE (the organisation that came out of the Helsinki Accords), the Council of Europe, the CIS, and the CSTO. Only the OSCE includes all the countries of the Euro-Atlantic area but it has increasingly focussed on the third basket of Helsinki and because it is separated from the first two baskets (NATO and the EU) it lacks capacity for implementation. Indeed, despite all these organisations, our ability to keep people safe in the region as a whole, or to contribute to security in the rest of the world, is at best ad hoc and at worst non-existent.
The European Union and Russia could play a pivotal role in developing a human security architecture for the whole of Europe. The EU and Russia have already signed a ‘partnership for modernisation’. But if the EU and Russia are to co-operate on economic issues, they need to cooperate on security issues as well.
A first step in reconstructing Europe’s security architecture is to develop a common philosophy. Human security offers a different lens through which to understand some of the key components of European security. For example, conflicts in the Balkans or the Caucasus have become flashpoints for disagreements between Russia and the West. There is a tendency to define conflicts in Kosovo or Abkhazia in geo-political terms and to take different sides. Instead, Russia and the EU could start from a human security perspective and focus on how to end the conflicts in a way that enhances the human security of all the people living in those areas. Energy security is also framed in geo-political terms; NATO’s primary preoccupation is how to protect the security of oil supplies to Western countries and to prevent the control over supplies by Russia from being used as a political lever. A human security approach to energy would mean working together to ensure universal access to energy supplies, to combat climate change through energy efficiency and diversification, and to foster the stability and development of suppliers, who are excessively dependent on oil rents.
Instead of focussing on future military attacks, a human security approach would put much more emphasis on so-called non-traditional threats such as the spread of drugs, organised crime, terrorism, or natural and man made disasters. And instead of trying to counter the rise of emerging powers, Russia and the EU should cooperate to strengthen global solutions to the global challenges of our time.
We live in a more multipolar multilateral world, where global challenges like the threat of climate change or financial turmoil can have serious consequences for security, multiplying new and old risks such as xenophobia or religious fundamentalism, increased crimes rates or terror. In particular, both the EU and Russia were severely affected by the financial crisis. There is an urgent need to move away from Cold War thinking and to develop a new approach to European security.