Thoughts on a post-Ukraine crisis security settlement for Europe

It would be foolish for Western governments to count on changes in Russia’s position on NATO enlargement and force disposition in the foreseeable future, regardless of whether Putin remains in office. It would likewise be foolish for Moscow to count on brinkmanship and intimidation to keep NATO from reinforcing its eastern flank under current circumstance. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon Western and Russian leaders to make what is now a dangerous and unstable military standoff less unstable and less dangerous. Doing so is in the interest of both sides, and it is also the most likely path toward a gradual improvement in political relations.

With that in mind, the purpose of this post is to engage in a mental experiment. I am going to assume that all parties to the current NATO-Russia standoff – that is, all current NATO members, potential members, and Russia, along with all of Europe’s unrecognized, or partially recognized, states – agree to put Europe’s security architecture to arbitration. Further, I am going to assume that these same parties have the good judgment to appoint me Grand Arbiter. My charge will be to come up with a settlement that, to the extent possible, reduces the risk of interstate conflict in Europe, but one that is also “fair,” at least in the sense that all parties will have to sacrifice something. At the broadest level, the goal will be a version of what economists call “Pareto optimality” – that is, all parties will be, if not better off, at least no worse off as a result of the settlement.

It goes without saying that this is thought experiment. I am not so naïve as to believe that any particular part of the proposed measures, let alone all of them, will likely to be implemented. Nor do I think implementing them would be easy, to understate the matter.  Rather this is my take on a least-worst arrangement.

I should also make clear that I am not an expert on military affairs, arms control agreements, weapons systems, and so forth. If I knew more, or if I were exposed to new evidence or advocacy by interested parties, I might well change my mind, particularly but not only with respect to details.

Nonetheless, I think the experiment is useful, at least for me, so here goes, moving from more to less important provisions.

  1. Thirty years of formal neutrality for Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The five neutral states will be barred from signing collective defense treaties with other states or alliances, and no foreign troops can be present on their territory, permanently, on a “rotational” basis, or for exercises. Each neutral state will be free to develop its own security forces as it sees fit with assistance from outside powers, and each can conduct military exercises outside its borders (excluding the territory of other neutral states.) Each can also enter into whatever economic and political arrangements with other states or multilateral organizations it sees fit, including the EU and the Eurasian Union, on condition that those agreements do not entail military commitments (e.g., participations in the EU’s defense forces). Armenia may remain part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and Russia may continue to base troops there, subject to Armenian approval, but Russian forces in Armenia will be capped at current levels.
  2. A permanent NATO deterrence force in Estonia and Lativa. NATO will be allowed a permanent, lightly armed (e.g., no “offensive” weapons, such as tanks, or sophisticated air defense systems) ground troop presence in Estonia and Latvia. The purpose of these deployments is deterrence (placing American, German , and British troops in harm’s way) but without posing an objective military threat to Russia (hence lightly armed forces only). The NATO force will consist of 750 American and 750 German grounds troops in Latvia, and 750 American and 750 British troops in Estonia. NATO’s Baltic Air Patrol will be based in Lithuania and can use airfields in Estonia and Latvia, but it will be limited to 12 NATO rotational fighters. Each Baltic state will be free to build up its own defense forces at it sees fit, subject to possible force limitations in a revised Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty (see below).
  3. A ban on NATO permanent bases in post-1991 accession states other than Estonia and Latvia. Assuming Russia complies the rest of this ruling, NATO is banned from building permanent bases for non-native troops (e.g., non-Polish troops in Poland) in post-1991 accession states (except for the Baltic states, as per above). Each NATO member state, including Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, will be free to develop its own defense capabilities, with assistance from other NATO member states. NATO may dispatch troops to those states on a rotational basis and to preposition equipment there, including armored vehicles. However, these deployments, as well as the defense forces of NATO eastern flank countries, will be subject to force limitations under a revised CFE treaty (see below).
  4. A seven-year moratorium on Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems in Europe. All NATO states and Russia will be precluded from deploying ballistic missile defense systems in Europe for seven years. Meanwhile, they will enter into negotiations on a European-wide BMD treaty.
  5. The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) to remain in force for seven years. The parties to the Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty will adhere to the treaty for seven years, and they will enter into negotations to revise the treaty if they see a need. They will also put their respective treaty violation claims to a separate arbiter (adjudicating the current dispute is well beyond my expertise).
  6. Renewal, with revisions, of the Adapted CFE Treaty. The troop disposition and confidence building measures provided for in the now suspended Adapted Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) will be adhered to, with modifications to account for Russia’s genuine defensive needs (again, a separate arbiter will be appointed to arrive at reasonable force dispositions for Russia). In addition, the treaty (or perhaps a separate one) will limit short-range cruise and ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad, Crimea, Poland, and other NATO eastern flank countries – e.g., Russian Iskander ballistic missiles in Crime and Kaliningrad, and US-made Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missiles (JASSM) for Polish F-16s.
  7. Sevastopol will be recognized as part of Russia, with restrictions on Russian force dispositions. Sevastopol will be recognized as sovereign Russian territory. Russia will, however, limit its force dispositions in the region to those set out in the 2010 “Kharkiv Pact” between Russia and Ukraine, which extended Russia’s basing rights in Sevastopol for 25 years (with a five year renewal option). NATO will in turn abide by the restrictions on non-littoral state naval vessels in the Black Sea provided for the Montreux Convention, while the number of Romanian and Bulgarian naval vessels will be frozen at the number in service or under construction as of January 1, 2015.
  8. Crimea will be recognized as independent, with restrictions on Russian force dispositions. Crimea will be recognized as independent, and it will be free to enter into a military alliance with Russia, either bilaterally or through the CSTO, as it and Russia see fit. Russian and CSTO forces in Crimea will be limited to 3,000 lightly armed ground troops, plus 12 fighters (so the equivalent of NATO forces in the Baltic states). These would be in addition to the naval and marine troops in Sevastopol. Again, the purpose of these forces is deterrence while minimizing the threat of offensive operations by Russian forces against Ukraine or other Black Sea littoral states.
  9. The region currently controlled by the Donbas separatists will be recognized as part of Russia. My view is that Ukraine as a whole, as well as the residents of the self-declared DPR and LDR, will be much better off at this point if the area currently controlled by the separatists becomes part of Russia. Moreover, it is impractical to think that the separatists will ever agree to, or allow, Kyiv to reestablish its writ in the region. Too much blood has been shed to return the region to Ukrainian sovereignty, and trying to do so will make Ukraine’s already very difficult path to “Europe” that much more difficult. Additionally, the costs of restoring the region’s ruined economy should fall on Russia’s shoulders, not Ukraine’s or the international community’s. To effect annexation, an arbiter will be appointed to rule on the details of force separation and border delimitation (although I suspect that this will require Ukrainian forces to withdraw from the outskirts of Donetsk city, including the airport.) Once the border is agreed upon and force separation is implemented, an OSCE monitoring mission will be dispatched to monitor the new border.
  10. Transnistria will be recognized as independent, with restrictions on Russian force dispositions. Russia will be allowed, subject to Transnistrian approval, to continue to station up to 1,500 troops there, as currently armed. Unless and until Moldova and Transnistria agree jointly to an alternative arrangement, the current Joint Control Commission, joint patrolling of the buffer zone, and OSCE monitoring mission will remain in place. Ukraine and Moldova will adopt to the same customs regime for independent Transnistria that they have with each other.
  11. Abkhazia will be recognized as independent, without Gali district and with restrictions on Russian force dispositions. Abkhazia will be recognized as independent but it will return its southern Gali district (mostly inhabited by ethnic Georgians) to Georgian sovereignty. An OCSE mission will monitor the new border unless and until Abkhazia and Georgia agree it is no longer necessary. As in Crimea, Russia and/or the CSTO will be permitted, subject to Abkhaz approval, to deploy up to 3,000 lightly armed ground troops plus 12 fighter jets in the region, again for deterrence purposes. The EU and US will co-fund an OSCE implemented repatriation program for Georgian IDPs returning to Gali district.
  12. South Ossetia will return to Georgian sovereignty, with all Russian forces withdrawing from the region and funding for South Ossetians who wish to emigrate. South Ossetia will be returned to Georgian sovereignty, and South Ossetians who are Ossetian by nationality and who wish to emigrate to Russia or elsewhere will be given, say, $200,000 per household to relocate, to be co-funded by Russia and Georgia (there are only some 50,000 South Ossetians residents, so we are talking about a paltry sum of money in terms of defense spending). Georgia will agree to respect the civil and political rights of South Ossetians who remain, and an OSCE monitoring mission will monitor compliance. The EU and US will co-fund an OSCE implemented repatriation program for Georgian IDPs returning to their homes.
  13. Nagorno-Karabakh will be recognized as independent and the “occupied districts” returned to Azerbaijani control, with border modifications for the land bridge to Armenia and restrictions on Armenian and Russian force dispositions. Nagorno-Karabakh will be recognized as independent, and all the “occupied districts” will be returned to Azerbaijani sovereignty, with the exception of the Lachin corridor connecting NK to Armenia. An arbiter will be appointed to define appropriate borders for the latter. For deterrence purposes, Russia and France will contribute to a peacekeeping force, consisting of 750 Russian and 750 French troops. The EU and U.S. will co-fund an OSCE administered repatriation program for Azerbaijanis IDPs from the occupied districts who wish to return, as well as for Azerbaijanis who lost homes in NKOA proper and who wish to relocate to the former occupied districts.
  14. Kosovo will be recognized as independent, with territorial concessions to Serbia. Kosovo will be recognized as independent, but it will cede the northern districts with majority Serb populations to Serbia.

To be sure, some of these measures present important moral hazard problems. In particular, separatists elsewhere might be encouraged to take up arms because the international community would be recognizing border changes brought about by force of arms. However, the experiment assumes that all parties agree to arbitration, which means that all parties would be compelled agree to the border changes, which is a principal the international community has traditionally accepted and presents no particular problem under international law (e.g., the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan, or Eritrea from Ethiopia).

At any rate, I believe these provisions meet the Pareto-optimality standard — all parties will either be better off or at least not worse off if the proposed measures are implemented. This is particularly the case if one assumes that the alternative is a long, very expensive, and potentially catastrophic game of military chicken between NATO and Russia.

I should conclude by observing that every one of these measures would provoke outrage among some were they to be implemented. But that will be true no matter what happens going forward.