There is growing realization that NATO’s eastward expansion is non-negotiable and unstoppable. President Clinton made an explicit commitment to this effect in his State of the Union address. With some caveats, other NATO countries are solidly in support of its eastward expansion. It is a foregone conclusion for the prospective new members.
At the same time, it is hard to ignore a strong consensus in Russia to oppose the NATO expansion if Russia’s vital interests are not met. A January poll found that about half its population opposes the admission into NATO of former Soviet republics and former Warsaw Pact members while only 8% are in favor of Russia’s possible membership. For Russia, the issue is highly emotional rather than clearly defined in terms of new military threats. However, the bargaining process between NATO and Russia has gone too far for either side to back off without serious political damage internally and externally.
Most solutions suggested so far by Russia and NATO would not work in the immediate future. It is unrealistic to expect that Russia’s demands for the same security guarantees as NATO members or veto power in the decision-making will be granted. However, the NATO-proposed charter is too loose and unbinding for Russia to accept. What may bring a partial compromise is a revision of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe accord, along the lines to be proposed by NATO this week in Vienna. However, as is the case with many multilateral arms control negotiations, this option will take too long to finalize.
Russia has little room for maneuvering, which leaves muscle-flexing and saber-rattling as its only bargaining tools. There has been a series of statements by Russian officials describing “adequate” military responses to NATO expansion, including the most recent one by the secretary of Russia’s Security Council in support of the first use of nuclear weapons.
It is quite natural that Russia’s deepest concerns about NATO expansion are mostly focused on U.S. strategy, policies and actions as the lead NATO member and the only remaining superpower. Hence, a major U.S. initiative to improve bilateral security relations with Russia could effectively diffuse the expansion issue and become an important stabilizing measure in future NATO-Russian negotiations.
A possible vehicle could be a mutual security treaty between the United States and Russia. A precedent, though rather remote, is found in the 1954 U.S.-Japanese Treaty, which provided security guarantees to a non-NATO country. Initially, a similar treaty with Russia would be higher on symbolism than on substance but have a clear potential to evolve into a genuine strategic alliance. It also would be instrumental in counterbalancing the trend in Russia’s politics away from the West, toward a new “strategic partnership” with China.
This binding agreement would be based on what is achievable and politically feasible in the short term, leaving the door open to other relevant arrangements. Both sides might try to agree on such provisions as non-first use of nuclear weapons as a follow-up to the bilateral nontargeting agreement; unilateral but partial implementation by the United States of the START II Treaty pending its ratification by Russia or finalization of the START III outline in exchange for Russia’s concessions on the ABM treaty and anti-ballistic defenses deployment; U.S. commitment not to deploy its nuclear weapons on the territory of new NATO members and gradual withdrawal of them from Europe, provided Russia takes reciprocal measures.
To make its security-related scope more comprehensive, the treaty should provide a permanent mechanism for discussing specific nonproliferation issues in the bilateral framework. It is not unlikely that a tradeoff involving Russia’s deals in weapons and sensitive technologies with Iran and other countries could be easier to achieve.
The treaty should establish a strategic alliance fund that would go beyond the existing military-to-military contacts. Among its major funding objectives would be support for military reforms in Russia. The United States clearly has a stake in the successful transformation of Russia’s armed forces into a smaller and more manageable group of professionals with expanded links to the West. The ongoing crisis in the armed forces poses the risk of new threats and destabilization inside the country. Despite the cost, the net results would be highly beneficial to the United States in terms of strategic predictability, stability and savings in the defense budget.
Putting security relations with Russia on a solid legal basis is long overdue. In December 1991, Bill Clinton said that U.S. security and the prospects for the economic and social modernization of American society would greatly depend on U.S. relations with a new Russia. The United States largely has failed to turn Russia into a friendly and nonhostile state. By proposing a security treaty, the Clinton administration would be able to defuse some of Russia’s NATO-related fears, engage its government in a highly visible dialogue, check the growing anti-Western feelings and split the nationalistic opposition.