By Ding Yuanhong
The European security situation has been relatively quiet since the conclusion of the Kosovo war, though several serious challenges loom. The US is determined to deploy an anti-missile system in the region of Central Europe and to push Kosovo towards independence. These two undercurrents are threatening the continent's peace and tranquility.
At the beginning of this year, the US revealed that it was going to deploy an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, a move that Russia strongly opposes. The US claims that the system is intended to deter the threat of a missile attack by Iran or North Korea.
This argument is hardly convincing. As soon as the plan was announced, Russian officials said they believed the system was aimed at their country, and others agreed.
In his February 2 speech in Germany at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, President Vladimir Putin lashed out at the US's foreign policy, using exceptionally harsh words. He said that the United States' deployment of an anti-missile system in Europe made Russia feel "uneasy" and "would inevitably lead to a new round of arms race". Other Russian officials at different levels have subsequently come out to denounce the move, using sharper and sharper language.
After a meeting with Czech President Vaclav Klaus on April 27, Putin fiercely criticized the US for its plan to deploy an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic at a news briefing. He said the plan was totally directed at Russia. By way of an example, the Russian president referred to the US's decision to deploy Pershing II mid-range missiles in the then Federal Republic of Germany in the 1980s, leading to a crisis. The implication was that the US's new system would lead to a fresh arms race.
"This will thoroughly change the security system in Europe and make the possibility of mutual damage and even joint destruction increase many times," he said.
On May 3, Russia formally announced that it would freeze the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), suspending its obligations to implement the treaty until other countries ratified it.
Despite the seemingly jovial meeting between George W Bush and Putin at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, President Putin signed a decree freezing Russia's participation in the CFE, citing "extraordinary circumstances ... which affect the security of the Russian Federation and require immediate measures," the Kremlin said in a statement.
The CFE treaty and the treaty on eliminating medium-range and intermediate-range missiles in Europe were signed by the US and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1987. They have been crucial to the maintenance of the strategic balance in Europe after the Cold War.
The US and other Western countries were all stunned by Russia's strong reaction. But this has all been futile.
In a sense, Russia's strong opposition to the US plan to deploy an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic is a kind of counterattack driven by years of accumulated rancor.
After the conclusion of the Cold War, the US has squeezed Russia's strategic space by expanding NATO eastward, plotting the "Color Revolution" and inciting countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, such as Georgia and Ukraine, to ceaselessly provoke Russia. Russia's reaction also reflects President Putin's intention to create a policy basis for whoever becomes his successor.
The effectiveness of the US anti-missile system is still in doubt. The US's insistence on carrying out the plan at this time seems to be purely political, an attempt to achieve multiple political ends. First, the US is choosing to deploy an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, which neighbor Russia and are hostile to Russia. It appears to be intended to contain Russia's resurgence.
Second, the move seems intended to slow down or even stop the pace of Europe's military integration, when the EU and NATO are heatedly discussing the construction of their own European regional anti-missile system.
For years, EU countries have been striving to set up an independent defense force of their own, believing it is indispensable for the EU to play an independent role in the international arena.
Despite many difficulties, the EU has not given up its efforts. At the recent ceremony to celebrate the EU's 50th Anniversary, German Chancellor Angela Merkel clearly pointed out that the EU should build its own army. The economic strength of the EU as a whole can match that of the US. The euro has already stood its ground. The EU's political influence keeps increasing along with its continuous expansion.
The one area in which the US overwhelms the EU is in military power. The EU's desire to construct an independent defense system and promote military integration is disadvantageous to the US's attempts to control Europe.
To maintain its military dominance, the US has pushed for the deployment of an anti-missile system in some countries in Central Europe in the name of a non-existent missile threat before Europe could construct its own anti-missile system that covers the whole continent.
Third, the US is using the old grudge that Poland and the Czech Republic hold against Russia and their fear of being dominated by the so-called old European countries like Germany and France. It is treating the new EU members as tools to squeeze Russia.
The repercussions could be profound. This will not only damage the already fragile international non-proliferation regime, but also strike a blow on the European strategic balance, which has been stable over the years. Though the claim that Europe will return to a Cold War situation is an exaggeration, there is no doubt that the European security situation appears set to enter into an unstable new period.
Besides the US plan to deploy an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, another potential threat to the European security situation is Kosovo's accelerating steps towards independence, which it is taking under the influence of the US.
Ethnic conflicts and land disputes triggered by the restive region have a long history, creating an extremely sensitive problem in both the Balkan region and Central and Eastern Europe.
The Kosovo problem is the most acute among those at the moment. It was precisely the conflict between the Serbians and the Albanians in Kosovo that served as an excuse for US-led NATO forces to launch the war against the former Yugoslavia.
After this war ended, in response to calls from other Western countries, Kosovo, a part of the former Yugoslavian territory, was taken from the Serbian Republic and handed over to the UN for temporary trusteeship.
Elements of NATO's army remain there today. And former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, the special representative of the UN secretary-general, has been presiding over the negotiations between the Serbians and the Albanians in Kosovo, hoping to work out a plan to resolve the Kosovo problem.
In view of the endless disputes between the Serbians and the Albanians, Ahtisaari submitted a so-called compromise plan to the new UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and presented his plan to the Serbian government and the Kosovo local government afterwards.
The core content of this plan is to set up a temporary Kosovo state under international supervision and management. The move would basically allow Kosovo to break away from the Serbian Republic and head towards independence.
Before the UN Security Council discussed this topic in April, the EU and the European Parliament had held intense meetings to discuss and design specific measures and procedures for "international supervision" by the EU.
It is not difficult for people to discern an American influence behind all these moves. Starting with the strategy of dismembering the former Yugoslavia, the US has clearly stood at the side of the Albanians and supported their demand for independence before launching the Kosovo war.
Now the former Yugoslavia has completely disintegrated. Montenegro has also gained independence, and the Serbian Republic's domestic political situation has been unstable all along.
Since Kosovo has been out of its actual control and occupied by foreign armies all these years, Serbia's right to speak on the problem of Kosovo has been greatly weakened.
This time around, Western countries have turned a deaf ear to Serbia's opposition to the settlement plan that Ahtisaari wrote and directly submitted to the UN Security Council for discussion and approval.
But this plan actually sets a precedent: A sovereign state could lose part of its territory because of ethnic differences and interference from outside powers. This has been rarely seen since World War II, and will surely lead to severe consequences.
The US and other Western countries have argued that this is only a "special case". This is not convincing at all. After the plan was brought up, the Serbian government immediately declared it to be "unacceptable". Russia insisted that mediation should go on, so as to work out a plan that could be accepted by both the Serbians and the Albanians, and even proposed that the special representative of the UN secretary-general be replaced. Other countries in the Balkan region as well as countries such as Spain, which has its own ethnic secessionist problems, grew uneasy.
In April, the Security Council discussed the issue of Kosovo, but failed to make any progress on the problem because of conflicting opinions.
However, Western countries, led by the US, insisted on putting the plan into practice and tried very hard, using both stick and carrot, to impel Russia not to use its veto power in the Security Council.
One of the motives for the US's persistence in advocating Kosovo independence was spelled out in an April 19 article in the Hong Kong Asian Times Online. The piece said the US wanted to sacrifice Serbia to gain favor with the Islamic world and to win support from Sunni Muslim countries to counter Iran.
These two aggravating undercurrents - the anti-missile problem on the one hand and the Kosovo problem on the other - are affecting European security and stability. These problems reflect the complex background of the tense relations between Russia, the US and other Western countries.
The author is former ambassador of China to the EU and a council member of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA). The article is excerpted from "European situation beset with undercurrents", which was published in the summer issue of CPIFA's Foreign Affairs Journal.
(China Daily July 19, 2007)