WASHINGTON -- On the eve of this week's Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and NATO Ministerial meetings, in addition to a NATO-Russia Council gathering, Russian officials unveiled their long-awaited proposal for a new European Security Treaty. The Medvedev proposal, as it has become known, has been the subject of considerable debate within NATO and among OSCE member states. Some argue that it represents an important opportunity to engage with Russia on addressing security needs in Europe. Others counter that instead of focusing on the Russian proposal, emphasis should be on revitalizing existing security arrangements, not their replacement or total overhaul.
Skeptics of the Russian proposal, ourselves included, question negotiating a new architecture with Russia when Moscow currently is not in compliance with existing security arrangements, namely, the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and last summer's Georgia ceasefire agreement. If Russia does not abide by these agreements, on what basis can there be sufficient trust and confidence that Russia will adhere to new arrangements? Furthermore, according to the text released by the Kremlin, "A Party to the Treaty shall not undertake, participate in, or support any actions or activities affecting significantly security of any other Party or Parties to the Treaty." Russia is already in violation of this clause through its continued illegal troop presence in Georgia's separatist regions and forces in the Moldovan separatist area of Transnistria, contrary to the position of the government in Chisinau and the 1999 Istanbul Commitments.
Russia also uses other methods short of military force that significantly affect the security of its neighbors, including energy cutoffs, cyber attacks, or bans on other countries' exports. Such tactics and behavior clearly run counter to existing security arrangements, to say nothing of the new Russian proposal. Finally, but not surprisingly, the Russian draft makes no reference to human rights standards and democratization, key issues for the OSCE and NATO.
The idea for a new European security architecture first emerged in June 2008 when newly-elected Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, in a speech in Berlin, called for a "legally binding treaty." Medvedev warned against "marginalizing and isolating countries, creating zones with differentiated levels of security, and abandoning the creation of general regional collective security systems."
In the 18 months it took to flesh out Medvedev's idea, it became clear that Russia was interested in creating a new pan-European security architecture to replace Cold War-era institutions such as NATO and OSCE. Moscow considers today's institutions incapable of addressing 21st century security challenges.
Many observers suspected the Russian proposal was designed to marginalize the U.S. on European security matters and drive wedges between and among allies in order to increase Europe's reliance on Moscow. European leaders, particularly in countries along Russia's borders and those most vulnerable to Russian pressure over energy supplies, made clear that the U.S. is central to any such discussions.
The Russian proposal also reflects the view in Moscow that NATO and EU enlargement poses a threat to Russia, ignores Russian interests in the region, and increases instability. In fact, Russia's western borders have become more stable and secure since the enlargement of NATO to Central and Eastern Europe. For example, since becoming members of the EU and NATO, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have become more stable, democratic neighbors. The signing of a border treaty between Latvia and Russia in May 2007 and the visit seven months later by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Riga were simply not possible before Latvia joined NATO.
To be fair, one should not reflexively dismiss all Russian concerns, for Moscow has a point in observing that existing security institutions have struggled at times to address key issues and to determine their role in the changing security environment. After all, the Georgia-Russia crisis exposed weaknesses in NATO, the EU, and the OSCE. However, the solution is not to scrap these organizations but to reform them. The efforts by a group of experts led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to revise NATO's Strategic Concept, to be unveiled in Lisbon at next year's NATO summit, are the first steps in correcting that organization's shortcomings.
In addition, NATO members must engage frequently in strategic discussions on key security challenges. This is simply not happening today. Instead, many Allies hesitate to discuss issues such as Iran, missile defense, and Georgia for fear of jangling politically sensitive nerves. The EU must also spend more time addressing key security issues affecting its member states - Afghanistan in particular. Furthermore, greater practical cooperation between the EU and NATO is imperative. The world's security challenges are too complex and numerous for one organization to focus solely on military issues and another to focus solely on civilian issues.
NATO, the EU, and the OSCE have served and will continue to serve increasingly important roles in managing transatlantic security challenges, but they are certainly not perfect and need to be improved. That is far different from replacing them or subordinating them to a larger superstructure. Cooperation and dialogue among the allies and with Russia must increase. If Moscow were to respect the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, human rights and rule of law, and the peaceful settlement of disputes -- principles already enshrined in existing arrangements -- pan-European and transatlantic security would be greatly improved.