Updated: 24-Apr-2002 NATO Review

Web edition
Vol. 41 - No. 4
p. 7-10


Eduard Shevardnadze
Chairman of the Parliament and
Head of state of Georgia

When I visited NATO headquarters in Brussels and addressed the North Atlantic Council on 23 June of this year, I recalled the winter's day in 1989 when, as Soviet Foreign Minister, I crossed the threshold of NATO headquarters for the first time. The excitement that I felt then arose partly from this unprecedented event and the emotional background to the meeting, but above all, from the content of our discussions that day.

A previously unfamiliar theme could be discerned: a possible fundamental change in the functions and strategy of the two military-political blocs (NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization). Though not directly apparent, it could be read quite clearly between the lines. This was such an extraordinary meeting that I made an unpardonable blunder: I left my file and some working notes in the conference room. The papers included one entitled Cooperation between NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization; true, there was a large question mark against it.

My file was returned to me intact. However, events very soon took such a turn that it occurred to me that one of my hosts must have cast an eye over my notes because a whole series of undreamed-of decisions was taken, particularly the London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance and the decision to transform the Alliance's mission (1). It must be said, however, that this Declaration and the decision to set up the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) - wise, opportune and timely responses to the new challenges of the times - had been adopted while the Soviet Union was still in existence. The situation has radically altered with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the emergence of newly independent states. This is how we see the situation.

Serious threats

The ending of the Cold War and of East-West confrontation has not eliminated serious threats to the Western democracies or to the world as a whole. These threats do exist, and will persist until the new states - the Republics of the former Soviet Union and, above all, Russia - achieve final success on their road to democratic transformation and economic reform. Until this comes to pass, they will remain a potential danger to the world at large, and will continue to be sources of international tension.

The most serious development here is a rising tide of nationalist extremism, creating new centres of instability and new conflicts in Europe and near its borders. It is quite clear that this trend calls into question all the gains of the 1989-1991 velvet revolution. In these circumstances, NATO certainly does not relinquish its unique role as the principal military and political guarantor of stability and security in Europe. On the contrary, it is increasing in importance.

The crisis that has gripped the post-Communist world is growing. The tremors generated by the struggle between those who support the imperial concept and historical Messianism on the one hand, and the proponents of democratic choice for Russia on the other, are reverberating through Russia itself and throughout the newly independent states.

It would be an unpardonable error to think that the democratic forces led by President Yeltsin had finally and conclusively prevailed over the "party of imperial revanchism". We believe that support for the reforming efforts made by the progressive wing of the Russian leadership is still the primary strategic task for the West. However, equal importance should be attached to measures in support of the newly independent states in the territory of the former USSR. Without this, there is no point in talking about a stable democratic Russia, or a new world order.

Inadequate response

We are compelled to acknowledge, with regret, that NATO and other international and European bodies have not responded adequately to the rapid pace of crucial events in the former Soviet Union and certain countries in Europe. I was the first of those attending the Helsinki meeting last July to support, in public and without reservation, the idea of giving the Atlantic Alliance peacekeeping functions in Europe, in cooperation with the United Nations and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). A year has passed: this idea has been slow to find practical expression. Meanwhile, the situation has worsened considerably.

We welcome and support the decisions taken at the NACC meeting in Athens last June. The provisions of the report on the theoretical and practical principles of peacekeeping operations that were approved there should be put on a working footing as soon as possible, because the necessity for powerful mobile peacekeeping units in NATO has not diminished; on the contrary, it has increased dramatically. These units would operate under the aegis of the CSCE and the United Nations. Most states, with rare exceptions, would gladly invite them to take part in settling internal conflicts, which increasingly tend to degenerate into conflicts of international and regional dimensions. We should take a fresh look at the composition of NATO, and be less timid in considering more active involvement by East European countries and newly independent states in NATO activities.

NACC was created for precisely this purpose one-and-a-half years ago and is now in operation. Its function is to form partnerships between NATO member states and Central and East European states and republics in the former Soviet Union, in military, political, scientific, technical, environmental protection and other fields. This is a splendid idea. NACC is a kind of training course for potential members of NATO. However, I am afraid that events may take an unpredictable turn while we are still on this course. We need practical assistance now.

The mechanism of cooperation between new states and the NATO system must start working at full pressure. For a start, the Atlantic Alliance could enter into agreements with each of them, and cooperate with them on that basis. It is true that these states will not meet NATO requirements for some time, but it is clear that these very requirements should match the changed situation more closely.

Need for financial aid

In general, however, it should be noted that those who led and participated in the peaceful European revolution of 1989-1991 were right to count on the great solidarity of the Atlantic Alliance. We have begun the process of freeing Europe and the world from the nightmares of the Cold War and the threat of thermonuclear annihilation; for this, we have paid a very high price. The West has got what it wanted - the elimination of a concentration of powerful force in central Europe, and so got rid of enemy number one. As a result, Europe was united, but many of us - I mean the Eastern part, the new states and their peoples - were left alone, exposed to numerous threats and misfortunes .

It is not too late to give these countries material and financial aid. This can and should also extend to the process of building national armed forces, bearing in mind the opportunity to exert a positive influence upon military and political doctrine and ideologies. Such support would be helpful in building new democratic societies.

History has fixed views on flashpoints, e.g., the Balkans, historically the "powder-keg of Europe" and still the focus of general attention today. Due to inertia, however, other regions where similar explosive build-ups exist are being overlooked. One such region is the Caucasus, an area of critical importance on the frontier between Europe and Asia, East and West, North and South. Events here call for rapid political refocusing, including adjustments within the Atlantic Alliance. Conflicts around Nagorno-Karabakh, in Abkhazia, events in Azerbaijan and the situation in the North Caucasus and the South of Russia carry within them the threat of a breakdown in economic reforms in states in the region and clashes between the powerful geopolitical forces that come together here.

Today, the compass rose, the symbol of the Alliance, must be more sensitive in responding to any dangerous breath of wind springing up in the Atlantic Alliance region and near its borders.

International cooperation

The nature, scale and potential consequences of conflicts in the territory of the former Soviet Union are such that resolving them cannot be left exclusively to any one force, be it a nation or an organization. Positive results can be achieved only if international bodies join forces and cooperate effectively, each relying upon the others for political support and resources. Georgia, where UN and CSCE missions are already operating, would welcome the additional presence of the Atlantic Alliance and NACC. We would also support any participation by NATO and NACC in settling the conflict in Abkhazia, up to and including peacemaking operations.

A profound insight into the internal conflicts that have broken out in the territory of the former USSR can be achieved only by examining them in all their aspects - from close quarters so to speak. With this in view, we propose that one of the NACC meetings be held in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

While clearly recognizing the great importance of the political factor in settling conflicts in Georgian territory, we would nevertheless like to see closer mutually interactive collaboration by Russia with international and European bodies along these lines.

Success or failure in building democratic institutions in that country has become a matter of life or death for Georgia. Like other nations, Georgia has a vital interest in the stability of Russia and in the establishment of a democratic Russian state. To the extent that our modest resources allow, we support President Yeltsin and his followers, who share our opinion that peace in Georgia, its stability, integrity and the inviolability of its frontiers are also in Russia's interests. We should all think about Russia's new role in the post-Communist world and help it in its progressive approach.

Today, the centre of gravity in world politics is shifting towards economics. I suppose that this trend will increase in the future, but it is already apparent that economic problems are becoming the priorities in maintaining international stability and security. Economic interests can give a powerful impetus to mutual understanding and agreement between the nations of East and West in both the political and the military arenas.

From this viewpoint, I wish to draw your attention to the idea of a Eurasian transport corridor, which should be regarded as the sole line of communication through the Caucasus and Georgia linking the Rhine-Main-Danube system to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea regions, China and other states in Asia. In the light of common economic interests this communication and transport system would greatly reduce the possibility of new conflicts and undoubtedly become an important stabilizing factor in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea basins, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The link to the North Sea and the Baltic by way of this system would promote the integration of Western Europe and more extensive trading, economic and political contacts across countries in this region (most of which are members of NATO) with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and South-East Asia.

However novel an idea might be, it cannot be rejected merely on grounds of unorthodoxy. We live in extraordinary times which call for extraordinary solutions. Perhaps it is the lack of forward planning which has revealed the imperfections in high political technology in a period of rapid change in Europe and the world. The new trials and challenges that will undoubtedly arise in the foreseeable future must not take us unawares.


(1) For text of London Declaration see NATO Review, No.4, August 1990, pp.32-33.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1993.