Academic journal article McNair Papers

Moscow's "Near Abroad": Security Policy in Post-Soviet Europe

Academic journal article McNair Papers

Moscow's "Near Abroad": Security Policy in Post-Soviet Europe

Article excerpt


The Soviet collapse bequeathed an uneasy security legacy throughout Eurasia. Especially worrisome to defense planners at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are the actual and potential conflicts in the European republics of the former USSR, part of Russia's "near abroad": Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and the Baltic republics. This area contains 70 million inhabitants, two thousand nuclear warheads, and a surplus of unresolved strategic, economic, and ethnic disputes. These new nations are struggling to enter Western economic and security institutions while key Russian figures press for reintegration of the republics under Russia's leadership. Moscow's evolving policy toward the "near abroad" will indicate what kind of Russia--democratic nation, revanchist empire, or anarchic battleground the West will face in the 21st century.

During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is o f every man against every man.

--HOBBES, Leviathan I:13

The end of the cold war, phenomenal strategic victory though it was for the West, has disoriented NATO capitals. Scenarios that eluded Western planners even five years ago have become fact. The USSR has dissolved, 15 autonomous states have emerged, and inter-republican conflict has ignited. The once monolithic military has devolved into assorted, self-directed armed forces, and secure unitary control over thirty-thousand nuclear warheads has diminished. Any post-Warsaw Pact concert of Europe will be buffeted by the ongoing revolutions in the former Soviet empire. "Russia is no longer threatening, but it is frightening," one NATO official summed up. (1)

Such an environment is hazardous for daily political forecasts, let alone long-range strategic visions. The West has no experience analyzing countries "that are attempting nation-building, political democratization, and economic reform in a context of economic austerity, imperial disintegration, and the collapse of state structures." (2) Yet Western governments must appreciate the forces driving defense and diplomacy in the former USSR in order to foresee--and forestall--general conflagration in post-Soviet Eurasia.

Several unappreciated realities demand a review of the states on Russia's European periphery. (3) The Republic of Ukraine, by virtue of its geopolitical position, resources, and nuclear weapons, is already a major actor on the European security scene. Quiescent Belarus, capital of the moribund Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), has nevertheless created its own army and could be drawn into a regional conflict. A shooting war erupted in Moldova in mid-1992 which, though currently ignored by the West, evinces eerie parallels to the Balkans. (4) The Baltic republics, centrifugal pioneers of the Soviet break-up, continue to "host" unwelcome Russian military units and an unsettled Slavic population whose cause has energized Moscow's conservatives. Russian policy toward the "near abroad" or "nearby foreign parts" (blizhniye zarubezhiya) (5) will indicate the kind of Russia--nation, empire, or anarchic battleground--the West will know in the 21st century.

The Region

The territorial are from Tallin to Yalta contains six independent countries with 70 million inhabitants, over 250 strategic nuclear missiles, (6) and a third of the economic output of the Soviet Union. Ukraine alone has a population of 52 million (including some 11 million Russians) and Europe's second largest standing army. Unlike the Central European Warsaw Pact states, these republics did not entertain any notion of statehood (7) and were thrust abruptly into independence in 1991. Like Russia, all six share unfathomable socioeconomic nightmares, not least that each has banished its Communist party without casting off its Communists. All the historical "risk factors for intense outbursts of aggressive nationalism" are present in these countries: "democratization, state building, marketization, mass communications. …

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