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Geostrategic Approaches of the Eastern European Regional Security Environment during the Cold War and its Unipolar Moment
The 20th century will undoubtedly remain imprinted in the collective mind-set as a period marked by a major, global and ruthless political conflict which resulted in the loss of millions of human lives. It originated in the October 1917 Revolution, a crucial event in the history of humankind that introduced in the European system a major diversity factor likely to shake the international system dramatically for more than 70 years. Ideology undoubtedly marked the subsequent de factum state of war.

Dr. Marius-Sorin MICLEA

11/06/2020 Region: Global Topic: Geopolitics

The 20th century will undoubtedly remain imprinted in the collective mind-set as a period marked by a major, global and ruthless political conflict which resulted in the loss of millions of human lives. It originated in the October 1917 Revolution, a crucial event in the history of humankind that introduced in the European system a major diversity factor likely to shake the international system dramatically for more than 70 years. Ideology undoubtedly marked the subsequent de factum state of war.

We believe that when the Bolshevik revolution started, that is, when peasants and workers took over Russia, almost all subsequent global conflicts became political wars. Thus, the Bolshevik regime artificially instated over the ruins of the former Russian Empire was the main and first factor to trigger the Cold War.[1] From this point of view, Bolshevism was at that time a continuation of Pan-Slavism, reinforced by an ideological shell whose hegemonic utopia ceaselessly aimed at entrenching communism all over the world.

 

Black Sea Extended Zone and the riverine states (Source: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mer_Noire)


Even though the communist ideal was never put into practice, because it was too utopian and stodgy, its spectre casually passed through the 20th century and set itself in the roots of a frozen conflict, which during recent history, had its occasional hot spots. The ideological confrontation between the “free world” and the “Empire of Evil” marked the periods following Bolshevism and World War II.[2] As far as World War II is concerned, it seems to have been a contradiction of contemporary history, as very different ideological countries allied with each other to destroy a common enemy, this temporary alliance having been turned into what we know as the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis.

After the end of World War II and the disappearance of the Nazis, an exhausted international community dreamt of a new age of prosperity and peace; however, Winston Churchill’s famous speech delivered in Fulton[3], represented the point when the two superpowers, which had won the war, lost all hope of peace and cooperation. Having already been established a status quo, there was only one-step left to take in facing the realities, and the terrible truth made public by Winston Churchill during his speech was followed by the end of the alliance established during World War II, between the USA and the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. With the help of the Soviet army, the communists took socialist countries with popular democracies by force, whose comrades later became, by Soviet means of persuasion, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Albania and the Democratic Republic of Germany.

The victory of the Allied against their common enemy had not been able to turn a world dominated by egos, divergent geostrategic interests and, what is more important, contradicting ideologies, into a safer world. Therefore, communism started to gain ground in many places in the world, especially in Europe. On its triumphal march to Berlin, Stalin pushed Soviet borders up to 1200 km closer to Elba. Taking advantage of Western Europe’s inability and powerlessness, the Red Army exploited the gap and pushed forward.[4] Systematically, a new bipolar configuration of the world started to emerge, divided between the latest superpowers, the USA and the Soviet Union. They each started to draw in allies, which after a short time would form the two great military and political alliances known as NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organisation.

Paradoxically, Stalin expedited the Soviet Union’s heading into the Cold War, when he admitted that his country was weak following the war, a union with “clay feet”.[5] During the Great War to defend their country, the German armies, following the 22nd of June 1941, and the Soviet armies, once they took strategic initiative, devastated the western Soviet territories successively. The number of victims among the Soviets was over 20 million. The fact remains that Stalin’s executions and deportations, as well as poverty and hunger, which haunted these large territories in the East following the war, probably led to the loss of another 15 million human lives. Consequently, this artificial country, a conglomerate of peoples on a leash, disciplined by Stalin’s imperial whip, exhausted and totally devastated by the end of the war, found itself at the end of this conflagration facing the US technological breakthroughs and its immense economic power, untouched by the military conflict. The economic power and the technological breakthroughs enabled, in a short time, the appearance of the first atomic bomb, used against Japan on the 6th of August 1945 and decisively contributing to the surrender of this country.

For is part, Stalin could not get over the fact that, given the above-mentioned reality, America was able to impose its lifestyle all over the world. Consequently, proving himself very self-confident and having practiced refined propaganda for a long time, he managed a masterstroke; he effectively hid the greatest vulnerability of his country. Once the Soviet Union made itself known as a power in Europe, the leader in Kremlin decided to impose on the latest puppet governments in the so-called popular democratic countries, the presence of massive Soviet military forces on their territories. Another master-stroke, as this decision attained several strategic objectives, such as a powerful PR coup establishing the USSR as a great power, the creation of a cordon sanitaire at the Western borders of the USSR and the forceful support of the unpopular communist regimes forcibly instated in the countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Indeed, establishing communist regimes in those satellite countries proved to be an extremely difficult operation to the USSR, as communism was in complete disagreement with the values of civilisation, moral compasses and respect for the human being. This is why communism could only be implemented by force in the countries that had the great misfortune of becoming part of the Soviet surroundings.

In his turn, the US president Harry Truman denounced Soviet expansionism and expressed, on the 12th of March 1947, his wish to “contain communism all over the world” – a statement which came to be known in international relations as the “Truman Doctrine”.

According to the Doctrine, in order to limit the expansion of communism around the world, one could use all necessary means, which proved effective, including manu militari. The perverted effect of the concept was that everyone agreed to the already established communist regimes in various countries in the world. Obviously, Stalin reacted brutally, denouncing the “American imperialism” and the “United States’ desire to rule over the entire world”.[6][7]

Taking into account the show of strength by the two superpowers in the geostrategic context following World War II, we believe that, at that time, the conditions to establish the two political and military organisations that dominated the Cold War era – the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (1949) and a few years later, the Warsaw Treaty Organisation (1955) – were fully met. Western countries (at least most of them), as well as the countries where the Soviet Union forcibly imposed its dictatorial regime, have gathered under the security umbrellas provided by the two military treaties.

The military policy of the two great security structures was based on a strategy that aimed at three main points: nuclear deterrence and arms control, the arms race, and the fight for world ideological supremacy.

The Cold War that followed the “hot” one and ended with the defeat of the Axis has drastically changed the political, military and strategic environment in the world and particularly in Europe. This new kind of ideological war meant indirect confrontations all over the world where possible (such as the magnitude of the decolonisation process or the last stands of dictatorial regimes in Saharan Africa and Latin America).

This is how conflicts became local and formed a leopard print-like local map in Africa and most of all Asia, an unprecedented situation where peace enclaves lived alongside conflict areas kept active by entities supported by the two military blocs. This specific map of the conflicts, maintained by conventional weapons coming mainly from the military arsenals of the two superpowers, and not only, proved to be, immediately after the fall of communism, “the forbidden fruit of the Cold War”, since, at the dawn of the multipolar world, these conflicts became frozen.

As far as the stability of the two military alliances is concerned, NATO, thought to be the strong-arm of the free world, often faced institutional crises generated by the political instability of the governments in countries considered to have long-standing traditional democracies; however, they did not affect the consistency and unity of the organisation.[8] Even if communist propaganda often advertised the unitary character of the sister states, the system could not prevent its fall in 1991. The so-called alliance between the USSR and its communist satellites was the result of a forcibly imposed ideological system, which took over countries and populations with different cultures, religions and values, and which caused numerous atrocities, murders, and massive deportations throughout its entire existence.[9]

It is a fact that after Nicolae Ceaușescu came to power in 1965, Romania gradually became a distinctive voice in the Warsaw Treaty Organisation, as its communist leader decided to adopt a nationalist policy instead of favouring the Kremlin’s integration policy. This political manoeuvre, as we shall see in the present article, cost the Romanian leader a lot when things changed and Mikhail Gorbachev took over.

The moment the Cold War ended, the Soviet Union started facing many problems as the world’s bipolar security system started to change.[10] The great empire in the east lost its most valuable asset, its artificial unity forcibly imposed by the union republics which led, in the ‘90s, to the implosion of the system. The secession of the former Soviet countries proved to be a special but dangerous way for them to demonstrate their independence tendencies.

The centrifugal tendencies of the republics, until recently forcibly in line with the Kremlin’s policy, attracted violent reactions from a Centre that saw that its great imperial status and ambitions were being threatened. The Empire’s old periphery turned into a series of unstable regions and the multitude of “frozen” conflicts that had been kept hidden by the Kremlin’s integration policy; once “heated”, they turned the Black Sea Region into one of the most unsafe places on earth.

The fall of communism and its remaining after effects, which meant the dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation, generated a phenomenon leading to the disappearance of the USSR. Thus, this chain reaction caused deep instability in most of the territories belonging to the former Soviet bloc. The result was the “export” of the regional security issues on an international level. We could have never referred in the ‘90s to a stable security environment in the area surrounding the former USSR. Considering this argument, it is obvious that between the disappearance of the bipolar system and the lesser polar system there was a unique moment, when Russia tried to reclaim its identity. According to Jean-Paul Joubert, “the uncertainty of European forms most likely contributed to the uncertainty of the establishment of an international system, and prevented the stabilisation of a single lesser polar system, susceptible firstly of making America rational once more and secondly of returning to normalcy with the help of the justice system”.[11]

 

It is extremely important to establish whether we are now witnessing a new world order or, on the contrary, we are witnessing an increase in conflicts over which the power centre of the former Soviet Empire lost control. No less relevant in our endeavour is establishing Romania’s position in the new Black Sea security and defence system, no matter how it turned out after the fall of communism. It is equally useful to see how Romania responds to being pulled by emerging regional entities, such as the European Union, the USA, but most of all to Russia’s cooperation proposals, its main former ally during the Cold War. One of Romania’s major identity related issues was whether it could have become, during the ‘90s, a bridge between the West and Russia and, why not, the main defender of European values against the Pan-Slavic influence, which Russia will most probably never relinquish.

After the overnight disappearance of the Soviet Union, its role was taken over by Russia as its successor, a regional power rather disoriented and economically weakened, but at the same time a country that was very nostalgic for the Soviet times, and most of all for its status as a world superpower during the Cold War.

Almost all former socialist countries left the communist bloc, making their own fates alongside western powers. Once Germany united, Russia returned to its former concerns regarding Germany’s hegemonic dream to take over the East (Drang nach Osten) as a follow-up of the historic experience from the two world wars, when the two superpowers fought against each other.

Since the former satellite countries chose to “defect” and join the West, the Russian Federation found itself exposed to its former enemy, the West. Besides, it had to face the separatist ambitions of the republics from the former Union annexed by Lenin and (later) Stalin to the Soviet Empire, and converted to their totalitarian ideology without taking into account their own identities, ethnical and cultural preferences. Hence, by the end of the Cold War the “frozen” conflicts spread across the ruins of the former Soviet countries “heated” and turned into confrontations leading to countless losses of human lives and turning the Black Sea region into an extremely volatile security environment.

 

NB. This article is part of the PhD thesis on International Security and Defence titled “Romania and the Extended Black Sea Region in the New Defence and Security Context following the Cold War”, coordinated by Professor Jean Paul Joubert and presented on the 29th of June 2012 at Jean Moulin University in Lyon, France.

This article puts into context, at the level of the ‘90s, some key issues regarding the eastern part of the continent in the new security and defence environment following the fall of the “Iron Curtain”, at the dawn of a new multipolar world facing an uncertain (at that time) future.



[1] According to Raymond Aron, the Cold War was an unprecedented conflict and taking into account the ideological differences between the nuclear superpowers, it seemed unavoidable. According to the same author, the Cold War was an impossible peace and an improbable war. (GRIFFITS, (M), 2003, Des relations internationales, ecoles, penseurs, ZIUA Publishing (for the Romanian version), Bucharest, p. 439.)

[2] Between 1980 and 1985, in order to restore the faith of the American people, President Reagan had an international messianic policy, with the sole purpose of destroying the USSR believed to be “the Empire of Evil”. However, it promoted a doctrine, which implied an unprecedented increase in the military forces across the globe, as well as an increase in intelligence operations. (A. n.)

[3] Kissinger (H.), 2003, Diplomacy, BIC ALL Publishing, Bucharest. Ever since 1945, Churchill mentioned an “Iron Curtain” over Europe, from Stettin to Trieste. Winston Churchill’s speech, Missouri, USA 1946.

[4]Kissinger (H.), op. cit, p.374

[5]Kissinger (H.), op.cit, p.384

[6] The Zhdanov Doctrine establishes the Cominform and enhances control over satellite countries. In February 1948, in Czechoslovakia, the communists overthrew moderate ministers. According to this doctrine, the world was divided in two irreconcilable sides – the USSR as the leader of the communist countries and the USA as that of western democracies.

[7]The USSR believed that the USA wanted to dominate the world due to its hegemonic position, as seen by Baechler. According to him, “this position enables those who occupy it, to see to his own interests and the successive interpretations, which are provided for him, while the others are ignored and brutalised, depending on circumstances”. (A. n.)

[8] The most relevant crises that affected NATO proved that, despite the difficult times, the organization continued to function due to the system of values with longstanding democratic tradition and the will of the member states. I would like to mention three crises in NATO’s post war history, which proved the stability of the system – the Suez crisis, president De Gaulle’s decision to withdraw France from NATO and, most recently, the Gulf crisis. (A. n.)

[9] This assertion is supported by cases of military interventions that have proved the instability of this political and military organisation, which came out damaged from the Hungarian (1956) and Czechoslovakian crises (the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968). (A. n.)

[10] After many failed attempts - over more than six years - to find coherent solutions for an already petrified system, Gorbachev did not succeed to revive what had been left of the former Soviet Empire. During this time, the events in Central and Eastern Europe succeeded one after the other. The dismantling of the Iron Curtain between Austria and Russia, the impact of the Solidarity trade union in Poland, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the exodus of thousands of Germans through the Hungarian breach culminated with the bloody Revolution in Romania. The last dictator in Europe, Nicolae Ceaușescu became history, but right before the dramatic events in Romania took place Gorbachev met Bush Sr. in Malta and decisively settled the fate of Europe. Starting with 1989 all the trust pillars in the East-West system irreversibly fell one by one. The Warsaw Treaty Organisation would fall in 1991, and the very notion of superpower is questioned with the disappearance of the USSR. (A. n.)

[11]Joubert, (J.P.), 2006, À propos des Frontieres de l’Europe, March 2006 – The author’s response, April 2006 Défense Nationale Magazine, available online.