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Why the Obama Administration Should Not Take Central and Eastern Europe for Granted

Why the Obama Administration Should Not Take Central and Eastern Europe for Granted

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Originally published in July 2009, this brief explains how, to some degree, the relationship between the United States and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe has become a victim of its own success.
Originally published in July 2009, this brief explains how, to some degree, the relationship between the United States and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe has become a victim of its own success.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 27, 2010
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Summary:
Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, Cen- tral and Eastern Europe is nolonger at the heart of Americanforeign policy. To some degree, the relationship between theUnited States and the countriesof Central and Eastern Europe-has become a victim of its ownsuccess. U.S. engagement andsupport was essential for thesuccess of our democratic tran-sitions after the Iron Curtain fell.Today, however, there is agrowing sense that Central andEastern Europe is at a politicalcrossroads. The decline of U.S.
inuence is evident and to some
degree it is a logical outcomeof the integration of Centraland Eastern Europe into the EU.Both public opinion and govern-ments in the region display agrowing tendency toward provin-cialism and short-termism. Ab-sent leadership, these countriescould even become an obstacle to future effective U.S.-EU coop-eration on global issues, suchas energy security, security anddefense, and human rights.Today the goal must be to keepCentral and Eastern Europeright as a stable, activist, andAtlanticist part of the broadercommunity. That will requireboth sides recommitting to andinvesting in this relationship.But if we do it right, the payoff down the road can be very real.
Wider Europe
wenty years aer the end o the ColdWar, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)is no longer at the heart o Americanoreign policy. As the new Obamaadministration sets its oreign policy pri-orities, this is one part o the world thatAmericans have largely stopped worryingabout. Te successul anchoring and in-tegration o Central and Eastern Europeinto NAO and the EU was one o thegreat oreign policy achievements o lasttwo decades. Many American ocialsappear to have concluded that the regionis “xed” and that they can move on toother, more pressing strategic issues.Relations have been so close that many on both sides assume that the regionstransatlantic orientation, as well as itsstability and prosperity, is eternal. Boththe democratic stability o the region andthe pro-Atlantic orientation o Centraland Eastern European governments have,at times, appeared to be taken or grantedin Washington.o some degree, the relationship betweenthe United States and the countries o ourregion has become a victim o its ownsuccess. Washington played a critical rolein anchoring Central and Eastern Europeto the West. U.S. engagement and supportwas essential or the realization o ourdemocratic transitions aer the Iron Cur-tain ell. Without Washington’s vision andleadership, it is doubtul that the coun-tries in the region would be in NAOand even the EU today. Tat strategy wasbipartisan. Enlargement to our countrieswas started under President Clinton andcompleted under President Bush. Our re-lations were so close Washington thoughtwe would be allies orever.Tat was premature. Indeed, today thereis a growing sense that Central and East-ern Europe is at a political crossroads.U.S. inuence and popularity are also indecline. Despite our eort and contribu-tion, NAO has become weaker since thecountries o Central and Eastern Europe joined it. In many o these countriesit is perceived as less and less relevant.As elsewhere, these countries await theresults o the EU Commission on theorigins o the Russo-Georgian war. Butthe political impact o that war on theregion has already been elt. Many coun-tries were disturbed to see the Atlanticalliance stand by as Russia violated thecore principles o the Helsinki Final Act,the Charter o Paris, and the territorialintegrity o a country that was a membero NAO’s Partnership or Peace and theEuro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Per-haps more than any other part o Europe,the countries o Central and EasternEurope elt threatened by Russia’s moveagainst Georgia.
Why the Obama Administration Should NotTake Central and Eastern Europe for Granted
1
 
by Pavol Demes
2
, Istvan Gyarmati
3
, Ivan Krastev
4
, Kadri Liik
5
,
 
AdamRotfeld
6
, and Alexandr Vondra
7
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 20009T 1 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E ino@gmus.org
July 13, 2009
1
The views expressed here are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reect those of the German Marshall Fund
 2
Pavol Demes is the Director of GMF’s Bratislava ofce and former Foreign Minister and Advisor to the President, Slovak Republic
 
3
Prof. Istvan Gyarmati is an Ambassador and President of the International Centre for Democratic Transition in Budapest, Hungary
4
Ivan Krastev is the Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Soa, Bulgaria
 
5
Kadri Liik is the Director of the International Centre for Defence Studies in Tallinn, Estonia
6
Prof. Adam Rotfeld, PhD, is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Poland
 
7
Alexandr Vondra is a Senator, Ambassador, and former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Czech Republic
Policy Brie 
 
2
Wider Europe
Tis is one o several actors that have contributed to grow-ing doubts in the region about NAO. Critics openly ques-tion whether NAO would be willing and able to come to thedeense o the region in a uture crisis with Russia. Europe’sdependence on Russian energy also creates concern about thecohesion o the Alliance. President Obama’s remark at the recentNAO summit on the need to provide credible deense plansor all Alliance members was welcome, but not enough. Teability o CEE governments to sustain public support at homeor contributions to Alliance missions abroad also depends onbeing able to show that the regions own security concerns arebeing addressed in NAO and in close cooperation with theUnited States.Tese developments come at a time when America’s popularity and inuence has allen in many CEE countries. Public opinionpolls, including the German Marshall Fund’s own
TransatlanticTrends
survey, show that the region has been aficted by the col-lapse in sympathy and support or the United States during theBush years. Te new Obama administration oers a chance toreverse this trend, but it will take time and work on both sidesto make up what we have lost. Some leaders in the region havepaid a political price or their support o the unpopular war inIraq. In the uture they may be more careul in taking politicalrisks to support the United States.Te decline o U.S. inuence is also evident. o some degree itis a logical outcome o the integration o Central and EasternEurope into the EU. It has become the major actor and institu-tion in the lives o these countries, increasingly in oreign policy as well. Our leaders and ocials spend much more time in EUmeetings than in consultations with Washington, where they oen struggle to attract attention or make our voices heard. omany people, the EU seems more relevant and important today than the link to the United States. Te region’s deeper integra-tion in the EU is o course welcome and should not necessarily lead to a weakening o the transatlantic relationship. Te hopewas that integration o Central and Eastern Europe into the EUwould actually strengthen the strategic cooperation betweenEurope and America.However, there is a danger that instead o being a pro-Atlantic voice in the EU, support or a more global partnership withWashington in the region might wane over time. Te regiondoes not have the tradition o assuming a more global role. Bothpublic opinion and governments in the region display a growingtendency toward provincialism and short-termism. Absent lead-ership, these countries could even become an obstacle to utureeective U.S.-EU cooperation on global issues. Some items onthe transatlantic agenda such as climate change do not resonatein the Central and East European publics to the same extent asthey do in Western Europe. On the issue o EU enlargement tourkey -- a matter o crucial importance to the United States -- the countries o the region are no longer a united and depend-able group o supporters.Generational change in the region’s political leadership meansthat the United States is likely to lose many o its traditionalinterlocutors in the region. Public gures who emerged romthe revolutions o 1989 and experienced Washingtons key rolein securing the region’s democratic transition and anchoring itin NAO and the EU are slowly but surely stepping down romthe political stage. Te current political and economic turmoiland the allout rom the global nancial crisis provide addi-tional openings or the orces o ultra-nationalism, extremism,populism, and anti-Semitism. Such dangers, o course, are notconned to Central and Eastern Europe but exist across the con-tinent. But they can be a particular problem in countries withrelatively weak democratic institutions and shallow traditions o dialogue. New elites in the region may not only be less ideal-istic and nostalgic than their predecessors. Tey may also bemore calculating in their support o the United States and moreparochial in their world view. Similarly, many o the Americanleaders and personalities who shaped the relationship with theCEE region are also leaving public lie.And then there is the issue o how to deal with Russia. Tehopes in the region that relations with Russia would improveand that Moscow would nally ully accept the sovereignty andindependence o these nations aer joining NAO and the EUhave not been ullled. Instead, Russia is seen as being back as arevisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods. On a global level, Russia has be-come, on most issues, a status-quo power. But at a regional level,it increasingly acts as a revisionist one. It challenges the coun-tries’ version o their histories. It asserts a privileged positionin determining their security choices. It uses overt and covertmeans o economic warare, ranging rom energy blockades andpolitically motivated investments to bribery and media ma-nipulation in order to advance its interests and to challenge thetransatlantic orientation o Central and East European allies.
Policy Brie 
 
3
Wider Europe
Ocally the leaders o the region welcome the “reset” o U.S. re-lations with Russia. As the countries living closest to Russia, ob- viously nobody has a greater interest in better relations betweenMoscow and the West than we do. But there is clearly nervous-ness and a ear o a deal being done over the heads o the region.Tus ar, neither Brussels nor Washington has ound an eectiveanswer to Moscow’s eorts to play “divide and rule.” Te dangeris that Russia’s creeping intimidation and inuence-peddling inthe region could over time lead to a de acto neutralization o the region. Tere is a spread o views within the region when itcomes to Moscow’s new policies. But there is a shared view thatonly the United States’ serious commitment to the region canprevent undesirable developments.Memories in the region are long. People see the dierence intheir own histories between when the United States stood up orits liberal democratic values and when it did not. Te region su-ered when the United States succumbed to “realism,” as it did atYalta. And it beneted when the United States used its power toght or principle. Tat was critical during the Cold War and inopening the doors o NAO. oday the concern is, or example,that the United States and the major European powers mightembrace the Medvedev plan or a “Concert o Powers” to replacethe continent’s existing, value-based security structure.Leaders in the region want to ensure that too narrow an under-standing o interests does not lead to the wrong concessions toRussia. Tat is why a strong commitment to common liberaldemocratic values is so important to the countries o Centraland Eastern Europe with their resh memories o totalitarianismand Soviet communism. Te transatlantic community is stillessential as is the mission to saeguard the values o reedomand democracy as stated in the Washington reaty. Many in theregion are again looking with hope to the United States, andthe Obama administration in particular, to restore the Atlanticrelationship as a moral compass or their domestic as well asoreign policies.As policymakers and public intellectuals rom the CEE region,we believe the ollowing steps should be taken:First, the United States should rearm its vocation as a Euro-pean power and make clear that it plans to stay ully engaged onthe continent even while it aces pressing challenges in Aghani-stan and Pakistan, in the wider Middle East, and in Asia. Fortheir part, leaders and opinion-makers in Central and EasternEurope need to work at home as well as in Europe more gener-ally to convince political leaders and society at large to adopta more global perspective and be prepared to shoulder moreresponsibility in partnership with the United States.Second, or the countries o Central and Eastern Europe, a key actor in their ability to participate in NAOs expeditionary missions overseas is the belie that they are secure at home. othis end, the role o NAO as the most important security link between the U.S. and Europe needs strengthening. Te alli-ance remains the continent’s only credible hard-power security guarantee. NAO must reconrm its core unction o collec-tive deense even while it adapts to the new threats o the 21stcentury. Tis must start with correcting some sel-inictedwounds rom the past. It was a mistake not to commence withproper Article 5 deense planning or new members aer NAOwas enlarged. NAO needs to make the Alliance’s commitmentscredible and provide strategic reassurance to all members. Tisshould include contingency planning, prepositioning o orces,equipment, and supplies, and eventually revising the strategicconcept. It should also rethink the working o the NAO-Rus-sia Council and return to the practice where NAO membercountries enter into dialogue with Moscow with a coordinatedposition.When it comes to Russia, the past experience o many Centraland East European countries has been that a more determinedand principled policy toward Moscow not only strengthens theWest’s security but will ultimately lead Moscow to ollow a morecooperative policy toward the West. Furthermore, the betterprotected they eel inside NAO, the easier it will also be or theCEE countries to reach out to engage Moscow on issues o com-mon interest. Cold War-thinking, as well as wishul thinking,about Russia can be dangerous.Te thorniest issue may well be Americas planned missile-deense installations. Here, too, there are divided views in theregion, including among the publics. Regardless o the military merits o this scheme and what Washington eventually decidesto do, the issue has nevertheless also become -- at least in somecountries -- a symbol o America’s credibility and commitmentto the region. How it is handled could have a signicant impacton their uture transatlantic orientation. Te small numbero interceptor missiles involved cannot be a threat to Russiasstrategic capabilities, and the Kremlin knows this. Te countriesconcerned should decide the uture o the program as allies
Policy Brie 

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