Belarus's Relations with NATO and Russia in the Context of European Security

Article excerpt

Although termination of the cold war radically decreased the probability of world-scale military conflict, it did not, unfortunately, completely eradicate the threat. Euphoria that arose at the beginning of the 1990s has diminished with the realization that confrontation continues to exist, though essentially at a lower level and with quite another correlation of forces. Two global problems that currently seem to cause the most concern are the continuing tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation over nuclear weapons and the increasing tension between Russia and NATO.

After the breakup of the Warsaw Pact, NATO remained Europe's only military alliance; it now involves almost all European states in its activities. So it is quite natural that proposals for creating a post-cold war European security order are more and more related with it. However, Russia, the only state in Europe whose military force is more or less comparable to NATO's, is categorically against this idea. Therefore, it is evident that relations between NATO and Russia will define the future of European security in a global sense.

A tremendous number of publications investigate practically all aspects of the NATO/Russia problem. At the same time, virtually no attention is paid to the point that Russia is not alone in confronting NATO: there are two more states on the same "side of the barricade"--the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Belarus. Though this splinter will for a long time darken Russia-NATO relations, the case of Yugoslavia in general is more or less clear. But the situation concerning Belarus seems to be more complicated because of the country's close political and military union with the Russian Federation.

Sometimes, under certain circumstances, small forces can cause great tremors, and some facts permit one to suppose that the role of Belarus could be significant. Therefore, it is of more than academic interest to answer the following questions: How will the relatively small country of Belarus influence the general situation between NATO and Russia? To what extent should it be taken into account in the process of forming NATO-Russian relations and creating a European security system?

Belarus-NATO Relations

For four decades, up to the very end of the 1980s, extremely active propaganda in the media made Soviet peoples, including Belarusians, see NATO as a mortal threat. The perception began to change slowly before the collapse of the Soviet Union so that relations between independent Belarus and the North Atlantic alliance occurred against a more or less neutral background. Nevertheless, such a long-term image of NATO as "enemy number one" left a strong mark on the minds of the people, especially the older generation. This attitude continues to influence the country's population, and political authorities use it in support of their interests.

The first contact between independent Belarus and NATO at the official level took place on 10 March 1992 in Brussels, at the North Atlantic Cooperation Council meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs, where Belarus, among ten other newly independent states, was accepted into this body. From that time forward cooperation developed rather actively, and contact became constant at different levels. In March 1993 and May 1994, Belarus's minister of defense visited NATO headquarters and met with his colleagues from the alliance and partner countries. During 1992-95, NATO secretary-general Manfred Woerner and other top-ranking military and political officials visited Belarus. Belarusian delegations, mainly composed of politicians and journalists, also visited NATO frequently. The principal questions discussed at those meetings were disarmament problems, confidence-building measures, conversion of defense industries, and civil-military relations.

However, after the election of Alexander Lukashenka as president of Belarus, relations worsened rapidly. …