The United States' plans for ballistic missile defense installations in Central Europe will fuel the ongoing geopolitical contest between Washington and Moscow.
As an irony of history, a ‘Central Europe’ at the time termed "Mitteleuropa", was a political concept for a German-dominated and exploited Central European union, to be put in motion during WWI - that obviously didn’t come to pass.
Today instead, another ‘central Europe’ very much transformed since its post-Stalinist era, can be seen intend on countering now Russia’s moves.
As I mentioned earlier, the Russians can’t avoid trying to reassert power.
At the time the above link was placed on-line 3 years ago, the American plans for placing ballistic missile defense installations in Europe looked as follows:
Since then, there recently has been a proposal for a joint NATO-RussianBMD system.
Yet Russia’s cooperating with Western Europe on security issues, can be seen as a tactic that both strengthens Moscow’s ties with Western Europe (particularly Germany) and makes Eastern European countries that now consider themselves to be part of 'Central Europe (between East and West)' - look unreasonable. The growing rift between Western and Central Europe will eventually lead to a crisis as the Central European countries try to avoid serving as a buffer zone between Russia and the West.
The Visegrad Group decided in May to form a Visegrad Battlegroup under Polish command by 2016. The actual capacities of this battlegroup are yet to be determined, but the decision shows very clearly that it is evolving from a primarily political grouping to one that places security at the forefront of its mission.
Nordic countries share the same suspicion of Russia as the Eastern European countries; Sweden and Finland have interests in the Baltic States, and Norway is concerned with Russian activity in the Barents Sea. These countries and the United Kingdom are also concerned with the emerging German-Russian relationship.
The Nordic-Baltic countries have a military component that was formed several years before the Nordic-Baltic political grouping came together: the Nordic Battlegroup, created in 2008 under the EU Battlegroup format. Its current members are Sweden, Finland, Norway, Estonia and Ireland, with Lithuania set to join in 2014. There are signs that the wider Nordic-Baltic political grouping could enhance its military component beyond this battlegroup that better serve the national interests of what elsewhere has been called "Międzymorze" and Nordic countries.
Russia is not standing idly by as European countries respond to the evolution of the continent’s geopolitics. Moscow is primarily concerned with the U.S. presence in the region, which is seen as a tangible threat. (The Visegrad, or V4, Battlegroup and the Nordic-Baltic security relationship are budding alliances, but U.S. F-16s and BMD installations near Ukraine and Belarus are real.) Thus, Moscow initially sought to counter the U.S. military encroachment in Central Europe directly, most notably with threats of placing Iskander short-range ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad and Belarus, an option that remains available. Russia also threatened to end its cooperation with the United States over the Iranian nuclear program and on alternative transportation routes to Afghanistan if Washington continued to pursue the BMD system.
However, Russia has realized that countering U.S. BMD with military responses elsewhere could unify NATO members against it. No country, including Germany, would welcome Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad. Such a move would depict Moscow as belligerent, supporting the Intermarium’s argument that Moscow is a threat. Moreover, now that Russia is confident in its hold over Belarus and Ukraine, it has the freedom to be selectively cooperative and pragmatic in its foreign policy in order to pursue its national interests.
Therefore, Russia has shifted its tactics — while retaining the option of responding militarily — to facilitating the ongoing fragmentation of the NATO alliance. In Moscow, this strategy is called “the chaos tactic.” In other words, the Kremlin will sow chaos within Europe by cooperating with Western Europe on security issues. The offer of a joint NATO-Russian BMD system is an example of this tactic; it makes Moscow appear willing to cooperate on the BMD issue while painting the Intermarium countries as belligerent and uncompromising (“paranoid,” as the Kremlin often puts it) when they protest Russia’s participation. Two other specific examples involve the European Security Treaty and the EU-Russia Political and Security Committee.
The European Security Treaty is a Russian proposal for a Europe-wide security treaty that remains very vague. It is unclear what the treaty would actually achieve, although a Russian-proposed draft would give primacy to the U.N. Security Council over all security issues on the continent, thereby limiting NATO’s power — theoretically. The specifics of the treaty are irrelevant; the important point is that Moscow is negotiating with Western European countries. The mere act of Moscow’s talking to Western Europe about a new security framework irks the Intermarium; such talks show just how shaky the NATO alliance has become. Russia is working around the Intermarium countries by talking to their supposed allies about weakening the very alliance structure the Intermarium holds dear. To date, a number of countries, including Germany, France and Italy, have shown their willingness to discuss the issue. Moscow considers this a success.
Similarly, the not-yet-realized EU-Russia Political and Security Committee is an attempt by Moscow to have a voice in EU security issues. The committee is a German-Russian idea and thus illustrates the countries’ close relationship.
Russia is using the concept to both plant doubt in Central Europe about Germany’s commitment to the Intermarium and to give Berlin the sense that diplomacy is an effective tool in dealing with Moscow. The more Russia can convince Germany that Berlin can manage Russian aggression in Europe, the less Berlin will support the Intermarium’s efforts to counter Russia with military alliances. Russia thus wants to give Germany the confidence that it can handle Moscow. Germany sees the EU-Russia Political and Security Committee as a diplomatic success and proof of its influence over Moscow, whereas the Intermarium countries see it as proof of Germany’s accommodationist attitude toward Russia.
A Coming European Crisis?
The current geopolitical shift in Europe will engender a crisis by the middle of the decade. The 'Intermarium/Międzymorze' countries do not want to take Germany’s Cold War-era role as the chessboard upon which Russia and the United States play. Instead, the Intermarium and the Nordic countries — led by Poland and Sweden — want to move the buffer between Europe and Russia to Belarus and Ukraine. If they can get those two countries to be at the very least neutral — not formally within Russia’s political, economic and military sphere of influence — then Central Europe can feel relatively safe. This explains the ongoing Polish-Swedish coordination on issues such as the EU Eastern Partnership program, which is designed to reverse Russia’s growing influence in the former Soviet sphere, and the opposition of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.
Several issues will come to a head in a few years. The United States is expected to be fully withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2013, which will allow it to focus more on Central Europe. The U.S. BMD presence in Romania is supposed to be formalized with an SM-3 missile battery in 2015 and in Poland by 2018 — pieces in an increasingly dispersed, capable and scalable BMD network in Europe. By then, the V4 Battlegroup and the Nordic-Baltic alliance security components should also be more defined. All of these dates are subject to change, but that they will take place within a few years of each other (in or around 2015-2020) suggests the middle of the decade will be a crucial point in the shifting landscape of the European battleground.
Russia has a secure grasp on buffer states Ukraine and Belarus and is fairly successful in causing chaos within Europe’s security institutions. However, Russia will lose some of its confidence when a collection of security pacts and installations become effective nearly simultaneously by the middle of the decade, especially if Europe’s security institutions continue their attempts to move eastward. Traditionally, when Russia is threatened, it lashes out. Although Moscow is currently acting cooperatively — while concurrently creating chaos across the continent — it can easily resume using more aggressive tactics. Moscow has contingency plans, including moving troops against the Baltic and Polish borders in Belarus, potentially increasing its military presence in Ukraine and the Black Sea, and placing missiles in Kaliningrad and Belarus.
But the overall balance between the United States and Russia in Central Europe will depend on another country: Germany. The question at this point will be the extent to which Germany is willing to see the Intermarium draw in a U.S. military presence. Like Russia, Germany does not want to see a U.S.-dominated continent, especially when Berlin is strong enough to command the region politically and economically. Nor does Germany want to see a more aggressive Russia in a few years. Berlin has limited options to prevent either scenario, but it could use NATO and EU structures to stall the process — though it would cause an identity crisis for both institutions. It will be important to watch how the United States and Russia use Germany against each other in the fight over Central Europe.
Many questions remain as to how all of these issues will play out in the coming years, but the foundation for a real shift in European security is already being shaped. It is unclear if the new battleground between the United States and Russia in Central Europe really is a battleground, or if the current situation will end in a stalemate, as was the case on the previous front line in the Cold War. Regardless, one difference remains: Unlike Cold War-era Germany, the above discussed states considering themselves to be part of a sort of new ‘Central Europe’ will not quietly accept becoming the staging ground for a U.S.-Russian contest.