Both America and Russia, for different reasons, decided to undertake a policy pivot towards Asia. For President Obama, such a pivot may have represented a needed change from preoccupation with tough issues in the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan. President Putin may have looked East in an effort to get away from constant preoccupation with issues related to Crimea and the eastern edge of Europe. The Asian-Pacific Economic Community (APEC) offered a common forum of communication for both wth other Asian states. However, both powers had different historical reasons for pursuing the overture to Asian states. For the United States, a major defense agreement with South Korea was a result of the Korean War of the 1950s, while its long engagement in the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 70s provided it with additional historical experiences in the region. Russia concerned itself with intensified trade relations and also defined the region to include Central Asian states that had formerly been republics in the Soviet Union. U.S. troops had been a presence in the region for decades, and the multi-state controversy over Chinese actions in the South China Sea also bore in part a defensive component.
Rejection of assistance from the European Union (EU) and reliance instead on increased Russian connections, by the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych led to the 2014 crisis in Ukraine. As a result, the Russian ethnic group that held majority status in the Crimean Republic pushed for a referendum that led to its detachment from Ukraine and attachment to Russia. Russia held continuing military exercises along its border with Ukraine, and that activity fed the instability in the eastern border region of Ukraine. Western responses included a range of steps that entailed both diplomatic and military dimensions. Diplomatic contacts centered on two four-party Minsk Summits that resulted in an agreement called the Minsk Protocol. NATO led the military response that included relocation of western troops from southern Europe to the jeopardized area of northeast Europe. In addition, NATO also created a Spearhead Force of 5,000 troops that could quickly move into any threatened area in the future. Finally, western nations imposed economic sanctions on Russian personnel and institutions in an effort to bring about changed policies.
Theoretical approaches and a path from the Crimea to stability
James W. Peterson
In terms of the ten theoretical approaches presented in Chapter One, the balance of power model carried the most explanatory force in tracing the evolution of the Russian-American relationship. The multipolar model also was strong in depicting the impact on Russian-American relations by other interested states, and it also is useful in studying the impact of that relationship on other nations and their leaders. Further, realism is the best theoretical tool in characterizing motives behind many policy initiatives of the two states. As a result, there were many points at which erosion in the relationship occurred. Their very different reactions to the Syrian civil war was one major example, but so also were continuing military provocations. Russians carried out numerous military exercises in very sensitive border regions, while the West was able to use NATO capabilittes to set up deterrents to Russian ambitions. However, convergence between the two did occur in some ways. Russian-American diplomatic tactics were minimal but meaningful, while President Putin also reached out in unexpected ways to nations such as Iran and Greece. American contacts were those of reassurance to Ukraine and the anxious states in the Baltic region as well as Poland.
Partnership for Peace (PfP) and a staggered admission process
James W. Peterson
NATO established a PfP process in the 1990s and admitted 13 Eastern European states between 1999 and 2017. The Balkan wars of the 1990s sparked a concern that states in the region take responsibility for establishing a framework for stability within their own neighborhood. Later, those new NATO members played a significant role in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. A number of challenged Balkan states such as Kosovo did not become members, but the alliance took steps to support their defense needs. After the 2014 Crimean crisis, NATO took purposeful steps to counter new Russian threats to the region, and member contributions to defense budgets became a key point of controversy.
Only North Macedonia, after its 2019 name change, had prospects for entering NATO as a member, for its PfP contributions to alliance missions had been considerable. The tragic wars in which both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo had been involved in the 1990s made them dependent on the two alliances for protection and security rather than members at an early date. Serbia’s goals switched from membership in NATO to that of the EU after outside recognition of the controversial new state of Kosovo in 2008. Alliance politics theory is useful in explaining how gradual movement toward democratic patterns helped relieve stress within the region, while ethnic diversity remained a challenge to stability. Clearly, the alliances also closed geographic space that was a threat after the end of Yugoslavia.
East-Central European countries, the Visegrád Four to include the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, have developed a divergence of approaches to key issues of national defense. Measures of defense capability include size of defense budgets, numbers of persons in the armed forces, and willingness to engage in foreign deployments led by NATO and the EU that act as integrating forces within the region. The communist experiences of earlier decades have acted as legacies that have shaped countries’ post-1989 approaches to national and regional defense. However, the evolution of liberal-democratic patterns and systems have played a meaningful role as well. In spite of those convergence experiences and patterns, divergence among them has characterized their interactions as well. Poland has been more willing to take on regional defense obligations, while the other three have been more reluctant. Since the 2014 Ukrainian Crisis, a strident and divisive nationalism has shaken each of them and modified their approaches to defense issues.
This book blends analysis of Eastern European security needs, foreign threats, domestic political events, and public opinion, in theoretical ways to understand how they lead to future defense postures and commitments for each country in the region. How has NATO and EU membership improved their overall regional defense protection, and what ingredients are still missing for them on an individual state basis? Separate chapters treat clusters of states that make up the various regions of Eastern Europe. For example, the three threatened Baltic states in the north will receive careful analysis. Second, the complex array of states in the Balkan area of Southeastern Europe merit examination, for their security conditions have been quite varied and diverse. For some, NATO and EU membership has become a reality, and for others that possibility does not yet exist. Third, three of the four geographically central states were the ones that first gained full membership in NATO at the earliest possible moment in 1999. At present, Poland in the north has perceived clear threats from Russia since 2014, while the three other East-Central European states possess greater sense of security.
Chapter 1 sets up conceptual and theoretical frameworks for understanding divergence and convergence in Czech, Slovak, Polish, and Hungarian (“Visegrád Four” countries) defense policies in the post-communist era. The chapter’s central argument is that post-communist convergence between Visegrád Four defense policies is best understood as a result of the universal adoption of liberal democratic political systems and ideologies by the countries in question. However, the chapter argues, post-communist divergence in the respective countries’ defense policies, made especially visible by their post-2014 differential reactions to the Russo-Ukrainian Crisis and its fallout cannot be understood within the framework of liberalism as both a political system and a theory of international relations. Different schools and concepts of realism and constructivism are therefore evoked as necessary for illuminating the noted divergence between Poland, which responded robustly and in militaristic fashion to the perception of Russian threat, and the rest of the Visegrád countries, with their lukewarm responses. Within realism, the chapter draws attention to Poland’s distinctive geopolitical position. Within constructivism, the chapter evokes the notions of “role theory” and “strategic cultures” as key for understanding the countries’ diverging polices.
Security and defense realities of East-Central Europe
James W. Peterson and Jacek Lubecki
Chapter 2 examines pre-communist histories of Visegrád countries in search of historical sources of their strategic cultures. Central to the chapter’s inquiry is the fact that all four countries in the modern/early modern age were conquered and peripheralized by larger imperial entities. Hungary and Czech lands (Bohemia) were subjected to Habsburg rule; Poland was partitioned by Russia, Prussia and the Habsburg empire; and Slovak lands were doubly peripheralized within the framework of the Hungarian Kingdom and as a part of the Habsburg empire. However, each of the entities in question had a different past prior to imperial subjugations, each experienced the subjugation differently, and each emerged in 1918 as sovereign entities with distinctive memories of the past and under different structural conditions. Still, all of the countries in question succumbed to Nazi and Soviet imperialism during the Second World War, albeit the subjugation came in different forms and under different circumstances.