Home »  Site Map »  Cooperative Energy Security  »  This document
Academic Consulting Contact Eurasia blog New on site Site map

[ For a EurAsian Oil and Gas Association  ]

Public Remarks Made to an International Conference in Helsinki on the Morning of January 22, 1995

Robert M. Cutler

The subject I have been asked to address is "Defining Western Interests: How Much Western Engagement Is Practicable and How Much Is Required." I begin with a definition of what "engagement" means and implies. I then move to a consideration of Russia's place in Europe, with a few reflections on the special role of Ukraine and Kazakhstan in Eurasia. In conclusion I make a modest proposal that has occurred to me only during this conference itself. This proposal assumes the possibility of common interests among the West, Russia, and the other newly independent states (NIS); and it provides a means to promote those common interests cooperatively. [A few questions from the floor conclude this transcript.]

When the Soviet Union began to fall apart in the late 1980s, the West had not defined its interests in respect of post-Soviet transformations. These changes did not occur in a general vacuum of power but they did occur in a general vacuum of interest. It had been decades since any Western power had had a genuine opportunity to influence events in the Soviet area. The West after 1989 therefore acted as if it had interests, and its actions were interpreted as the realization of those interests, even as their ambiguity and vagueness were not generally denied. We therefore take as point of departure that recent Western diplomacy represents what was practicable: in the sense of being able to be put into practice, given all the systemic and idiosyncratic constraints of the time. People and states assumed that the West acted in such-and-such a manner because it supposed that it could thereby achieve such-and-such a goal. Western behavior thus created its interests in the minds of those concerned, who reified that behavior into interest.

What Engagement Means and Implies

The title of the paper I was asked to prepare invokes "engagement." Engagement arises with the assertion that Western norms (or at least desiderata) are applicable to Russia and the other NIS. "Engagement" implies cognition and promise, creating a realm of the possible; but it stops short of the actual, and hesitates to qualify behavior as necessary. In ordinary language, a "policy of engagement" announces concern but renounces obligation, preserving action in a netherworld of potential and saying little about goals. That the situation is fluid, justifies neither silence nor vagueness about goals, which can be adjusted. So as not to be caught by this ambiguity of ordinary language, for interpreting meaning I rely in the following analysis upon the etymological root of "engagement": literally a "pledging in," viz., a contractual (and/or moral) guarantee, the forfeit of which entails penalty. Engagement then means making guarantees and promises that contribute to abolishing danger, or a sense of danger, by habituating parties to working together, thus promoting trust. How cooperation over energy resources contributes to this will become clear in my concluding remarks.

Interests (and instruments) may be economic, legal-financial, military, or "ideological." The "whole issue of Western involvement in the Russian-NIS relationship," which I am asked to address and with which the paper deals in detail, involves all four of these issue areas. Economic behavior concerns mainly bilateral commerce in goods and services. These are distinct from legal-financial relations, which include banking and currency and other monetary issues (such as accounting, insurance, and inheritance) habitually regulated by implicit or explicit international regimes, or by multilaterally determined international norms. Military relations include the deployment of instruments of the exertion of physical coercion, and the strategic and geopolitical implications of such deployment or the threat or capability of such deployment. Ideological (also called "cultural" or "political-cultural") relations include the projection of national interests by states through national and international discourse, the formulation and promulgation of programmatic documents, rationalizations of policies undertaken, and attempts to integrate emergent value systems with norms of democracy and the market.

Does the subtitle of the paper I have been assigned, "How Much Western Engagement Is Practicable and How Much Is Required," suggest a gradient of increasing commitment: that an interest is transformed somehow into engagement, of which the dimensions are determined by what is practicable? Does it then follow that the gradient continues along the semantic string, such that what is required is more than what is practicable? Not necessarily. There are four possibilities. First, if engagement is neither practicable nor required, then there is no need for policy. Second, if engagement is required yet not practicable, then policy must be designed first of all to make possible what is necessary; confidence-building measures are an example of policy instrument in this instance, and the provision of specific incentives for specific actions is another. Third, if engagement is practicable yet not required, then policy must be designed according to what should and should not be made possible; much economic policy is concerned with precisely this question. Fourth, if engagement is both practicable and required, then policy must be designed to be non-self-limiting as to its results (which is not the same as saying it should not have specific goals); an example here is the U.S. Cold War policy of containment, which, implemented as escalation dominance, transcended that policy goal; another example is the institutionalization of the CSCE, originally convened during one of the Cold War détentes, as the OSCE in the post-Cold War era. Which of these four cases obtains, will vary with the geographic domain and the issue areas pertinent there. The salience of an issue area, for the purpose of this paper, is determined by the conference program title and my assigned paper topic, viz., the construction of Western interests in relation to what is possible and what is necessary, specifically with respect to cooperative security.

The West is condemned to be both interested and, sooner or later, engaged. This is not because interest determines engagement, but because practicability determines interest; and situations where engagement is neither practicable nor required tend to evolve into situations where engagement is both practical and required. As the paper illustrates, this occurs in the following manner. When economic or legal-financial issues are key, engagement moves from being not practicable to being practicable, and once practicable it becomes required by the force of circumstances. When military issues are key, engagement moves from being neither required nor practicable, to being required yet not practicable, whence means are sought to make the engagement practicable. When military and economic/legal-financial issues are both present, then ideological/political-cultural issues are added.

What is practicable, is what is do-able; and what is required, is what is necessary. If what is do-able is not sufficient, then the space between what is do-able and what is necessary is where obligation, implied by engagement, entails risk. The incentive structure that has conditioned Western engagement is the following. The deployment of ideological instruments, i.e., spending words, entails little risk at all; that of economic instruments, i.e., spending your own money, relatively great private risk; that of legal and financial instruments, i.e., spending the money you have collected from others, relatively small public risk; and that of military instruments, i.e., spending human lives, usually unacceptable risk.

Russia's Place in Europe

In the current period of the formation and realization of Russia's national interest, we are observing a remarkable reversal of Russia's long-standing historical pattern of positive participation in multilateral European organizations. This is not the say that Russia's role is not constructive, nor is it to say that she refuses all participation. It is to say that her predisposition is, atypically, one of great hesitance and even suspicion. The reason for this is that the Russian state had always allied either with the West European states against the Central European empires, or with these latter against the Western anti-monarchists (or anti-Bolsheviks). Yet the Central European empires have now finally all disappeared; and the Soviet Union, the successor to the Russian Empire in Eurasia and to Austria-Hungary in Eastern Europe, also no longer exists. Russia thus is today no longer able to balance between alliance systems as she had been able to since the Treaty of Utrecht nearly three centuries ago. Moreover: Germany is no longer the political fulcrum of Europe, much as she may have become the economic fulcrum.

Russia therefore feels confronted by a bloc organization when it observes NATO seeming to encroach upon Central Europe, and she cannot find partners to play a counterbalance. In Europe, Russia must avoid giving the impression that it seeks to keep its neighbors off balance as the means to assure her own security. This was the Soviet strategy during the Cold War, based upon the experience of World War II artillery commanders who rose through the ranks in the 1950s and 1960s. This was the politico-military strategy, for example, behind implantation of the SS-20 missiles in Eastern Europe. If the extension of the NATO aegis in whatever form seems threatening to anyone in Russia, it need only be observed how many steps the West has taken to assure Russia's security. Through the Council of Europe, the West has helped to assure the status of ethnic Russians in Latvia and Estonia. Through the EU's TACIS program and the U.S. Agency for International Development, it is seeking to assure that Kazakh ethnonationalism will not drive Russians off the land in northern Kazakhstan. Western norms of human rights aid the realization of Russia's concerns about ethnic Russians and Russified non-Russians outside the border of Russia.

Russia is not being militarily threatened by the reorientation and restructuring of NATO. The threat to Russia consists in her no longer being able to balance between alliance systems, thus diminishing her capacity to create international uncertainty in that theater in Europe. The sense in which Russia understands this development, is that she is the audience for the consolidation of a foreign military-political bloc. However, the sense in which the Partnership for Peace, or any formal eastward expansion of NATO must be understood, is the following. NATO is for the countries of Eastern Europe not a principally military organization. It is this which many but perhaps not all people in Russia understand. NATO is a political symbol, not a military reality. East Central Europe is seeking to draw closer to NATO, and the Chechen War will not decrease Western receptivity to these desires.

If the EU backs off from deeper and wider integration at a time when certain circles adumbrate an eastward expansion of NATO, then the umbrella or aegis of NATO creates stability. The significance of this for Russia is more political, and its threat, if any, psychological: which is not to diminish the intensity with which this may be felt. But the situation is experienced slightly differently in East Central Europe. There, NATO membership represents a moral benediction in a way that EU membership cannot represent. It symbolizes a confirmation of the democratic progress achieved, and moreover of the never-going-back from that path. The initiative on the part of certain East European countries to join NATO is not the result of Western leaders' search to consolidate a military bloc in Central Europe. It is the result of long-term of social, economic, and political development in the countries concerned.

The Place of Ukraine and Kazakhstan in Eurasia

As I share the podium here with a representative of Ukraine, let me make some special remarks about this important country. Ukraine and Kazakhstan are perhaps the two most significant successor states other than Russia in the former Soviet area, as well as the two most important for Russia. They are also important for the West.

Ukraine could and should join the Central European Initiative (CEI, the former Pentagonale/ Hexagonale), although this organization has as yet no real life. Ukraine could even join Central European Free Trade Association (CEFTA). The members of CEFTA conceive that it is restricted the future European Union (EU) members; but the EU, which gave a significant impetus to CEFTA's creation, does not share this impression. CEFTA and CEI could serve as a gateway for Ukraine to Central European cooperation and thus to Europe. Once the current CEFTA countries enter the EU, then any remaining countries including Ukraine could transform into an "intermediate" band that neither threatens nor harms Russian interests. By then, there will be an infrastructure of cooperation as well as reestablished economic ties that will provide the psychological, sociological, and economic stability so difficult to conceive in the current situation. CEFTA membership would give needed moral support to those countries and publics seeking an opportunity to be included in something "European." Moreover, Ukraine, being both a European and a Black Sea country, represents a potential link between the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and the CEI.

It is foreseeable that over time Russia will redefine and restrict its claims of special interest to the existing territory of the Russian state. On that basis, it will be possible in the future for multilateral relations among at least some of the Soviet successor states to go forward. In that development, Ukraine will play a leading role, much as France in the EEC at first hesitated at any expansion of the West European integration, and then in the EC became one of the greatest proponents of that expansion. As with France vis-à-vis Germany, for Ukraine this will occur when the state is sufficiently secure to pursue multilateral initiatives for the restraint of Russian influence, after Russia herself has defined her territorial interest as falling within her existing borders. This development will represent the end of Russian pretensions to a "Monroe Doctrine." On such a basis, Ukraine will be able to seek multilateral cooperation with other post-Soviet states, without fear of ulterior Russian motives.

Kazakhstan has recently motivated the convening of meetings preparatory to a Conference on Interactions and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICBMA). This initiative does not seek either to organize a collective security regime or to reproduce the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in the Asian theater. Collective security was a particular response by the Great Powers to a particular historical period, viz., interwar Europe during the ascendance of fascist regimes. The CSCE/OSCE likewise emerged out of a particular historical experience defined by time and place, viz., Europe during the Cold War. Asia today is a more dynamic region than was Europe at the birth of the CSCE twenty years ago; it is also more diverse than Europe in the level of economic development of the states, as well as in cultural and religious differences. Kazakhstan appears content to take a step-by-step approach, concentrating on the practical organization of the CICBMA to provide a forum for the discussion of current Asian problems. However, the scope and depth of the project need to be better defined. An East Asia security system appears to be in the process of formation. ASEAN is deepening its economic cooperation. These developments are occurring outside any prospective CICBMA. The longer that Kazakhstan's CICBMA project remains poorly defined, the more will other initiatives supplant it.

The one successful bit of Kazakhstani diplomacy in the multilateral economic and financial sphere has been the establishment of a trilateral development bank (with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan), which has received substantive international attention and has a chance to become a living organism. This trilateral cooperation makes good sense: the national economies of the three countries complement one another, and the three countries already participate in an economic and financial union aimed in the first instance at currency stabilization. Western institutions should determine the feasibility of development that cooperation into a payments union or other multilateral clearing arrangement, and should promote this evolution if it is appropriate, as it seems at first glance to be.

Kazakhstan launches multilateral initiatives all the time, and the Kazakhstani president has correctly declared that the nature of Kazakhstani independence will depend in part upon the nature of Ukraine's. If it were possible for these two countries to cooperate on a non-Russian route for Central Asian oil, they could even break Russia's threat of a stranglehold on their own economic development.

What Is To Be Done

The real test of Russia's multilateral pretensions today will be whether she seeks to move beyond bilateral balancing and playing its neighbors off against one another, such as playing Ukraine's Druzhba pipeline route off against Turkey's proposal for a line to Ceyhan on the eastern Mediterranean. With or without Russia, it would be possible to move, not towards a European Coal and Steel Community, but towards a EurAsian Oil and Gas Association or EAOGA (pronounced "yoga"). Such practical multilateral cooperation would be already framed by the Energy Charter Treaty which will soon enter into force. That Treaty requires the harmonization of national legislation and international practice. EAOGA will be as much both institution and process, promoting cooperation for the purpose of ensuring comprehensive, not just geopolitical, security. Therefore it may even be useful to create a financial arm of EAOGA to track payments for oil and gas development, ensure the fiduciary responsibility of participating banks, and serve as general clearing house and analytical center to coordinate environmental studies and help ensure that economic development is balanced.

No international institution currently does any of this. It is in the common interest that someone should do it. It is all the more important to move as quickly as possible towards EAOGA, for the differences between American and European interests are becoming clearer all the time. The greater the East diversifies and the more its countries take different paths, the more diversified will Western interests become, as each Western country will look to different Eastern country for partnership, following either its capital or its historical ties, or its instincts or its idiosyncrasies. Yet what is clear, although it seems frequently forgotten, is that no one party can develop the region's oil and gas resources and bring them to market alone.

Oil and gas will be the engine of economic development in CIS-space. Only on its basis can real progress be made towards satisfying the basic human needs of the populations for food, shelter, and medical care, not to mention the transfer of know-how, technology, expertise, and training. However, EAOGA is a possibility among the newly independent states, including Russia, that are not tragically distracted by overwhelming civil war or other military conflict. The economic inheritance of the Soviet Union makes some degree of economic cooperation necessary among at least some of the successor states. Oil and gas development is the best and most sensible place to start. EAOGA provides a mutually beneficial vehicle for that. It is a practicable and useful focus for the West's "engagement."

* * * * * * * * *

Question from the floor by a conferee from Belarus: How will you answer the non-Russians' fear that EAOGA will become a CIS superministry? And how will you answer the Russians' fear of losing control over the CIS?

Answer: Specific modalities can be developed, with Western participation and oversight, to prevent EAOGA from becoming a CIS superministry. As for Russian control over the CIS: what control? Russia has already lost "control" in the English sense. It perhaps seeks to retain kontrol' in the Russian sense, i.e., supervision. Russian fears are answered by the fact that Russia's participation in EAOGA is necessary to EAOGA's full success.

Comment from the floor by a conferee from Kazakhstan: You mentioned cooperation between Kazakhstan and Ukraine. But Russia seeks to retain control of all pipelines passing through its territory. Moreover, Kazakhstan and Ukraine are not contiguous.

Reply: A route linking Kazakhstan and Ukraine that does not pass through Russia, would require the cooperation of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The circumstances for this are not at present propitious, for these countries are preoccupied with domestic turmoil that is partly stoked by Russia herself. However, even the hint of such a cooperation would radically change the geopolitical map and calculations of all players involved. Hypothetically, EAOGA could even succeed without Russia: but if Russia and the West come to understand that it is in their common interest for Russia to participate, then a way will be found. With adequate leadership, Russia will reconcile herself to cooperating with other CIS countries on an equal basis for mutual benefit.

Dr. Robert M. Cutlerwebsiteemail ] was educated at MIT and The University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in Political Science, and has specialized and consulted in the international affairs of Europe, Russia, and Eurasia since the late 1970s. He has held research and teaching positions at major universities in the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Russia, and contributed to leading policy reviews and academic journals as well as the print and electronic mass media in three languages.

Academic Consulting Contact Eurasia blog New on site Site map
Home  »  Site Map  »  Cooperative Energy Security  »  This document

Text: Copyright © Robert M. Cutler
First Web-published: 05 January 2008
Content last modified: 05 January 2008
Document last reformatted: 27 October 2006
For individual, non-commerical use only.
This Web-based compilation: Copyright © Robert M. Cutler
See reprint info if you want to reproduce anything in any medium.
This document address (URL): http://www.robertcutler.org/CES/ps95hel.htm
Format last tweaked: 23 October 2014
You accessed this page: 16 January 2018