Ukraine – Conflict between two different perspectives on security in Europe


According to a narrative widely circulated in the Western media, the current crisis around Ukraine is the result of an almost inherent Russian aggression that threatens Ukraine’s integrity and necessitates Western support, even armed, in the country that is under threat of questioning its integrity.

However, a closer look will reveal that what is at stake is much more of a conflict over how collective security will be structured in Europe, a conflict of considerable historical depth.

From the Helsinki Final Act to the Ukrainian crisis

A crucial aspect of the previous Cold War was the way in which Europe risked being the scene of confrontation between the two superpowers, as it was precisely the area where NATO and the Warsaw Pact forces were at odds.

This reality has led since the 1970s to the search for other structures of collective security in Europe on terms that go beyond their division. The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 was such a moment, even if it was more about the symbolic level, as the division remained active. It was then that the principle of the indivisibility of security in Europe was included, a position that will be repeated later.

The “Fall of the Wall” and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact were seen as paving the way for just such a perception of collective security in Europe, mainly through bodies such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

However, this did not go far enough, mainly because the United States insisted in practice on maintaining NATO as a key security mechanism that would guarantee their hegemony at the same time.

It is interesting, however, that at that time (and before the dissolution of the USSR) the position was expressed that there should be limits to NATO expansion into Europe, even if that position was never binding.

However, for the Russian side, the initial commitments were considered to have remained in force and this was reflected in the subsequent negative stance against the successive NATO enlargements.

Russia’s position was that a full “health zone” of NATO member states should not be formed on its borders, as this would form a threat to its own security. This intensified when to some extent something was formed with the possibility of e.g. NATO has a presence in the Baltic republics, in Poland, but also in Romania.

This was reflected in the military intervention in Georgia in 2008 and a few years later in connection with the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, especially when it became clear that the US had shown particular interest in forming a Ukrainian government with a clear pro-Western orientation.

The two conceptions of collective security

The United States formally supports NATO enlargement, whether or not it chooses not to speed things up on a regular basis. The explicit position is that any country wishing to join a collective body representing the “Atlantic” or “Western” perspective should have the right to do so.

This, after all, is reflected in the way in which NATO shifts its rhetoric to the logic of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which represents all the countries that identify themselves as the “West”, not only in the face of terrorism but also in the face of Russia or China, even if, unlike the previous Cold War, we are not dealing with a confrontation of economic and social systems, since both China and Russia are part of a global capitalist market.

Interestingly, in relation to the concept of collective security, it is not so much defined in terms of “geopolitical realism” and balance of power as was the case in the previous Cold War, but much more as an escalating conflict, not just one of territorial disputes. integrity or sovereignty, but also extends to issues such as human rights and compliance with a Western ideology of “democracy”.

In this sense, the issue no longer concerns the international behavior of states but also their internal political composition. And of course in this context, the confrontation is not only conducted in terms of politico-military conflict, but also through means such as sanctions, marginally with the attempt to exclude from all “western” economic networks and practices.

On the other hand, the Russian side seems to insist on a previous version of collective security, which has historically been represented by a range of institutions from the UN Security Council to the OSCE.

In this context, collective security is ensured through mechanisms to provide mutual security guarantees, respect for mutual doubts, avoidance of aggressive actions regarding the layout of weapons systems (eg regarding the placement of anti-ballistic missiles, which when we talk about nuclear forces are and offensive weapons) and of course with a logic that considers that the internal affairs of countries are a factor of international intervention only on the basis of a broader consensus and in borderline cases and therefore there is no question e.g. armed export of democratic institutions.

The American attitude and the Russian positions

In this context, the different positions that have been recorded in the context of the current escalation of tension are interesting.

The US, which has gradually shifted its security doctrine in a way that clearly sees Russia as an adversary (but also China as a “competitor”), while similar shifts are reflected in NATO’s doctrine, seem to insist on a perception that What is at stake at the moment is the attitude of the democracies towards the authoritarian regimes and they consider that in this context there are no questions of principle as to how long NATO structures will reach, or whether military equipment will be offered to countries that want it and need it. In this context, any escalation avoidance options are merely regular options for avoiding tensions and do not invalidate the general orientation.

Russia, on the other hand, issued a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry on December 11 expressing the need to return to the principle of indivisible security and to reach binding agreements, including the withdrawal of NATO’s promise of Ukraine and Georgia, to deploy aggressors. weapons systems near the Russian border, for the non-expansion of NATO, for an agreed distance between the military training fields and the “contact line” of Russia and NATO, for the resumption of dialogue processes between the Ministries of Defense at both Russian-US and Russian levels. NATO and the re-use of the OSCE as a mechanism for collective security in Europe.

Against this background, it is also interesting to see how the threats from both sides are responded to in case of escalation. Russia has made it clear that it will respond to anything that violates its “red lines” in relation to Ukraine, that is, either in the event that Kiev tries to act aggressively in relation to the eastern provinces, or in the event that accession to the NATO.

On the other hand, the US has stated that it will respond with large-scale and costly economic sanctions against Russia, avoiding talking about military action, although other NATO countries have indirectly made it clear that they will at least assist in armaments.

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