Cooperative Security in Europe: New Wine, New Bottles

Author data: 
Catherine Kelleher
Publication Date: 
April 2012
CISSM Working Paper
The Advanced Methods of Cooperative Security Program
Document Type: 
Working Papers

This is a report on the life, and reported near-death, of one of the most powerful concepts in recent European political history: cooperative security.  Europe is where the concept originated, blossomed, and has experienced its greatest tests and successes. However, neither its intellectual parents nor the practitioners who found it so useful in their efforts to shape a new post-Cold War international order would concede that cooperative security is a concept restricted by geographic limits. As they see it, Europe is the first, but not the only, region where the principles of cooperative security can be applied.  They would also reject the cultural bounds suggested by critics--that it is a concept reserved only for advanced/democratic societies, with enough prosperity and social harmony to allow for consensus and confidence.

There are many different explanations and claims about how the Cold War ended and why Europe, long the cockpit of war and violence, has now been transformed into a harmonious political landscape. Realists and Reaganites find the major cause of the change in the collapse of the Soviet state, unable ultimately to reform its sinking economic system or to answer the great challenge of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Supporters of inevitable American primacy see the triumph of irresistible American values, of democracy and its commitment to cooperation and problem solving.  Others, followers of integration theory, affirm Jean Monnet’s basic principles: that routine, continuous interaction, even amongst enemies, brings about the building of trust and the search for converging, if not common, interests. Most ardent perhaps are the advocates of civil society practices and human rights: they argue that change came slowly but surely from below, and in spite of, the state level, as populations in Eastern Europe sought and reacted to cross-border initiatives and ultimately designed their own revolutions.

Whatever the claims, Europe is now almost completely whole and free.  Armies no longer face off across the Central European plain. Few border disputes remain and few populations are now subject to repression, fear, hostility, or systematic mistreatment. It is the application of the principles of cooperative security that has led to a far different Europe than one could have dreamed about in 1989. There is more than enough praise and credit for this to go around--for personalities from Gorbachev and Yeltsin to Reagan and Bush and groups such as the opposition East Germans, the determined Hungarians under Gyula Horn, and even the ever-ambiguous Czechs. There are hot spots still on the periphery, but Europe is a zone of peace. This is not the result of striking a new balance of power; it is even less related to dreams of a European supranational entity based on integration or world government.

Europe is a space inhabited by sovereign states with varying levels of trust in one another, which have chosen and continue to choose a different way of co-existence and mutual reassurance within a region that was so often the site of great violence and cruelty. The national actors in this space have done so--not always elegantly or proficiently but generally with non-violent resolution--in the face of continuing crisis flares on the periphery--in the Balkans, in the Caucasus, in the Baltic region, in Georgia, and in Ukraine.

The argument here is that these European states have been able to coexist peacefully precisely because Europe and its transatlantic/Eurasian frameworks have developed new habits of transparency, mutual confidence, and a regard of violence as a last resort, undergirded by a persistent trend toward institutionalization and constant communication at all societal levels. This is not the result of the West’s victory. Europe has often been the site for experiments in cooperative security structures; when successful it has been a beacon for others to follow, though when results have been less impressive, others have also taken note. Two decades of experimentation and debate have produced few close parallels to any of the specific structures in Europe. But the technologies of transparency and verification are being honed there for all to see, with lessons to be drawn as others choose.

But there is still more to do in Europe:

•    to help develop effective forums for another attempt at cooperation with a transformed Russia, even as it experiences internal political turmoil and doubts about the future course of the European experiment;
•    to smooth and offset recent US-EU turbulence as post-Lisbon Europe becomes a global foreign policy player and faces new fiscal and geopolitical challenges, including a debt crisis that threatens the future of European institutions;
•    to provide new tools for managing Europe's unstable periphery;
•    to overcome the long-neglected gaps in Eurasian resource tussles, in energy demand and supply, and in the inequitable balance of access and assured supply; and
•    to modernize, if not overhaul, arms control and confidence-building measures in Europe, to reduce the risks of conflict, military accident, and repression given the threats of the 21st century.

This essay attempts a second interim assessment of the concept of cooperative security, its impact on the future of European security, and its potential generalization to issues beyond arms control and to other non-European areas, revisiting themes developed in my 1994-1995 work for the Brookings Institution. It will look first at the concept and how it has been critically assessed over the last twenty years. It will ask whether the model can be replicated, and demonstrate that there is much to suggest that such replication should be attempted. It will then examine three of the core elements in its development and in its evolution. There will also be a review of test cases in the present, particularly the challenges faced in a future wave of arms control negotiations, and in the construction of a missile defense system against rogue or terrorist attack on Europe. Moreover, there are new and difficult areas for global applications and for further broadening and deepening the reach and grasp within Europe, such as the battles against proliferation risks and against homegrown and external bases of terrorist activity. Finally, there are the new economic threats, exemplified by Europe’s search for energy security.