• The EU, NATO, and the OSCE

  • By Erhard Crome | 01 Mar 18
  • At a certain level of abstraction one might say that international relations in Europe after the Cold War are shaped by diverse, partly opposed, processes:

    • The integration processes in the framework of the European Union (EU) have – until Brexit – deepened and been extended eastward.
    • The disintegration processes in post-Soviet space have not yet run their course and have reached a new level that endangers peace with the 2014 coup in Kiev supported by the West, the war in Eastern Ukraine and the anti-Russian politics of tension carried out by Ukraine and the West.
    • The eastward expansion of NATO is part of a reorganisation of the world driven by the USA after the end of the Soviet Union; it has encountered the different interests of the ‘old’ NATO members, on the one hand, and the ‘new’ NATO countries, on the other.
    • The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which emerged from the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), leads a rather marginal existence in the contemporary international landscape because the major forces in the NATO states have no interest in its playing a positive role in the maintenance of peace and security in Europe as a whole.

    The eastward expansion of the EU and of NATO are not ‘two sides of the same coin’ but different developments that need to be distinguished from each other, which have their own logic of action and are linked to diverse interests and constellations of actors. The EU’s eastward expansion has at the same time far-reaching consequences for the integration/disintegration processes in post-Soviet space. After the West unleashed the Ukraine crisis it was at first unclear whether Ukraine’s move from Russia’s sphere of influence to the orbit of the EU and NATO was US policy (of President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hilary Clinton), which had to be paid for by the EU, or a German, or ‘European’, strategy for which the USA was providing the background of potential threat. The eastward expansion and the military activities of NATO in Eastern Europe are cementing the situation of a divided security in Europe. In this, however, NATO and the EU are not complementary constructs, as the political classes of EU-Europe and their media would have the populations believe. Rather, NATO is a power construct, whose line is established by the US, and the EU a power construct in which Germany is hegemonic. As such, both are in a relation of competition whose logic is bound to grow.


    The European Union cannot be understood apart from its historical context. Already in the 1957 founding treaty of the European Economic Community (EEC), of the Europe of ‘the Six’, we read that all other peoples of Europe ‘who share the same high goals’ – what is meant are ‘peace and liberty’ in its Western understanding and in the context of the Cold War – are called upon to join the effort to unite Europe, and further: ‘Every European State may apply to become a member of the Community’ (Article 237).1 This was simultaneously an invitation to the other states and a self-commitment. From the beginning, the European Union has been designed to include the greater part of Europe (west of Russia). This is true irrespective of the original reasons for its founding in the context of the East-West conflict.

    After the end of the Cold War, the expansion of the Union towards the east naturally came onto the agenda. At the same time, the motto ‘back to Europe’ was a factor in the upheaval in eastern central Europe. From the perspective of Warsaw, Budapest, and Prague the subordination to Moscow was in any case seen as historically wrong. Human rights, democracy, as well as market economy and prosperity were the goals of the domestic protagonists of the systemic upheaval of 1989. Early on, this was tied to the idea of connection to the West, especially the EU. To this extent, the eastward expansion of the EU is the consequence of the collapse of actually existing socialism and at the same time resulted from the attractiveness of what had already been achieved on the path to integration within the Union.

    Already in the earlier expansions of the EEC/EC/EU the practice arose of having the particular entry candidate confront the integration structure as a whole. This imbalance becomes all the greater the more the EU is enlarged. At the same time we cannot lose track of the sociology of organisation as a factor: in every association the rules and conditions of entry are determined by those who are already members. This also applies here. In this respect, if accession is at issue, the political will of the actors within the EU has to be consulted and, if possible, influenced. In addition, there is the question of the weight of human rights and the rights of liberty, social interests and conditions, on the one side, and, on the other side, power interests and the interests of capital valorisation. The European Union contains, just as modern society altogether, both interests. What is thus decisive is the point of view from which the accession process is considered and which actors can carry out which interests.

    In 1993 in Copenhagen the European Council formulated four criteria for eastward expansion: one for the EU – even in the case of admission there is the need ‘to maintain the impact of European integration’ – and three for the acceding countries:

    • a guarantee, ensured by the political institutions of the country, of a democratic and constitutional order, the observance of human rights as well as protection of minorities;
    • a functioning market economy that is able to withstand the pressure of competition within the Union;
    • the adoption of obligations that accompany membership, including of the economic and currency union and the political union.

    The evaluation by the Union – here first of all the Commission – of the domestic situation of the countries could, on the one hand, be managed restrictively, to make accession difficult, to retard it, or even make it impossible. On the other hand, it could be done purely formally; this would lead, for example, to closing one’s eyes to obvious human-rights violations (such as corruption in Romania), or to overestimating the capacity of the particular national economy to withstand the Union’s economic pressure. The restrictive approach would contradict Germany’s geopolitical interests and those of the ruling forces in the EU; the lax approach would necessarily have economically and socially catastrophic consequences for the acceding country and for the EU as a whole. In fact, with Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia, countries were admitted to the EU which did not substantively meet the accession criteria. But they were to geopolitically round out the EU eastward as an imperial construct.


    The genesis and development of the European Union does not only have connotations of the Cold War and a basis in world-market competition but was at first an institutionalised solution to the question of peace in an inner-European context. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Germans tried twice to conquer the continent, or at least they wanted to dominate it. Under Hitler’s criminal rule no misdeed was too great for this goal. His defeat required the efforts of nearly all other states and nations; in the end the scales were tipped by the ‘peripheral powers’: the Soviet Union and the USA. Thus from a European perspective two things became clear in the middle of the twentieth century: As a result of two world wars occidental Western and Central Europe had to cede their formerly dominant position in the world essentially to the USA and the Soviet Union, potentially also to China (e.g. its seat in the UN Security Council); the wars had led to devastating destruction but not to the predominance of one of the powers within Europe.

    After the military defeat of Germany a long-term change in its internal relations and at the same time its insertion into a new European constellation of states were on the agenda, combined with the end of the age of armed conflicts. ‘If this war’ – wrote Léon Blum, the French Socialist and Prime Minister of the Popular Front government of 1936, jailed by the Vichy government in spring 1941 – ‘does not at last give rise to fundamentally stable international institutions, to a really effective international power, then it will not be the last war.’2 With this he meant not only the geopolitical dimension, which was then incorporated in the UN, but principally the inner-European association, with a reduction of national sovereignty in favour of a supranational structure, which was to have its own institutions and leadership.

    In this sense, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), created in the early 1950s based on the Schuman Plan and the concepts of Jean Monnet, was at first understood as an institution for securing the peace. The interlocking of the whole of German and French coal and steel production was aimed at what were then the decisive economic sectors for the outcome of wars; it was to permanently bind Germany and France to each other and give this connection a material basis; its integration into a community to which Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg also belonged removed it from the bilateral German-French context (historical reconciliation was still only inchoate), in order thus to remove it from areas of everyday politics. In the wake of integration, conditions enabling a cooperative relationship were to be created, which – in modern terms – would make the costs of exit from the association, for whatever political or economic reasons, always higher than the costs the participating states pay for remaining in it. Brexit and the attendant problems show the efficacy of this construction.

    At the same time, bringing Europe together on the political level was to be promoted. Supranational institutionalisation in the form of a higher authority was to create its own support, a subject of the common interests, in order to remove the whole process from the foreign-policy-diplomatic level and raise it above traditional inter-state cooperation. For this, the erection of a supranational apparatus of officials was needed: no one once employed in it later needed to have a career in the diplomatic, or other, services of his/her home country; it was only in this way that he/she could also be the bearer of the Community interest rather than a representative of his/her own country.

    The road paved by the Schuman Plan, the European Union, and the treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam have confirmed those assumptions. The later institutionalisation followed the courses set in these earlier stages. The European Union has a peace-making function regarding the countries and peoples inside it, even if externally the EU is active not just on the trade and finance-policy level but also militarily as an intervening imperial power.

    The European Union today is in a peculiar limbo, being ‘more than a league of nations’ and ‘not yet a federal state’. It will stay this way for a long time to come since the nation as a communal form of co-habitation will not disappear in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the EU tends to implement a separation of power between its institutions. In the European Parliament’s gradual expansion of its rights, from budgetary laws to its role in appointing the European Commission, it is re-enacting developments that had been played out in past centuries on the national level in the configuring of parliamentary democracy against the Divine Right of absolutist kings. In this the competences assigned to the Commission will be expanded to the point of becoming a quasi-government of Europe, while the European Council will become a kind of lower chamber (of states or nations), which despite its far-reaching rights of veto, will not have the crucial right to make decisions it previously had. On the way there are still many obstacles to overcome. The inner logic of the ongoing developmental processes tends in this direction. At the same time the subsidiarity principle – the clear demarcation of authority between the Union, nation-state, and regional levels – is acquiring more importance.

    In the context of German unification in 1989-90 the question of how a reunited Germany would be positioned internationally came on the agenda. The answer was the new stage of European integration in the framework of the EU; the further intensification of cooperation was now also a logical consequence of German unification and the euro its final result. In view of the financial and euro crisis, however, ‘European Germany’ moved to the centre of a ‘German Europe’.3 The idea of the alternative between a ‘German Europe’ and a ‘European Germany’ goes back to a talk given by Thomas Mann in 1953. In the post-Wende years (starting in 1990) the demand for a ‘European Germany’ instead of a ‘German Europe’ played a prominent role among left critics of German unification. In the current debate the British historian Timothy Garton Ash was the first to have pointed to this new quirk of history: ‘But today we are seeing a variant that few have predicted: a European Germany in a German Europe’.4 Germany became a ‘geo- economic power’, oriented to the world market, a power that is above all economically based. Its regional involvements in Europe, including those of the EU, as well as participation in NATO, or activity in the UN and other international organisations, that is, international politics in a political- diplomatic sense, are functions of these economic and power interests.


    Perhaps the most consequential illusion at the end of the twentieth century was that the removal of the East-West conflict would usher in a long peaceful phase. The end of the Cold War seemed to make it possible to breathe freely – as has occurred after all big wars in European history – after the gigantic costs of this confrontation, which immediately followed the Second World War.

    The end of the Warsaw Pact, however, was not followed by the dissolution of NATO, as even many peace researchers in the West had assumed (or hoped) in the early 1990s, but NATO was assigned different tasks and remodelled into a worldwide intervention machinery. The illusion at that time had a particular name: the ‘peace dividend’. It meant that now all funds had been freed up to be used worldwide to solve social, ecological, and other pressing problems. These hopes were cruelly dashed. The end of the Cold War did not bring an era of peace, as many hoped in 1989-90 and the Charter of Paris proclaimed in 1990. According to data from the renowned Swedish Sipri Institute, worldwide arms expenditures in 2016 amounted to 1,686 trillion US dollars.5 This was more than one-third higher than the level at the end of the period of power-bloc confrontation. Under President Barack Obama the US has modernised its arms programme and in 2016 spent 611 billion US dollars. This is still more than eight times Russia’s expenditures (69.2 billion) and almost three times those of the People’s Republic of China (215 billion).6 Due to the US’ and NATO’s war and intervention policy China and Russia spend more year after year for military arms, although they both would prefer to avoid an arms race, which ruined the Soviet Union.

    At the beginning of the 1990s, US President George Bush senior (1989-1993) had announced a ‘New World Order’ packaged in rather attractive rhetoric, containing words that even sounded cooperative, but that was not what was meant. In the person of Secretary of State James Baker, the US government had promised the Soviet leadership on 9 February 1990 that it would also be good for the Soviet Union if a reunited Germany stood under the control of NATO (in other words, the USA), ‘while at the same time there will be a guarantee that NATO will not extend its territory “one inch eastward”’.7 Since then comprehensive NATO expansions into Eastern Central Europe and Southeast Europe have become a reality; and more expansion is being discussed.

    In the eventful days of winter 1990, the USA made it clear that it insisted on NATO’s continued existence, specifically in the three main functions that determined its strategy from the beginning: to keep the USA in (Western) Europe, to keep the Russians out, and to keep the Germans under control. The reasoning Baker conveyed to President Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Shevardnadze at the time was: ‘Would you prefer to see a reunified Germany outside NATO and without US forces stationed there, but perhaps with its own nuclear weapons? Or would you prefer a reunified Germany that is […] bound to NATO decisions?’8 In other words, if the Soviet Union is, in terms of power politics, no longer in a position to participate in a lasting and effective control of the Germans, the US wanted to do this via NATO – this has remained a factor of the US’s European policy and the preference for NATO. The repeated avowal on the part of the then Chancellor that the US has ‘permanent residency’ in the ‘House of Europe’,9 whatever that means, has probably to be regarded as a return favour to the US for its facilitating role in the process of German unification.

    Even the construction of the ‘Two Plus Four Agreement’ on German unification was, from the US point of view, the US’ own idea; negotiations regarding Germany involving only the four allies of the Second World War and without the Germans was out of the question, Baker also said in Moscow on 9 February 1990, and a CSCE would be too unwieldy.10

    Article 2 of this treaty stipulated: ‘The Governments of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic reaffirm their declarations that only peace will emanate from German soil. According to the constitution of the united Germany, acts tending to and undertaken with the intent to disturb the peaceful relations between nations, especially to prepare for aggressive war, are unconstitutional and are punishable offences. The Governments of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic declare that the united Germany will never employ any of its weapons except in accordance with its constitution and the Charter of the United Nations.’11

    In this sense, according to the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, the German people are ‘animated by the will to serve, as an equal member in a united Europe, the cause of peace in the world’ (Preamble).12 This legal status, anchored in the ‘Two Plus Four Treaty’ and the Basic Law, has consequences not only for the government’s activity and the foreign- and security-policy decision-making processes in Germany; it is at the same time associated with sharp political controversies in every tense international situation. The status of the second Gulf War of 1990-91 was clear in terms of international law: Iraq under Saddam Hussein had annexed Kuwait, after which the UN Security Council issued an ultimatum demanding immediate withdrawal of Iraqi troops and threatened the use of military force that was finally deployed by an international military coalition under US leadership. The federal government announced at that time that the international and constitutional legal situation of Germany prohibited direct participation in warfare. Instead, it made a direct and indirect contribution to the Gulf War in the amount of over 18 billion German marks. In the years to follow, the legal status, without anything having changed materially, was reinterpreted such that foreign interventions of the Bundeswehr could be possible even when not involving defence against an imminent threat to federal territory – indeed anywhere in the world. At the same time, military intervention was placed under strong parliamentary control; that is, ultimately it is the Bundestag that decides on the Bundeswehr’s military deployments, not the executive. However, up to now military deployments have always simply been waved through.

    When the, social democratic-led, federal government implemented Germany’s participation in the War Against Yugoslavia in 1999, it was, in part, sharply attacked by the opposition with strong arguments (e.g. the violation of the Constitution by the federal government). The competent courts rejected this as did a majority of Germany’s political class. Since then, Germany has participated, and still is participating, in various military interventions, from Afghanistan through the Horn of Africa, to Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia.


    Up to the middle of the 1990s the strategic debate in UN bodies still seemed open; but at that point the US representatives abandoned dialogue on an apparently equal footing. In Washington, there had begun to be reconsideration of a new imperial policy that was not to be shared with the ‘allies’. From this perspective, the Yugoslav War at the end of the 1990s seemed cumbersome as the representatives of the other countries still had to be included in the war’s decision-making processes. Singular imperial decisions appeared simpler. These debates already took place in the 1990s under Bill Clinton’s presidency (1993-2001). With their wars against Iraq, Libya, and Syria, Presidents George W. Bush (2001-2009) and Barack Obama (2009-2017) were able seamlessly to continue this evolution. We are beginning to see what the evolution under Donald Trump will look like.

    NATO’s change in strategy and policy has played a significant role. The Charter of Paris for a New Europe – the 21 November 1990 declaration of the heads of state and government of the CSCE countries – was seen by contemporaries as the document ending the Cold War and the power- bloc confrontation. Peace, democracy based on human rights and basic freedoms, as well as market economy, were to be the common bases for Europe’s subsequent development.13 After the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, NATO was not only maintained but it was no longer to be merely a military-political alliance for the defence of its members, against whomever; it was to perform world policing tasks. These were derived from a diffuse, not really specified threat analysis.

    The course was set at the NATO Summit in Rome in November 1991, just months after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact on 1 July 1991. Instead of major threats, the talk was now of ‘instabilities’ and‘tensions’ (Rome, § 9), an environment of uncertainty and unforeseeable challenges. The core of the approach was the restructuring of the alliance.14 There was never a mention of dissolution. This was further elaborated in the 1999 declaration of the NATO Summit on the occasion of NATO’s fiftieth anniversary in Washington.15 The western military pact redefined the security environment to derive its raison d’être from it. In place of the ‘main threats in the past’ the current risks were now ‘multi-faceted in nature and multi-directional’ (Rome § 8), ‘which makes them hard to predict’ (§ 8). These risks are ‘less likely to result from calculated aggression against the territory of the Allies’ (§ 9) but rather from the ‘instabilities’ (§ 9) arising from ‘the proliferation of […] weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles’, the presence of large nuclear arsenals that could be directed against NATO, or also the ‘disruption of the flow of vital resources and actions of terrorism and sabotage’ (Rome, § 10-13). Already in 1991 NATO had located the risks in Central and Eastern Europe, the GUS area – thus the ‘Russian danger’ – and in the southern Mediterranean and the Near East. The Rome document underlined: ‘alliance security must also take account of the global context’ (Rome, § 13 and identical in Washington, § 24). The out-of-area orientation of NATO and thus the re-orientation to offensive tasks was therefore already decided in 1991. However, the list of security risks was extended: Alongside the risk of ‘organized crime’ the ‘uncontrolled movement of a great number of people, particularly as a result of armed conflicts’ was cited (Washington § 24); accordingly NATO sees its security compromised by refugee flows. The first specific application was the Yugoslav War.16

    NATO is not the solution to the problem of peace, security, and cooperation in Europe and the world. Where then could the solution lie? In the search for avenues and mechanisms of the durable preservation of peace in the 21st century, there is much that is helpful in what was thought, worked out, and implemented in terms of preventing war in the final phase of the East-West conflict. Chief among these is the guiding idea of common security – each side can only be secure if the actual, potential, or anticipated enemy is also secure – and the concept of creating a system of collective security in Europe, which took final shape in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) and the OSCE. These are the specific approaches:

    • new thinking;
    • war and peace in the nuclear age;
    • peaceful co-existence and positive peace;
    • the non-winnability of war using nuclear weapons;
    • the concept of security and threat analyses;
    • arms limitation and disarmament;
    • the creation of nuclear-weapons-free zones, zones free of weapons of mass destruction;
    • de-militarised security and the concept of expanded security;
    • structural incapacity to launch an attack;
    • strategic sufficiency, reasonable adequacy of defence.

    What is essential in developing foreign-policy alternatives is to connect the idea of common collective security to the creation of nuclear-weapons- free zones/zones free of weapons of mass destruction and the creation of structural incapacity to launch an attack. In the long term this includes the withdrawal of US troops at least from Germany, beginning with the removal of the US’ nuclear stockpile in Germany. The OSCE has to be revived to the mutual advantage of all and expanded as the Europe-wide framework for peace, security, and cooperation. It is an open question whether the US, with Trump’s ‘America First’ policy and aversion to multilateral treaties, could still be a part of this. But this should not prevent Europeans from accomplishing a continent-wide turn towards peace-making.


    1. At https://www.cvce.eu/obj/treaty_establishing_the_european_economic_community_rome_25_march_1957-en-cca6ba28-0bf3-4ce6-8a76-6b0b3252696e.html. See also Curt Gasteyger, Europa zwischen Spaltung und Einigung 1945 bis 1993, Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 1994, pp.160 and 177.
    2. Quoted from Wilfried Loth, Building Europe: A History of European Unification, Munich, Boston: De Gruyter, 2016, 1990, p. 2.
    3. See Erhard Crome, ‘Deutschland in Europa. Eine neue Hegemonie’, in Erhard Crome and Raimund Krämer (eds), Hegemonie und Multipolarität. Weltordnungen im 21. Jahrhundert, Potsdamer Textbücher, Band 20, Potsdam: Verlag Welt Trends, 2013; Ulrich Beck, Das deutsche Europa. Neue Machtlandschaften im Zeichen der Krise, Berlin: Suhrkamp-Verlag, 2012.
    4. Der Spiegel 7/2012, p. 24.
    5. https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2016/world-military-spending-resumes-upward-course-says-sipri and http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/ruestungsausgaben-2016-amerika-first-14985021.html.
    6. https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/157935/umfrage/laender-mit-den-hoechsten-militaerausgaben/.
    7. Michael R. Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War, Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1994; quoted from German edition: Auf höchster Ebene. Das Ende des Kalten Krieges und die Geheimdiplomatie der Supermächte 1989-1991, Düsseldorf: ECON Verlag, 1993, p. 245.
    8. Beschloss and Talbot.
    9. For example, Helmut Kohl’s speech at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on 8 June 1995, at http://www.helmut-kohl.de/index.php?menu_sel=17&menu_sel2=&menu_sel3=&menu_sel4=&msg=1596.
    10. Beschloss and Talbott, Auf höchster Ebene, pp. 244 f.
    11. http://treaties.fco.gov.uk/docs/fullnames/pdf/1991/TS0088%20(1991)%20CM-1756%201990%201%20OCT,%20NEW%20YORK%3B%20TREATY%20ON%20GERMANY%20DECLARATION%20SUSPENDING%20OPERATION%20OF%20QUADRIPARTITE%20RIGHTS%20&%20RESPONSIBILITIES.pdf and ‘Vertrag über die abschließende Regelung in bezug auf Deutschland’, in: Verträge zur deutschen Einheit, Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 1991, pp. 83 ff., quotation from p. 86.
    12. Quoted in Dieter Hesselberger, Das Grundgesetz. Kommentar für die politische Bildung, Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 1996, p. 55.
    13. Charter of Paris in Curt Gasteyger, Europa zwischen Spaltung und Einigung, Schriftenreihe der Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, vol. 321, Bonn 1994, pp. 538 ff.
    14. Erklärung von Rom über Frieden und Zusammenarbeit, in Gasteyger, pp. 436 f. Das strategische Dokument: The Alliance’s New Strategic Concept, agreed by the Heads of State and Government participating in the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council, at https://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-A4CCE1ED-8BF2B255/natolive/official_texts_23847.htm.
    15. https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_27433.htm?selectedLocale=en
    16. See also Friedensmemorandum des Bundesausschusses Friedensratschlag 2000.