THE presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, did well to have virtual talks on Dec 7. But as the phrase goes, this was only breaking the ice.
Relations between the two countries have sunk to their lowest since the end of the Cold War in 1999. It is unlikely that the distrust between them was dispelled in the two hours of talk or will be dispelled at the summit in person which they both hope to hold.
The root cause of the problem is the US feeling of triumph over a perceived ‘victory’ in the Cold War and president George H.W. Bush’ breach of faith with the Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He had consented to Germany’s reunification even if it remained a member of Nato provided that the military alliance did not spread eastwards. It did.
In 2009, when, at the prompting of European states that had uneasy ties with Russia, the EU launched the Eastern Partnership, Moscow came up with the idea of a Eurasian economic union, where Ukraine would have a focal role. This was a strategic move by an anxious Russia that did not want to see its former components attracted by Nato or entering the EU fold, especially in the case of Ukraine, given its geographical proximity to both Russia and the EU.
For all the noise, what do the gullible ones gain?
The regime change in Ukraine on Feb 23, 2014, had shaken Moscow. Just a couple of days earlier, Ukraine’s president, who had refused to sign a free-trade agreement with the EU, inked a deal with the opposition for early polls and reinstatement of a parliamentary system, the aim being to stop the months-long bloody protests in Kiev. The agreement was “brokered by EU mediators in the presence of a Russian representative”.
But on Feb 22, the pro-Russia Ukrainian president fled the country. An interim president replaced him. An angry Russia invaded the country and annexed Crimea. The so-called Minsk agreement failed to establish peace. Once again, the unusual Russian build-up in the area has ignited fears of a major offensive, with the American president reportedly warning Moscow of economic sanctions.
Read: The new Cold War?
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, told this writer when he was in Mumbai, that there was little debate on Nato’s expansion. Nato acquired new members including the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania and Croatia. The EU had a smaller list to boast about.
For all this noise, what do these gullible ones gain? Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949, more than seven decades ago, in a different context. It reads: “The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all; and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the party or parties, so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
“Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”
At the time of the hearings on the treaty before the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, the then secretary of state Dean Acheson was clear that Article V did not mean that America would automatically help the victims of aggression. He said: “This naturally does not mean that the United States would automatically be at war if one or the other signatory nation were the victim of an armed attack. The obligation of this government under Article V would be to take promptly the action it deemed necessary to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
“That decision would, of course, be taken in accordance with our constitutional procedures. The factors which would have to be considered would be the gravity of the attack and the nature of the action which this government considered necessary to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
When Acheson was asked by a lawmaker: “Is there or is there not anything in the treaty that pledges us to an automatic declaration of war in any event?” He replied, “There is nothing in the treaty which has that effect, senator.”
Clearly then, America’s pledge where the treaty is concerned will not appear credible.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2021