Center for Strategic Decision Research


Russia and the European Union: A Crucial Contribution to Global Security

Ambassador Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz
German Ambassador to Russia

Recently I hosted alumni of the German-Russian program for high military officials. As I spoke with the interesting group of generals who came to my house-something that those of you who were in NATO in earlier days will remember was one of our dreams-I kept thinking,  "Weren't the earlier days a completely different world?" My thoughts went back to the threat perceptions we had when the Berlin wall came down. And it came to me that European threat perceptions since that time-November 9, 1989, or 11/9-remained the same until September 11, 2001, or 9/11. 


While I believe that the way to fight terrorism and produce security and stability is through political, economic, and social reform, the threat perceptions we had when the Berlin wall came down were basically fairly traditional and linked to what I would call the Old Europe. We thought that the Soviet Union would disintegrate; nuclear weapons would be a main threat; Central Eastern European states would rediscover what had divided them-minority differences, ever-changing borders, and ethnic problems; and, of course, Germany would reunite and become powerful and ambitious, and try again to dominate not only Europe but the world. These were the doomsday scenarios. 

How did we approach these issues? The European Union used all means available to reinforce autonomous reform, economic reform, and political reform, and to introduce the rule of law as well as stability at our borders and east of our borders. This was not an approach that was seen by many as a crisis-prevention operation, and I agreed. Some of you may remember that a year of IFOR operation in Yugoslavia cost the participating countries $7 billion. I stressed this in the arguments I made in our parliament as well as publicly to show that the concept we were offering to stabilize the territory east of us-first association with, then integration into the European Common Market and the European Union-was, though of considerable cost, a relatively low-cost and high-profit approach to security. 


I do not think that anyone on the other side of the Atlantic is really giving Europeans credit for what they have done in the security field. The changes that have been made have simply been taken for granted. I was deep down in the engine room when we started to develop the strategy of associating with and then integrating with East European countries. I can tell you that it was a very tough job to get our countries to agree, both European Union countries and partner countries, because many people thought it was a very devious method that did not respect national pride. They also thought that, if they underwent the pain of change, we would not deliver.  

But the greatest enlargement of the European Union is happening now:  25 members, 450 million people, and a territory that produces one-quarter of the global gross national product. I say, so far, so good; this is a successful crisis-prevention strategy, a win-win formula that may hold some lessons for us as we look at other territories. Though I said I believe that we Europeans have not been given enough credit for such work, I do give credit to the United States. It played a critical, supportive role in this approach as it did in earlier stages of European integration. By doing so it helped us to succeed, and also enabled the country to maintain its commitment to European security through NATO. It is an important example of how our cooperation is making the world a safer place although our contributions are quite different; while the European contribution was purely non-military, it had high security significance. 


As we concentrated our energies and a good deal of money on Central and Eastern Europe, we always looked beyond that territory, because we were aware that the Eastern border of the enlarged European Union brought us closer to Russia. We wanted to make sure that, over time, that border would become less of a dividing line and more of a connecting line. In 1994 we defined a policy, the Partnership Cooperation Agreement, which many may not know about but which is a good agreement, though not yet fully implemented. In May of 2003, EU heads of state and government also met in Saint Petersburg, because we had a distinct feeling that after all that had happened in previous months we should be more courageous and more imaginative and move forward.  

During those meetings, based on developments mainly inside Russia, we decided to do four things: 

  • Create a common economic space for free movement of goods, services, and capital. To our American friends I say, this is a very ambitious and very demanding goal. You will see when you analyze the Russian press that the European Union is not held in the highest regard there. This is mainly because we must do a lot of very hard work in a practical way-we must always check that the Russians and their agencies can implement whatever we agree to and sign, which makes for a very uncomfortable situation. It makes us look like a schoolmaster, and makes us very unpopular. 
  • Create a second space, one of internal security. On the issue of internal security I can report to you that I see a distinctive change in Russian thinking, one that is very welcome. The Russian theory has been that their outside border is their country's  protective skin. That is no longer the case. Though we realized this too late, I think we are now moving toward something positive. We are looking at internal security and what produces it, starting with the quality of passports and identification of passport holders. It is a very tedious, technical process, but one that is extremely important. 
  • Create a third space, one of common security and one that involves assessing threats to our immediate area to the south. Our threat assessment there is similar to that of Russia and the United States too. 
  • Create a fourth space, one in which people can move freely for such things as education and holidays. This space will require the resolution of some of the internal security issues. 

We are coordinating efforts to accomplish all of these things with the help of the United States, and I at least have the impression that we are following a common agenda. We have agreed to Russian membership in the G8 and are working to get Russia into the WTO, the OECD, the Paris energy agency, and other organizations. 


While the above efforts may not seem to be directly related to promoting global security, I suggest that it will help to make this part of the world a stable, predictable, and friendly place, one where conflicts of interest may still arise but can be settled in a civilized way. These efforts are a tremendous contribution to dealing with the new challenges and to increasing the possibility of developing mutual trust and achieving common goals. Therefore I encourage you to look positively on what we are trying to do, even if it is not a solution to the problems associated with the use of military force. 




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