Soviet Coup Prompts Rethinking of Security Arrangements in Europe

THE remarkable rise and fall of the Soviet hard-liners this week has left two impressions on those who deal with European security issues:First, although Mikhail Gorbachev has been returned to power, it will not be business as usual for the West. Second, NATO still serves a purpose, even in the post-cold-war era. At an emergency meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd implied that the West could look forward to an even more cooperative relationship with the Soviet Union than it has had in the last two years. There is a "new situation" in Moscow, Mr. Hurd said, and Mr. Gorbachev will have a freer hand in pursuing reforms. He also said that the coup's failure had eroded the power of the Soviet military. In light of this, discussion of stepping up support for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is intensifying among the Western allies. (See story, left.) Some press comments urge quick integration of Eastern Europe into the European Community and possibly even NATO. But "it's hard to say if there will be any change," says Klaus Becher, security specialist for the German Society for Foreign Affairs in Bonn. At the NATO meeting, for instance, United States Secretary of State James Baker III flatly rejected more aid to the Soviet Union in advance of serious reform. And while Wednesday's NATO communique emphasized even closer ties to Eastern Europe, "no one is considering extending the NATO umbrella" to the region, says an ambassador to the Atlantic alliance. The coup's failure has its positive side, Hurd says, but also brings uncertainty. The ambassador to NATO, for instance, predicts a faster break-up of the Soviet Union. "The dismemberment of the Soviet Union will come about quicker than initially thought," he said. The result, he said, would be "a weaker Soviet Union on the whole." He believed that Russia, as the largest republic in any "new" union, would probably take on responsibility for the country's scattered nuclear arsenal. Mr. Becher, who also sees a faster re-figuring of the Soviet map, voiced concern about the future of the nuclear arsenal as well as the prospect of small ethnic wars breaking out in Soviet hot spots. "The West would feel pressure to intervene - just like in Yugoslavia," he said. Meanwhile, although the NATO ministers were overtaken by events, they released a stern communique. At the meeting, alliance members felt more than ever the NATO's necessity in Europe. "This crisis has demonstrated the importance of our NATO alliance," said Mr. Baker, "first, as a political instrument for supporting democracy and reform in Eastern Europe as well as the Soviet Union, second as a forum to coordinate a Western response to common political as well as military challenges, and third as a firm bulwark for our common security." Also driven home were the limitations of the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), sometimes thought of as the emerging pan-European security structure. Including the Soviet Union, Europe, and North America, the CSCE operates by consensus and its decisions are not binding. The coup was a flagrant violation of the CSCE's Paris Charter, which upholds human rights, free elections, and military transparency. "The crisis showed that CSCE can't work when one of the major members won't cooperate," said the ambassador to NATO.

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